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MacKenna On Monday: I Hate To Say I Told You So

I hate to say I told you so. But…

I tried to warn that this would happen, based logically on our own past experiences and ongoing present attitude. However, with rugby in Ireland, it’s so often once bitten, twice bitten, three times bitten. If the saying is true that stupidity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting somehow a different result, then this so-called rugby country is plenty thick.

Not the team, but the bubble wrap we place around them, the hyperbolic overestimation of achievements, and the back-slapping attitude infiltrates them as they live amongst it and always feel it. We go so soft meaning, by extension, they oft go soft when it matters most. Paul Green has spent his career being the butt of endless jokes but Robbie Henshaw just needs some time?

No one could have predicted the absolute annihilation against England. No one would have thought the first two visiting tries might come about because of meltdowns from a team that had played all of last year like a reliable machine. But losing shouldn’t surprise many for, while we often punch harder than expected as underdogs, as favourites our glass jaw sticks out.

Just like the Celtic Tiger, in this area of life we get plenty smug and plenty loud when on top.

Only, there’s no point talking yourself up in a crowded room when you’ve forgotten to wear pants.

Before kick-off on Saturday, Brian O’Driscoll didn’t think two England players would make the Irish team. Alan Quinlan said they were actually scared of us. They may have been a half-inch away from beating the same New Zealand that caused so many Irish to proclaim their group as team of the year and create titles like de facto world champions after no more than a November friendly. But it didn’t matter. No sport in Ireland gets notions about itself like rugby and it is self-defeating. On top of that, it is fueled by the same sort who get ahead of themselves, turning booms to busts, but get bailed out, and are given another free chance to do it all again.

Ahead of the weekend, many of those folks were happy to talk openly about being World Cup contenders. Now we’ve to remind ourselves that we still haven’t been beyond the last eight in a competition that for most of its history has had eight actual teams.

That is a sign of massive collective ego that is completely out of control. For shame.

If sport is a mirror of life, then this rugby attitude comes from that arrogant and entitled section of the nation where it draws most of its elite players and a whole chunk of its support. That’s a great pity but it drips down and shows up as a perfect reflection as if a still lake. It’s about time the special treatment stopped and bullsh*t was called out as just that, but two chances.

Rugby abides by different rules. It’s special. It’s untouchable.

Like Big Ern McCracken, it’s above the law.

Take one incident as a gloriously depressing microcosm of the complete delusion.

Across last week, the billboards in the lead-up to the Six Nations kick off read as follows. “You don’t pick a side, your grandparents have done that already”. Joey Carbery’s grandparents were from New Zealand. CJ Stander’s and Quinn Roux’s grandparents grew up in a very different South Africa. Bundee Aki’s grandparents started life in Samoa.

This wasn’t what caused them to take the posters down though. Instead, there were complaints from Irish supporters that it didn’t reflect the diversity of the team. Diversity? Are they for real? They mean bought-in mercenaries that undermine the integrity of the international game and take places from Irish kids, right? If you keep lying to yourself, you eventually hurt yourself.

Ireland England Six Nations

Remember the great Simpsons’ episode? “No, Smithers. I’ve decided to bring in a few ringers. Professional baseballers. We’ll give them token jobs at the plant and have them play on our softball team. Honus Wagner, Cap Anson Mordecai, ‘Three Finger’ Brown.”

Yet these fools take the same ideal and try to pass it off with a stiff upper lip as they know more than the rest of us.

The issues just kept on coming the more that ad was dissected. For instance, there’s the notion that the sport was and is so relatively niche that most of the actual Irish players’ forefathers couldn’t have cared less about it. However, it’s not just passing over the facts but even the whole alcohol sponsorship just adds to the place rugby holds. While such funding was bullied out of other sports via popular opinion, it got a pass for it’s different and it’s unique.

It even thinks it can dictate as it wants. After the New Zealand win the IRFU had the nerve to write to RTÉ and ask them to show more clips of more ordinary people in the crowd. That same IRFU with three stadiums also presumed the World Cup would be handed to it.

And on it goes. Take Paddy Power’s effort ahead of Saturday’s clash too. “Dear England, sorry for the last two years of pain, suffering, and humiliation. Another 798 and we’ll be even.” What other sport could get away with equating war, torture and murder on a genocidal scale to a game? Granted, it’s nothing new. A few years back when in the RTÉ hot seat Tom McGurk joked that the Irish front-row was “the greatest national disaster since the potato famine”.

Hilarious.

Ireland England Six Nations

However, it’s not even that which irks most, rather it’s the event-junkie mob mentality created by the marketing push. The basic principle behind watching any sport is to cheer one of the teams, but while Irish fans can overindulge in limited successes, to mutter a word when they lose is seen as heresy. Many do not like the team for their valid reasons and therefore aren’t distraught at defeats. This is their right yet it’s overlooked by those demanding everyone is on the bandwagon. How many stayed away though and gleefully smiled at England’s win was telling, showing a large portion of rugby country don’t actually like it and what goes with it.

Although you’d never guess that from the ABC1 lusting media coverage.

Yet what are those valid reasons to cheer against Ireland, you ask? Well let’s go there.

How about the private schools that provide a financial barrier to entry barring some rare exceptions, the text messages read out in courtrooms , the entire cult of schools rugby.

That may seem an irrational list but the reasons for following a team are equally irrational. As George Carlin put it, “Pride should be reserved for something you achieve or obtain on your own, not something that happens by accident of birth. Being Irish isn’t a skill… it’s a fucking genetic accident. You wouldn’t say I’m proud to be 5’11”; I’m proud to have a pre-disposition for colon cancer.”

Therefore to each their own.

conor murray england

For those of us seemingly not allowed to pick the wrong team though, perhaps Neil Francis is the embodiment of what we dislike most. He left a lifetime of rugby dressing rooms with the notion that homosexuals like ballet and not this man’s game. Read his columns. With a big bucks job in the city, his thoughts recently have bemoaned Colin Kaepernick as if he could understand what it’s like to be a black man, stood up for Israel’s atrocities, and blamed soccer fans for the racism in Ravenhill. It’s pure elitism and it stinks.

Many years ago, indeed, when working with him in The Sunday Tribune, the paper had the soccer correspondent pay his own way to South Africa for the World Cup but when a second-string Ireland visited Argentina for a tour not only was Francis sent, his wife was too as she did the typing he couldn’t handle against the proximity of time-difference deadlines.

There’s always been one self-imposed rule for them. Fair or not, this is what many reflect on.

Years back, the CBS in Athy entered the Leinster Junior Cup. It was a new departure in a GAA heartland and came only a few years after we’d won a schools’ All Ireland in soccer. This, of course, had to be different, however, for this was rugby. Put it this way. Those of us on the football team would get out of a single class before a game, giving us 40 minutes to walk the length of the town, get togged out, and make it out onto the field for throw in. But those around the oval ball had it more grand. They took the entire morning of their match off, and others could get off as well to jump on a supporters’ bus going to cheer them on.

School spirit. Forced pep. Rugby country.

Look at how we judge Conor McGregor. Yet how often have you heard about the recently retired international who one evening sat beside the bathroom door in a Limerick club and spat at anyone that walked by? You didn’t as they are above it. This creates the hubris that makes its way onto the field. If you tell someone they can walk into traffic and survive enough, they might just believe it.

But if they do it, it’ll be a grim end.

Besides, it takes itself so seriously and refuses to see its own faults, thus it never improves. It has its own language. There can be no joking or questioning or fun. People in pubs tell you to hush when there’s a penalty such is the tradition yet it’s also okay for Irish fans in Lansdowne to boo Owen Farrell when it suits. They collectively growl “heave” at a game in another city.

Thus with so much pride, it’s hard not to laugh at the inevitable fall.

It’s only a couple of months since the circus act again peaked. Peter O’Mahony was on the Late Late and another DVD was released around that New Zealand friendly. A couple of months and already to look back it’s embarrassing. Reality comes quick and hits hard.

I hate to tell I told you so?

Actually, maybe not.

About Ewan MacKenna

One of the country's top sports journalists, and a recipient of Irish Sports Journalist of the Year.