Bent should go through the correct process before Ireland selection
FRENCH NOTES:It’s right to spend time in the provinces before donning the green jersey
Trying to explain to all of you, born in Ireland, that there are more than 70 million of us around the world who also consider ourselves Irish, is an argument that I know I am not going to win.
Millions born in the new world migrant countries like America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, consider themselves, like me, to be of two countries. I am Australian and Irish. I am both. I am from the Irish diaspora.
I understand that you simply can’t get your head around this. You are cynical and I can hear “The Plastic Paddy” syndrome rearing its ugly head in your thoughts.
I will be frank. Long ago I stopped caring what people think about me on this topic.
I also support the Irish national rugby team, even when they play Australia, and if you don’t like that or don’t believe me that is your problem not mine.
In Sydney, I went to school with a lot of Irish Australians. There were also Italian, Polish, Lebanese and Chinese Australians who remain, to this day, my friends.
At school we were all Australians. At home we each lived in the culture of our heritage. As kids we did not understand this or even know what a “culture” was.
The food and language spoken at the homes of my friends was different, our physical appearances were different, yet we did not care, as we were all good mates.
Looking back, it is like we had a switch that we could turn on or off. We were Australian when we were together at school and we lived as Irish or Italian or Chinese when we went home.
All over Australia that was normal. You had two nationalities, but you never even thought about it.
I also remember going to family parties and the Irish songs being pounded out on my aunties’ piano. My cousins and I would hide. If we were discovered we were press -ganged into singing.
It never occurred to me that the same scene was being played out in Boston, Liverpool, Newfoundland and all across the Irish diaspora.
That diaspora has been a great source of talent for the national team. There is a prestigious list of Irish internationals who were not born on the island of Ireland. The strength of the Irish rugby diaspora struck me when I was in camp as coach of Ireland A.
I was astounded by the variety of accents. Not only could you hear the tongues from the four provinces, but also the English accent of players like the Easterby brothers, the New Zealand of Mike Mullins and the Australian of Keith Gleeson.
The A team is a difficult team to play for because outside of the team no one cares. The national team, rightly have the limelight. There were no big crowds, no media hype. The only people who knew if you gave your all were your team-mates. My two seasons with the As were hugely enjoyable because of the players’ physical and emotional commitment to the green jersey. The A team was important to the players because it was an Irish team.
In many ways the non-indigenous players had added pressure to perform.
If they did not play well unjust accusations of “not caring” were quickly made.
I have a saying that “An Irish wolfhound born outside of Ireland is still an Irish wolfhound, but the judges at the dog show are suspicious”.
There is no doubting the pedigree of the latest player from the diaspora, Michael Bent. You don’t play tighthead for Taranaki and the Hurricanes without being talented, tough and skilful. He has great potential for both Leinster and Ireland.
For the sake of the young man, I hope he is given the opportunity to play several games for Leinster before being selected for Ireland.
This process is important for the integrity of the national jersey and for Michael himself.
Successful players from the diaspora have firstly become part of the Irish rugby community by serving their province so their performance and character could be assessed.
Once their commitment to Irish rugby is confirmed they were able to compete as an Irishman for national selection.
The unsuccessful players from the diaspora were parachuted into Irish teams. They did not earn the respect of their team-mates or the public. This was not their fault. It was the fault of the selectors.
Wisdom from selectors and officials is required for both Michael Bent’s future and the value of the national jersey.
The Irish rugby communities have taken the great players from the diaspora into their heart as their own. They also remember with scorn the failed “Plastic Paddies” selected into teams without doing the yards and so cheapening the value of the green jersey.
The best advice I could give Michael is to know that even if he regards himself as an Irish New Zealander, most people born in Ireland simply can’t get their head around this concept. Don’t try and explain it to them because they are not listening.
Accept that when you return to Ireland from the diaspora the indigenous people are extremely cynical about your intentions and motivation.
The only way to prove yourself and your commitment to Ireland is by playing, and playing bloody well.