Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Death in the Family

The use of the world 'post-mortem' in relation to the fall-out from Ireland's disastrous Rugby World Cup campaign is instructive. The insinuation is of death, that we are standing around a slab in a chilly mortuary looking at the lifeless corpse of Irish rugby.

The inclination to view a sporting collapse in such dramatic terms is common.

I remember, when Celtic lost to Basle in the qualifying round of the Champions League early in the 2002-03 season, feeling such a sense of void that it seemed like the upcoming season was stillborn. Nine months later, Celtic were playing in a UEFA Cup final, providing the club's supporters with such rich memories that seemed so unlikely at the start of the season.

Rumours of the demise of the Irish soccer team are unlikely to exaggerated at the moment. However, while the sense of terminal decline pervades the Stephen Staunton era right now, even the blackest-mooded depressive cannot say that there will be good times again sometime in the future, most probably depending on how long the current manager lasts.

The mourning over the Irish rugby team is so pronounced because it's reminiscient of the untimely passing of a brilliant, much-loved child. It is hard to do 'perspective' when one looks at the scale of what just happened in France.

We all know the lines: the best team in our history, the best-prepared, at the peak of their powers. The Pool D table makes horrific, chastening reading for even those who approached this World Cup with excessive caution. "We'll lose to France, and will just squeeze by Argentina," said those priding themselves on not being drawn into the mass cheerleading.

If only, eh?

But perspective I will urge, dammit. Clearly those who call for the head of Eddie O'Sullivan are no mere fickle Salom├ęs. The list of mistakes, flaws, cataclysmic errors of judgement, and basic poor man-management that O'Sullivan is responsible for is long and very, very damning. Were it not for the man's curriculum vitae, I would take aim myself.

But has the coach not buttressed himself to any degree with his previous achievements? The would-be executioners are now treating the successes of the last few years as pure chimera, Mickey Mouse honours in a weak Six Nations, devalued Autumn international success against teams looking at the long game of France '07, rather than Lansdowne Road '06.

But where was such wisdom at the time?

Sure, the hype over this team has exceeded their achievements. But just as those who watched the dismal fare in the early games from France could not be codded by post-match pleadings of improvements and individual errors, when we watched Ireland over the last few seasons it was with a sense of awe and exhiliration that simply cannot be deemed to be worthless now.

There's no need to throw any more mitigating circumstances into the pot; everyone knows about the timing of the tournament, the difficult draw etc. Clearly hard questions need to be asked. Big, big mistakes were made, some of them - the failure to develop a sufficiently deep squad - were being made even at the height of our success. O'Sullivan has to address severe question marks over his control-freakery, the overly-structured play and the cold-hearted squad management.
But he has, just about, earned the right to answer them.

But a bit of perspective please. Nobody died here.

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