THE pain of suffering defeat to the All Blacks last weekend was tempered a little over 24 hours later when Denis Leamy and the small Tipperary contingent on the Ireland travelling party sat down to watch the Premier defeat Cork in the Munster hurling championship.
For Leamy, the long wait to beat New Zealand in Test rugby goes on; but for his home county they could bask in the glory of beating the Rebels in the ‘Park’ for the first time in 85 years.
“I think a few of the lads had done their homework so we found a place in Southgate on the Yarra River called O’Brien’s,” recalls Leamy. “We arrived down there and settled into a corner. I was there with Quinny (Alan Quinlan) and Liam Hennessy (fitness guru) and later we bumped into Brads (Michael Bradley) and Rog (Ronan O’Gara) and Micko (Mick O’Driscoll) and a few more of the Cork lads. There was good old banter, good old craic. For a long time there I was worried.
“I know a few of the hurling lads from Tipp – some of them would be fairly local to where I live and others I’ve bumped into at different events over the years. You get to know them. They seem to have a good thing going there.”
He took delight in watching Tipp seal the deal and surmount what seemed their own psychological barrier in defeating a Cork team on Leeside, and wonders aloud whether some kind of mental block exists when Irish teams are faced with the black jersey.
“It felt like the same old story. I’ve played against New Zealand four times now We were wiped off the park the first time but the other three times we’ve been in a position where we can win the game and haven’t taken it. Sometimes you have to wonder if they weren’t wearing black jerseys, would we go out and seal the deal. It’s disappointing because we’ve been in positions like that in other games over the years and actually won them.
“It was a tough, physical game, and the conditions were difficult but in other games, we probably would have got our noses in front and held on and won it, but we just can’t seem to get over that hurdle against them.”
The psychological deficiency doesn’t seem to exist any longer at Munster where they’ve managed to beat the cream of European rugby over many seasons. Toulouse,
Leicester, Wasps, Stade Francais - they’ve all been conquered by Munster. Declan Kidney, a known fan of psychology, had them believe they were better than any one else, and perhaps they might have to wait until November for a victory over New Zealand when Kidney takes over for the visit of the All Blacks to Croke Park.
Leamy recognises how mental strength is a factor on these tours, and will tap into it ahead of today’s Test against Australia.
“If you don’t have the top three inches right going into big games, you’re not going to win. You have to have the belief and the coolness and calmness to see that through. If you can’t get that into your head then, you have no chance in the big games. You can play with as much fire and passion but unless you genuinely believe you’re going to win, you won’t.”
He came out of a battle against the All Blacks admiring the unstoppable force that is Richie McCaw. He remembers his former coach at Rockwell College, Hogan Chapman, telling him that McCaw - a force at under-19 level around the turn of the
Millennium - was going to be even better than Josh Kronfeld and Michael Jones. Leamy admits he saw a master in action that night in Wellington, and got career lessons in flanker play.
“He’s very technically astute and probably gets away with things other players wouldn’t. That’s one of his great abilities – on the deck, his spoiling play and his tackle-counts.”
Leamy’s season closes after tomorrow’s match against the Wallabies, and holidays will be divided between Tipperary and Cape Town, where he intends to go on Safari.
“I’m very much into nature, and am looking forward to seeing that part of the world, just to get away from rugby. It’s been a long season, and I just want to get away from it and talk about something else.”
He is not complaining of fatigue, though, and didn’t look a man on his last legs when putting in 16 tackles against the All Blacks last weekend. Leamy has described training in the 53rd week of their season as “sensible”, praising interim coach Michael Bradley for his pragmatic approach on tour where sessions have been cut right down to intense 50 minute workouts.
“We’re probably the best fellas in the world to keep pushing ourselves in the gym but towards the end of the year, we need to pull in the reins, put the feet up, maybe get into bed and watch a DVD or something. It’s probably more important than pumping heavy weights. It’s important that we rest up, do our video work and mentally believe we can beat these guys and I think, not being arrogant or anything, we can beat the Wallabies. It’s a great opportunity and it would be a nice way to finish a difficult season.”
After the match he hopes to meet Jim Williams, “a great friend off the pitch as much as on it” and say a final thank you to Williams as he begins his new adventure with the Men of Gold after six years in red.
“You can’t buy the qualities Jim brings to teams,” says Leamy. “He bought into the Munster thing and gave his heart and soul to the cause for six years and you just can’t replace that.
“As a player when I came in to the squad, it was at the same time as Jim. He was always very generous with his time. He always helped me and the younger players in a big way. He’s not aggressive, in your face and he talks things through with players. That’s what all players want and that feedback probably went back to the Wallabies as much as anything.”
For 80 minutes against Australia, though, their friendship is suspended.
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