IN the build-up to last weekend’s Ireland-England rugby game, much of the focus was on head coach Andy Farrell and the job he has done in taking Ireland to the top ranked team in World Rugby.
Going up against England has never been easy for Farrell but it was all the harder again with his son Owen involved with England. Dropped for their game against France, it was fully expected and fitting, that Farrell would return for such an important clash against Ireland and his father.
The father and son were well used to being in opposite camps but their relationship added an intriguing sub-plot when Ireland were trying to win the Grand Slam in Dublin for the first time.
Despite the pressure beforehand, the Farrells were bound to want to release the tension valve, especially publicly. Andy joked a couple of days before the game about converting Owen’s young sons Tommy and Freddie into Irish fans.
“I know that he is travelling over today, he’s not staying too far from our house actually,” he said on the Thursday before the game. “The grandkids are coming over today as well, so we’ll be trying to poach them into our captain’s run tomorrow and see if we can squeeze them to cheer for Ireland. We’ll see how that goes.”
When Owen found out on Friday that his two sons had been brought along to the captain’s run at the Aviva Stadium by their grandfather, he could only laugh. “I didn’t know that,” he said. “I genuinely didn’t know that.”
Earlier in the year, Andy had bought Ireland jerseys for his grandkids, while Owen had kitted out his younger brother Gabriel - who lives in Dublin with his parents – with an England shirt.
It’s never easy for families go up against each other, especially a father versus a son, but it was even more complex again for Jerome Johnston last November when the Ballybay side he was managing found themselves in an Ulster semi-final against his own club Kilcoo. With his three sons and six nephews involved. Johnston subsequently stepped down from Ballybay before the match, which Kilcoo won.
A father going up against a son or sons is rare but it is still always possible at club level. It’s even rarer again at inter-county level but it has happened on a number of occasions.
When Liam Bradley was Antrim manager between 2009-’12, he found himself up against his native Derry in the opening game of the Dr McKenna Cup in 2010, which included his two sons Paddy and Eoin. Antrim’s win that day was their first against Derry in 15 years but when Antrim were relegated from Division 2 in 2011, it was Derry which condemned them to the drop, with Paddy Bradley’s 0-5 proving critical to Derry’s win.
Three years earlier though, Derry was also central to the most famous father-son meeting of recent times when Brian McIver’s Donegal met a Derry side in the Ulster championship which included his own son Michael.
The McIvers have made a habit of facing each other. In 2011, Paul McIver (Brian’s son) managed Dromore against a Ballinderry Shamrocks team that included his brother Michael in the Ulster club championship.
When another Ballinderry man Ronan McGuckin took over Tyrone club Errigal Ciarán the following year in 2012, that McIver dilemma was on his mind. When Errigal approached McGuckin he told them that if Ballinderry and Errigal ever met in Ulster that he would step aside. When the unlikely happened at the end of that season, McGuckin stepped away for the match.
McGuckin watched the game with his young son, Ronan Junior, but McGuckin’s predicament was nowhere near as complex as where the O’Dwyer family found themselves 21 years ago.
It’s 25 years since Kerry’s greatest manager, Mick O’Dwyer, managed against Kerry in the championship for the first time when his Kildare side defeated the reigning All-Ireland champions in the 1998 All-Ireland semi-final.
In O’Dwyer’s final game in charge of Kildare in 2002, his side were defeated by a Kerry side which had his son John as a Kerry selector. To make matters even more complicated, John’s brother Karl was part of the Kildare squad, coming on as a second-half sub in that qualifier game.
John found himself in that position after agreeing to let his name go forward as the South Kerry representative on the Kerry selection committee at the end of 2001. Jack O’Connor had been there but opted out to work with the U21 side.
John O’Dwyer was involved with his own county, but in such an emotional game for him and his family, he still underlined the bottom line for him around the fixture.
“Yes there are side issues,” he said. “But we started last October and I have been involved four or five nights a week, putting everything that I can into it. Ultimately, at the end of the day I’d love to see Kerry winning.”
It was the same for the Farrells at the weekend. Andy Farrell’s son may have been on the other side in probably the most important game of his managerial career. In a professional environment, the Farrells were ultra-profressional. Business is business. The result was all that mattered.
In the GAA though, it’s never that simple.