The Longshot: Life lessons from a recognisably ice-cool All Black legend

Munster aiming to finally get one over on Leinster in Ballsbridge as they face off in URC semi
The Longshot: Life lessons from a recognisably ice-cool All Black legend

Living legends Sean Fitzpatrick, Martin Johnson, Francois Pienaar, Paul O’Connell and Bryan Habana at the launch of the International Rugby Experience interactive visitor centre in Limerick.

THERE have been plenty of inter-sport barbs flying about over the past few weeks.

The FAI having a go at the racing and greyhound industry over the distribution of funding accrued from betting taxes. Donal Óg laying into the coverage rugby gets compared to hurling (although the Cloyne man does says he wants the “Team of Us” to win the World Cup).

Having lived in county Limerick these past few years it’s surprised me there isn’t as much baggage between the GAA and rugby (or even soccer, to a degree) here as there is on Leeside. Hurling success only returned to the county in recent years and has come quickly and in abundance, so maybe there will be some outsized enmity between the sports brewing in years ahead.

The Treaty city they say is the spiritual home of Munster rugby so it is only fitting that a new rugby museum was opened there last week. Of course, its location is as much down to the financial backing of JP McManus (which hasn’t harmed the rise of the Shannonside hurlers either) as it is to anything else.

Reds legend Paul O’Connell is the face of the new venture and he welcomed greats of the game like Johnny Sexton, Bryan Habana, Francois Pienaar, Jeremy Guscott, Martin Johnson, Matt Dawson and Sean Fitzpatrick to the opening.

Fitzpatrick is the former All Blacks captain and World Cup winner from 1987 and also a proud holder of an Irish passport.

At an event here a few years back he was the special guest and he gave some fantastic insights into what it was like being part of one of the greatest editions (alongside Zinzan Brooke and Jonah Lomu, to name just two) for the greatest rugby nation. And he had some great tales to tell at his own expense too.

He spoke of one occasion when he was getting a taxi to an airport and he spotted that the driver kept glancing at him in the rearview mirror. He was used to being recognised like this so didn’t take too much notice. Just as they were pulling into the airport the driver looked back at him one more time and locking eyes, he asked: “You’re going to have to tell me mate?” To which the All Black legend replied: “No bother. Sean Fitzpatrick, New Zealand captain.” The bewildered and oblivious driver then asked him which terminal he needed to be dropped off at.

The perils of thinking you are famous to everyone.

Another story he told was of the first time he ever met up with an All Blacks squad.

After the rest of the squad got over the fact he was far too excited about doing the Haka, he found out he would be rooming with one of the elder lemons, whose name escapes me now but I think was nicknamed ‘Cowboy’ (a Google search was no help). Although this was the mid-1980s and the pre-professional era, the All Blacks were a well-oiled machine and Fitzpatrick assumed their preparation would be a huge step up from his provincial side Auckland and even the ‘Baby Blacks’ he had by then toured France with.

He was surprised when as he prepared to go to bed on the first evening in training camp, his roommate got dressed up in his best clobber, pulled on some fancy boots, headed out the door and told him not to lock it.

As dawn broke through the curtains, Fitzpatrick heard the hotel room door open and his roommate stumbled in and fell on to his own bed.

“Sean,” he called out. “Help me pull these boots off.”

Shocked though he was at this behaviour that would not go down well with the coaching staff, Fitzpatrick did what was asked of him.

“Sean,” the next request came, “go down to the hallway and get some buckets of ice. Then come back here and fill the bathtub with cold water and throw the ice cubes into it.”

Eager to please his older colleague, Fitzpatrick did just this, imagining he was getting to see one of the new modern recovery techniques he had heard much about, although he had presumed it was to recuperate after an injury rather than to cure a hangover.

“The ice bath is ready,” he told his snoozing roommate, who roused just long enough to point at a gear bag and tell Fitzpatrick to empty its contents into the tub. Inside it was about 40 bottles of beer.

Reds can benefit as Leinster rest star players

WHEN the professional era dawned on the game of rugby here it was Munster and Ulster who took to it quickest.

But Leinster have long been the dominant force now and it is probably not even fair to say that this is not good for the game considering we are Grand Slam champs again and among the favourites for the World Cup.

The Blues host Munster in the URC semi-final tomorrow evening and unless they take their eye off the ball with the European Cup decider being held a week later at Lansdowne Road as well, it’s difficult to see them losing.

There was only a point between these two in their most recent meeting at Thomond Park on Stephen’s Day last year, but the last decade has been a sorry tale for the Reds.

Leinster have won 10 of the past 11 and 17 of the last 20. The Reds’ last win was in the short-lived and meaningless Rainbow Cup two years ago in front of an empty RDS.

So it should be an easy call, with Leinster 1/8 to progress to another final and Munster 6/1 to spring a surprise. Defeats to the Bulls and La Rochelle last year should also motivate Leo Cullen’s to push on for silverware this month. They skipped past the Sharks in their URC quarter-final last weekend while Munster had a pulverising game against their other big rivals in Glasgow.

Tadhg Beirne returned from injury for his first appearance in red since January, which was a huge positive but then Peter O’Mahony, RG Snyman, Conor Murray, Diarmuid Barron, Calvin Nash and Malakai Fekitoa had a procession of the pitch with knocks.

Injury-jinxed Snyman, veteran Murray, former All Blacks’ centre Fekitoa and the much-improved Calvin Nash will now miss this season-defining game then due to head injury assessments.

The odds are also against O’Mahony leading the team out following a scan on the arm injury which forced him off after just five minutes.

That should be that, but there is a glimmer of hope for the reds, and they can thank their former out-half.

Ronan O’Gara’s La Rochelle will have the luxury of resting players in the Top 14 this weekend by dint of having already qualified for the finals as runners-up in that competition, so Leinster will now have to do likewise.

Can Graham Rowntree’s side overcome recent history and a second-string Leinster? It will be a huge undertaking but we’ll opt for them to reverse recent trends and win by 1-5 points at 12/1

Hold on to your hat now

SOME days of reckoning are here for my beloved Hatters. Sunderland stand in the opposite corner between Luton Town making the most lucrative match in football and getting the chance to reach the top flight for the first time in three decades.

Sunderland snuck into the final Championship play-off spot last weekend thanks to a 3-0 win at Preston, as Millwall let a 3-1 lead slip to defeat in the second half at The Den against fellow promotion chasers Blackburn.

They are now 15/4 to return to the Promised Land for the first time since 2017, while Luton (coming into the playoffs on the back of a 14-game unbeaten run in the league) are 11/4.

Middlesbrough are the 9/4 favourites and were last relegated from the top table at the same time as their near neighbours six years ago. They face Coventry on Sunday, who like Luton have been mired in financial troubles since they last departed the Premier League in 2001 and briefly played in the fourth level (Luton spent some years out of the Football League entirely, in the fifth tier down). They are the 4/1 outsiders to go up.

Luton were dumped out at this stage last year by Huddersfield.

The return legs will be held next Tuesday and Wednesday and the decider, the ‘Richest Game in Football’ will be on May 27 at Wembley.

Pool hunting down fourth

HAVE Liverpool left it too late to sneak into the top four?

Some slip-ups from those ahead of them last weekend has seen their odds now drop to 13/8.

Newcastle and Man United both lost, while Liverpool made it six wins from six to move within touching distance of Champions League spots.

Looking at the three clubs’ run-ins, Liverpool might just have the edge with Leicester City away this Monday, Aston Villa at home after that and the by-then-relegated Southampton hosting them on the final day of the season. If Liverpool win all three of their remaining games, giving them 71 points, then Newcastle will need six points (or seven, if Liverpool can overturn a seven-goal deficit in goal difference) to stay ahead in fourth. Their next game is away at Leeds United, which happens to be Sam Allardyce’s first match at Elland Road, Leeds will pack the penalty area and look to frustrate Newcastle with an ultra-defensive performance.

United meet Wolves at home next, which is not exactly easy either but them Bournemouth (a), Chelsea (h), and Fulham (h) is a nice set of games, with nobody playing for anything as their seasons wind down. But that might not matter as United almost seem to be pulling up too.

The Bet

THE Tailteann Cup returns this weekend. Cavan are 2/1 to go one better this year and lift the trophy, followed by fellow Ulster side Down on 4/1. These are followed by Meath on 5/1 and their Leinster conquerors Offaly on 15/2. That Tipp are considered 50/1 shots shows how far they have fallen since being 2016 and 2020 All-Ireland semi-finalists. Limerick, Meath, Antrim, Fermanagh, Wicklow, Cavan and Clare to beat Waterford in the hurling will net you 5/1.

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