GUBU would be an inaccurate description, for it was neither Grotesque nor Unbelievable, but certainly it was Bizarre and Unprecedented. We’re talking about the press conference earlier today NZ time when Ronan O’Gara was rolled out to face the media. Just to give it an air of normality, Rob Kearney was sent out with him.
So off went O’Gara with an explanation of why he said, in the aftermath of Saturday night’s win over Australia, that his Ireland gig would all be over in a few weeks. I was gobsmacked when a colleague relayed the line to me at the time. We agreed that this was a case of: ‘All right lads, that’s enough about Ireland, let’s talk about me!”
When his comments were put to manager Paul McNaughton the next day his response sounded like he hadn’t a rashers what was going on, and he reminded us – and indeed O’Gara – that the outhalf had the small matter of two seasons to run on his contract.
McNaughton picked up on exactly what was unfolding: this was O’Gara ratcheting up the pressure on Declan Kidney to pick him ahead of Jonny Sexton. O’Gara’s relationship with Kidney has past its best point. Maybe he felt this was the quickest line of communication. As coach Kidney has to keep him happy, for O’Gara is a hugely important member of the squad, but while Kidney feels a chill down his spine when he has to make a decision, he is also stubborn. And O’Gara’s quasi emotional plea would have been wasted on the coach.
So was O’Gara selfish to do it? Yes, of course he was. That’s the way he is. I wouldn’t claim to be close to him but having dealt with him a fair bit over the last 13 years there are two things I understand about him: he has an insatiable appetite for success; and while his physical limitations as a rugby player are obvious, he has extraordinary mental toughness. In fact he needs to put himself into a corner in order to get the best out of himself.
Oh, there is one other thing about him: he is utterly single-minded about guarding his patch. Hence his comments on Saturday night. From the moment Jonny Sexton made his near perfect debut against Fiji on a miserably wet night in the RDS in November 2009 O’Gara has been on red alert. Having seen off David Humphreys after the 2003 World Cup he has been driven solely by his own desire to get better, not to keep someone else from the job. There was no one else. Now there is. Worse still, that someone has edged him out. And the clock is ticking.
So Ronan O’Gara to retire prematurely? He will have to be dragged off the premises and the locks changed.
Meanwhile, he was sent forth today – this was the management telling him to get out front and make some positive noises – to take one for the team. You’ll read his attempts to put those after match comments in some other, grander context, and he’d have been as well off digging a hole and getting into it. It was gibberish, and his demeanour suggested that he knew everyone in the room recognised it as well.
I don’t think this has done any damage to anyone. Jonny Sexton is having a rough time of it at the minute but he should be flattered that O’Gara is so exercised about getting his place back. Sexton is not short on bottle, but he needs to block out O’Gara and get himself back on track. And O’Gara needs to continue being a selfish, single minded competitor in order to make every minute count.