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Toxic attitude towards Ireland's rugby team is just inverted snobbery

Alan Quinlan



Shake-up: Ireland coach Andy Farrell islikely to make changes for next Saturday’s big clash with France in Paris

Shake-up: Ireland coach Andy Farrell islikely to make changes for next Saturday’s big clash with France in Paris

�INPHO/Tommy Dickson

Shake-up: Ireland coach Andy Farrell islikely to make changes for next Saturday’s big clash with France in Paris

There are days, you know, when I put the microphone down and the thought of picking it up again turns my stomach. And when I say 'days', it's usually a Saturday evening after an underwhelming performance by Munster or Ireland, one I know that I will have to criticise heavily.

It's not easy to lay into players who have shown you the whites of their eyes in private moments of dressing-room intensity, particularly when you know how many sacrifices have been made by every single one of them to reach the professional sphere.

But that's the job, as a pundit or commentator. The very least I, or Ronan O'Gara, or Shane Horgan, should be offering is an honest opinion whatever the circumstances. And that is what I will continue to do.

The job - commentating on games and working in the media - is one I'm privileged to have. Calling a match from the crow's nest and dissecting what went right or wrong, for the most part, gives me great satisfaction.

I make mistakes, I have no problem admitting that. Plenty of people will disagree with the team I would pick for the France game, for example, and I'm sure many have been perplexed by my man-of-the-match selections over the years.

I can stand over the decisions though, because there is no agenda behind them; they are simply honest, unadulterated opinions of mine.

When Ronan O'Gara said last week that Johnny Sexton would be better off without the burden of the Irish captaincy it wasn't a cheap shot at a vulnerable player, it was a genuine response to a probing question.

Sexton didn't like the suggestion of overloading from a man who has been his rival, friend and coach at different stages of his professional life.

Criticism so close to home stings that bit more, particularly when it's from someone you respect, someone who knows what they are talking about.

In January 2009, David Corkery wrote a scathing column about Munster, tearing us to shreds after successive interpro losses - a 12-6 defeat at the Sportsground preceding a humbling 37-11 loss to Ulster at Thomond Park.

Some of us were apoplectic at the time, staggered that one of our own, someone we had soldiered with on the field, could dish out such cutting criticism.

But, you know, once the rage settled, I knew he was largely right.

We hadn't been good enough. The truth hurt.

The point is, it was the truth. 'Corks' wasn't seeking attention by it, he wasn't trying to stir the pot for the sake of it.

There was no ulterior motive - he called it as he saw it.

The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for everyone nowadays.

The toxic attitude towards our international team from some quarters genuinely puzzles me; the revelling in their misfortune or defeat and the insistence that they get cushy coverage from the media.

I was no angel on the rugby field yet even I struggle to get my head around that level of nastiness and vitriol.

This poisonous wave, primarily hosted by social media but seeping into more mainstream platforms, seems to be powered by inverted snobbery, pushing the idea that it's OK to criticise someone based solely on their background.

If that attitude were in any way appropriate you would think I would be leading that charge.

I went to Abbey CBS, after all, a Christian Brothers secondary school in Tipperary town before calling time on my education at 16 to become a mechanic.

I've never felt like an outsider in this game, whether it was my first experience at Blackrock College as the sole Irish Clubs player in an U19 international training camp, or in the many years I thankfully then spent with Munster and Ireland.

There are passionate rugby people living in the depths of rural Ireland who love nothing more than seeing their province and country do well, volunteers who give so much of their time to the game, but they don't fit the narrative that the international team were all conceived and raised within a singular affluent Dublin postcode.

While some Irish people seem to glean great satisfaction from the defeats of the international rugby team there are even journalists who pin supporters with accusations of being fickle yet only four months previously they were the ones screaming 'Bring on the Boks' after Scotland were dispatched in Yokohama.

Maybe the idea is to constantly create conflict in this modern world where sensationalism and hot-takes can earn top dollar.

It's sadly becoming a common occurrence where those who shout the loudest on social media deem themselves the most righteous, all the while pretending that their hatred of Irish rugby stems from some warped pursuit of social justice.

You know when you play for Ireland that your performance is going to be analysed and sometimes it won't make for pleasant viewing or reading.

But we should never get to a point where the norms on social media, launching personal attacks on well-known people to get attention, should be considered acceptable in other walks of life.

Players shouldn't be afraid of criticism; if channelled and digested in the right way it can actually be beneficial in sporting terms.

But veiled attacks on good people should not be tolerated or given time when they are only being delivered for dramatic effect, and often from people who don't even understand the game.

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