Lomu Knows the Thrill of Sport

November 19, 2008

The Cathal Dervan Column
THE quote was designed to sum up life as an All-Black from one of world rugby’s legends, but it could just as easily have come from the mouth of Ireland boss Giovanni Trapattoni or Kerry footballer Aidan O’Mahony.

Jonah Lomu was in Dublin for the past week, ostensibly in his new role as an ambassador for the sportswear firm Adidas but just as much to enjoy his new life as a New Zealand rugby fan.

The giant of a man, once described as a freak of nature by an English commentator, made for great company as we sat for almost an hour over coffee in the Fitzwilliam Hotel that graces one side of St. Stephen’s Green.

Lomu, the greatest player of his generation bar none, is still only 33, but a major illness a couple of years ago and a life saving kidney transplant have ensured that he will never play at the highest level again.

He is still a living legend of the oval ball game, however, and whenever he speaks he deserves an audience.

Jonah’s story and his infectious enthusiasm for life itself rubbed off on everyone he met in Ireland over the past week, the man oozing charm and personality wherever he went.

On Saturday Lomu was in Croke Park, and boy was he impressed. “I wanted to bring a hurley stick with me,” he laughed after watching the All-Blacks teach Declan Kidney’s new charges a lesson.

On Tuesday night Jonah was in the new look Thomond Park in Limerick as New Zealand sought to overcome a 30 year hangover since they were famously beaten by Munster in 1978.

That result still hurts the Kiwis, who were hell bent on revenge this week.

“There is a saying within the All-Blacks camp that when you lose a game you never want the feeling to be repeated again,” Lomu said.

“The players who will pull on the All-Blacks jersey at Thomond Park on Tuesday may not have been around when that game took place in 1978 but trust me, they know that the feeling of defeat is still there.”

Every serious footballer, no matter what the code, will know what Lomu was talking about. Defeat at the highest and the lowest levels hurts and is always a spur for revenge.

Likewise, Lomu’s description of the demands on the players lucky enough to wear the All-Black jersey will sound familiar to Trapattoni and O’Mahony as they encounter their own demons right now.

Trapattoni is in the wars for the first time here in Ireland over his appalling treatment of one Andy Reid, totally ignored for Wednesday’s game against Poland when Andy Keogh, a player who can’t get into Mick McCarthy’s side at Wolves, was selected to start the game.

Trap even came out on Sunday and claimed that Reid is too “sad” to have around the place, a story later refuted by his assistant Liam Brady, but his absence beggars belief.

That this is the first mistake Trap has made since getting the Ireland job could yet be significant but, as he said himself on Sunday, he is only interested in results. And so is the nation.

As long as Ireland remain in contention for the World Cup finals, Trap can pick the man who works down the chip shop and swears he’s Elvis for all the country will care.

As soon as the World Cup hope disappears then the Reid wound will fester, and Trap may find himself in really hot water.

O’Mahony, an asthma sufferer, is already in boiling hot water, and doubtless the footballers on the ditch down in Kerry, of whom there are plenty, will be having a field day after his failed drug test, the first of its kind in the history of the GAA.

Trapattoni and O’Mahony will now know that everyone in Ireland is an expert when it comes to sporting matters, a fact that will be familiar to Lomu.

Asked to explain what it means to be an All-Black, Lomu said, “The All-Black fans are looking for perfection and that is pretty much what it stands for back home.

“Everyone takes it seriously, everyone who sits at home is a critic and they know their rugby like the people in Munster, the people in Ireland.

“You can go down the shop and there’ll be a grandma buying her milk who will tell you how you should have dummied a guy and scored a try in your last game. It is a classic rugby scenario where all ages, all males and all females, know the game and will tell you their opinion of it.

“At the end of the day you are the one who has to make the decision on th e field but one day you will be a hero and the next day you can be a zero.

“It is one or the other with the All-Blacks but as a player you have got to enjoy what you are doing. If you don’t enjoy it in an All-Black shirt you are not going to win.”

Lomu’s words were spoken in relation to the All-Blacks but they could just as easily be applied to Trapattoni’s Ireland or O’Mahony’s Kerry.

The spectators who follow Ireland, New Zealand the Kingdom are the ones who pays their money so they are entitled to make their choices and voice their opinions.

Those opinions will be music to the ears of the protagonists – so long as their teams are winning.

Once the results start to go wrong the grannies will hop on the criticism bandwagon – and woe betide anyone who gets in their way. Trapattoni has been warned.

Hero Of the Week

THERE were precious few grains of comfort for Ireland fans as New Zealand dominated last Saturday’s test at Croke Park, but the performance of the young Leinster centre Luke Fitzgerald was an exception. Young Fitzgerald was one of the few Irish players capable of a line break on a disappointing evening for the home side. More than that, he was one of the few boys in green who looked capable of forcing his way into the All-Blacks side. And that says all you need to know about Fitzgerald’s potential.

Idiot Of the Week

THERE was a time when Sean Og O hAilpin was a hurler to look up to, a role model for the young people of this country. No more. His attack on the beleaguered Cork boss Gerald McCarthy at an Adidas sponsored press gig last week was spiteful, bitter and pathetic. O hAilpin and his fellow Cork hurling rebels keep telling us they are going to retire, so the sooner they do the better.

Sideline Views

SOCCER: The radio stations in the north east of England were tripping over each other last week to break the news that Roy Keane had walked out on Sunderland ahead of their Premier League trip to Blackburn. The story had taken legs when Keane missed the team bus for Friday’s journey but the truth, as you probably now know, is that Keane opted to drive himself to his family home near Manchester. He then joined up with his squad on Friday night and drove home again after the game on Saturday. Hardly the actions of a man about to quit his job!

GAA: The media at home in Ireland are working up a sweat over the fact that Kerry player Aidan O’Mahony failed a drug test at Croke Park last summer. I wouldn’t get too worried if I was O’Mahony, however. He’s a registered asthma sufferer who has been cleared by the Irish Sports Council to use Salbutamol in the past, so he’s more that likely to be cleared of any misdemeanor. What’s more worrying for O’Mahony is the fact that his name has been dragged through the mud and mud sticks, in Ireland of all places.

BOXING: Darren Sutherland went pro this week, but his fellow Olympic hero Kenny Egan has still to decide what to do. Egan has already received more than one lucrative offer to join the paid ranks from promoters in America, but he wants to see what the Irish government are offering via the Sports Council to stay amateur before he makes any final decision. As of last weekend the offer to lead the Irish team to the London Olympics still hadn’t landed on his agent’s desk. Surely our Beijing hero deserves better treatment!

GOLF: Ireland’s Michael Hoey and Jonathon Caldwell both earned their European Tour cards at final qualifying school in Spain on Tuesday, but spare a thought for fellow Irishman Michael McGeady, who missed out on a tour card by just one shot after bogeying the final hole of the qualifiers. How cruel is that?

SOCCER: Nice to see the FAI want to bring England to the new Lansdowne Road next season. They could have got them over for the last game at the old stadium – their fans could have rioted again and saved the FAI a fortune on demolition charges!

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