In the pre-match press conference before Ireland’s clash with Italy recently in Rome, Brian O’Driscoll was generous to the opponents that have yet to beat Ireland in the Six Nations. “It’s inevitable that at some stage Italy will beat us in a Six Nations game, let’s just hope it’s not this time,” said O’Driscoll. Heading back to the studio in Montrose, it wasn’t surprising to see a pundit go puce with rage at such defeatism. What was a surprise was that it wasn’t George Hook, drama queen extraordinaire, who lost his rag. It was the ordinarily more taciturn Brent Pope who denounced O’Driscoll’s attitude for carrying the possibility of being a self-fulfilling prophecy.
At the time this struck me as being slightly overblown. The match would be won on the pitch, not in a press conference, and what possible harm could come from being generous to game but limited opponents? If it had been Hook who spat his dummy out over O’Driscoll’s policy of appeasement then I wouldn’t have given it a second thought. But Pope is a different matter. He’s a thoughtful and measured pundit, not given to flights of fancy. I’ve read somewhere in the past that Pope was on the fringes of the All Blacks XV but was kept out the team by the presence of no less a figure than Michael Jones. That’s a decent back story, yet one we never hear about from Pope. Can you imagine what Hook would be like if he just came from New Zealand, let alone came so close to playing Test rugby for them?
So there might be something to the notion of not treating your opponents with respect. Ireland’s lamentable performance against the Italians gave credence to Pope’s view. And that should be our view as we head down to Wexford for a must-win game in the National Hurling League. Yeah, every game is ‘must-win’ in its own way, but it’s not hard to map out a scenario should we lose to the Yellabellies that leads to our relegation. Imagine going into the second last game against Offaly with only one point having lost to Tipperary, Cork and Kilkenny. You wouldn’t want to be going into the final game against League specialist Galway needing to win, although even that might not be enough if Wexford, Offaly and Dublin manage to break even against each other. Win on Sunday, all that fretting should be moot. Just imagine the Wexford team as George Hook’s face.
Elsewhere, the footballers take on Limerick in the National Football League, while De La Salle meet Clarenbridge in the All-Ireland club semi-final. It’s not quite the must-win feel as the hurlers. If survival is paramount, a couple of wins against other teams should suffice. Unless Waterford are the division’s whipping boys, something that might be the case if the loss to Wexford is anything to go by. Beating Limerick at home would go a long way to dispelling those doubts. As for De La Salle, it’s obviously a must-win because if they don’t, they’re out. You get the feeling the county will never get a more open semi-final lineup with which to win an All-Ireland. De La Salle would be viewed as favourites, but we’ve been here before against Clarinbridge. If it’s any consolation to all three, I won’t be around for any of them – making a short sojourn to England for the weekend – so we’ll probably land the Triple Crown.