How the hard hits will hurt world rugby

Earlier in this year this column spoke to Mickey Ned O’Sullivan, former Kerry captain and manager, ahead of the marriage referendum. He was insightful and passionate, articulate and convincing: himself, in other words.

How the hard hits will hurt world rugby

Given his coaching background included stints with the South African rugby team, and Harlequins in England, I thought it might be worth a chat about the recent Rugby World Cup.

The Kenmare man wasn’t surprised by the physical battles in the tournament. Back in 2005, when O’Sullivan was running the Springboks through their paces, South African management told O’Sullivan that rugby was going to become a game of power, strength and size, and they believed that such a direction would favour them.

“To me, the emphasis on skill over the last ten years or so has reduced because of the focus on power, strength and size,” O’Sullivan told me. “The only thing is, the way they play now, because of that focus on power and size, then it takes a toll on players.

“If you look at the four teams that made it to the semi-final stage, for instance, they had far fewer injuries than the northern hemisphere teams — they might have been short one or two players through injuries picked up in the tournament, but that’s about it.

“Take our own team — Ireland lost five players to injury, and every other northern hemisphere side lost players as well, all because of how physical the southern hemisphere teams are at the breakdown.

“The Ireland-France game, for instance, was great entertainment, and great that we won, but afterwards I nearly felt tired myself, the collisions were so savage.”

O’Sullivan sees professionalism as a potential agent for change here — ironically, given that pay for play enables players to get bigger and stronger in the first place.

“Where this will become significant, to me, is from the business side. If you’re losing that number of players then something will have to be done, because from a business perspective, it’s unsustainable. It’ll be interesting to see the change in the game in the next few months to take account of that, particularly when you factor in the negative feedback coming from parents. They won’t want their children to play a game that attritional.

“I can go back to 1973 and that classic game between the Barbarians and New Zealand. Where would the likes of Mike Gibson fit into today’s game?”

In his time with Harlequins, O’Sullivan enjoyed talking sport with Conor O’Shea, who was then head coach with the London club (and whose father Jerome played football for Kerry).

O’Sullivan would put forward the view that the Gaelic footballer coming in to take a pass off a colleague’s shoulder was a template that could work in rugby if the timing, angle and momentum were right.

“There are other skills that transfer, of course. In Gaelic football you try to take the ball at is highest while because of the shape of the ball rugby players traditionally took it in the bread basket.

“But now you see players who’ll take a rugby ball with arms extended — particularly Australians, perhaps because of the Aussie Rules background, the way a lot of Irish players have Gaelic games in their background.

“Other skills — look at kicking, where the grubber kick isn’t used as much any more, but that goes back to professionalism, and not wanting to lose possession, or lose games. It’s safety first, all the time.

“It’s more of a percentage game, which puts an emphasis on attrition rather than skill.”

Talking the talk after walking the walk

This evening you would be well advised to catch The Geansaí, a series of short documentaries focusing on different aspects of the GAA, and tonight zeroes in on one of the great GAA traditions.

An All-Ireland speech is pretty unique, when you come to think of it. The man who picked up the Rugby World Cup yesterday didn’t give us a few words.

The person who lifts the Vince Lombardi trophy, or Wimbledon, doesn’t get to thank the backroom team. No matter what the gold medal is for in the Olympics, the men and women on the top step of the podium don’t say how much of an honour it is to receive the award on behalf of...

Previous episodes have featured women in the GAA and the specific challenges faced by island GAA clubs. I wouldn’t miss tonight’s if I were you: it throws in at 7.30pm on RTÉ One and features some of the biggest names on the time they gave a cúpla focail.

Smith returns to his GAA roots

Department of things that should be more widely known: yesterday was a milestone for the little village of Timoleague in West Cork, with the opening of a new dressing room complex for the local club, Argideen Rangers and the Timoleague Community Association.

What caught my eye about this was the person who performed the official opening — Bertie Smith, a name familiar to rugby fans for his exploits on the field as player and referee, and currently president of the Munster Branch.

As a native of the area, however, Smith played for and trained Argideen Rangers in his time, and won a Cork county senior football medal with Carbery in 1971.

It struck me that if it happened in another part of the country — the president of a provincial branch of the IRFU opening a GAA club’s new dressing-room — then it would be headline news, or maybe back page news, at least, but that’s neither here nor there.

The fact that Argideen Rangers turned to one of their own to perform the opening is probably the salient part of the equation, irrespective of the code in which that native son made his name.

Overheard on Anfield’s (literal) Irish roots

What you learn when you keep your ears open, eh?

Yours truly was in Geoff’s of Waterford recently while the conversation ebbed and flowed nearby (certainly the description by two of the participants in the chat of Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn as “not nearly as good a job as Maeve Binchy would have done” is one I wouldn’t disagree with).

But one of those participants then mentioned a public talk recently attended, in which a direct line was drawn between the southeast and the home of Liverpool FC.

Namely, that Anfield is a direct translation of Gort na hAbhainn.

I find this kind of thing irresistible. God knows the world of social media seems crammed with fans of Liverpool: is this true?

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