Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

O'Gara should retire now to keep his legacy intact

Ronan O'Gara's appearance against Scotland as replacement for Paddy Jackson could have been his last in the green jersey

First there was Humphreys, then there was Hickie, then Horgan, Murphy, Stringer. Now it appears that the curtain has come down on Ronan O'Gara's international career with his omission from the 32-man Ireland squad for the match against France.

'It is a selection call', we hear. Well, if that is the case I am not really sure what O'Gara can do in the meantime to merit a return for the final game.

He is now formally fourth choice and potential injuries may be the only chance for him to be seen again in a green jersey. And injury would not be the way that he would want to do it.

Have no doubt, this will hurt ROG, but it will also have hurt Declan Kidney to make the call.

The pair go back over 20 years and in that time their careers have overlapped regularly at schoolboy, provincial and international levels.

It must have been an incredibly tough decision for Kidney, but it is one that he has surprised many by making.

What will hurt ROG most is that the selection is not a deliberate and conscious decision based on youth and building for the future, it is a reflection of his own poor form.

While I still maintain that ROG is a different animal when he starts a game, he is a brutally honest individual and will know himself that his performances have simply not been good enough.

Life will not get any easier for him.

Possible redemption may come in the red shirt of Munster, but ROG now has Ian Keatley to contend with and there are many Munster fans who would prefer to have the young talented outhalf starting in the provincial 10 shirt.

O'Gara will be 36 on Thursday and the sands of time are running out.

Whether or not this is the end of O'Gara – and it is more likely that it is – rather than dwell on a sad demise, it is far more important to reflect on his achievements and service to Irish rugby.

The record points scorer for Ireland, Heineken Cup wins, a Grand Slam, three Lions tours, and 128 caps. Yes, let's just say that again – 128 international caps.

O'Gara's record is the stuff of true legend.

His heroics, particularly for his province in the Heineken Cup, have at times defied belief.

I can still remember what has now become known as the 'Miracle Match' a decade ago when Munster had to beat Gloucester by four tries and 27 points.

ROG was the architect of that victory and nailed Heineken qualification with his last minute conversion.

Indeed, it is ROG's mastery of the boot that has propelled him to the top of the game.

He also has an acute sense of space – time after time his tactical kicking has turned the opposition and put his own team down into deep attacking positions. His drop goals have made the difference on key occasions. Munster's amazing 41 phases against Northampton Saints were driven on by O'Gara who split the posts with an 84th minute drop goal to secure victory.

He then scored a drop goal the following week in the 81st minute to beat Castres.

ROG has broken many rugby hearts over the years and his role in the drama and excellence created by Munster over the years saw him selected by the ERC as the player that has made the greatest contribution to European rugby during the previous 15 years.

Finally, of course, who will forget ROG's incredibly composed drop goal in the 78th minute to clinch the Grand Slam in 2009. For me, that was his zenith.

ROG is on record that he wants to continue playing until he is 38. The problem is that people have short memories and this runs the risk of damaging his legacy.

Far better to get out on your own terms and I wonder whether his own Six Nations drama will have made an impression on the last three of the 'golden generation' – Gordon D'Arcy, Paul O'Connell and Brian O'Driscoll.

Like O'Gara, none of them have anything to prove, their places in the record books are secure, they are legends of the game.

Sooner or later, however, there comes a time when you have to face the reality of life after rugby.

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