Words: Killian Down
During the summer of 1994, an unruly mob of whiskey-slicked Irish soccer fans were unloaded onto American soil to bear witness to one of Ireland’s rare forays into the World Cup. Joining them was a member of the O’Connor clan of Glenageary, Dublin, a family best-known for producing the enigmatic Sinéad. It was not however Sinéad who was sent to chronicle the goings-on of the Irish contingent in Orlando but rather her ferociously talented, lesser-known brother Joseph, a journalist-cum-author.
From Joseph’s American experiences came the fantastically funny, well-observed ‘World Cup Diaries’, which can be found in a collection of his writings called The Secret World of the Irish Male. I was not fortunate enough to read this acerbically witty account of the 1994 World Cup at the time; I was enjoying the solitary comforts of my mother’s womb. Indeed, it was not until I stumbled across a liver-spotted, partially severed copy of the book at the back of a cupboard some eighteen years later that I was granted the luxury. It is those World Cup Diaries that inspired the following account of my experience of the 2015 Rugby World Cup whilst on exchange in Montréal, Canada. Joseph, thank you. Sinéad, seek immediate help.
Oh, what sacrifices I have made for the oval ball. Whilst most Irish rugby fans enjoy the supreme benefits of close proximity to the Greenwich Meridian Line, I have found myself setting a slew of alarms every second morning or so in order to watch the day’s pool-stage rugby. A 2.45pm kickoff in London or Cardiff means dragging my drooping eyelids along my apartment floor and upstairs to a communal lounge at an hour normally reserved for roosters and milkmen: 9.45am. (I apologise on behalf of Motley for the lack of a trigger warning.) The dreaded 12pm kickoff, granting Corkonians enough time for a hearty breakfast and perhaps a light elevenses, equates to the genocidal 7am kickoff Canadian time. Martyrdom, it seems, precludes a good night’s rest.
Actual rugby aside, which for the most part has been thrilling, my early morning televisual pilgrimages have not been rewarded. You see, I live in the French-speaking province of Quebec. And although the communal lounges in my student accommodation have cable television, it’s the old-fashioned kind where there’s no TV guide or indeed any indication as to what programme you’re watching or sometimes even what channel you’re watching: you just have to keep flicking. Coupled with the excruciating fact that TV networks have no set channel number and often change from, for example, channel thirty-four to channel eighty-seven, it is near impossible to find RWC coverage in English.
Thus each morning, I am greeted by the same two mocking Gallic faces, who serve as both the analysts and commentators for every single match on RDS Sports. You would think that after forty pool-stage matches that they would hate each other as much as I hate them but alas, every bloody game amidst the gurgling gobbledygook of French they burst into a fit of laughter at least once a half. I have narrowed down the source of their amusement to two possibilities: either they are laughing in a sort of incredulous joy at the fact they get paid to commentate for the benefit of the ten rugby fans living in Quebec, or they find my assumption that behind the language barrier they actually know something about rugby unceasingly funny. I tell myself that at least one of the pair has represented Canada in rugby but it seems just as likely that they were found dishing out sloppy joes in the RDS staff cafeteria.
On the rare occasion that I can find the TSN channel and the accompanying English commentary, I’m treated to Alan Quinlan’s Limerick brogue doling out Michael Owen-esque insights. It is not by accident that I chose the verb “dole”, for that is precisely what Alan would be collecting were I the television executive in charge of his future. In addition to his brazen lack of insight, Quinlan’s commentary can be a tad impartial at times, too; you could hear him doing his utmost to hold back hoops and hollers when Kearney bashed his way over the whitewash and Murray deftly touched the ball against a post-guard on Sunday. I have a sneaking suspicion that good old Alan may just have been sitting in the commentary box with a faded Ireland jersey on, “Quinny 16” printed on the back in Premier League lettering.
As if I didn’t already have enough motivation to switch back to Abe and Gretta on their break from the RDS cafeteria, howling with laughter in their Martian tongue, the ESPN half-time analysis always seals the deal. Sitting before me usually is a rather large gentleman and his female co-anchor, each blurting out the banal, like “the Welsh forwards have been putting in some mammoth hits today” or “Sexton really brought his kicking boots today, Claire”, as if Johnny was sometimes fond of taking place-kicks in his bare feet because the blades of grass tickled his little toesies. My favourite quip so far came on Sunday, when at half-time the florid-jowled male analyst chimed in with “[t]he luck of the Irish seems to be working in reverse order today – I hope they got a warranty on that pot of gold!”… More expert analysis from Jeff after this quick commercial break.
There is an upside to watching from Canada, mind you. Like all the great martyrs before me, I have with great zeal converted (sporting) non-believers and (footballing) pagans to the wonders of the Gospel according to Bod. Pop by the 13th floor lounge of Evo Student Accommodation, Montréal on a Saturday morning and you will find a growing congregation of South Korean rugby fans. Their conversion was a most difficult task, but one made easier by a bond formed between us through our shared tensions with our respective versions of “the lads up north.”
With the end of the group stages comes however a temporary change of scenery for me: the Big Apple. (A nickname suitable for the TSN analyst such is his size and level of intelligence; fruit would offer deeper insights.) At 8am on Sunday October 19th, I hope to find myself engulfed by a mass, beer-drenched rolling maul, moving through a New York Irish pub with a name like “Macgillicuddy’s” or “O’Seamusínmacintoggart’s” or something suitably ridiculous and patently not Irish. Accompanying analysis will be offered by the recently unemployed Alan “Quinny” Quinlan.