A Shot at Greatness

It couldn’t be scripted better. Not even if Steven Spielberg had conceived it. With the Six Nations Championship securely in the bag, Joe Schmidt’s men now have a chance to land the biggest prize of all: the holy of holies, the elusive and much coveted Grand Slam. That the chance comes on St Patrick’s Day at Twickenham adds an ultimate layer of sweetness to an already appetising dish. It truly doesn’t get any bigger than this. History beckons for relentless Ireland.

It’s almost as if we’re rapacious. In the ordinary scheme of things, the Six Nations trophy does very nicely thank you. Ireland’s championship win is certainly no mean achievement and Joe Schmidt’s squad is rightly proud of its progress to date. But there’s room for more. We know that. The players know that. The moment is nigh. Saturday March 17, 2018 is the time to deliver. During this unusual championship campaign it’s felt like the men in green have been playing within themselves; that although Irish performances have been remorselessly functional, there’s another gear still to be found. Another level.

Chances like this don’t come around too often. It’s nine years since an Irish team last attempted this feat and it seems a veritable lifetime. Not just the game, but the world itself has changed utterly in the intervening years. At the time, we hoped it would be the start of something special; that days like this would become a regular occurrence. What we were, in fact, witnessing was the end of a golden generation but not before it had permanently cemented its place in rugby folklore. You see, that’s the uncomfortable truth. Grand Slam chances are seldom. As rare as hen’s teeth. There’s a reason we’ve only won two in our long history.

Therefore, the moment must be seized. But how mammoth a task. Ireland’s mission isn’t just challenging, it’s onerous and monumentally troublesome. Yes, Ireland have comfortably been the best team in the 2018 Six Nations by a country mile and, although still searching for peak form, Schmidt’s side has played the best rugby so far. The table doesn’t lie, after all. While form and performance undoubtedly favour the Irish, Twickenham is a venue like no other. Ireland’s London record has often made for grim reading but recent events underpin the enormity of the task. Eddie Jones’s boys haven’t lost at English rugby HQ since 2015. As fortresses go, that’s pretty impregnable credentials.

And yet Ireland provide much hope. The Green Machine has been relentless and clinical this year and has battered every opponent into seemingly inevitable submission. Jacob Stockdale is a revelation on the wing and scores tries with the careless abandon of a kid playing footy in the back garden. However, the 2018 vintage has class all over the park. Keith Earls is reborn on the other wing, James Ryan a revelation and Bundee Aki looks to the manor born in the centre. In the final analysis, the class of 2018 may lack the overall quality of their 2009 equivalents, but in terms of work ethic, battle hardness and composure, Schmidt’s charges look superior.

It barely needs reiteration, but if Ireland prevail, they will have Johnny Sexton to thank above all. Sexton is the real deal: Ireland’s best player, most valuable commodity and the man opponents fear most. In the inexorable Irish march to glory, it’s easy to forget they wouldn’t have got anywhere near this finale without the Irish fly-half’s Parisian masterclass.

A Grand Slam victory would be the ultimate vindication and fitting reward for one of Ireland’s greatest ever footballers. ’09’s Slam provided a deserved and tangible accolade for Ireland’s best ever player; ensuring a peerless career wouldn’t be tarnished by the ugly spectre of underachievement. Make no mistake, Sexton is as important now as O’Driscoll was then. If anyone can drag us over the line through sheer force of will, it’s definitely Sexton.

Saturday is a massive occasion. It’s sure to be tense, dramatic, breathtaking and spellbinding. The ambitious Irish taking on a chastened and smarting England in their own back yard; with the cherished Slam on the line. This is massive. As big as it gets. Do or die. There’s something magical about St Patrick’s week. No doubt, this time of year evokes something inside Irish people. Look at the invading hordes that descend on Cheltenham every year chasing their own pot of gold.

But it will take more than magic to upset a provoked and wounded England on home turf. Jones’s men may be vulnerable but still hold so much in their favour. For all that, potential Irish Slams don’t come around often and Schmidt’s boys must make hay while the sun shines. They’ll have to do it the hard way but that’s the way it goes sometimes. This is Ireland’s shot at greatness. The visitors by a whisker!

Twitter: @rorymcgimpsey

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The Acid Test

In rugby terms, there are few contests to get the juices flowing quite like a tussle with Warren Gatland’s Wales. We know that Wales’s irascible coach loves to beat the Irish, that he values nothing more than wiping the smirk off contented Hibernian faces. No matter about gaining the upper hand over historical foe, England, Wales’s favourite Kiwi apparently prides putting the uppity Irish in their place above all else.

There’s history here you see, a bit of previous. Gatland, it seems, has never got over his 2001 deposition, when as an Irish head coach who’d just overseen a sterling campaign that saw his side defeat both England and France in a championship campaign for the first time in aeons, Ireland’s main man was abruptly sacked and replaced by his ambitious assistant, Eddie O’Sullivan. Whatever about the rights and wrongs of that dismissal (Gatland has certainly gone on to have a wondrous coaching career post Ireland), the future Welsh supremo’s unfortunate demise left a sour taste for his many admirers within and without these shores.

That’s before we even get to the Grand Slam game in 2009 and Gatland’s dropping of you know who for the final Lions Test in 2013. Sean O’Brien’s recent incendiary comments add another layer of intrigue to an already fascinating encounter. Given the palpable history and baggage attributable to Ireland-Wales matches, therefore, Irish fans are approaching Saturday’s fixture with a weary mixture of excitement and apprehension. You see, Gatland’s recent record against his former paymasters is bloody good and his Wales team always rolls into town supremely well prepared.

And Ireland, despite nominal favouritism with the bookies, are vulnerable to upset this time. As well as the aforementioned O’Brien, the hosts are without Robbie Henshaw, Tadhg Furlong and Iain Henderson for the seminal game of the tournament thus far. Chris Farrell will ably deputise for the magnificent Henshaw but Furlong’s replacement, Andrew Porter-despite considerable promise-looks as green as the Incredible Hulk on the tight-head side of the Irish scrum. As certain as the day is long, the visitors will target the rookie prop with an orchestrated ferocity that’ll test every inch of the youngster’s considerable mettle. As we know, Gatland teams are rarely shy about identifying weaknesses in opposition ranks and exploiting them for all they’re worth. Welcome to Test rugby, young man!

And yet if Ireland withstand the inevitable onslaught, Joe Schmidt’s men possess the class and experience to shade a close call. As Ireland’s wily head honcho reminded the press corps a couple of weeks ago, he’s yet to taste championship defeat in the Aviva as Ireland coach. It’ll take a mammoth performance to shatter that proud record. As ever, much rests on the health and well-being of Ireland’s imperious half-backs.

If Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray dodge Gatland’s bullets and stay on the field, Schmidt’s chief play makers have the intelligence and composure to steer the green ship home. If either gets lost in action, though, it’s good night Irene. For Wales undoubtedly have the class, game-plan and firepower to inflict serious damage on Schmidt’s team. This is make or break. Lose on Saturday and precious momentum is lost. However, if Ireland vanquish a familiar enemy, the boys in green are another step closer to silverware. Forget the preamble, this is the acid test.

Twitter: @rorymcgimpsey;

Follow the Insideireland.ie rugby podcast on Soundcloud! 

Slick Ireland ready to roll

It’s that time of year again. You know the time I mean: when beer gardens are filled to capacity and every armchair rugby fan this side of the equator becomes experts in elite sports performance. Yes, it can only be the annual extravaganza that is the Six Nations Championship. Excitement, tension and apprehension filling the spring air in equal measure.

For Ireland, the 2018 tournament provides an opportunity to capitalise on autumn success and lay down a marker for the rest of the rugby world to notice. Entering, as we are, the end of the median stage of the World Cup cycle, this is a particularly pivotal point in the development of Joe Schmidt’s ambitious side. As satisfying at it is to challenge glamorous rivals from the southern hemisphere, the Six Nations is-and will always be-the bread and butter for tier one European nations. And the fans love this grand old tournament above all else, of course.

And, increasingly, the Six Nations is where it’s at. The peerless All Blacks apart, the best sides in the world hail from Europe these days. With the grim malaise currently afflicting Australian and South African rugby, European nations provide the best hope of upsetting New Zealand in 2019.

Eddie Jones’s England, for example, have been on a truly inspiring run for the last couple of years; their only defeat coming against Ireland in the finale of the 2017 tournament. Jones’s juggernaut is as relentless as it is powerful. Schmidt’s Ireland aren’t too far behind, though, and we all know the capabilities of Warren Gatland’s Wales. That’s before we even mention the awesome renaissance happening in Scotland and the credible job Conor O’Shea is doing in Italy.

European rugby, then, is in as strong as a position as it’s been in several blue moons. Ireland, for their part, seem in rude health. Injuries (touching a large piece of wood here!) have been relatively kind to date. The only notable absentees are Sean O’Brien and Garry Ringrose and both hope to be involved before the tournament concludes.

Even long term injuries to Jamie Heaslip and Jared Payne are mitigated by the fact that they play in positions where Ireland enjoy comparative strength. As ever, all eyes will be on the indispensable Johnny Sexton. Ireland’s brilliant fly-half really is integral to everything his side does. If Sexton stays fit, Ireland have an excellent chance of accruing silverware. If Leinster’s talisman goes down, on the other hand, all bets are off. It really is as simple as that.

The fixture list, moreover, has fallen quite kindly. If the opening game away to France can be safely negotiated, three home fixtures beckon against our Celtic cousins and Italy; all leading to a mouth watering final day showdown against England in Twickenham.

First thing’s first, though. The always enigmatic French come into the Six Nations in a state of slight disarray, having dispensed with coach, Guy Noves and replaced him with former Italy boss, Jacques Brunel. Sweeping personnel changes, illness and an inexperienced coaching team for the home side all points towards an Irish victory in the opening fixture.

But we know that logic counts for little when playing the French. With Ireland’s appalling Parisian record to consider (Google it if you want to upset yourself), Irish fans never feel too optimistic approaching an away day in Paris. That said, this is a good time to run into the unsettled French. And given how poorly Schmidt’s men started the Six Nations last season, the Irish coach will undoubtedly prime his side to get out of the blocks sprinting. The Six Nations is, after all, about momentum and a good start will do wonders for Irish prospects. Win well against France and slick Ireland have the tools to build championship glory.

Twitter: @rorymcgimpsey

You can also follow the InsideIreland.ie rugby podcast on Soundcloud. 

A Beast of an Autobiography

I’ve revealed some of my musical tastes on these pages previously. However, I’ve missed an important chapter out. After Guns N’ Roses but before I discovered The Beatles, there was Iron Maiden. Yes, the English heavy metal giants known for their epic songs, catchy guitar riffs and terrifying mascot, Eddie. I used to be absolutely obsessed with Maiden. In fact, much of my teenage years were spent dressed in black listening to Iron Maiden. I was a bit like that Teenage Dirtbag guy. I really should have got out more!

I’ve just finished What Does This Button Do? The book is the recently released autobiography of Iron Maiden front man, Bruce Dickinson. It’s an enthralling read and I recommend it for anyone remotely interested in the subject matter. However, you don’t need to be a hard rock aficionado to appreciate Dickinson’s engaging tome. The Iron Maiden singer is a man of diverse and varied tastes.

He’s a fascinating chap. As well as his singing exploits, Dickinson is a commercial airline pilot, businessman, radio presenter and novelist, to name but a few of his many and diverse pastimes. Bruce was also, at one time, an Olympic standard fencer and regularly competed whilst on tour with Maiden in their heyday.

You don’t need to be interested in any of this, though, to enjoy the book. Apart from anything else, What Does This Button Do? is a fantastic read. Penned without the aid of a ghost writer, Bruce’s autobiography is full of fascinating stories and anecdotes; told by someone with a flair for a good yarn and enough self-awareness to understand the often crazy world in which he found himself. That said, Dickinson doesn’t shy away from analysis and the autobiography gives the reader a ringside seat of a fascinating era. For this is an informed, first hand account from a man who’s lived his dreams and accrued the wisdom to tell the tale.

What Does This Button Do? has been topping the bestseller charts internationally since its release; testament in itself to the book’s innate readability. Like all good writing, it makes you want to read on and immerse yourself thoroughly in the story. This commercial triumph is a metaphor for Maiden’s own spectacular success story. For anyone unfamiliar with the back story, the band rose to prominence in the 1980s, scoring spectacular chart success with albums such as The Number of The Beast, Piece of Mind and PowerslaveMaiden’s success was built on the back of spectacular live shows and achieved despite relatively little radio play.

However, the group’s monumental early success wasn’t without cost and Dickinson left in 1993 to pursue solo projects. Maiden fans feared how the band would fare without him and, as it turned out, with some cause. The two albums recorded without Dickinson, while creditable, didn’t perform as well commercially as their predecessors and, for a time, the Maiden star waned.

The mid ’90s wasn’t a good time for hard rock as dance music and boy bands swept all before them. Iron Maiden suffered as much as anyone at a time when the music industry didn’t want to know heavy metal acts. I can attest to this dip, having watched Maiden play Belfast’s Maysfield Leisure Centre in 1996 (with Bruce’s replacement Blaze Bayley in situ). The venue wasn’t even full!

Fashions are transient but class is permanent. Something needed done to reverse the decline and the unthinkable happened in 1999, when Dickinson returned alongside guitarist Adrian Smith. Maiden’s subsequent success-from both a commercial and critical perspective-has been nothing short of phenomenal. In fact, the band has reportedly sold over 100 million albums to date! The turnaround has been quite remarkable and it’s obvious Dickinson’s return was instrumental in it.

What Does This Button Do? doesn’t dwell too much on the reasons behind Bruce’s departure and return to Maiden but it doesn’t really need to. For the book is less a blow by blow account of the writer’s history than a collection of humorous and interesting stories from a man who’s lived an extremely interesting life-and continues to. The smattering of airline stories are worth getting the book for alone and make compelling reading for those with even a passing interest in aviation.

What’s more, the candid and courageous way in which Dickinson writes about his diagnosis with, and recovery from, cancer, raises this book above standard autobiographical fare. More than anything, this is a story of creativity, entrepreneurship and imagination. A tale of a life lived to the full in pursuit of interests and passions; an affirmation of what hard work combined with curiosity can accomplish. I thoroughly recommend it for anyone inclined to give it a go.

File:Iron Maiden 2010.jpg

By Ceedub13 [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


Happy New Year from rorymcgimpsey.com. Thank you for your support in 2017!

Has luck of the Irish run out?

How to handle setback and disappointment. A very pertinent question after a sobering week for Irish sport. First of all, we had the acute of heartache of the football, as Martin O’Neill’s men suffered a near capitulation against a superb Denmark side. A couple of days earlier, their northern counterparts saw their own World Cup hopes go for a Burton against the Swiss. As if that wasn’t bad enough, there was confirmation that Ireland’s bid to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup has been unsuccessful, with the Irish coming three out of, er, three. Pretty disappointing.

With the rolling 24-hours news cycle we have nowadays, there’s been plenty of analysis and discussion of each of these events. Thus, I don’t feel the need to bore you with any further dissection of the defeats. What interests me more is the reaction to these setbacks. Vituperation and indignation everywhere. I think it tells us something about the modern Irish psyche. And the reflection isn’t necessarily positive.

Compared to the more phlegmatic and philosophical responses of days gone by, modern reaction to Irish setbacks borders on the hysterical. We’re either the best in the world or the worst. We’ve lost all sense of perspective. There’s little balance, no objectivity or logic anymore. In the midst of painful defeat, our players and administrators are castigated as hopeless, making the immediate and seamless transition from heroes to villains. In the battle for collective self-awareness, we’re in danger of losing the plot. You only have to read the column inches and listen to the phone-ins to tap into the anger and umbrage stemming from last week’s defeats. The reaction of fans to the Denmark loss, in particular, is extremely interesting.

Much of the public ire has been directed at Ireland boss, Martin O’Neill. Of course there’s nothing new about a manager incurring the wrath of fans following a heavy and bruising defeat. That’s football. Given the scale of Ireland’s reversal, surely it’s quite understandable that O’Neill should feel the heat? Maybe. But consider for a moment the rationale behind condemning a manager as consistently successful and overachieving as the former Celtic boss. In the overwhelming sense of grievance and injustice, it’s instantly forgotten that a less than vintage Ireland team wouldn’t have got anywhere near a World Cup play-off without the managerial talents of Martin O’Neill!

If anything, the reaction to the Rugby World Cup decision has been even more irrational. Granted, a lot of work has been put into a bid that was meant to finally deliver a World Cup on home soil. This was presumed to be our moment to shine; possibly Ireland’s only chance to stage a genuinely prestigious international sports event. Dignitaries as luminous as Dick Spring, Leo Varadkar and Brian O’Driscoll were drafted into an Irish dream team to woo our fellow rugby brethren to the cause. Therefore, the  confirmation on 15 November  that France had got the nod to host rugby’s showpiece event in 2023 was a profoundly bitter pill to swallow for the Irish delegation.  In the last few weeks, us Irish haven’t exactly covered ourselves in glory, though.

When World Rugby announced that its team of consultants were recommending South Africa for RWC 2023 a couple of weeks ago, the Irish rugby public became apoplectic with rage. Punters, fans and administrators alike were incredulous that Ireland’s bid wasn’t being championed, as if we deemed its rubber-stamping a fait accompli.

The IRFU wrote an uncharacteristically strongly worded letter to World Rugby on the back of South Africa’s recommendation, pointing out alleged defects in both South Africa’s bid and the consultancy process in general. World Rugby was (not so subtly) reminded that delegates weren’t compelled to go with the independent recommendation and that all three prospective hosts were capable of staging the tournament.

Perhaps there was an element of sour grapes in the Irish response. While I don’t doubt the sincerity of the IRFU’s concerns, I wonder if they would have been so vocal on the defects of the process if they’d secured the recommendation rather than South Africa? As it was, neither South Africa or Ireland were victorious in the end but one wonders if the tone of Ireland’s objections did the Irish bid many favours in the final analysis. After all, in the cosy, diplomatic world of rugby administration, blazers aren’t used to being lectured and publicly criticised over perceived flaws in their processes.

In the aftermath of the rugby and football disappointments, our response betrays much that’s wrong with modern Irish attitudes. We tend to overestimate ourselves and often fail to give due respect to our opponents. For example, it was naive in the extreme to think that our structural and resource deficiencies would be ignored in the World Cup assessment.

After all, several of our stadiums needed significant upgrades prior to 2023 and one of the grounds (Casement Park) has yet to be built. In contrast, if the World Cup were to be held tomorrow, both France and South Africa could easily accommodate an event of such magnitude. Indeed, both nations have recent experience of hosting major sports tournaments. Of course Ireland has plenty of time to modernise its infrastructure but it’s understandable the ready made nature of our opponents’ facilities became one of the deciding factors in World Rugby’s decision.

There’s something fundamentally unattractive about some of our recent attitudes to setback. Us Irish are at our best when we’re modest, self-effacing and humble. A tenacious and likeable underdog that’s universally admired for those characteristics. As the ultimate exponents of fun and craic. Arrogance and overconfidence don’t sit anywhere near as well in our national mindset. And yet these are the undesirable traits we’re increasingly exhibiting.

Maybe it’s small nation syndrome. You only have to observe the bouts of reflection and recrimination that follow every Olympic Games to see modern Ireland’s inflated opinion of itself. It’s almost as if we somehow expect success. Why? We’re a small country. And we obviously don’t have the resources of the USA or China! It seems we’ve developed a bit of a chip on our shoulders, a warped and unjustified sense of entitlement.

It’s fine when we’re winning, of course, but negative attitudes have become conspicuously prevalent alongside the pain of defeat. We saw it in the response to Rugby World Cup rejection and in the ongoing excoriation of Martin O’Neill. We’ve lost the run of ourselves and we need to row back. It’s time to restore some semblance of balance and perspective.

One of the best things about being Irish is, after all, our smallness. And I mean that it in the best possible way. We’re minnows. A tiny country whose people have shaped the world and done outstanding things on the global stage. A country that’s produced Liam Neeson, George Best, John Hume and U2. A people who consistently succeed in the midst of severe adversity and tragedy; winning despite our small stature. That’s precisely why our victories mean so much. And why handling defeat should be easy for us. After the ludicrous hysteria of recent days, we’d do well to remember that.

Twitter: @rorymcgimpsey






Not Just Zebo Out In The Cold

Much has been made of Simon Zebo’s impending departure to play his rugby in France, for a yet unconfirmed destination-possibly Racing 92. As soon as it was revealed that the Irish winger/fullback had spurned the offer of a new Munster contract, speculation was rife with regard to what his exit would mean for Zebo’s international prospects. As it was, we didn’t have to wait long for an answer. Just days later, Irish coach Joe Schmidt announced an extended squad for the upcoming autumn internationals and in the lengthy list of names there was one noticeable absentee-Simon Zebo.

With Rob Kearney’s best days behind him and Jared Payne struggling to achieve an injury free run, it was widely assumed that Zebo was an absolute shoo- in for the Irish fullback berth this autumn. And yet with backfield options scarce, the Munster man has found himself surplus to requirements. Zebo’s omission has certainly shocked plenty of Irish rugby folk, with teammates and fans alike taken aback at the Munster fullback’s unexpected and sudden exclusion.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised, though. In recent years, the IRFU’S policy regarding selection has been abundantly clear. If you move abroad, you’re out! As harsh as it seems, that’s been the immutable rule. With the notable exception of Johnny Sexton (too brilliant to omit), any move outside Ireland has led to the player being sent to Coventry-mostly in a metaphorical sense, you understand, but it also applies literally in the case of Marty Moore! Sexton aside, all high profile movers have been shunned and excluded from Irish selection. It didn’t matter who you were: Ian Madigan, Donnacha Ryan, JJ Hanrahan. If you left the Irish set-up, you paid the ultimate price in terms of test selection.

What makes Zebo’s case fairly unique, though, is the shunning is happening while the player is still here. Remember, he’s not going until next season. In that sense, we can detect a hardening of the Irish management’s position. The policy couldn’t be any clearer: not only will a player not be picked if he moves abroad, it now seems he won’t be selected if it’s clear he’s unavailable for any part of the World Cup cycle. Given the dearth of current options at fullback, the easy option was to pick Zebo. He was the obvious, straightforward choice. In declining to do so, Schmidt has underlined his commitment to the homegrown policy in a devastatingly uncompromising fashion.

Make no mistake about it, Irish rugby is in a bitter fight to hold onto its biggest names. In an ultra-competitive transfer market, it’s simply not possible for the IRFU to compete with the English and French clubs, with their mega-rich benefactors. And as it’s impossible to outbid their Anglo-French rivals, the IRFU has to utilise whatever leverage it has at its disposal. One advantage is the unrivalled way players are looked after within the Irish system. Instead of being flogged to pieces in the Premiership and Top 14, the Irish provinces wrap their star men in cotton wool, sensibly limiting the amount of rugby played.

The other main argument the union uses to encourage players to stay is, of course, selection. Which brings us back to Zebo. This rugby era is unique in that we’re seeing players in their prime abandoning their national systems for the unprecedented riches presently available in the club game. It’s been happening to the All Blacks for years, where even the pull of the hallowed silver fern has been unable to prevent players leaving for Europe with their best years still ahead of them. Think of Charles Piutau at Ulster as a case in point. It was only a matter of time, therefore, before such commercial realities caught up with Ireland.

And the Irish system is particularly susceptible to losing players like Zebo. A fluent French speaker who has often spoken of a desire to broaden his horizons, it’s no real surprise that the Munster man’s head has been turned. Let’s not forget that modern rugby careers are becoming increasingly short. The sport has never been more arduous and players are only ever an injury away from retirement.

And rugby isn’t like football in the sense that superstar players retire without having to work again. Rare indeed is a professional rugby player whose playing career sets him up for life. In this context, it’s quite understandable, then, that players want to enrich themselves and their families in the short time available to them. Simon Zebo is one of the lucky few who has the perspicacity to understand the need to make hay while the sun shines.

For all that, we know what the trade off is. For Irish internationals, their test careers suffer because of pragmatic if understandable choices. Unlike their predecessors of yesteryear such as Keith Wood and Geordan Murphy, the IRFU’s selection policy is no longer allowing players to have their cake and eat it. Players must decide and the choice is stark: remain in the Irish system or risk never playing for your country again.

And although Zebo is the most high profile casualty of this contentious policy, the ramifications extend way beyond any one player. Schmidt may explain Zebo’s omission in his usual loquacious style, but there’s no mistaking the severity of the message. The line is clear and unambiguous. One that’s sent a shudder through every Irish international who values his test career but may have been pondering a possible move abroad. And that’s how it has to be if the IRFU’s policy is to have any meaning. But hey, no-one ever said life was fair.  In the merciless battle to hold onto its main men, Irish rugby just got real tough.

Twitter: @rorymcgimpsey

File:Simon Zebo 2015 RWC.jpg

By Warwick Gastinger (Rugby World Cup DSCN4917) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Far From As You Were

I bought the new Liam Gallagher album As You Were on I-Tunes recently. I’m a little behind the times that way. Believe it or not, I still download music. I guess I’ve always been a little old-fashioned in that respect. When CDs first came into vogue, I still had more than my fair share of cassette tapes. Then when CDs made way for the digital downloading miracle, my music collection was still littered with compact discs. I liked owning something physical, you see, plus CDS were always handy to play in the car. And now the whole world and his wife are streaming their music, I’m still downloading. Perpetually one step behind! Anyway, I digress. Liam’s new album?

Well, I never thought I’d say this, but it’s actually bloody good! The songs are wonderfully melodic and catchy; an obvious progression by the former Oasis front man from his previous incarnation as singer of Beady Eye. There’s an unapologetic, welcome rockiness about the record and it’s also a bit more diverse than I expected. And while the musical style is nothing we haven’t heard many times before from the Gallagher brothers, this album delivers in emphatic fashion, producing plenty of loud, anthemic moments.

As You Were  reflects a new maturity from the Oasis singer. Unfairly or not, Liam was seen in the past as the lighter of the Gallaghers. While older brother Noel was perceived as serious, introspective and deep, Liam tended to be viewed more glibly; shallow and frivolous in comparison. A tremendous front man certainly, but lacking the musical gifts of his songwriting brother. Well, even a cursory listen of As You Were forces us to rethink those preconceptions. Of course collaborators/writers were used, but Liam co-writes throughout the record. It’s a telling and productive contribution.

Wall of Glass, for example, is marvellous, if a little derivative. For What It’s Worth, meanwhile, is perhaps the album’s most talked about track. It’s a great tune and one I’ve found myself singing religiously in recent weeks. While the person (s) the song was written for is a matter of conjecture, the sincerity behind the lyrics is obvious.

Some critics have predictably highlighted the similarity with some Beatles’ songs (and indeed Oasis) but, honestly, what did they expect? This is a Liam Gallagher record! He was always going to pay homage. For anyone put off by such thoughts, don’t worry. Liam’s musical influences give a comforting familiarity to the album, but there’s enough freshness and originality to keep it interesting.

When all’s said and done, it’s hard not to see this record as a triumph. Regardless of how it performs from a commercial perspective, Liam has shown enough quality to make us all stand up and take notice. Which begs an obvious question, what does big brother Noel think of it all? In the years since Oasis split in 2009, Liam’s brother has largely kept his counsel and been considerably less vocal than his younger sibling.

But you can bet your bottom dollar that it hasn’t escaped his attention that Liam has produced a fine record, one worthy of his own exalted standards. For those hopeful souls who think recent events might at last presage an Oasis reunion, you only have to listen to interviews with both men to understand the obvious tension and antagonism that still exists. More relevant, though, is Liam’s emergence as a substantive artist in his own right. Who’d have thought it? In reassessing the Gallaghers’ respective strengths, there’s a chance we’ve been lauding the wrong brother all along.

Twitter: @rorymcgimpsey

By Will Fresch [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons