Sheers offered a neat explanation of the backlash against Warren Gatland due to the dropping of Brian O’Driscoll on the Lions tour last summer, an issue which was a) rather overblown at the time, if you remember, and b) something everyone can afford to be magnanimous about, given Saturday’s events in the Aviva.
At any rate, Sheers made the pretty common-sense observation that people may have felt O’Driscoll should have been playing because of narrative reasons — that a last turn-out for the great man against Australia, where he had made his name with dazzling tries for the Lions of 2001, would have been a fitting end to his career in that red jersey.
The stars were aligning; the last Test would see redemption done, 12 years on, and O’Driscoll would square the circle neatly Down Under.
Gatland didn’t see it that way, famously, and made a decision on rugby grounds, as Sheers suggested, and the final scoreline in that last Test, emphatically in the visitors’ favour, supported his judgment.
Because we’re a story-making species, you can’t overemphasise our need for a narrative, though — our need for plot progress and resolution of storylines, rather than the mess of non sequiturs and dead ends which life usually throws up.
I was reminded of this in of all things, the documentary made about Francie Barrett a few years ago, which tracked the boxer through his travails on the way to the Olympics.
After one bout in the National Stadium, though, the camera captured one of his opponents being less than complimentary about the (generally warm-hearted) focus on Barrett: it reminded you forcibly that your perspective was very much on one side of the equation in the fight, but there was an equally rounded protagonist on the other side, one with a narrative equally vivid, if only to himself.
Doubling back to the Gatland-O’Driscoll situation, if the coach had picked the player and... well, that’s cheating.
There’s probably an alternative universe where that storyline plays out, but it’s not that one. The only other question worth raising about that selection decision last year is this.
Would O’Driscoll be playing now if he’d won a Test series with the Lions on the field?
“For somebody from Carlow to be lecturing Cork on hurling is akin to Jedward telling Pavarotti how to sing.”
— Cork County Board meeting, November 2013.
All-Ireland Club SHC semi-final: Mount Leinster Rangers (Carlow) v Loughgiel Shamrocks (Antrim).
Here is the transcript from that lecture:
John: Hi, I’m John!
Edward: And I’m Edward!
John: And together...
Edward: ...we’re Jedward!
Edward: We’re here to give a lecture!
Edward: On hurling!
John: Singing, no?
Edward: Hurling! Well done to Mount Leinster!
John: Who? Is that a choir?
Edward: They’re a hurling team! From Carlow!
John: Yay! So?
Edward: They’re in the All-Ireland final!
John: Hurrah! So?
Edward: They’re from Carlow! A weaker county! But they’re in the All-Ireland final!
John: Hurrah! So?
Edward: It just goes to show what hard work can do, right?
John: Look at us!
Edward: And a good haircut!
John: Well, those helmets, how can you...
Edward: Well done Mount Leinster!
John: Yeah, well done!
Edward: We believe in you guys!
John: Yeah, we always have! Apart from when you played Ballyboden in Leinster, we thought they’d ham....
Edward: Anyway, best of luck! Hope it all goes well in Croke Park!
John: Hey, we played there!
Edward: Right on!
John: But we don’t want anyone in Antrim to feel ticked off either! We love you guys too!
Edward: That’s enough about hurling! Now for the music!
John: Now you’re talking!
Edward: Pavarotti thought he knew about reaching the high Cs, right...
John: ...but he didn’t!
Edward: Not at all! In fact-
(transmission ends in a blur of indecipherable musical notation).
There are plenty of knowledgeable people with strong opinions about Wayne Barnes as a referee, and you’d have to query the call that was missed towards the end of the game when Leigh Halfpenny clearly nudged the ball out of play near his own try-line. The late, late elbow that Ireland try-scorer Paddy Jackson copped from Liam Williams was a bad miss, too.
Williams’ intervention clearly incensed several of Jackson’s teammates far more than the earlier incident, and you could make the obvious case that the game was long done as a contest when the first incident happened, let alone the second.
But if the gap between the teams had been five points rather than 15 when that Halfpenny interception was missed, then that would have been far more significant. An Ireland lineout just a few metres from the Welsh line, given the way the Irish set-piece was going? Similarly, if Williams’ late reducer on Jackson was given its due punishment, that would might have made Warren Gatland’s task all the harder for the next Welsh game.
All of the above might have ramifications for how the championship ends. So it was all the more serious that they were missed.
I rolled past Fitzgerald Stadium around 1pm yesterday, half an hour before throw-in between Derry and Kerry. No parking.
Roll down the window and call a man in a high-vis vest manning a crash barrier. “Any chance I could get in there?”
“Dr Crokes?” he said. “Sure go on away in.”
Other counties please note. There’s a reason people go on holidays to Killarney.