Paddy Jackson has played a minor role so far in Ireland’s World Cup campaign, but the Ulster out-half seems like just the guy to have around, especially as Ireland delve deep into their fourth straight month together.
On Thursday, he popped into a Cardiff store with Tommy Bowe to pass a few more interminable minutes when Avengers costumes caught their eyes. Minutes later and they were taking snaps: Jackson dressed as Ironman and Bowe as Captain America.
“Yeah, it was good craic,” said Bowe with a light chuckle yesterday afternoon. “I don’t know if I’m too keen on Captain America, personally. Paddy was looking for a Spiderman outfit, but I think they were all sold out.”
It isn’t the first time an Irish player has been mentioned in that sort of breath, of course, given the considerable delight Munster and Ireland supporters once took in repeating that line about Paul O’Connell and Superman’s pyjamas.
The narrative this week has been one of an Irish team holding out for a new hero in their injured captain’s absence, though the focus yesterday was on who might match his famed vocal abilities.
It was Chris Henry who revealed last week in the wake of the win over France that O’Connell had delivered the kind of speech that almost reduced him to tears.
You get the feeling that the man himself would cringe at that. Many has been the player and coach who has stressed that O’Connell has always been the type to lead by example rather than word and Bowe isn’t tingling with anticipation over who may step up in his stead to deliver a battle cry tomorrow.
“Um, no. Paulie spoke very well before the last match and so did Jamie [Heaslip] but, listen, whenever you’re coming into a big game and someone says something that really touches you, it’s very special, but you can’t expect it for every game.
“You have to be able to go into these big games and know what’s going to get yourself up for it, from a personal point of view. Whether Paulie said anything last week or not, from a personal point of view it’s up to you to get yourself in the best frame of mind.”
There is an element of being wise after these events, too.
Bowe, like everyone else, has heard any number of pre-match speeches and still gone on to lose and it is worth noting that Ireland finished second best to the French that day eight years ago despite O’Connell demanding “manic aggression” from his team.
The skipper is gone, but Ireland will move on. Different leaders will emerge or existing chiefs will move a rung further up the ladder. With 66 caps and 30 tries to his credit, the 31-year old Bowe is one of those, but in his own way.
A dodgy spell before the tournament left the Ulster wing’s long-term residency in the XV in considerable doubt, but he has rebounded superbly to play all 80 minutes in Ireland’s last three games and claim two tries against Romania.That is leading in its own way.
“Obviously, when you lose someone of the nature of the inspiration that Paul O’Connell brings, when he speaks, when he’s playing, there’s always going to be a bit of a loss whenever he’s not in the team, but we’ve played games when he’s not in the team... We’ve played games when Brian O’Driscoll was out. It was up to other senior players to step up and, in this team, we have plenty of those players.”
He’ll build up gently to the game rather than obsess or froth over it from days out, even if this is the opportunity to make up for the last-eight loss to Wales in 2011, a game he admits was the greatest disappointment of his career.
“It is about taking our chances when they come,” he says, “and we have enough players who have been there and been part of cup competitions that know how to turn up for these big games.”
O’Connell would surely agree.
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