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23rd May 2023

‘ROG never got his big send-off… Johnny Sexton will be in a bus, heading down Grafton Street!’

Patrick McCarry

“He was just thrown out, like a piece of rubbish.”

Two Munster men sitting back and giving their red-tinted take on how Ronan O’Gara was mistreated by Ireland, the IRFU and the media. Ignoring the pedestrianisation of Grafton Street just for the sake of Johnny Sexton. How had it come to this?

That last thought came from myself as I sat in the House of Rugby studio and listened to Greg O’Shea and Jason Hennessy give props to O’Gara, then complain that he was not afforded a banner on a blimp like Brian O’Driscoll when he retired.

There was a degree of sympathy for the Leinster players, after losing by a point from their early, winning position of 17-0 against La Rochelle. As the show progressed, though, there was ample praise for La Rochelle coaches, O’Gara, Sean Dougall and Donnacha Ryan and former Connacht man [and proud son of Tralee] Ultan Dillane.

Focusing on O’Gara, who has now led La Rochelle to their second Champions Cup, O’Shea spoke of how he felt the Munster legend never got the send-off he deserved. O’Shea was a teenager when, in 2013, O’Gara was deemed surplus to requirements by Declan Kidney.

Having coached O’Gara at Presentation Brothers College then Munster and Ireland, Kidney was wracked and uneasy when it came time to make the cut, but he felt it was best for Ireland. He called O’Gara and suggested they meet up in person but the outhalf sensed what was coming.

Before Kidney and the IRFU could announce their Ireland squad for a Six Nations game against France, the news was out there. O’Gara was out in the cold. His final Test appearance, it would turn out, would be replacing Paddy Jackson in the 64th minute of a 12-8 loss to Scotland.

Ronan O’Gara, pictured at the final whistle, as Scotland celebrate their 2013 win over Ireland. (Credit: Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE)

Greg O’Shea on Ronan O’Gara’s coaching achievements

As it would transpire, Ireland would draw and lose their next two Six Nations games, against France and Italy, and Declan Kidney would follow Ronan O’Gara out that international exit door.

Although Paddy Jackson and Ian Madigan were the out-halves, in 2013, that kept O’Gara from getting that grand send-off, it was Johnny Sexton that had established himself as the country’s first-choice for the 10 jersey. Sexton and O’Gara had fought over, and traded, that starting 10 jersey for three and a half years but Kidney opted to go with the younger gun. From February 2012, Sexton has started every Ireland game he played.

“As Johnny was coming up,” recalled Greg O’Shea, “ROG was on his way down. They had many battles, over the years, and there was aggro. After the [La Rochelle] win, there were pictures of Johnny standing over ROG and screaming at him, at Croke Park in 2009.

“I think there may be something there because ROG never got his send-off, which he deserved. Munster never gave him one, Ireland never did, and he was actually getting abused by the media. Could there still be that edge from ROG? That he wants to prove he’s still at the top of his game, even though it is now as a coach.”

Former Leinster and Ireland star Lindsay Peat agreed and said that while ‘everybody can have verbals’ the best thing a person or team can do is let their rugby talk. “Everything ROG has done has spoke volumes,” she added. “He might as well have given everybody the two fingers, basically.”

The fact that Johnny Sexton and Ronan O’Gara were two of the four figures identified, in various reports, for their involvement in a tunnel flare-up at half-time in the final only adds another level to the complex drama of the former rivals for that 10 jersey.

Jason Hennessy pointed out that, along with his Test achievements, O’Gara was given the inaugural EPCR Player of the Year award, back in 2010, in recognition of his impact over what would eventually stretch to his 16 seasons in the European Cup.

“I remember that Scotland game in 2013,” said Hennessy. “He had a poor game and was thrown out like a piece of rubbish.” That was grist to O’Shea’s mill, who proclaimed:

“I was a young fella, coming up in rugby, and it was sad to see. ROG was the man but he wasn’t getting the respect like he should have. The way he used to play European Cup games, spiralling the ball into the corner at the old Thomond Park… I was like, ‘This lad is on a different level’.

“And he never got his parade like Brian O’Driscoll got… and I’m sure Johnny Sexton will get the big send-off, in a bus heading down Grafton Street! But ROG has his two medals, isn’t that right?”

“There’s no buses going down Grafton Street,” Peat thankfully corrected.

That still left 17 minutes in the show to get to the URC Final preview, and the Munster lads were off and running again…


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