Ronan O’Gara’s autobiography doesn’t kick-off with a sugar-coated reminiscence. Nothing like it.
We’re immediately thrown into the heart of a temperature-rising episode back in February 2007 when a reporter arrived at the front gate of the Cork home O’Gara shares with his wife Jess.
“Have you any comment on the break-up of your marriage to Ronan”, the reporter queried via the gate buzzer. A justly irked and happily married Munster and Ireland fly-half, by his own admission, “let fly”.
Limping across the road (due to a swollen ankle picked up during Ireland’s defeat to France) to where the Sunday tabloid hack and photographer were parked, O’Gara pulled open the driver’s car door.
“You’re a disgrace, harassing people like this,” he said. “People like you are what’s wrong with modern Ireland. You’re a low-life.”
Months later during the Rugby World Cup, O’Gara was again subjected to the sort of journalistic speculation that does nothing for either the subject or the reporting trade.
That Benjamin Massot of L’Équipe isn’t on the number 10’s Christmas card list after claiming the player had run up €300,000 debts due to gambling, will come as no surprise.
This ain’t no paint-by-numbers rugby book, due in no small part to the fact that it’s ghost written by Denis Walsh of Sunday Times fame, one of the country’s leading sportswriters.
And it’s all the better a read because of the player/writer alliance that’s heartily in evidence throughout this sweeping, deeply personal effort.
Deeply personal? Isn’t that the whole point of an autobiography? I must explain.
Since so many sporting efforts in this genre tend to reveal very little, a memoir like O’Gara’s, one with real bite and new insight, makes for a markedly refreshing read.
The book is laced with fleshy anecdotes. These include Eddie O’Sullivan’s attempt to lure O’Gara into the US Eagles ranks (he was born in California) and the true nature of his relationships with both Peter Stringer and David Humphreys.
All make for bona fide eyebrow arching, giggle-inducing, page turning stuff.
The deep friendship he shares with Irish captain Brian O’Driscoll, along with the unyielding love and loyalty that binds him to his wife and family could hardly be more emphasised here.
The rumours linking O’Gara to the Miami Dolphins is one of the happier tall tales delightfully elaborated upon, revealing some of the cute hoor that lies not just within ‘ROG’, but every Corkman!
All justly receive more than passing remark treatment, which is a credit to the way in which the book is assembled, further evidence of Walsh’s scripting mastery.
That the writer is aided and abetted by such a deep thinker that O’Gara reveals himself to be lends to a compelling collaboration, one which will surely lead to a few book award nominations come year’s end.
It’s all in here: days and nights on the razzle, adopting to the professional ranks with Munster and Ireland, less than happy memories of two Lions tours and views aplenty on Alan Gaffney, Declan Kidney, Warren Gatland and Eddie O’Sullivan.
The on-filed dust-ups with a few Argentineans, the role that Jonny Wilkinson played in O’Gara’s rugby development, the depth of his Catholic faith and how John Hayes possibly saved his life are all expertly detailed.
The Munster story is, of course, central to this story, and some of it is enormously well-known to fans and journalists that read every book going on the topic, i.e. folks like me.
But again it’s the personal anecdotes that underpin the quality of ‘Ronan O’Gara: My Autobiography’ from cover to cover.
To conclude, a text message sent to O’Gara after the province’s Heineken Cup win in 2006.
“Words can’t describe how delighted I am for you. I even cried after the final whistle myself. No better guy deserves it more than yourself, especially after years of perseverance. I remember a coach once said, ‘Tough times don’t last and tough guys do.’ Enjoy a well-deserved celebration. I always admire your guts and determination.”
The sender? Sean Óg ÓhAilpín. That this book will make for a fantastic stocking filler a few weeks for now could not be more positively vouched for.
Ronan O’Gara: My Autobiography is published by Transworld Ireland and is available in all good bookstores