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Roy Curtis: ‘O’Gara is proof of how much we can learn from someone possessed of a curious mind’

‘Whether talking sport or life, there is a rare and compelling depth to the old rugby maestro with the eternally boyish features, an ability to make an instant connection with his audience...’
Ronan O'Gara

Ronan O'Gara© Getty Images

Ronan O'Gara

Ronan O'Gara

Sunday World

RONAN O’Gara, introspective, wise, relentlessly curious, unafraid to chase distant horizons in his pursuit of the remarkable, is among the most riveting and thought-provoking Irishmen of his generation.

Among the very few subjects the Corkman has failed to master is the capacity to be dull.

Whether talking sport or life, there is a rare and compelling depth to the old rugby maestro with the eternally boyish features, an ability when he speaks – facilitated by a brutal honesty – to make an instant, bone-deep connection with his audience.

ROG, all heavyweight substance, is a glorious antidote to vacuous PR spin, vapid radio phone-in daftness and shallow social media inanity.

His outside the box thinking, the wanderlust and thirst for excellence that has taken him to New Zealand and France, along with the philosophy that underpins that journey, marks O’Gara out among the most fascinating individuals in the public realm.

He might easily have traded on his reputation as one of the great, charismatic out-halves this country has known, thus guaranteeing an express elevator to the domestic – Munster or Ireland – coaching penthouse.

Ronan O'Gara

Ronan O'Gara

But the very thought of taking such a shortcut would appal him, feel like the polar opposite extreme to fulfilment.

For the sense with O’Gara is that the journey is the juice, that life is a Camino to be walked with eyes, ears and mind perpetually open.

In his punditry with TV3, Newstalk and The Examiner, the international centurion’s intelligence, fearless candour and powerful cocktail of profound observations and wry humour set him apart.

O’Gara’s brain is a cold-house for cliché or lazy thought. He appears genetically incapable of resorting to a stock answer.

His willingness to publicly confront his own insecurities and fears offers an access-all-areas pass to a high-achiever’s core – and surely is central to explaining his extraordinary early successes as a coach.

Any player with a hunger to learn, to explore the outer ranges of his talent could not hope for a better or more sympathetic tutor.

Listen to O’Gara and what comes across is that he is demanding – of himself and others – yet empathetic, his ambition coated with an emotional intelligence too often suffocated by the weed of ego which entangles the mind of many sporting coaches or business leaders.

A Tommy Tiernan Show devoted in its entirety to the musings of the father-of-five would make for unmissable primetime television.

This week, as he reflected on the passing years, the 45-year-old challenged us with a stark nugget.

“You don’t really make new friends in your forties,” was the verdict of the Corkman who, in his role as coach of La Rochelle, took down old foe Leinster in the recent Champions Cup final.

Ronan’s hypothesis got me thinking.

As we age, and this correspondent crossed the threshold into his 50s a number of years ago, you know what it is like to be behind enemy lines: Body shape, elasticity, hairline, energy levels and recovery time all offer wistful reminders of long lost youth.

But one of the redeeming features – and here I stray from O’Gara’s experience – is the number of new people who walk into your life.

As an experiment to contradict Ronan’s thesis, I imagined that it was myself – rather than one of my closest friends and contemporaries – getting married for a second time next Friday.

I drew up a list of guests to invite and compared it to the original from two decades hence.

The differences were acute, upwards of 60 people who I hadn’t even met back at the turn of the century are now major figures in my life.

Many of these walked into my world long after 40 disappeared in the rear-view mirror.

Work, shared interests, days out at Dublin GAA games, barstool conversations…all of these have opened doors to new people whose company has been enormously enriching.

Many of us will retain a core group of close friends dating back to our teenage years.

The bonds that accrue from those formative times playing sport together, first holidays, coming of age experiences, are precious and enduring.

But life doesn’t stand still and the soundtrack of new voices, different opinions and alternate perspectives facilitate our development as people.

It keeps us fresh, enables us to grow.

Listening to O’Gara is a reminder of how much we can learn from being the custodian of a curious mind.

Ronan’s every public utterance advertises a simple truth.

Whether aged 18 or 80, life would be a more interesting and challenging place with this wise Rebel as a trusted companion.


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