Beyond the neon runes

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It’s not where you’re from, it’s where you’re at

There’s something I have to tell you, something I know you’re not going to like. It’s going to upset you, maybe even disgust you, but it’s time I came clean, time I revealed my dirty, shameful secret. So here goes.

I don’t really like rugby.

I’m sorry, okay? I know Limerick is like the rugby capital of the world or something, but I didn’t grow up here, I didn’t have tales of Munster men felling giant New Zealanders wired into me as a child. I didn’t get that strange, oval shaped ball thrust into my hands as soon as I could walk and I didn’t get told to “prop up that front-row alongside your cousin, there’s a good lad” when the numbers were down at family gatherings.

I’m from Kilkenny, we have other things on our mind over there, smaller, more traditionally-shaped balls, to be dealing with. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll watch the Six Nations (so long as it doesn’t clash with any cross-channel soccer) and the World Cup is usually decent fare, but all the rest of it? The Champions Cup? The Pro12? The Test matches? Nah, not for me.

My level of interest in the sport of rugby is similar to that of another member of the media from the South-east of Ireland, someone who has the ear of the nation, thanks to his regular columns with the Irish Independent, and someone who may recently have annoyed you even more than I just have.

“When CJ Stander scored the third try of his hat-trick last week, I was out of my seat and absolutely thrilled as an Irishman, and for the player. I don’t know him but I knew his story. He doesn’t seem very Irish to me.”

Those are the words of ex-international footballer, Stephen Hunt, a man who, having failed to impress during a brief, often embarrassing, sojourn on RTÉ, has taken to the written word, spewing out ill-conceived, clumsy arguments with all the subtlety he was known for as a player. This week, the pundit turned journalist, has urged the IRFU to protect our sporting identity by dropping the talented Stander in favour of a less-gifted, more Irish, back-row.

“I thought about the lad – I don’t know his name but I feel for him – sitting on the bench, or sitting at home, who had been deprived of a cap so CJ Stander could play for Ireland and score a hat-trick against Italy,” Hunt said, his sympathy for this unspecified, unnamed Irishman palpable.

The Waterford man, addressing the elephant in the room, then argued that this wasn’t like the grandparent rule which has so benefitted Ireland’s soccer team over the years. Because, you see, those players, those Englishmen, Scotsmen and Tony Cascarino, had an “affinity with Ireland”, the suggestion being that Stander, a South African with no familial ties to this country, doesn’t.

Of course, in theory, Hunt has a point. He’s right to suggest that those representing our national teams should be born of this isle. He’s right to question a system that enables players to assume new nationalities on the strength of a few years’ residence. And he’s right to ponder the impact this has on those overlooked in favour of imported talents.

But in singling out one player, a player who has responded to the scepticism surrounding his selection by performing with a pride and passion unmatched by any of his colleagues, is wholly unfair. This is a man who, according to team-mate Keith Earls, has shed tears before Irish games, a man who having learned the words to both of our national anthems belts them out with gusto before each and every game.

But, most importantly, this is a man who has simply done what dozens of other men in his sport have done over the past few years. CJ Stander has broken no laws, he has nothing to be ashamed of, no reason to be singled out for criticism by small-minded individuals looking for an easy target. He has merely taken advantage of a rule written into his sport which enables him to play international rugby for a country other than that of his birth.

As I’ve already said, I’m not an avid rugby follower, but even I’ve been struck by how exotic the Six Nations has become. Where once it was a tournament of Joneses, Smiths and McDonalds, it is now a cosmopolitan, multi-national event. Not only are there South Africans playing for our rivals, there are also Tongans, New Zealanders, Fijians, Australians and others.

Should we, in an effort to gain the moral high ground, take a stance against this foreign invasion? Should we cut Stander, Jared Payne and any other blow-ins with strange accents from our ranks, proudly puffing our chests out as Billy Vunipola runs in England’s ninth try at the Aviva? Of course we shouldn’t.

Instead, we should do what everyone else is doing. We should milk the residency ruling for all its worth, bring as many overseas players in as possible and ensure that our team competes on a level playing field with everyone else.

We should embrace men like Stander, men who are willing to up roots and move to lands anew with no guarantee of success, never mind international glory. Because not only do they improve our team, they raise the standard of those around them too. They bring new ideas, new methods and new practises, enabling our team, our Irish team, to combine its own traditional strengths with those of other, often more illustrious, nations.

And those poor, dejected Irishmen that Hunt refers to, those relegated to the bench because of Stander, those who have played “schools and club rugby up and down the country” and thought they “had a clear pathway to the green shirt”? Well, they’re just going to have to up their game now, aren’t they?

 

More than they bargained for

No-one, apart from perhaps, Leo Varadker, is benefitting from the shambles surrounding Maurice McCabe and the Garda whistleblowing scandal.

But I bet there’s a few HSE executives breathing a sigh of relief as their shortcomings are relegated to the sidelines in favour of polling figures and public enquiries.

However, although the leadership of the country may soon be up for grabs, we haven’t forgotten about our chums in the health services department just yet. Because, just when they think they’ve earned a momentary respite, its most cack-handed data breaches have been published for the delectation of the general public.

By far the best of these data breaches (which, in layman’s terms, means a spectacular act of stupidity more commonly associated with a giddy child) concerns an X-Ray report and a visit to everyone’s favourite budget clothing retailer, Penney’s.

In April 2015, an X-Ray report, yes, an X-Ray report, was found in a Penney’s store in Mullingar. Further adding to the hilarity, the report contained not the details of the person who had been X-Rayed, but someone else entirely.

Just what went on here? Remember, you can’t bring those X-Rays home with you, so this could only have been brought to the store by someone employed by the hospital. Were they trying to locate the person who’d been X-Rayed, in Penney’s? Or were they doing some shopping of their own, attempting to spruce up their tired, green scrubs with the latest fashions, and just happened to forget they had a patient’s vitals on their person?

My guess is that, unable to locate its rightful owner, this intrepid member of hospital staff, rather than simply chuck the report in the bin and hope that no-one would notice, purposely brought the report to Penney’s, ‘accidentally’ left it in the changing-rooms and strolled back to work, a smug grin on their face.

Big mistake. This is Penney’s we’re talking about, those changing-rooms are as busy as the A&E out in UHL. They should have left it in Brown Thomas or one of those expensive shops, no-one would have found it there.