GIRVAN DEMPSEY WARNS about the perils of Christmas dinners, Malcolm O’Kelly has not laced up his boots in a year and England are going to field at least six World Cup winners – Shane Byrne, however, is unmoved.
As Jonathan Sexton practiced Monday afternoon penalties on the Lansdowne Road pitch, the former Leinster and Ireland hooker spoke about the Ireland v England legends game that will take place at Donnybrook on 9 February.
“It has really grabbed the imagination of the players,” Byrne told TheScore.ie with unabashed enthusiasm.
“Last year we had 14 Lions players on the pitch and all internationals and raised €300,000 for [charity] so far.
“If you have shouted for or against the English, for anyone over the last 10 years, they’re going to be there. The Lawrence Dallalgio’s, Martin Corry, Kyran Bracken, Jason Leonard, Mal O’Kelly, Girvan, Nick Popplewell… guys you grew up watching. Come down, you’ll enjoy it.
“We still know how to play the game; we’ve still got a bit to offer.”
Byrne has been lining out for Arklow Rugby Club as often is possible and is targeting reclaiming the Stuart Mangan Memorial Cup from England after a 50-26 humbling last March.
Contact and collision
While Byrne, giddy on the success of 2004 and ’05 Six Nations wins over England, talked up Ireland’s chances, Dempsey and O’Kelly were happy to play the role of underdogs.
I’ve been trying to get involved in some of the training sessions I’ve been coaching [at Leinster] but I haven’t been playing anything in terms of matches. No contact or collision stuff so that will the the challenge. I’ll see how quickly I get back off the ground after that first bit of contact.
Dempsey called the match, which raises money for three charities dealing with injured professional and amateur players, ‘a chance to renew friendships and rivalries’. He added:
We’ll be wary of the English side – they’ve got youth on their side and have a lot of pace too. Our guys have had a few too many good Christmases under their belts.
“I think Shane is putting together a post-Christmas training regime where we’ll shape up after that.
O’Kelly remarked that his training schedule would involved working with a physio so he could appear ‘in one piece’ on the day.
“I remember we played them in 2003, before the World Cup, at Lansdowne Road,” he recalled.
“We were both going for the Grand Slam but it was a really tough game. We were on the end of a whopping. They were incredibly strong.”
Other players that are in line to take the Donnybrook field next February include Trevor Brennan, Mick Galwey, Austin Healy and Josh Lewsey.
The game kicks off at 7.30pm on Saturday, 9 February with tickets for the game priced at €10 for adults and €5 [concessions] and are now on sale from www.ticketmaster.ie.