Are you old enough to remember the conveyor belt on the Generation Game? No? Well, a bunch of fabulous prizes whizzed by under the contestants' noses – like a teasmade, fondue set, fan heater, salad bowl, binoculars and a microscope set – and at the end you got to keep the ones you remembered. Your only guaranteed prize, though, was a cuddly toy, because there was always a cuddly toy, so you'd never forget to mention it.
There was no cuddly toy in RTÉ's opening montage thingie on Saturday for the Six Nations, if you exclude Rory Best, but there was a conveyor belt of extremely famous people, and come the end of it there's no way you'd have remembered them all. Gazillions. Ranging from Nelson Mandela to Aung San Suu Kyi and Mahatma Gandhi to Martin Luther King.
What, you’re asking, had this to do with Ireland kick-starting their Six Nations campaign?
It’s a reasonable question. But if you watched the piece you’d have understood.
It began with a little boy leaving home for school, looking like he’d prefer to be heading to the dentist to have his teeth removed by rusty pliers, the narrator hinting at his mood: “You wander aimlessly in a fog of lost dreams and broken promises, you’re confused, afraid, devoid of purpose. Direction and guidance are what you’re searching for.”
(We’ve all been there).
“This was once a land of visionaries, of leaders, of brave men. But all that’s left of them are stories and faded pictures in dusty old books.”
That's when faded photos of Einstein, Che Guevara, Michael Collins, Marlon Brando, Audrey Hepburn and the like passed by on the dusty old conveyor belt.
“You’ve been searching for someone to look up to, somebody to put your faith in.”
Cue Bills Gates, Muhammed Ali, Pelé, the Dalai Lama, Bob Dylan, Steve Jobs, Elvis Presley, a fella walking on the moon (not Sting), John F Kennedy, the lads raising the flag on Iwo Jima in 1945 and Mother Teresa.
“Well, guess what: So has everyone else.”
Lionel Messi, John Wayne, Lech Walesa, John Lennon, Eric Cantona, somebody climbing Everest, Babe Ruth, Stephen Hawking, Pope Francis, Usain Bolt, Bob Marley, the Civil Rights marches in America and Tommie Smith’s Black Power salute at the Mexico Olympics.
(You'll note the cast was somewhat boy-centric, which called to mind Dublin beat combo A House realising their list of dead artists in Endless Art was made up entirely of lads, necessitating a ladies-only follow-up, More Endless Art).
What was the point? Patience, we’re getting there.
"But you've not been looking in the right place," said the narrator as the little boy, who by now was clearly mitching (Liveline might pick up on that up today), spotted a rugby ball in the park and ran towards it, the smile on his face telling us he was renewed. "Your heroes are out there! And the time for them is NOW!" And then the little boy picked up the ball and in it he could see Joe Schmidt getting off the coach at Lansdowne. "Heroes lead the way!"
At that point it looked like Rory Best chucking a ball into the line-out was sandwiched between Rosa Parks refusing to sit at the back of a bus and Tank Man jeopardising his life in Tiananmen Square.
“Sometimes in life the odds are stacked against you – heroes fight for themselves and others and refuse to take no for an answer. They’re ordinary people doing extraordinary things, and your heroes have finally arrived!”
And with that the little boy plants his ball on the grass, heroes scribbled upon it.
What happened next? Well, Ireland beat Italy – and wouldn’t you after that? The two points from the Stadio Olimpico putting the achievements of Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King in the ha’penny place.
The only more stirring thing, to happen all afternoon was Ronan O'Gara asking George Hook to pull his pants down during a debate about the brilliance of modern medicine and Seán O'Brien's tweaked hamstring. You had to be there. As unforgettable as the cuddly toy.