There was a harsh but timely lesson for Ireland’s rugby players in Portlaoise on Saturday, not all that far from the Clonmel training camp in Tipperary where they based themselves all last week.
New Ireland coach Joe Schmidt made the trip to Tipp to escape the hassle and the hype ahead of Saturday’s Triple Crown shootout with England at Twickenham.
A New Zealander by birth, the perfect passport stamp for any rugby coach, Schmidt may not have known the sporting significance of basing himself and his team in Tipperary these past few days.
This is, after all, the region that calls itself the Premier County in hurling terms, such is their level of success on the Munster and All-Ireland playing fields.
It is also home to some of the best race horses and some of the best race horse trainers in the world, as Dricco and Rob Kearney and more discovered when they visited the Coolmore operation during their sojourn in Tipp.
They breed sporting excellence in that corner of the south.
They set high standards and they expect high returns from their sporting heroes. The perfect base for an Irish rugby team ahead of such a big game.
Jonny Sexton wasn’t with the Irish team in Tipp. He was summoned back to France by his new employers at Racing Metro and had no choice but to go, such are the ways of the professional game.
Before he left, Sexton held a media conference at Dublin Airport to announce his new role as a brand ambassador for Aer Lingus, a handy gig when you are flying back and forth from Paris all the time.
Jonny spoke that morning of his desire to win a Triple Crown in London this Saturday – mostly because he has never won one.
Sure, those Irish players he joined as a youngster years ago had more Triple Crowns that hot dinners in their medal collection. And Johnny has conquered Europe more than once with his old Leinster teammates.
But he has never won anything in an Irish shirt. Never.
When he first played for his country, it was always taken for granted that Ireland would win Triple Crowns and Grand Slams galore with him at the kicking helm. It hasn’t worked that way, and things got so bad last season that Italy even managed to beat the boys in green.
That’s why Sexton spoke of a real hunger to beat England this coming weekend and get his hands on the Triple Crown – or the silver plate they hand to the winners that isn’t really a crown at all.
He also spoke of parking any championship ambitions until after the English job is finished. The Italian and French Connections, excuse the pun, can wait until after Saturday and a win at Twickenham.
It was heartening and encouraging to hear those words from Sexton on Monday morning of last week, before he flew back to Paris, with Aer Lingus we can only assume, and the day job with Racing Metro.
If ever he needed proof that this new “seize the moment” mantra was the correct one to follow, it arrived on Saturday afternoon when Kerry, the county of his father, were represented in the All-Ireland club football semifinal by the demi-Gods who play for Dr. Crokes.
The Kingdom men lost their semi to Castlebar Mitchels of Mayo by the way – apparently after Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny allegedly made a visit to the Mitchels dressing room at halftime and offered some inspirational words, a story they keep trying to deny down the west but worth mentioning for the intrigue factor alone.
Sexton, a keen GAA fan from his summers in Ballybunion and Listowel, will know the result of that game thanks to the joys of modern day communication that make life in Paris all the closer to home.
But he will also know the biggest story of the day from Portlaoise, the news that Colm Cooper, probably the greatest footballer of the current generation, lasted just 19 minutes of that game before a knee injury brought his time on the pitch to a rapid end.
It did more than that. On Monday, a scan at the sports clinic in Santry that’s a little more than a conversion kick from Dublin Airport confirmed that the Gooch damaged his knee ligaments in that Portlaoise tackle, the dreaded cruciate as we call it in the Irish Sun office.
Cooper won’t kick a ball in anything other than anger again this year. On Friday he will undergo a preparatory operation under Ray Moran, brother of the great Kevin. A fortnight from now he will undergo full surgery to repair the injured cruciate.
A year from now, if we are lucky, we will see the eight time all-star and All-Ireland winner back on the pitch.
The news of Cooper’s injury had hit Kerry fans hard at a time when they are already coming to terms with the retirement of Paul Galvin, Eoin Brosnan and Tomas O Se.
They know their team will be the poorer for his loss, they know his life will be the poorer with no football for club or county for the rest of 2014.
The Irish team will be well aware of the Colm Cooper story when they head to London on Thursday. It is impossible to miss it in Ireland right now.
So, like Jonny Sexton said, they must seize the day. They must give everything to take the Triple Crown chance that awaits them.
Sport can take those chances away in the blink of an eye. Events this weekend proved it.
(Cathal Dervan is sports editor of the Irish Sun newspaper in Dublin)
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