O’Gara sent out to take one for the team

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.


About Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning has been involved in rugby all of his life as a player, coach and journalist. He has been rugby correspondent on the Sunday Independent since 1996, and has been reporting on the game since the mid 1980s when he stopped playing with Clontarf. In 2007 his book From There to Here, a definitive account of Ireland’s transition from amateur to professional rugby, was published to critical acclaim.
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5 Responses to O’Gara sent out to take one for the team

  1. Brian Hand says:

    ROG must have thought, like I did, that in was in with a great shout of starting against the Aussies after the USA game but it didn’t come to pass. I guess this was his way of throwing his toys out of his pram!

  2. Pingback: Fangio on Gamblor | Digging Like a Demented Mole

  3. Brian says:

    So, it was a hissy fit? Have to say, I think warranted if so and I fully agree with George Hook – O’Gara is our best out-half by far. Sexton our best no.2 out-half. Mind you, I couldn’t see either making any Southern Hemisphere Big 3 sides nor Wales or France for that matter!!

  4. Ian Patterson says:

    It left a bit of a sour taste in the mouth for ROG to come out talking about his retirement plans so soon after a famous victory. It was an open secret that Martin Johnson was set to retire post RWC 2003 yet, in the interests of the team, this was discussed publicly at no stage by him during the tournament. As someone who has been a great servant to Ireland over the years, ROG could do with getting his head down and supporting the collective rather than forwarding his own interests so publicly.

  5. JM says:

    So you think Ronan O’Gara (who knows Kidney for 20 years) thought he could blackmail Kidney into starting him. Hilarious. I don’t think ROG is that thick! He has seen Anthony Foley being dropped for a Heineken Cup final even though he was just about to retire, Peter Stringer sent home on 98 international caps, etc. etc.

    Sexton is lucky so far. He is playing poorly and still getting picked. He better up his game soon and reward Kidney for the faith that he has shown in him.

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