Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Ciaran Fitzgerald's famous call to arms is essential now

Heads bowed: Jack McGrath and Paul O'Connell trudge off after last Saturday's heavy defeat to Australia
Heads bowed: Jack McGrath and Paul O'Connell trudge off after last Saturday's heavy defeat to Australia

Where's our f****** pride? Time to invoke Ciaran Fitzgerald's rallying cry and go back to basics to avoid a second drubbing in a week, which would do untold damage to Irish rugby

Ireland weren't just bad on Saturday – they were atrocious. Quite simply, Joe Schmidt's men were annihilated on their own patch. It's a long time since I last came away from an Ireland game so crushingly disappointed.

Of course there have been bad days and disappointing defeats, but this was as poor a performance as there has been in the professional era.

It wasn't as spectacularly disastrous as the record defeat to New Zealand in Hamilton in 2012 or the Six Nations low of Rome back in March, but in terms of being outplayed, outclassed, outflanked, outmuscled, out-thought and, more than anything, outfought, this was an Ireland display to rank with the very worst of the amateur days.

In those dark times, for every good day there were six bad ones. Often we would be competitive for an hour before disappearing without trace in the final quarter. Professionalism, and the resultant improvement in conditioning, has helped enormously in that key regard.

So what went so badly wrong against Australia?

I'm not sure even the players can answer that one, but I do suspect there was an element of information overload. Schmidt and his new management team are frustrated at having so little time to get their ideas and philosophy across.

Equally, the players appear to be having great difficulty in taking in the information and changed strategies coming their way. The end result is an Irish team taking to the field without the fire and brimstone we, of all nations, simply cannot afford to be without.

Some may take offence at the 'fighting Irish' tag, but given our limited playing base relative to other nations, it is the most essential ingredient we must take with us into battle every time.

Somewhere along the way the fundamental ingredient essential to every Irish rugby team got lost.

So where to for Schmidt and Ireland now?

Alas, the force coming our way is frightening. In these pages in his preview to last Saturday's match, Vincent Hogan made reference to the play 'Alone It Stands' and the celebration of Munster's famous defeat of the All Blacks 35 years ago.

I would draw on '78 in one respect, though. We were rank outsiders then, as Ireland will be on Sunday. Did we think we could win? No. We didn't believe we had a snowball's hope in hell. But what we did believe, and what we did buy into by virtue of a long-established tradition, was the proud Munster record against touring sides.

That message is as alive for Paul O'Connell and his squad today as it was for Munster back then.

Another Kiwi drubbing on Sunday will set Irish rugby back so far, given what has been achieved since the turn of the century.

So in terms of damage limitation, let us go back to basics by way of the never-say-die passion and relentless intensity. We will be rank outsiders but what we do need, to borrow from Ciaran Fitzgerald all those years ago, is to get back some of our 'f*****g pride'.

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