When we mention ‘ROG’ in rugby circles, what comes to mind is a legend of both the red and green jersey that when called upon, could single handedly scrape out miracle results against the odds in David vs Goliath style matches.
Ronan O’ Gara is a man that can instantaneously stem the flow of opposition attacks with a clinical momentum-shifting kick to the corner. He possess Hollywood-style ability that allows him to confidently snatch victory from the jaws of defeat with late drop goals or penalty kicks.
Through no fault of his own, we have come to expect an almost unrealistically high average from O’Gara, such is the level at which the Corkman consistently played at. Now that O’ Gara is 35-years-old and playing in what could transpire to be his final season, I must admit I find myself feeling hollow inside. Watching one of the world’s greatest number tens fall from grace in such a dismal and at times, cringe-worthy fashion is tough viewing at best.
This apparent anti-climax doesn’t seem befitting to such a talisman for Irish rugby. However, this isn’t Hollywood and many sporting greats such as Muhammad Ali, Michael Schumacher, etc. have all fallen fowl of the desire to continue playing regardless of the overwhelming evidence to suggest they should have stopped much earlier.
Is Kidney being unfair on ROG? Are we, the Irish rugby suporters, being unfair on the Munster legend? Is it a little premature to flog the guy on a bad dip in form in an otherwise impeccable career? Is Paddy Jackson playing better? Does Ian Madigan offer more? Has Sexton shone in this six nations? Well, the long and short of it all is that when a world class sports person reaches a certain age, they inevitably get scrutinised and criticised a lot more when performances drop below par and uncharacteristic mistakes seem to creep into their game.
That’s the way it always has been. While the younger players may get away with aimless kicking, repeatedly dropping the ball or not passing when they should, it’s the old dog that gets put to sleep each and every time. Sadly, O’ Gara is the dog on this occasion and it seems Kidney has dropped him off at the vet for the last time.
Despite the doom and gloom surrounding, O’ Gara’s apparent imposed retirement, there are several outcomes to ‘ROG’ being dropped that don’t take on such a depressing read. A part of me thinks that in light of the high attrition of this year’s Six Nations with the competition being a lost cause in terms of glory, Kidney has selected a squad comprising of many young and uncapped players.
It seems Kidney knows that the ailing Irish team at his disposal, will fall short against the French and that he might as well experiment and introduce new blood to fully benefit from the game. O’Gara’s latest performance against the Ospreys displayed that of a man full of confidence. His passing was precise and assured while his kicking was controlled and measured.
The old romantic in me thinks that Kidney has decided to spare ‘ROG’ the humiliation that will undoubtedly be administered by the French in this weekend’s Six Nations, and I’d also be surprised if he puts an unfit Jonathan Sexton on the pitch. I would very much love to see Ronan O’Gara take to the pitch for Ireland one last time against the Italians and display a kicking performance of old to spare Kidney and Ireland their first ever six nations wooden spoon. It would truly be a fitting finale for the greatest player to don the Ireland number 10 jersey.