The whole of Ireland is in uproar. About the austerity measures imposed by the troika? About the Anglo-Irish tapes? About the endemic corruption of its politicians? The state of O’Connell Street maybe, now ruled by junkies and alcoholics? Why, nothing so trivial.
The country is sports mad. And they are most successful in international terms at rugby (and boxing, but that doesn’t fit this story). And the demi-god, the totem of the Irish national team is one Brian O’Driscoll. Regarded by many as the greatest northern hemisphere player of his generation he has skill, courage, leadership skills and film star looks. Though now 34 he was chosen for his fourth tour with the Lions, an amalgam of the four home nations, to tour Australia this summer.
‘Drico’ or ‘BOD’ was chosen for the starting XV for the first two Tests. He didn’t particularly shine, but he wasn’t alone in that. The Lions spluttered and the series stands at one apiece, the decider tomorrow. The skipper Gareth Warburton of Wales is unfit and it was unanimously thought that O’Driscoll would step up and fulfil his destiny, leading the side to a series win.
He was dropped. Entirely. Not even on the bench as a replacement. Never mind Ireland, most of the rugby world’s eyebrows shot up. Back home you’ve never seen such anger with everybody denouncing coach Gatland. No one, apart from the curmudgeonly George Hook, remotely agrees with the decision. But even Hook concedes that, even leaving aside the merits of the decision, it is a hugely sad way for O’Driscoll to end his Lions career.
In 1966 Jimmy Greaves was England’s first choice striker at the World Cup, and he played in the first three matches before being injured. He missed the next match but the public demand for him to be reinstated for the semi-final and final fell on the deaf ears of Alf Ramsey. Greaves’ replacement Geoff Hurst scored three times in the final as England beat Germany 4-1. Ramsey was a hero, Greaves the forgotten man.
Will Gatland be a hero tomorrow, or will his goose for ever be cooked?