Rugby, the people’s game? Not according to the people

Solidarity forged fighting the Beast quickly melts following RTÉ’s ‘Against the Head’

A discussion among RTÉ's Against the Head panel has divided opinion online after host Daire O’Brien referred to rugby as "the people's game." Video: RTÉ

 

Why RTÉ , why?

It had been a beautiful little spell in our nation’s history, we had come together as one to repel the invader that was the Beast from the East, giving it a kick in the arse as it departed our shores. We cleared the 15 feet snowdrifts from our neighbours’ front doors with our bare hands, we shared sliced pans, said hello to people we’d never even made eye contact with before, and gave our last carrots to children so that their snowpersons wouldn’t be nose-less. A warm fuzzy feeling engulfed us. A united nation once again.

And then our national broadcaster had to go and rent us asunder again by chucking a hand grenade upon our new found oneness by asking:

“Is rugby now the people’s game?”

When you clicked to see the responses to the question on Twitter, the warning was ominous: “Show additional replies, including those that may contain offensive content.”

One of the politer ones was offered by a Damien:

“Get to f**k!”

The only other publishable ones were:

“HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.”

“People’s game my hole.”

“That’s an absolute embarrassment. Take it down lads.”

“Would you go ‘way and shite.”

“I just got sick all over myself.”

“If by ‘people’ you mean tossers, then yes, yes it is.”

“Jesus wept.”

“LMAO.”

The few brave souls who supported the motion were snowed under.

It all stemmed from a discussion on Monday night’s Against the Head on RTÉ 2, and instead of letting it rest there, safe in the knowledge that only rugby people would have been watching, RTÉ provocatively highlighted it on their website under the heading ‘Is the Ireland rugby team the new Jack’s Army?’ And they engaged in further excrement-stirring by putting a clip from the programme on Twitter and asking if it was indeed ‘the people’s game’.

The ensuing debate left the Civil War looking like a minor scrap.

An Ireland supporter during an open training session at the Aviva. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
An Ireland supporter during an open training session at the Aviva. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Against the Head host Daire O’Brien was largely responsible for the tumult which briefly united GAA and football/soccer fans, but they ended up falling out too when they both started laying claim to the people’s game tag. ‘Bog-ballers!’ ‘Sasanachs!’ MMA devotees quickly withdrew from the debate for fear they’d be caught in the crossfire.

“Arguably it’s the people’s game,” Daire had argued. “In terms of public interest rugby is now up there close enough to the Jack’s Army kind of thing of the ‘80s or maybe the great hurling of the ‘90s, it’s just caught the wave.”

His guests, Brent Pope, Eddie O’Sullivan and Bernard Jackman, didn’t disagree, Brent reckoning that because our international rugby players are based in Ireland, and not “Walthamstow or somewhere like that,” like our footballers, that made them more accessible to the public (if not our media). You could bump in to Brian O’Driscoll in the supermarket, for example, when there’d be divil a sight of, say, Cyrus Christie pushing his trolley around the aisles.

Daire declared that rugby-mania has swept the country, stopping just short of suggesting that you’d see, say, Bundee Aki replica shirts on children from Derrynane to Drumlish to Donaghmede, not to mention Dripsey, Drumshanbo and Dunkineely.

“There are people who wouldn’t have an opinion on an All-Ireland hurling or football final or a soccer international, but they will have an opinion on and be engaged with this, it’s absolutely throughout society,” he argued, and lest you considered jumping in to point out that Kiely’s in Donnybrook is not society, he came armed: “The sheepskin image of rugby, that it’s middle class, ‘ya, ya’, that’s gone.”

(Brent: “You still have a sheepskin.”

Daire: “I do, but it’s manmade.”)

Both Brent and Daire agreed that the notion that the people who go to Irish matches are all from D4 was “a thing of the past,” that rugby’s tentacles had spread in to every nook and cranny on the island. “There is a much wider base,” said Daire, “or is it just that everyone is middle class?”

(James on Twitter: “Someone needs to check Daire O’Brien for concussion.”)

Two small flaws in the people’s game argument were conceded…..

Daire: “This is not a minority sport ….. maybe in terms of participation.”

Eddie: “There are much more people engaged with rugby…. not necessarily going to games.”

…. so apart from numbers playing the sport and attending games, rugby is flying. Mainly, it seems, due to the amount of us tuning in to watch a so far rather successful Six Nations campaign. In the same way that snooker was the people’s game when Ken Doherty won his world title, and the entire nation started pedalling when Stephen Roche did his thing. We love winning, we do.

Back on Twitter punches were still being thrown. The42.ie’s John O’Sullivan offered his nominees for “next year’s comedy IFTA”:

The Young Offenders

Derry Girls

Against the Head

Judging by the overall response to ‘the people’s game’ claim, Daire should start writing his acceptance speech now.

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