Payback time for Paris – city of Irish graves

Joe Schmidt hadn’t a word of French when he pitched up in the Massif Central town of Clermont-Ferrand back in 2007, but the Kiwi coach was a quick learner and he’s still known for dropping the odd peu de Francais into his vocabulary on those weeks when the opposition is of a Gallic flavour.

Payback time for Paris – city of Irish graves

Last Saturday the Ireland head honcho was at it again, dipping the phrase ‘pensée de parasite’ into the conversation after the defeat of Italy at the Aviva Stadium when talk in the post-match press conference drifted from the offerings just gone to those to come.

Schmidt mentioned it in relation to Ireland’s woeful record in Paris.

“I’m not a big believer in superstition,” said Schmidt, who came across more than enough bad omens and doom-mongers during a three-year spell at Clermont when the club’s failure to break a losing streak of French league final defeats stretched to 10 before they finally exorcised their demons with a maiden Top 14 title in 2010.

“I would describe it as the ‘pensée de parasite’. It’s a parasite of thinking that is a distraction and it erodes the logical mainstream thinking about what you actually need to deliver on the field. I don’t think we can get too distracted by the history or by the results, or by the points differential.”

Fair enough, Joe, but the rest of us can.

If you know your history you won’t need any reminding that Ireland went to Paris in 1982 with a Triple Crown and the Five Nations title in the bag and only a shambles of a winless French team to beat at the Parc des Princes to claim the Grand Slam. Even then they could only come home again with a 22-9 defeat for their efforts. Is it any wonder Joe Public should be wary this week?

Much has been made of the rugby team’s travails in the City of Love this past half-century, but the overall statistics make for even bleaker reading. Played 44. Won 10. Drew 2. Lost 32. Take away the first two decades between 1910 and 1928 when the Irish won half-a-dozen times and the weight of history becomes even more oppressive. Ireland have at one stage or another gone 20 years, another 20 years, 28 years and now 14 years without a sniff of success in Paris.

Is it any wonder the word ‘graveyard’ is such a regular companion when the city’s name is mentioned in these circles. It isn’t just our rugby players who have struggled to cope with the cultural shift that comes with competing in a city that, for us, is undoubtedly beautiful but, in a sporting sense, oh-so-terrible too. Our footballers haven’t won there since their first of eight appearances in the place stretching back to 1937. The seven losses suffered since have all come in World Cup qualifiers and include among them perhaps the two most crushing defeats in the entire history of the Republic of Ireland football team.

In 1965, the nation was denied a first appearance at a World Cup by a 1-0 defeat to Spain at Stade Colombes when Atletico Madrid player José Armando Ufarte Ventoso put the lid on an affair that has since led to allegations of financial sweeteners offered to officials to play the game in France rather than London.

Five years ago, it was a certain Thierry Henry.

’Nuff said.

Stitch it all together and there is a compelling case that no city in the world has been the source of as much heartbreak for Ireland’s sporting ambassadors than the cosmopolitan metropolis that is the French capital. Okay, so Stephen Roche stood on the Champs Elysees in a yellow jersey in 1987, but he was already the de facto Tour de France winner by the time he wheeled through the city’s streets.

Need more convincing? Take the 1924 Olympics. The then Free State was being represented at the Games for the first time and sent a team of 54 men and women to compete at water polo, tennis, football, athletics and boxing. The water polo lads lost their only game, the footballers won their opener, but went out in their second outing. Our tennis reps lost five of six games and not one athlete reached a final. Army sergeant Patrick Dwyer from Thurles came closest to a medal, but had to concede a walkover to Douglas Lewis of Canada in the semi-final through injury and thus finished fourth.

Six major athletics championships have also been held in the city. Indoors, outdoors, worlds and Europeans have come and gone since 1938 and only once has an Irish athlete medalled. Stand up then Killarney’s Gillian O’Sullivan who claimed silver at the World Indoors at the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy in 2003 and delivered a rare stab of light amidst the gloom of Irish efforts in Paris.

Here’s to tomorrow, so.

Lord knows we owe them one.

Email: brendan.obrien@examiner.ie

Twitter: @Rackob

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