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Ronan O'Gara Offers World Cup Warning To Ireland

Ronan O'Gara Offers World Cup Warning To Ireland
By Conor O'Leary

A Rugby World Cup semi-final.

It's not something that Ireland is associated with. The golden generation has come and gone, and yet Gordon Hamilton's try in 1991 against Australia remains the closest Ireland has come to a historic semi-final.

Ronan O'Gara was involved in some form or other for all of Ireland's World Cups in the professional era until this one. He may only have been a waiting list option in '99, but it's fair to say that the Cork man has learned a lot about what Ireland can do to prevent the failures of the past. Speaking to Gavin Cummiskey of the Irish Times, O'Gara gives a lot of food for thought looking ahead to this tournament.

O'Gara grew up with the national team as the expectations rose. From the days in '99 where Lens haunted the team for the next four years - and negatively impacted on Ireland's mindset in 2003. It's instuctive though, to look at the past to figure out what needs to be done.

Ireland's gameplan in 2003 was just to win. Avoid the disaster of Lens, and anything else is a bonus. Unfortunately though, once the famous victory over Argentina secured a quarter-final berth - Ireland switched off. Bonus territory isn't one that we thrive in:

Because of where standards were at the time in the national camp everyone was focused on the Argentina game. We kind of relaxed a bit.

Perhaps that explains the mindset going into 2007. Those huge expectations placed on the squad. Ireland were very undercooked going into the tournament - especially with the lunacy of playing against a French club side renowned for the physicality. For O'Gara though, the warning sides were there before that infamous battle of Bayonne:

We struggled to beat Italy at Ravenhill in a warm-up game. Looking back, that was obviously the start of it.

I’ve thought long and hard about this and am still struggling for answers. Because the intent was there and we had such a good squad, such good morale, we were very ambitious, we thought we could do something. Then we started playing poorly so to try and fix that we started training ourselves into the ground.

It's only a little concerning when looking at Ireland's struggles at the moment. There are more than a few similarities. Granted, Ireland's physical conditioning was a bigger aspect in 2007 than it is now.

There were other factors to that disastrous campaign. Based in an industrial estate in Bordeaux, boredom will set in.

It was a low point and there were no distractions. We were in an industrial estate. It was tough going with poor food, poor mood, not among the players, but because we were playing so poor it was ‘F**k, what is happening?

Playing so badly also compounded other problems, such as the accusations of O'Gara's gambling debt and the status of Eddie's untouchables that meant that some players in the squad didn't play a minute of rugby.

It also didn't help that because there was such a gap in the first and second choice, that the overly-macho mindset regarding head injuries wasn't treated with the respect it deserved. In fact, O'Gara says he's never been as badly concussed as he was in the crucial French game:

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No. It was my first time with a bad concussion. I got busted by (Serge) Betsen. An awful bang on the head. I played that game fully concussed. I didn’t play well. I shouldn’t have continued on but I was never going to, you don’t walk off a pitch, you have to be carried off. That was always my mentality.

Yep. It was like playing in a match box. My vision was all distorted so I knew from then on what it was like to be fully concussed as opposed to being sparked.

It was notable in 2011, that the same bravado that charged Ireland's lead in to the tournament in 2007 wasn't repeated. There weren't any deadly proclamations of success. That said, four warm up losses will do that to a side.

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It brought a fear, says O'Gara, into the Ireland team and sparked the victory of Australia. The hunger and and physicality shown by the Irish pack won them that test in Eden Park. But the fallout of that game, and the conclusion that it was now a successful World Cup didn't help:

I don’t think our hunger was what it was for Australia when we were like men possessed. When you are a small percentage off you get nailed. And that’s what happened to us. I think a few people in our squad talked it up. They thought that maybe we were performing without having done anything yet.

I think a lot of us believed the press that we were already in the semi-final.

It's not identical, but there are shades of 2003 coming from it.

World Cups come around every four years, but it appears that Irish mindset oscillates every eight years between over-confident and bonus territory.

At least this time we seem confident of reaching the semi-finals, where anything happens after that is a bonus. Oh...

[Irish Times]

See Also: Ronan O'Gara Is Now Offering A Different Spin On Miami Dolphins Story
See Also: Ronan O'Gara And Shane Horgan Outlined The Reasons To Be Positive Going Into The World Cup

Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

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