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Paul O'Connell will greet the president again on Sunday afternoon.
Paul O'Connell will greet the president again on Sunday afternoon.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

'I don't say the exact same thing to the visiting captain as I say to Paul O'Connell' - President Higgins on those pre-game line-ups

The President on the importance of sport in the life of a country.
Mar 1st 2015, 12:05 AM 33,345 41

WHEN IRELAND’S hugely-anticipated showdown with England finally gets under way this afternoon, one man in the good seats will have a better feeling than most about how the next couple of hours will unfold.

President Higgins will as always be introduced to the respective teams beforehand and he says he can tell afterwards how keyed in or otherwise the Irish team are on a particular afternoon.

But what last-minute messages does he convey to the Irish side… and our guests.

“Obviously the message might be slightly different,” he tells the The42 this week at Áras an Uachtaráin.

“I don’t say the exact same thing to the visiting captain as I say to Paul O’Connell. But I knew Ronan O’Gara’s father, so maybe there was something there. And then I think it’s Gordon Darcy has a dog of the same breed as I have here — these Burmese Mountain dogs. I think Simon Zebo engages in conversation sometimes and what is very interesting about it is you’d know the line up, the build up of tension in a team or the degree of relaxation in it.

“But I think everybody should be proud of where Irish rugby is and you know that is not the games you win that is the huge support behind teams like Munster and Leinster and the incredible support that is emerging for Connacht and that’s very, very important.”

Not to get ahead of ourselves this early in the year, but asked if it’s within his gift to give us an extra bank holiday to celebrate a World Cup win in October, the president insists that’s a job for those on Kildare Street.

But sport — like the Arts — is a major plank of Michael D’s tenure in the Park. Yesterday he attended the President’s Cup clash between St Pat’s and Dunalk at Oriel PArk — an occasion he initiated last year — and is a regular at League of Ireland games.

Last week Robbie Keane was the latest Irish sports star to come though the Chesterfield Avenue gates. His visit with the Galaxy was an opportunity to wish Ireland’s record goalscorer well, says the president who shows off a jersey from the MLS side.

President Michael D Higgins and Robbie Keane Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Irish sports clubs and athletes can and do play a massive part in Irish life, he says.

“I’m very glad as well of another thing. Very early on Galway United were involved — and were to the forefront in — Show Racism The Red Card. And the removal of abuse and racism, I think that’s very important.

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“I saw, as I watch these things occasionally, Jose Mourinho’s comments on some people who were supporting Chelsea [in Paris]. And I think he’s quite right to be forceful and definite about it.

“The other part of it is as well, in relation to the different equality issues. There’s some sportsmen like Donal Óg and others who are giving great leads in relation to sport. He’s on the board of Gaisce which is the president’s award. I think that’s very very important.”

Sabina Higgins and President Michael D. Higgins with the Irish WomenÕs Rugby Grand Slam winning team 16/9/2013 President Higgins with his wife Sabine and the 2013 Grand Slam winners. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The role of the president is rich in symbolism and the present incumbent has signalled his support for women’s sport by, amongst other things, directing his driver to ‘shoot out’ to Ashbourne on particular Friday evenings to watch the progress of our women’s rugby team, most memorably on International Women’s Day.

“And I’ve had them in here since,” says the president. “And women’s football. And of course Sabina’s cousin is one of the Cleary’s from Cork. And she’s been up here with the team.

“And I think on this International Women’s Day, I’m devoting it to women in sport. So people like Katie Taylor and others will be coming up here and it’s a chance to highlight the important breakthroughs that women are making in sport and encouragement they’re giving by way of being examples. That’s important.”

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Adrian Russell


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