Ireland’s Red Sox need to lift Cup curse

IT was an excuse made in heaven. As torrents of water washed through the sodden city centre, delighted men made phone calls to loved ones safe in suburbia.

“Calm down love, I’m fine but I’m trapped in the pub and I could be here or hours. I’m telling ya it’s like Waterworld out there.

“What’s that? No, don’t worry, I’ll just have to ride it out but we should be okay, yeah, we’re on the high stools ...”

The weather was also being invoked as an excuse when Munster’s narrow win against Harlequins was being analysed during the week.

There were those who felt the team had been unfairly criticised for failing to put away the ’Quins more comprehensively. I disagree.

Watching this team over the past four years we have become accustomed to a level of performance and Munster were a good bit under that last Saturday.

What is heartening is that, even though they were below par, Munster managed to win against what we now know is a decent Harlequins side.

Equally encouraging is he fact that players and management realise they were not at their best and will have to up their game considerably for Sunday’s clash with the Ospreys.

“Overall, I thought our performance last weekend was poor,” said second-row Paul O’Connell.

“The weather might not have been great but when you play rugby in Ireland it is going to be like that a lot of the time.”

Such candour is refreshing in a world of post match guff-speak and gives one hope that, in a season when the ‘Curse of the Bambino’ was lifted for Boston, perhaps Irish rugby’s Red Sox might finally end their own agonising wait for glory.

Speaking of criticism, there was little need for it this week when Eddie O’Sullivan unveiled his first international squad of the season.

For this was a straightforward selection of the best players available, no unjust omissions or surprise inclusions.

However, when one runs down through the squad it becomes apparent that time is running out for a few of our stalwarts and there are precious few youngsters coming through to replace them.

I am talking in particular about the front row.

Shane Byrne and Reggie Corrigan are well into their 30s at this stage and John Hayes is not far behind them.

Thankfully, Frankie Sheahan and Marcus Horan are both still in their 20s and will be around for a while yet but beneath that, front row contenders are hard to find.

Then one looks at the back row situation.

They used to say in the 19th century that if you lobbed a stone over a bush anywhere in Ireland you would hit one of Daniel O’Connell’s children.

Well it seems that behind every bush in Ireland at present, there lurks a talented flanker.

Denis Leamy has done well to make this squad and is a player with huge potential, yet one wonders how likely he is to nail down a permanent spot in Ireland’s back row given the quantity of quality options.

You look at his physique and dynamism and wonder what kind of hooker he would have made if he had been switched at a younger age.

Then you spot a frustrated David Wallace yearning for game time and the same thing crosses you mind.

New Zealander Hamish Adams is manager of the Munster Academy and it is his job to nurture the next crop of elite rugby talent.

Adams accepts that there is a dearth of talented front rows in Ireland at the moment but says steps are being taken to address the problem.

“Someone like Denis Leamy could make a very talented hooker but you can’t try to get guys to change positions when they are into their 20s.

“You have to catch them earlier when they are in the 16-19 age bracket and try to bring them along.

“We have a problem at prop forward but props aren’t made overnight.

“It is a very technical position and needs specialist coaching,” he added.

“With this in mind we will be introducing an initiative shortly called ‘The Front Row Factory’ which will be geared specifically at targeting talented young guys and developing them into top quality front rows.”

So, we may have had a few pops at the IRFU over the years but the academy system has been a sensible development and this Front Row Factory is an excellent idea that bodes well for Irish rugby’s future.

AT a more parochial level, tomorrow sees the eagerly anticipated derby meeting of Highfield and Dolphin in the second division of the AIL and it is no coincidence that this fixture arrives during the worst storms to hit Cork in 40 years.

I have visited Highfield many times, as player and spectator, over the last20 years and every single time it has been teeming down.

Nonetheless, I have a lot of time for Highfield.

Every Irish club has its internal squabbles but the way Highfield pulled together and clawed their way back from their junior rugby nadir a few years ago was wholly admirable.

Tomorrow should be a great occasion, deluge or no deluge.

And you never know, perhaps we’ll be trapped in the clubhouse afterwards - they don’t call Woodleigh Park the ‘House of Rain’ for nothing.

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