When he chose to omit Brian O’Driscoll from the Lions Final test squad in Sydney last Saturday, Warren Gatland alienated a sizeable portion of the Irish supporters, both at home and in Sydney. Its safe to say that a lot of people genuinely wanted the Lions to win, but being human, hoped secretly in their hearts, that Gatland would be as humiliated by a defeat, as O’Driscoll had at being dropped. A forceful victory for The Lions allowed Gatland to vindicate himself in the eyes of professional rugby and all its constituent parts, the players, coaches, managers and so on.
Humiliation is dreadful to witness and even though he is a brave hero, BOD can’t have escaped feeling humiliated when not alone was he left out of the team, but he wasn’t even included in the squad. Given his psychological value to the team as a leader and his awesome courage as a never says–die-tackler in defence, there must have been another alternative to simply substituting Jonathan Davies for O’Driscoll.
BOD would surely have toyed with all the permutations open to Gatland and he must have been fairly confident that he would at least make the squad. When he got the shattering news, the decision seemed to have genuinely taken him by surprise. That’s what made it so real for all of us. Gatland brandished his candour like a weapon and didn’t appear to have had the time, or the inclination, to consider trying a sophisticated and nuanced decision, which would have allowed the great warrior O’Driscoll to have his last Lions moment in the sun, without jeopardising the outcome of the game.
If it hadn’t been for the magnanimity of BOD, who committed himself visibly and unstintingly to the team, Gatland could have lost the dressing room and possibly some of the spectators too. I shot a lot of film for the IRFU during Gatland’s reign as Irish coach and I remember him as being nothing if not wary. It’s ironic that, it was Gatland who brought BOD into the Irish team in the first place and even then he was a pleasant young man taking his first, hesitant steps in post match interviews.
Maybe I’m still angry at Gatland because I feel quite proprietorial about BOD. I think the Irish nation does too, so Gatland’s flat, emotionless, numbing technique, was anathema to our warm-blooded approach to life. From the style of brutish rugby he espouses, it was obvious there wasn’t a surfeit of romance in Gatland, no spark of joy to light the fire in his soul and unfreeze his antipodean taciturnity.
Remarkably, the humiliation of a Brian O’Driscoll, ugly though it was, runs a poor second to the insult and ignominy that was heaped upon arguably our best soccer layer ever, Liam Brady, When Jack Charlton substituted him after just 35 minutes of a friendly against Germany at Lansdowne Road. It was a cold, ignorant insult to a great player, who didn’t deserve it.
Big, bluff and ornery, Charlton was one of those men who feels compelled to tell you the unvarnished truth, whether you want to hear it or not. He definitely was not an admirer of Brady and his silky skills. Brady had become the best Irish player ever to play in Europe. Like Messi, his sinuous hips could take him past defenders with great fluidity. He was also a great passer of the ball and that’s where he and Charlton fell out.
Like Gatland with the Lions, Charlton had a brutish approach to the lovely game. His sole tactic was Route 1, kick the ball up to the far end of the pitch and run after it. Along with Charlton’s Neanderthal approach to the game, what wore Brady down was the absence of the kind of discipline he had been used to at Juventus, where the players and management took the game very seriously.
The game against West Germany was a last chance for Brady to impress Charlton. Frank Stapleton gave Ireland the lead after 10 minutes, but when Brady missed a tackle on Thomas Hassler, which led to the German equalizer, Charlton sensationally called Brady ashore and substituted him with Andy Townsend after just 35 minutes.
The humiliation was palpable around the terraces. Brady, eyes cast downwards, took the longest walk of his life and the shocked spectators had difficulty mustering applause for the crestfallen player. Not letting Brady finish out , even the first half, was the single biggest snub ever to an Irish player who deserved a lot more. Brady retired from international football after that, but unfortunately, like Gatland, Charlton was a winner and the whole despicable episode of Brady’s ignominy got lost in the euphoria of success, which grew out of Charlton’s “give it a lash” tactics.
It mischievous, I know, but isn’t it interesting, instructional even, to note that these two unsavoury episodes had at their heart, two of our best native sportsmen ever and two non-Irish coaches.
Maybe they just didn’t get it.
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