ADRIAN RUSSELL: Paulie’s ‘Fear of God’ speech v ‘Life is a Roller Coaster’?

God knows our little-stitious rugby stars may need every bit of luck we can rub together, deep behind enemy lines

TO paraphrase one of Ronald Reagan’s White House advisors, speaking during a particularly stressful political stand-off, Eli Manning is an NFL quarter back so chilled out he sometimes endures sleepless afternoons.

Thanks to this calm demeanour, a chronoscopic arm and a thimble of good fortune, he managed to drive the unfashionable New York Giants to an unlikely and famous Super Bowl victory in the 2007 season.

Pulling off comic-book displays against monochrome backdrops in places like sub-zero Green Bay and Buffalo, the usually affable Manning insisted his young fiancée sit outside on the backside-numbing bleachers – rather than in the toasty corporate players’ box. For luck, you understand.

A slightly-embarrassed Manning explained when asked: “I’m not superstitious; I’m little-stitious”.

After the stinging defeat in Paris almost two weeks ago, Ireland’s game tomorrow in Twickenham against a resurgent England takes on – if this were possible for a showdown with the Auld Enemy – yet more consequence. And God knows our little-stitious rugby stars may need every bit of luck we can rub together, deep behind enemy lines.

Donncha O’Callaghan will carefully choose a new pair of stockings from a pile of fresh laundry the height of a medium-sized human child tonight. They’ll then be packed – by someone else – in a bag before the LateLate show.

Ritual. Ritual. Ritual.

Other members of the playing staff will avoid the otherwise-popular David Wallace. Like the special breed of fainting goats that farmers in South America strategically keep with their more prized cattle, ‘Wally’ goes deathly quiet when a predator is on the horizon. He’s getting in the zone.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, fans are doing their bit for the ceremony of a big-game build-up and committing to tape their heartfelt team talks, which the squad view before kick-off.

One personal favourite features a ruddy-faced, unshaven gentleman under a woolly hat. This guy is the living embodiment of Yeats’s idealised Irishman depicted in The Fisherman. Fittingly, his speech is pure poetry.

In comparison, Al Pacino’s Game of Inches call-to-arms sounds like the automated voice on the Luas Red Line. A soaring lyric employing every rhetorical device seen in great political oration, by its climax I launch a wild Flannery-like swipe at the dog as if he’s a French winger, while the evocative music swells yet more.

(Incidentally, World Cup-winning England head coach Clive Woodward appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs last Sunday. His music choices were, quite frankly, a thundering disgrace and should fill every Irish heart with optimism. Ronan Keating, Take That. 90s Euro pop, which, he explained, evoked memories of Lawrence Dallaglio dancing on the team bus. Is this what they listen to in the home dressing room at Twickers while Paul O’Connell is throwing a rake of f***s into the lads? The Fear of God speech versus ‘Life is a Roller Coaster’? I know which foxhole, I’d prefer to be in.)

Another clip shows a guy recalling the one occasion he witnessed his father crying; not at his wedding, not at his sister’s wedding, he says. But ‘when YOU Rog stuck that drop goal last year in Cardiff’. Your dad didn’t wait 60-odd years for his son to get married though, in fairness.

Eli Manning doesn’t have to ponder long on when the last time he saw his big brother cry. The Indianapolis Colts’ Peyton is considered one of the best QBs ever to play the game, as Martin Johnson – a massive gridiron fan – will well know.

The Colts play with horseshoes – superstition’s touchstone – on their helmets but their luck had bolted by the time Peyton realised he had thrown away the Super Bowl last month against his hometown team of New Orleans.

With the blue-hot favourites driving in the final minutes for a game-tying touchdown, Peyton drilled a ball into the waiting arms of a Saint, who returned for a touchdown. And so the world’s greatest week-long big-game hype – with all its pomp and festooned ritual – came to a shuddering stop for one side.

Another set of Manning brothers – the ever-popular showband greats from Leeside – might have sung: let the heartaches begin. But let’s hope that’s an English tune tomorrow.


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