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Being Ireland captain brings plenty of perks but downsides too and Rory Best experienced both

Neil Francis


 

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Rory Best

Rory Best

Leading men: Keith Wood

Leading men: Keith Wood

Leading men: Brian O’Driscoll

Leading men: Brian O’Driscoll

Leading men: Paul O’Connell

Leading men: Paul O’Connell

Rory Best

I have captained Ireland once and Leinster also once. My elevation in the first instance was due to an on-field injury, the second was due to a missed flight. I never get hung up on these things.

 

My post-match speech at the reception in Swansea may have brought the house down but it also brought the shutters down on any captaincy aspirations I may have harboured - which was none at all really.

Maybe I did what I did on purpose so that they would never ask me again. Maybe I missed out on tens of millions on the lucrative motivational speaking and leadership seminar circuit.

Captaining your club, province or country requires an aptitude and proficiency that not many players possess. There is captaincy material in nearly every group, or you can be unlucky and be led by the guy who demands in the dressing room that you give 80% for 100 minutes - which I think I did most of the time.

The position of captain has become one of the most important elements in a team. On and off the pitch, a team's fortunes are heavily influenced by the guy who has a 'C' in brackets beside his name. If he does his job well, the team will benefit. That captain will also get rewarded on and off the pitch.

The position is an altruistic one and with rank comes responsibility. Quite often your best player might not be your captain. He might be able to motivate or lead himself but not others.

I watched Paul O'Connell on 'The Late Late Show' a few weeks back. Ryan Tubridy said that O'Connell had been the captain of Munster, Ireland and the Lions - when you hear it spoken you realise that is some distinction. A position of importance that stays with you long after you finish your career. That sense of gravitas always stays with you.

Rory Best has been an excellent servant to Irish rugby over his long career and he was a very good captain - an excellent ambassador for the role.

O'Connell was on the show to raise additional funds for Barnardos. Given his exemplar personality, you got the sense that he became involved with the charity for altruistic reasons. He said he wanted to get emotionally connected with the group and wanted to engage more with them.

O'Connell had referenced Donncha O'Callaghan who had donated all of the proceeds of his testimonial to UNICEF. That sort of 24-carat selflessness leads to introspection in others. O'Connell, probably aware at this stage that he "hadn't used his profile enough", was "keen to engage with them more".

Ireland have been lucky with the calibre of captain they have had over the last 20 years. Keith Wood, Brian O'Driscoll, Paul O'Connell and Rory Best. The finest of men.

It is rare that you get the best player, thinker, talker and motivator rolled into one captain. O'Connell had all four.

Barnardos are not unaware of the calibre of person they have as a face and figurehead of their charity. They know the respect and esteem in which O'Connell is held and there are many charities and organisations that would be only too delighted to have someone of his calibre on board.

When these captains become civilians after their career, the benefits are huge in the commercial world. You have on-the-job training in everything from HR to dealing with the media, whether you are setting up your own company or going to work for an organisation.

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Paul O’Connell, pictured, with the Six Nations trophy (Brian Lawless/PA)

Paul O’Connell, pictured, with the Six Nations trophy (Brian Lawless/PA)

PA Archive/PA Images

Paul O’Connell, pictured, with the Six Nations trophy (Brian Lawless/PA)

 

Captains, and indeed coaches, are often used as keynote speakers at conferences and receptions. It is big business and former Ireland captains are in big demand - more so than ordinary foot soldiers. There are benefits for all the responsibility that you have taken on. That is the good part of the job.

There is a flip side too. Once you take on the honour of captaincy you do, I suppose, have to conduct yourself in a responsible manner, even when your career is over, because people expect it of you.

Best has been an excellent servant to Irish rugby over his long career and he was a very good captain - an excellent ambassador for the role.

Best had one awkward moment in his captaincy - his appearance at the Belfast rape trial. Best's team-mates Iain Henderson and Craig Gilroy also turned up, but if you are the current captain of the Ireland rugby team your presence at such an event is magnified ten-fold.

There were many column inches written about Best turning up at the trial. Did management know in advance? Did the IRFU know in advance?

Would he have been aware of the dramatic impact of somebody in his position turning up to something as sensitive and controversial?

Best was in a truly invidious position. It would have been seen tactically as a boon for the defence, the captain of the Irish rugby team coming along to support the men in the dock.

The kernel here is the issue of friendship and trust. The accusation made was serious yet the defendants were certain of their case. Best, who was a close friend of Paddy Jackson, had been asked to be a character witness for his team-mate.

That Best would have felt conflicted is obvious. But everyone is entitled to the presumption of innocence and if it were somebody that you knew for a long time and was a close friend, would you be able to look them in the eye or remain friends if you did not turn up to support them in court?

Would the excuse/reason that you were the captain of the Irish rugby team and that it would not be appropriate to turn up to a trial of this nature to give solidarity to the accused wash with your close friend or team-mates? Who would want to be a captain in this instance?

Recently, Best said he "regretted" going to the Laganside Magistrates court that day. The moment the first snapper took his photograph he knew there would be a s*** storm in the press the next day. That must have weighed heavy on his mind. Some would say it was a brave thing to do, others that it was foolish. Either way, that walk up the court steps must have been tough.

It is an onerous responsibility to be the captain. I don't think Best's presence was an abdication of his role as a captain. The whole story tells you that while there are many attractive sides to being the captain on and off the pitch, there are downsides to the role as well which you didn't sign up for but sometimes you have to do. No matter what.

Belfast Telegraph