Saturday, November 14, 2015

"No Borders - Playing Rugby For Ireland" a must read for Irish fans

logo post greenJackie Kyle has the first word, Paul O’Connell the last.

What better way to bookend a series of compelling quotes from post-War Irish rugby players describing just what it was like to pull on that green jersey.

Author/editor Tom English had to cut out a decent chunk of material to get it down to these twenty chapters (115 players & coaches interviewed altogether; over 140 hours of recordings), but even if it meant there were forty I would have read them all and still wanted more.

Sure even if you have your doubts before reading, one look at the table of contents will draw you in.  Who wouldn’t want to find out what chapters with titles like “Phoning the wife, is it? Ah, balls” and “Lens - I watched it in Strangeways” were all about.

If you’ve been a fan for decades there’s plenty of reminiscing in these stories and you’re guaranteed to learn more...and even if you’ve only found a love for the game on these shores in more recent times I can think of no better way to bring you up to speed.

Now it’s not all about the glory days, mind you.  Yes, it covers the Grand Slams and Triple Crowns and what-not, but there were a lot of dark, unsuccessful times in between and we learn an equal amount about those.

English only interjects himself the odd time (my only criticism - the font is too light for these bits!  Either that or I’d better go to SpecSavers!) to fill in a few gaps in the narrative but the players’ own words take centre stage and it seems very few punches have been pulled. 

As the title suggests it explores the effects the unified Irish team concept would have on the players over the years, but North v South is far from the only conflict that’s covered.  “Alickadoos” v players, Campbell v Ward, Tour apartheid South Africa v stay at home, Amateurism v Professionalism, Ashton v Whelan, Gatland v O’Sullivan, O’Gara v Sexton….Irish rugby has been through them all with many of them intertwining along the way yet more often than not it has come out the other side more the stronger.

I set out to highlight a few quotes to include in my review by way of example but I found so many I’d be in danger of reproducing the whole book and I’m not sure the publishers would be too keen on my doing that.  Still, here’s just the one for you...

It was always my belief that rugby people stood by each other.  Throughout the murder and mayhem in Northern Ireland there wasn’t a single game of rugby ever cancelled between a team from the north and a team from the south.  We crossed over the border all the time to play against each other and the game was a great unifier in tough times. It kept people together.  It preached tolerance.”  - Willie John McBride

There’s a whole lot more where that came from, trust me.  We don’t gush about books just for the sake about it here at Harpin Manor - I’ve been a hard man to contact for the past week as I’ve been lost in revelations like big Malcolm O’Kelly thinking of himself as a butterfly.
If there happened to be a present-buying holiday on the horizon I’d say this was a perfect choice for a gift.  If not, just go on and buy it for yourself instead ;-) JLP
"No Borders" is published by Arena Sport Books


Taken by JLP from RDS press box on Nov 16, 2019