Timmy Ryan’s weekly column for the Waterford News & Star
I’VE realised something about myself lately, that I really love a good tournament.
I enjoy all kinds of sport, some more than others, but there is a great old buzz when a World Cup or Olympic Games comes around again.
The World Cups are just magnets for me. I honestly didn’t think I’d be that interested in this summer’s Women’s Soccer World Cup but after watching a couple of the early matches, I was pretty much hooked and soaked up as much of the action as I could. I was in America for some of it and from a New York barstool I got to see the USA Vs England with all the fun of the crowded local atmosphere. Last year many of us were enthralled following the fortunes of our ladies hockey team who did us so proud and, against all expectations, went all the way to the final. Since I was a kid, I have always enjoyed those few weeks when very little else seemed to matter and the telly was the go to choice for as many games as I could possibly take in.
Now it’s that time again for the nation to make plans to down tools or make scheduling provision to get stuck in to a raft of Rugby as the 2019 Rugby Union World Cup beckons in Japan. All eyes will be glued to the land of the Rising Sun for a feast of rugger from September 20th to November 2nd. For devotees, it will pass very quickly. For detractors and those who couldn’t give a flying fig, it will seem interminable and mind numbingly boring. Certain households may well feel the strain of the perceived overdose of pre-match build ups, analysis and endless highlights but to the dyed in the wool fanatics, they simply won’t be able to get enough of this sporting fiesta.
I personally like to watch sport on the box while having the occasional bevy and this too is part of the ritual of getting the most out of the few weeks of competitive action. Don’t worry, it’s a healthy association. Then there’s the jingoistic side of things; the tribal coming together of the nation to shout on and support our heroes, the boys in green. Whatever our ranking at the time of entering battle, whatever the odds may be, we always expect our lads to give their all for the cause and shoulder to shoulder, to answer Ireland’s call.
Interestingly, we go in to World Cup 2019 as the top ranked nation in the world.
Normally, I’d say that was terrific but we don’t generally tend to handle the mantle of greatness very comfortably in this country when it comes to sport. Much better for us that we remain in the shadows, ready to pounce unexpectedly against a superior, more fancied foe. That said, we must take confidence from such a lofty position and put it to work for us and not against us.
Sure, we have the mighty All Blacks and the likes waiting down the line potentially, but we just have to think big and believe. Not that I think New Zealand will be all that anxious about us when push comes to shove. This is the big time, not test match stuff. Still and all, it’s a few weeks to really wallow in national pride and hopefully some class rugby from the cream of the crop. Whether that’s us, our near neighbours Wales or England or our illustrious counterparts from the southern hemisphere, it will be fascinating to see who actually stands up to be counted in the heat of battle.
With a rum and coke in hand, I shall be cheering on Joe Shmitt’s charges with thousands of my fellow countrymen and women and should we fall short, my allegiance will always be with the wonderful All Blacks, a team I have admired for many years. They really have been the benchmark for quality and in full flow they can be just awesome to watch. We have certainly caught up on them and their likes in recent years but the acid test is yet to come. In the cauldron of Japan, will we rise like the sun or disappear like a jaded Sumo wrestler?
Someone once said jokingly that the reason Irish teams often don’t perform that well in overseas tournaments is that when Paddy is abroad, he thinks he’s on holidays! Let’s hope that is just keen Irish wit. We will have to be a tournament team though in the style of the German soccer teams over the years that always seemed to pull together and excel in a tournament environment. It’s a slightly unique situation after all involving weeks away from home and it might not bring the best out of every player.
There are lots of ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ and hypothetical scenarios that the pundits will dissect at length as we prepare for the big event; plenty to think and talk about.
As for my own preparations, the armchair is primed and I am looking forward to whatever comes along for the duration and hopefully our boys will find that extra gear to get over the biggest hurdles. We can do it but whether we actually will or not is the issue. I suspect we may fall short of the ultimate prize but let’s give it some welly and have a ball while the show goes on. The rum is ready, the coke is chilling and shortly the limes will be cut into neat little wedges. Let battle commence.