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Ronan O’Gara: Alone He Stands

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Talk of Ronan O’Gara’s demise may be premature.

RONAN O’GARA has played 128 times for Ireland and scored 1,083 points. Alone he stands; his country’s record scorer and caps holder.

He’s been left out of Ireland’s squad to play France and, given that he turns 36 tomorrow (Thursday), has seen his international obituary written and published in every newspaper.

Are the stories of his demise exaggerated and premature though? Yes, we would argue.

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O’Gara has not played well for Ireland this season. His Munster form has also been patchy. He did, however, seem more like his old self in Thomond Park on Saturday against the Ospreys.

And, it should not be forgotten, he suffered a hamstring injury early in the season and even a 21-year-old takes time to recover their match sharpness after a lay-off. When you are closer to 40 than 30, though, any lapse in form will be explained away as the onslaught of the one opponent no sportsman can defeat: Father Time.

Time, though, creeps slowly. Players do not age overnight, and last season O’Gara’s club form was generally excellent and occasionally sublime — who will forget those drop goals at the death against in consecutive games against Northampton and Castres?

That his form has dipped this season is undeniable and you cannot criticise a coach for omitting an out-of-sorts player. But a dip in form does not herald the end. Not every game Ryan Giggs (39) played at 35 was an example of him at his best. Same goes for Paul Scholes, now 38, and still the best passer of a football in England.

Brendan Cummins has let in the odd howler for Tipperary — but only a fool would write him off. Further afield, in the country of O’Gara’s birth, John Elway famously led the Denver Broncos to back-to-back Superbowls the late 90s when he was 37 and 38.

The stories of supposedly over-the-hill sportsmen achieving well into middle age are many — almost as common as those about older athletes being written out of a job before their time.

Time will eventually catch up with O’Gara, but his race is not yet run.

Eighteen months ago, after the World Cup, he said: “Retirement has crossed my mind plenty of times over the last few years. There are plenty of thoughts in your head when you’re disappointed, but it’s losers who quit when things aren’t going so well for them.”

Not even O’Gara’s harshest critics would portray him as a loser. Even they would realise that if the light is fading, he will rage against it.

In a career where he has frequently been written off as too slow, too small, too weak, too far from the gain-line, too opinionated, too stubborn to know when his time is up, it’s a good thing he has seldom heeded conventional wisdom.

He has bounced back from missing a last-minute kick to win the Heineken Cup, a ferocious beating in Australia, being trampled into the ground in South Africa. Now that his career is being buried alive, how do you think he’s going to react?

If you reckon he’s just going to shuffle out of view and kick back in the suburbs then you haven’t watched the great majority of those 128 games closely at all.

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Ronan Early
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Ronan Early is Sports Editor and columnist with The Irish Post. Follow him on Twitter @RonanEarly

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