After all, it’s not every day that you hear an international coach – or any coach for that matter – use the words “he could have died” side by side with the phrase “it was deliberate.” Yet this is what Eddie O’Sullivan said, unprompted, in the immediate aftermath of the game and although it was frontpage news both here and in Scotland, when you think about it, the consternation caused has been tame enough.
O’Gara lost consciousness and had to be put in the recovery position by prop John Hayes as Irish players frantically waved to the sideline for medical attention, ignoring referee Dave Pearson’s final whistle which, incidentally, signalled Ireland’s third Triple Crown in four years. At the time, it looked to the naked eye like O’Gara had simply been tangled up at the bottom of a ruck but once O’Sullivan came to meet the press afterwards, it emerged that an unnamed Scottish player had allegedly put throttled the Munster out-half. Asked if the action had to have been deliberate, O’Sullivan replied: “If you put your arm around a guy’s neck and choke him, it’s hardly an accident, is it?”
The big problem with O’Sullivan’s accusation is that there was no television footage of the incident to back him up. Since neither RTE nor the BBC could find any pictures of the incident that happened in the very last seconds of the game, it is O’Sullivan’s reputation as the straightest of straight shooters that gives the claims their credence. Nobody would pretend for a second that he is or has ever been the type to wildly throw around accusations such as this unless he felt he was rock solid on it. And sure enough, he made no attempt to back down from his allegations when asked about them on Sunday morning.
“Something happened alright. If nothing happened, then maybe the person involved in the incident would come forward and explain what happened. Then we’d all be the wiser. Is that a fair comment? Rather than me making accusations that everyone knows I can’t substantiate in proof. But we all know that something happened. And we all know what happened.”
When it was put to him that maybe O’Gara could shed some light on the matter, O’Sullivan became quite agitated. “Ronan has the least amount of information. He went out like a light. If you look at the video, he was kicking out [his legs, involuntarily] actually. And he was gone blue. John Hayes spotted it immediately and put him in the recovery position. So Ronan just drifted off, like. Gone.”
For their part, the Scottish management put out a statement immediately after O’Sullivan’s press conference on Saturday saying simply that they “refute any allegation of foul play.” O’Sullivan and the Scotland coach Frank Hadden did not speak about the incident or the Ireland coach’s allegations at the post-match banquet on Saturday night because O’Sullivan said it was neither the time nor the place.
The crucial lack of television evidence scuppered any hopes the Ireland coach may have had of being vindicated in his claim by the citing commissioner, who released a statement on Monday afternoon saying he found no incidents of foul play to cite. Whether that is where the matter will rest remains to be seen.
Serious though it could have been, the O’Gara incident overshadowed what actually turned out to be a decent weekend for Ireland’s hopes in the competition. They were poor against Scotland but the one-point win, coupled with England’s surprise victory over France at Twickenham on Sunday put them right back in the frame. The tournament comes to a climax this Saturday when Ireland must beat Italy in Rome by at least five points more than France beat Scotland.
It won’t be the straightforward task it may appear either. Ireland will be missing Paul O’Connell who fractured a finger during the Scotland game and they will be up against a very-much resurgent Italy side whose win over Wales on Saturday marked the first time in their Six Nations history that they had recorded back-to-back victories.
Irish fans get ready
for frenetic 7 days
It’s during weeks like this that you begin to feel a little sympathy for the poor, unenlightened folk who don’t have sport in their lives – or at least it would be if we who do had any time to pause and give them the time of day. Being such frightfully unreconstructed types as we are, we’ll plough on manfully without them but still, you’d almost have to spare a thought for them. It must be a sad and dreary existence.
Over the space of seven days Ireland will have either won or not won the Six Nations, will have reveled its way through the Cheltenham festival, will have taken its place in, of all things, the cricket World Cup for the first time in history and will have enjoyed – or not enjoyed, as it can be that kind of day – the annual hootenanny of the club football and hurling finals at Croke Park. Actually, come to think of it, it all sounds kind of exhausting at this remove. Maybe the unenlightened have it right after all. Damn.
Anyway, by the time you read this, Cheltenham will have kicked off in earnest and those of us who haven’t learned our lesson from years gone by will be chasing our losses like kids in a schoolyard. Horseracing is funny like that. With any other sport, your first thought is of the participants, of the cut and thrust of, you know, the actual sport. With racing, your first thought is of your wallet. Any wonder it’s mired in corruption trials just now?
That’s all for another time though. Cheltenham effortlessly washes away such concerns each year for a week. Chances are the Irish won’t come home as laden down with goodies as in other years since a rash of withdrawals over the past fortnight has weakened the hand somewhat but no matter, the country will be rapt for the week, winners or no winners.
The cricket World Cup won’t draw quite the same attention but there’s a real chance that Ireland could even win a game, the opener against Zimbabwe tomorrow. Even if they don’t and subsequently go on to get stuffed by both Pakistan on Saturday) and the West Indies on next Wednesday, at least it will be an adventure.
As for the club finals, the astonishing Crossmaglen will have the likes of Colm Cooper and Eoin Brosnan standing in the way of their pursuit of a fourth All Ireland football in 10 years while Henry Shefflin and Cha Fitzpatrick are the key men as Ballyhale Shamrocks take on Galway’s Loughrea in the hurling.
By that stage on St Patrick’s Day, though, we’ll surely be dizzy from it all.
A columnist’s mea culpa
Turns out I owe you people an apology. I only fill in here once in a blue moon but one of those hung high in the sky a few weeks back and, well, now I feel I rather dirtied my bib a touch. See, the piece I wrote back than – and oh, how long ago it all seems now – was on the subject of Steve Staunton’s Irish soccer team. He had picked a squad for the Euro 2008 qualifier in San Marino and in what can only be described as something that seemed like a good idea at the time, this space was wasted in declaring that there was hope in the air. Hope for the future, hope for the present, hope for all.
I know, I know. Rookie mistake. But you know how it is in early February – spring sprouts and a young man’s head is turned by the slightest stirring of good cheer. Maybe it was the weather or the drink or the women (hey, a man can dream, can’t he?). Or maybe it was a simple case of the wish being father to the baseless conviction. Whatever, the hope I spoke of was swatted aside the following week as if it was an errant fly and Staunton was holding a tightly rolled-up copy of the Echo itself. Ireland – for years sustained on the basis of a string of moral victories against obviously superior opposition – actually managed to invent a new kind of low with a last-minute 2-1 win over San Marino which amounted, in effect, to a moral defeat.
And so, please accept the humble apologies of a man abashed. A man who, in the words of the Who, won’t get fooled again (certainly not by a Dundalk accent). I believe it’s customary in these situations to absolve the newspaper of any responsibility and say that the views expressed were solely those of the writer. As if such a flight of fancy could possibly spirit away more than one gobdaw at a time.