TUESDAY, and the Killiney Castle Hotel for the announcement of the Irish rugby team to play Italy in Croke Park tomorrow.
Obviously there was huge media interest at the press conference in Kevin McLaughlin, the new cap, who handled the attention well. In fact, the new man at number six wasn’t long in outlining his thoughts on the requirements of an international blindside flanker.
“Six is the hammer man,” he said, “To make sure you lay down the tempo early on by getting a big hit in.”
For those of us who still carry a torch for the blaxploitation films of yesteryear – Pam Grier, Richard Roundtree, what’s not to like? – there was an echo of Fred “The Hammer” Williamson, the American football star who went on to success as an actor in Black Caesar and Hell Up In Harlem. (He was also notorious for wearing, while a sports anchor on ABC Wide World of Sports, a medallion that might be politely termed a male fertility symbol rampant).
On reflection, maybe it was only your columnist who was thinking of superfunky early-70s niche cinema.
The other big news was the selection of Ronan O’Gara instead of Jonathan Sexton, a choice made easier, obviously, by the Leinster player’s injury. Donal Lenihan wrote in these pages that he felt it was always going to be O’Gara anyway, a sentiment we’re inclined to echo. Jonathan Sexton has a long career in the green jersey ahead of him, but the Munster out-half’s experience isn’t something to be discarded lightly.
The best and most recent example of the benefits of experience is the way O’Gara has overcome a drastic fall in his success rate in kicking at goal earlier this season. We describe it in that rather convoluted way for a reason – O’Gara was kicking fewer goals not because he was out of sorts or lacking confidence, but because he was rebuilding his kicking style.
There’s a lesson there for young sportsmen everywhere, and in all codes: even after a decade in the Irish jersey, with Lions jerseys and Heineken Cup medals clogging up the wardrobe, the Cork man felt the need to examine the mechanics of what he was doing in detail – and then change them.
“I’m constantly changing, constantly looking for improvements, constantly trying to be the best,” he said a couple of months ago.
If that sounds familiar, cast your mind back to last April, when O’Gara was commenting on the same subject, describing his work with kicking guru Dave Alred at that point as “a little bit of mixing and matching”.
He added: “People will say you’ve kicked very well for 10 years but I’m always trying to improve and improve. I’ve just found a new power position and I’ve tried to work on that.” (Answers to what a power position is to the e-mail address below).
There’s a lot of free-floating nonsense spouted about professionalism and attention to detail when it comes to sport, but that’s as good an example as any. Most players who’d planted the drop-kick that collected Ireland’s first Grand Slam in over half a century would be pretty happy with their technique. Not O’Gara.
Even when his kicking success rate dipped below 50%, he had faith that what he was doing was correct and would bear fruit down the line.
“I never had any doubts for any minute. I broke it down step-by-step and it took me a few games to do that.”
No doubts. As they said in one of the great blaxploitation films: can you dig it?
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