THE 14 Irish players selected for the British and Irish Lions to face world champions South Africa on their home patch are the epitome of the few positive legacies of the Celtic tiger years. Confidence built on talent, brought to its highest pitch by the hardest of hard work.
Of course all of this would have come to nothing if it was not matched by the most involved and professional planning and, probably most of all, an unshakeable determination to prevail. A determination to learn from every defeat — “there’s no such thing as losing, there’s only learning,” is how second-time Lion Donnacha O’Callaghan, put it recently.
This determination extended to overcoming every obstacle even if that limitation was personal. Some of those selected yesterday have reformed their character so they could expect success at this level.
That those qualities are further recognised by the naming of Paul O’Connell as captain is another reason for Irish — and especially Munster supporters — to feel again the warm glow of satisfaction and pride.
That O’Connell’s only plausible rival for the honour, and the cachet of being the tenth Irishman to lead a Lions’ tour, was his national teammate and Grand Slam captain Brian O’Driscoll, is further evidence of the rewards of honesty and hard work so espoused by the most successful of professional Irish rugby players.
To put this achievement in context it should be pointed out that none of the other national team captains eligible — Ryan Jones of Wales, England’s Steve Borthwick or Scot Mike Blair — made the cut.
It is easy to get carried away by sport and the wonderful excitement and entertainment it provides and this instance is no different. That, however, does not mean that we should not learn the lessons it can provide.
After the initial euphoria of being told of their selection the great majority of the 14 of Irish players chosen will take a moment to say a silent ‘thank you’ to an individual who has had such a central role in their development as professional sportsmen and as people.
Former Munster, Leinster and now Irish coach Declan Kidney will feel, and is absolutely entitled to feel, a considerable sense of achievement in all of this. Though not directly involved in the Lions’ he is absolutely central to setting the standards and targets that made the selection of 14 Irishmen possible.
The Celtic tiger economy may have been the setting but the values of honesty, modesty, collegiality and personal integrity espoused by this unassuming school teacher are what made it happen. How sports men and women who have not reached their potential would wish to fall under the influence of such a figure.
In the days that followed Ireland’s first Grand Slam in a lifetime inevitable comparisons were made between the leadership style of Declan Kidney, Brian O’Driscoll, Paul O’Connell and our politicians.
Yesterday, right on cue, we were afforded another opportunity to do that. One of the items on RTÉ’s radio news just before the announcement of the Lions’ party was one in which Government backbencher Noel O’Flynn twisted and turned, dodged and dived and did everything he could to try to convince us that Finance Minister Brian Lenihan had not told us, in his budget speech, that long service increments to Dáil deputies were to be ended for Leinster house incumbents.
It is impossible to imagine Kidney, O’Driscoll or O’Connell being so shabby and self serving. Maybe that is why they are successful and Mr O’Flynn is a backbencher in a faltering government. After all it is through our actions that we reveal what we believe.
Just as Paul O’Connell’s Lions will in the coming months.
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