MICHAEL MOYNIHAN: Could Brexit derail Ireland’s bid for Rugby World Cup?

There are only a few months left for World Rugby to ponder its options when it comes to the 2023 tournament, writes Michael Moynihan.

You wouldn’t identify the Tories under Theresa May as subversive satirists, but I have to applaud their choice James Brokenshire as Northern Secretary, or at least his name.

Appointing someone whose name means Fractured Administrative Subdivision to oversee Brexit in Northern Ireland — hard borders, border posts and all — is a masterstroke worthy of Jonathan Swift.

Not that Brokenshire is all chuckles, or any chuckles. Take his comments last week ruling out a special status for Northern Ireland when it comes to Brexit; Brokenshire followed those comments with promises about a ‘frictionless’ border between the Republic and the North, only to be hammered by other MPs for his vagueness.

Why does that rear its ugly head here? Because of the implications for Ireland’s Rugby World Cup bid.

There are only a few months left for World Rugby to ponder its options when it comes to the 2023 tournament, which means there could hardly be a worse time for boiling instability in the North and the prospect of lengthy queues of vehicles being inspected for contraband at customs posts. When Hugo McNeill addressed a gathering recently in Dublin about the bid for 2023, he sounded a strong positive note, but also warned about renewed interest in France in hosting the tournament — the former Ireland full-back instanced the pair of Toulon supporters he encountered before Christmas who weren’t even aware that France was bidding for the World Cup, and contrasted that with the strong commercial partnerships the French Rugby Federation, the FFR, has announced in recent weeks. The latter move is taken widely as a statement of intent regarding the sudden seriousness with which France is viewing its chances of success.

The obvious point to make is that 2023 is a pretty long way in the distance. A good deal could happen between then and now, including a sudden attack of common sense across the water regarding Brexit, or maybe another referendum in a couple of years. Depending on how events play out, the border may not have hardened at all by the time the Brexit mess comes to some kind of finality, or — more likely — some kind of temporary border derogation would be agreed to in the event of the Irish bid being successful.

Unfortunately, that may be too late, because the decision will be made while these matters are not so much up in the air as hovering overhead like World War II barrage balloons.

Those deciding on the destination of the 2023 tournament will hardly have missed out on the fact that despite the Irish bid being a 32-county effort, continued uncertainty about access to and from six of those counties remains an issue. We won’t even get into the ongoing rumbles about the status of what was accomplished under the Good Friday Agreement in the wake of the recent political meltdown in the top of the island.

Yes, it could all be fine tomorrow. Yes, we might all look back and laugh. But just as timing is off the essence on any field of play, away from the arena it’s just as vital. These are a couple of needless complications that the Rugby World Cup bid organisers could hardly have foreseen — who could have? — but now they’re here, how proactive do they need to be to address them? Is it politic to even draw attention to the potential issues, or, as anticipated, is it a given that those adjudicating on the bid will raise those issues anyway?

Is that why those wily French are laughing at us?

Grann’s latest effort worth a gander

Good reading alert. A long-time favourite of this column has a new book out. David Grann’s latest is Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, about a famous series of killings in the 20s.

Based on his previous outings, this is one I have to recommend. Grann’s previous outings include The Lost City of Z, now a movie which will be coming soon to a cinema near you (good) starring Charlie Hunnam (not so good, but you can’t have everything.) I will be moving on to Killers of the Flower Moon when I’m done with The Undoing Project, but this segment should in no way be construed as an appeal for a free copy. Are we clear?

NFL razzmatazz would do nicely

You probably stayed up for the Super Bowl last night, so don’t feel bad if you’re struggling this morning. At the time of writing I didn’t know whether the Trump-supporting Tom Brady/Bill Belichick combination had won or their opponents, christened now by me as The Good Guys.

What caught my eye recently, however, was not Tom Brady’s slithering around about his support for Trump, but the skills competition at the NFL Pro Bowl.

Among the skills tested was the ability to field a ball dropped from a hovering drone. From a height of 12 storeys.

I’m in with just that description. I’m on board.

This is just the kind of absolutely-unapplicable yet highly-entertaining sideshow I live for. There were other skills contests on show, such as throwing an American football at a target, but dropping a ball from over 100 feet and expecting someone to catch it? People have won Nobel Prizes for less.

By the time I got to the competitive game of Dodgeball I was prepared to abandon all pretence at objectivity. According to the movie of the same name, of course, the game has some strong Irish links (“Dodge, duck, dip, dive, and . . . dodge.” - Patches O’Hoolahan.) The lesson here, to me, is one for the GAA. You can’t get people to come to the interprovincial hurling and football games? Easy remedy: Get some players to stand underneath a drone that’s 12 storeys up and get them to catch a football or a sliotar.

Better again, line up Dublin and Mayo footballers for a game of charity Dodgeball and stand well back.

A fitting tribute to Galway great Joe

I note that the Fitzgibbon Cup is being held in Galway on the weekend beginning February 24 — but that’s also the date of a commemorative dinner for the much-missed Joe McDonagh. Former GAA president and a Galway hurling star, McDonagh impressed early on, winning a Fitzgibbon Cup medal with UCG alongside the likes of Cyril Farrell, Pat Fleury, and Conor Hayes. I wasn’t aware he also played in two Sigerson Cup finals alongside Ger O’Keeffe and Paudie O’Mahony. The dinner celebrating McDonagh’s contribution to the GAA will be held in the Westwood Hotel at 7pm on Friday February 24.


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