Say it with flowers and tax breaks

I AM introducing the Grand Slam backlash single-handedly. Right here, right now.

The motivation is not entirely sport-based, or even team-based, but aimed at one man.

Brian O’Driscoll. A good man to have alongside you if a 17-stone Welshman needs to be lifted out of the road, or if you’re in dire need of someone to plough through hefty Saxons for a close-quarters try, but really, the flowers for the engagement have rather undercut Brian’s image.

If you have been hiding under a stone this past week, allow us to explain that O’Driscoll compromised Irishmen everywhere by going to the extraordinary lengths of spelling out WILL YOU MARRY ME in flowers on the lawn of the house he shares with Amy Huberman, who is now the Ireland captain’s fiancée.

You can relax again: we are now taking off our bright-and-shiny Xposé frock and donning again the stained chinos and lightly-crusted PLAYA DEL INGLES t-shirt which make up the dress code on the sports desk.

However, the indignation still enshrouds us like a whiff of wintergreen. We bow to no-one in our admiration for O’Driscoll, who is not so much a riddle wrapped in an enigma as a savage competitor wrapped in a silkily-skilled package. Ordinary people do not plant Tom Shanklin on his rear end, nor do they get up from a (frankly illegal) dunt from Riki Flutey.

However, by raising the expectations of Irishwomen everywhere when it comes to affiancement, the great centre has done his fellow Irishmen no service.

And a couple of questions need to be asked: as O’Driscoll paused at the bottom of a ruck near the Welsh line in the second half of the Grand Slam decider in Cardiff, was he (a) weighing up whether to go high or low in an effort to get that vital touchdown or (b) wondering whether the red chrysanthemums were a bold enough statement with the purple-and-yellow freesias?

We need to be told.

SOMETHING else worth telling emerged from the GPA’s statement during the week. Submerged in the players’ statement was a reference to the GAA player grant scheme being an effort to establish parity of esteem between hurlers and gaelic footballers with professional sportsmen.

The obvious aim of the statement was to get politicians and public onside ahead of the upcoming budget, which promises to make John Bruton’s proposal to tax children’s shoes back in 1982 look like a golden age, and in that context the GPA have signalled a willingness to take a reduction in funding.

However, there are other financial initiatives which may also come under the beady eye of the Department of Finance. Much has been made — and rightly so — of the innovative tax break which allows professional Irish sportsmen claim back 40 per cent of the tax they paid on their playing salaries over the ten years before their retirement.

It has been identified as one of the trump cards, for instance, that the IRFU has been able to play in their efforts to keep most of their internationals playing for the Irish provinces, as the incentive only applies to Irish-based professionals.

That in turn has proven far better for the players physically than the Zurich Premiership treadmill, for the provinces’ success in the Magners League and Heineken Cup, and for the Irish team, given the result in Cardiff two weeks ago.

But if the GPA scheme is in the cross-hairs, who’s to say this scheme isn’t? In an era when the Taoiseach is openly conceding that people’s lifestyles are going to suffer in the next few years, every euro that the Exchequer might be able to retain in tax will come under scrutiny.

If incentives for Irish players to remain at home don’t exist any more, engagement flowers might still be on the agenda, but they may have to be bought in Gloucester or Toulouse rather than Glasthule or Togher.



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