Ronan O'Gara: All aboard the post-virus rugby fun bus

These are challenging times, tough times.
Ronan O'Gara: All aboard the post-virus rugby fun bus

ROG’s Fun Bus: Who better to spend a night with than the Munster team-mates/soulmates I spent 15 years alongside? Picture: Jen Murphy
ROG’s Fun Bus: Who better to spend a night with than the Munster team-mates/soulmates I spent 15 years alongside? Picture: Jen Murphy

These are challenging times, tough times.

It’s our fourth week of lockdown in France and, of course, we are all aching to get back out there. So, we pass the time any way we can. Like, if I was putting together a 26-man fun bus of my former rugby colleagues to vent a bit of steam and to celebrate the end of this extraordinary hiatus, who’d make the cut?

I started with a different list because I thought Munster and Ireland team-mates was too easy.

But then I parked the international list because I began thinking ‘who better to spend a night with than the Munster team-mates/soulmates I spent 15 years alongside?’

The criteria: What they’re like on a night out in terms of craic, wit, stamina and general good company? Playing ability has nothing to do with this!

We could all do with a bit of that.

I looked at Jason Leonard of England on the original list of internationals, a really top fella, but let’s call a spade a spade. He’s not getting on the bus at No. 1 ahead of Claw.

No. 1: Peter Clohessy is an obvious selection for the first seat on the bus. Trouble with Claw though is we might need an early sub when the oul fella falls asleep at seven o’clock. He can’t handle the pace too well now. However, for as long as he’d be with us, he’d be breaking his arse laughing and with his sidekick, Gaillimh, they’re like a pair of scampy schoolchildren. They come as a pair, so one of the lock positions is filled accordingly. Marcus and Killer to fight it out as a impact sub... trouble is with Claw gone so early, we’d need the pair of them.

No. 2: Frankie Sheahan. A hugely competitive slot. Woody gets a mention but he was only in Munster for one season. Damian Varley excels in many disciplines. The two Fogartys also, John and Denis, were great craic and would be essential for any fun bus, so they can fight out with Jerry Flannery for the sub hooker slot. Jerry brings so much to a night, but Frank the Tank’s stamina wins him the seat. Frankie was a born messer, the type that would be acting the mule without even having to try.

No. 3: Don’t want John Hayes on the bus, because he wouldn’t want to come with us. He’d rather be looking over the hedge into the field of cows. He actually preferred looking at bovine stock over humans. I’d bring Freddie Pucciarello, a mad Argentinian who’d start a sing song in three different languages and wouldn’t have a clue himself what he was belting out. His broken English never stopped him believing singing was a lost vocation. His wife is Italian, so you’d have a cocktail of Spanish, English and Italian all in the same verse. Head-wrecking but hilarious.

No.’s 4 and 5: I’ve got Mick Galwey already in the second row of the bus, but the competition to sit alongside Gaillimh is brutal. Donncha O’Callaghan is the obvious choice, but what are we doing with Paul O’Connell, who has a wicked sense of humour, or with Mick O’Driscoll and Donnchadh Ryan? We won’t disqualify Donncha for the fact that he doesn’t drink but he might have to move down the back with Micko and Shkin (DR) to accommodate Paulie.

The whole beauty of POC is how different the reality is to the perception. There’s this caricature of him as this brooding, intense, humourless head, but the opposite is the case.

He’s lethal, deadly with the cutting slags, leave you in a heap in two seconds. And very droll doing it.

Gaillimh would drive him demented too with the pale moon rising from the Rose of Tralee.

No. 6: I’d have to bring Denis Leamy. He’d ate the glasses and all for you. Pips Jim Williams to this spot which is some doing! Quinny would drive them all mad if we brought him. Maybe we’ll stuff him in the boot?

No. 7: Ready to go a quarter of an hour before the bus departs would be David Wallace, the best dressed award a formality, the hair perfectly gelled. Wally is lethal, a great bit of craic. With the Covid-19 virus done and the date booked, you’d be getting excited at the thought of who’d be on the bus. I’d want Wally on that bus, not least for the

rollover the following day...

No. 8: I thought about whether to bring Axel or not, sure you’d hardly know he was on the bus.

He’d be sitting there, and not a stir out of him either in the first or second port of call. Talking to his pint, nice ‘n aisy. Around midnight he might decide to join us. I got on great with that man. It wouldn’t be right if he wasn’t on that bus. He’d some diesel engine on him when it came to these nights out. Not a budge out of him til late on, and then warmed up, he’d come calling.

I’d like a spot for Nick Williams on the bench.

No. 9: Tomás O’Leary. Born messer. Never a dull moment. He was great for team morale, getting stuck into fellas with deadly (and accurate) comments. First off the bench would be Mike Prendergast as Tomás firmly believed in ‘go hard or go home’. Conor Murray was a dark horse and warrants serious consideration.

Ronan O'Gara and Jason Holland with the Heineken Cup after the 2008 final. Photo: INPHO/Billy Stickland
Ronan O'Gara and Jason Holland with the Heineken Cup after the 2008 final. Photo: INPHO/Billy Stickland

No. 10: So Jason Holland, the pride of Midleton — or so he insisted — gets the 10 slot and I’ll park myself down back listening to Donncha’s tall tales. Dutchy was one of the squad’s most popular guys. He’s better craic than me too.

No. 11: The captain of the bus, Anthony Horgan. Ants in his pants. He’d be looking to call to every pub on the first pit stop, wherever that was. The polar opposite to Axel. ‘C’mon lads, drink up, we’re moving on’. He’s one of those guys who had to keep moving where a lot us wanted to just settle down and have the craic. Keith Earls would need his arm twisted to get on the bus but once he warmed up, he’d be breaking his balls laughing at us and it wouldn’t be long before he’s front and centre with the yarns. Handy if Ian Dowling could meet us in Kilkenny as there is a high probability the fun bus could end up there. (Quite a few fun bus trips seemed to end up down there with devastating consequences for all.)

No.’s 12 and 13: Now things start to get tricky. How do you tell a fella he’s not making the fun bus? Party animal Rob Henderson is a certainty and I have to think Rua Tipoki is too, especially if something was to start getting angsty later in the night. Rua would sort that.

But how do I not bring Jean de

Villiers? Jess and I had just started a family but that never stopped Nick Williams, de Villiers, and Dougie Howlett arriving at my house at half six in the morning looking for a bottle of whiskey. Jess loved that… ‘Come on we’ll go back to Rog’s, he’s an early riser’. I met Jean at the World Cup last year in Japan, and have stayed in contact with him. He left a big impression on a lot of us.

Trevor Halstead, his compatriot, would be appalled at the prospect of a fun bus. His body was a temple. He’d use the time to do calf raises.

PS: Anyway can I sneak in Barry Murphy (of Hermitage Green) and his wonderful voice?

No. 14: The aforementioned Dougie. What a legend. The Tongan torpedo. I was thinking of a couple of our former Rugby League boys like Brian Carney, Gary Connolly, and Will Chambers but they were ruled out on the basis that NRL boys are too practiced with their Mad Mondays. We wanted to return home alive. Honourable mention for John O’Neill and John Kelly, two fine men on a night out.

No. 15: You’d have to bring Zebo. He sees things differently. He is his own man. But the main reason he’s on the bus is so we can hear Gaillimh and Claw critiquing his moves on the dance floor. Talk about a generation gap. They’d fairly get stuck into his shapes on the dance floor.

Down the back of the bus (remember it’s only a 26-seater), you’d have to bring Quinny to mind me and also so everyone could have a slag off him when there’s a lull in conversation. Ken O’Connell is an automatic pick (a World Rugby Fun bus Hall of Famer). I have to find a spot for Mossy Lawler as a utility back. Great fella. Already booked in are Denis/John Fogarty, Jerry Flannery Donnchadh Ryan, Mick O’Driscoll, Ian Murray (to keep an eye on the Shannon lads), Donncha, de Villiers, and Nick Williams.

Mind us, Mr Driver.

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