Football

An Alternative Ireland Rugby XV Of Irish Athletes From Other Sports

An Alternative Ireland Rugby XV Of Irish Athletes From Other Sports

Rarely has a rugby team retained such an astounding capacity to pick up injuries as the current Ireland squad.

On such a rock did Ireland's 2015 Rugby World Cup campaign perish, with Joe Schmidt subsequently vowing that his side wouldn't meet such a fate again. This edict came to pass with a balls-to-the-wall win over the Wallabies last Saturday, but Ireland certainly teetered on the brink purely in terms of man-power.

It got us to thinking, were such a horrendous run of injuries to continue and indeed inflame between now and the Six Nations, to whom would Schmidt turn? The answer, of course, is the countless more peripheral but talented figures from the four provinces, but that certainly didn't prevent us using the situation as a frivolous excuse to compose a rugby XV of Irish athletes from other sports, almost entirely for our own entertainment.

Based on a prolonged investigation into their respective physical attributes and varying areas of prowess, here is that very lineup:

BACKS

15: Thomas Barr

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The optimal position for a notorious slow starter of Barr's ilk. The 2016 Olympian's penchant for hurdling challenges springs scenes reminiscent of one Dave Kilcoyne's exploits versus Canada a full three weekends ago. Handling may prove an issue, perhaps, but the 24-year-old Munsterman is no stranger to the mark, and attacks the line when opponents least expect it.

14: Séamus Coleman (c)

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Carries with him from football a leadership style very much akin to that of his fellow Ulsterman Rory Best, but offers slightly more pace out wide.

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A casual Irish rugby fan's dream, considering his actual background in Gaelic football; even standing at just five-foot-eight, science dictates that his GAA skills offer him an extra 40 to 50 inches in reach, guaranteeing at least one 'he had no right to make that' catch per game.

His propensity for getting to the byline at all costs stands him in good stead when playing a sport in which that's literally the point. Think Shane Williams. Then erase that thought entirely, and think Séamus Coleman.

13: Austin Gleeson

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In a two-year spell which has seen alien phrases such as 'the red zone' and 'the crocodile roll' infiltrate rugby, it's only fitting that 'wristy' becomes part of the parlance. And who could better personify a fine, wristy outside centre than Aussie Gleeson?

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A more dynamic runner than his more defence-minded counterpart in Jared Payne, the Hurler of the Year is impossible to second guess, offering unprecedented flamboyance and aggression, a dynamic passing ability off either side, and scores from different post codes. Gleeson was born to break lines and take names with ball in hand, but crucially offers some physical cover for diminutive winger Séamus Coleman in defence.

Still, at just 21, it's too early to make the obvious Garry Ringrose comparisons. Let the boy develop before heaping all this pressure on him.

12: Finn Bálor

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Admittedly a late bloomer at 35, but built like a brick shithouse and doesn't shy away from the idea of physical contact.

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Once Bálor shakes off the injuries which plagued his 2016 season, the Wicklow wrestler's uncanny ability to carry out intricately coordinated set-plays to the letter will doubtless impress Schmidt, as too will his rallies when Ireland find themselves on the ropes. A wildcard in Ireland's midfield.

There is one downside to Bálor's game, however: his finishing move - 'The 1916' - will surely draw the ire of traditionalists, not least in England. If you thought Chris Ashton's swan-dive pissed off Brian Moore and co...

11: James McClean

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Self-explanatory.

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Bonus: Stephen Jones is going to really hate him.

10: Diarmuid Connolly

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The seconds tick down in Cardiff - roof open, noise still deafening. Ireland and Wales are level at 20 points apiece. Tackling, it transpires, is not 400m hurdler Thomas Barr's forte. James McClean is in the bin, head in hands; he can't remember what he snarled at Jerome Garces, but it's notable that the French referee understood it with little difficulty.

"How has it come down to this?" asks an exasperated Ryle Nugent.

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It's unclear as to whether he's referring to Ireland's precarious in-game circumstances or the fact that every single, solitary professional rugby player on the island of Ireland is inexplicably injured.

"Surely a man of Joe Schmidt's vast experience and nous could have made an exception for Bordeaux Bègles' Ian Madigan!"

The ball is fired back from an Irish ruck at the precipice of the Welsh 22. An entire nation braces itself for heartbreak. Wales, that is. They know what's coming. Who else is poised in the pocket, jersey in tatters, but big Dermo Connolly. He splits the upright. Up in the gantry, Ryle has an incident.

"NO MORE FOOKIN' REPLAYS!" screams Connolly, as he violently shoulders an unsuspecting Alun Wyn Jones, instantaneously conceding a penalty enforceable at the restart.

Meanwhile, in London, Eddie Jones frantically Googles 'Lee Keegan English lineage'.

9: Conor McGregor (vc)

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Talk about a left-of-field announcement. McGregor's Capoeira box kicks may be unorthodox and, frankly speaking, wholly ineffective, but the Crumlin 9 maintains that there'll be hell to pay for any damage to his snakeskin Reebok Sprintfits.

Still, quick hands and improving takedown defence make him a nuisance around the fringes, and the Irish maul has never rumbled with such velocity as it will with a barking 'Notorious' at its base.

Precision beats power. Just look at the All Blacks and South Africa. Timing beats speed. Just look at Ireland fullback Thomas Barr, who to be fair is also extraordinarily fast.

With his demand to be granted shares in the IRFU likely to be scoffed at, McGregor will be forced to settle for a third championship win in 15 months - this time in TheMacLife.com Six Nations.

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FORWARDS

1: Big Jon Walters

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Originally drafted in as a blindside flanker, Walters arrives to training at Carton House proudly donning a head bandage, forcing Schmidt to change tack.

Surprisingly effective in the kick chase and a powerful finisher, though confusion will surely reign when the big, barrelling forward is sent clear in the corner, only to place the ball down a yard shy of the line and ferociously shield it from oncoming defenders.

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2: Shane Lowry

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Universally popular pack leader, not unlike his predecessor.

Lowry's luxurious beard game and love for Guinness dictates that he belongs in the front row, and the impeccable rhythm of his swing translates to the perfect lineout throw. It's a no-brainer. The vast majority of this article is, in fact.

Formerly a driver of balls, Lowry finds his calling driving the Irish maul, fuelled by the occasional snakeskin boot up the jacksy from Conor McGregor, the scrum-half with whom he strikes up an almost telepathic understanding through the medium of visualisation.

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He has a bone to pick with the rest of Europe, and should be sufficiently motivated to earn himself a place on the 2017 Lions tour - at the very least on standby. However, rumours persist that he'll opt to decline a place on the plane should the opportunity arise, due to there being 'an awful bug going' in New Zealand.

3: Sheamus

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At six-foot-three and 121kg, Cabra's Sheamus 'The Bull' O'Shaughnessy is one of the few athletes on this hypothetical XV to have actually played rugby.

A keen Leinster and London Irish fan, Sheamus - whose rugby name is Stephen Farrelly - lined out for the National College of Ireland while earning a diploma in Arse-Kickery.

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He was once a bodyguard to Larry Mullen and Bono. That in itself has literally nothing to do with rugby, but is surely worth pointing out by its own merit.

4: Lehmon Colbert

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Not even we could have believed that the UCC Demons power forward was originally brought across from America as a project player...and we made it up.

Nonetheless, having arrived in Cork from Mexico's Leñadores de Madera in 2013, the six-foot-seven American is now eligible to line out for Ireland, much to the chagrin of Kerry-born Kieran Donaghy who must settle for a spot on the bench.

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The Crawford County man averaged over 12 rebounds per game as he earned MVP honours during his third title-winning season on the spin with the Demons. Still just 28, his best rugby is ahead of him. Indeed, all of it is.

5: The O'Donovan Brothers

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Yes, both of them. Second in the rowing. Second row. Written in the stars.

A late video appeal to World Rugby in which Gary describes rugby as 'mad craic altogether' sees the Lisheen duo cleared to be registered as a singular player. The move is greeted with widespread outrage; not because of its unorthodox nature, but due to the discovery that Gary's lines were unknowingly dubbed over by one Liam Neeson.

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Thankfully, Ireland's Six Nations schedule doesn't see them play any fixtures on a Sunday, meaning the lads will never be ruled out with Mass - an issue which plagued Euan Murray and Scottish selectors in the mid-'00s. In any case, their impending BBC interview on March 18th - following Ireland's (whisper it) potential Championship decider with England - promises to be a thoroughly unholy affair.

Their grandmother is also drafted in as team nutritionist.

6: Pádraic Maher

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The Thurles Sars colossus was recently named new Tipperary captain, and has been a turnover machine since his Senior club debut a full decade ago.

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Thriving physically under the Premier county's strength and conditioning coach Lukasz Kirszenstein during a career-best season, Maher's has lost none of his ability to bowl over would-be tacklers and smother would-be attackers despite his leaner and more athletic physique.

His pace on the turn and new-found explosiveness will beg questions as to why he never received a call-up before, but it's worth noting that about 270 eligible back rows had to be stricken with injury before Alan Quinlan even mooted him as a potential candidate in his Independent column.

7: Andy Lee

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Hand-selected by pal Peter O'Mahony, whom Ireland lost when he was air-lifted to a padded facility having flat-out refused to release Tolu Latu following that 79th minute turnover against Australia. Latu remains in there with him.

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With 24 knockouts in 34 victories, Limerick's former WBO World middleweight champion is well-versed in the art of taking opponents to deck. Despite his slight frame for the position, Lee is perfectly suited to the role of 'chopper' in the back row; his penchant for late heroics and scarcely believable comebacks adding an unforeseen string to Joe Schmidt's bow.

His coveted Right Hook from Hell, which has blindsided foes so frequently in the past, sparks controversy amongst the onlooking rugby media in New Zealand, who question if Ireland have become too physical since the autumn.

8: Aidan O'Shea

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With Donald Trump's presidency putting paid to an off-season trial at the Seattle Seahawks, O'Shea's insatiable lust for a Championship triumph drives him to Castlebar RFC.

After weeks of fruitless appeals, the big Mayo forward gradually comes to realise that, in this sport, he can be hauled to the grass by three tacklers and the referee is actually within his rights not to blow his whistle. Angered, he vows never to pass the ball again, putting his head down and mastering the concept of 'bosch ball'.

Word quickly reaches Dublin that the Breaffy man has defected from the GAA. He receives a phonecall from a 'foreign' (01) number, initially hoping it to be Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, but accepting Joe Schmidt's invitation nonetheless when he hears how tight the new Ireland jerseys are (and on the condition that Rob Hennelly start over Thomas Barr as Ireland's last line of defence).

SEE ALSO: Shane Williams Picks Just Three Irish Players In His Predicted Lions Team

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Gavan Casey
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Former handwriting champion. Was violently bitten by a pelican at Fota Wildlife Park in 2001.

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