England get history lesson for Croke clash

Conor O’Shea, the former Ireland rugby full-back and captain, has been brought in to address the England team at a special meeting today about Croke Park and the significance of Saturday’s first game between Ireland and England at the Gaelic Athletic Association citadel.

Jerome O’Shea, Conor’s father, won Gaelic football All-Ireland finals playing for Kerry at Croke Park in 1953, 1955 and 1959. Conor O’Shea, the RFU’s National Academy manager, has been asked by England coach Brian Ashton to put the Six Nations game in historical perspective and explain the strong emotions that could be unleashed.

On November 21, 1920, 14 people, including the Tipperary captain Mick Hogan, were shot dead by British forces at Croke Park in an act of reprisal for the earlier assassination by the IRA of 14 British secret agents on what has become known as Bloody Sunday.

The Croke Park killings underlined the GAA’s determination never to allow “alien” sports such as rugby and football at the venue. Last Sunday, the GAA staged the first game of rugby at their 82,300 capacity home, when Ireland played France.

“This is obviously going to be a very special match given all the circumstances and Brian Ashton asked me if I could call into the team hotel in Bath and tell the England lads all about it,” said O’Shea, who won 35 Ireland caps.

“In one way England must treat it as just another game against world-class opposition but it will be more than just another game for Ireland and it’s brilliant that Brian wants England to understand the background.

“In Ireland we learn the story from an early age but I will be brushing up on my history over the weekend to make sure I get no facts wrong.”

It is also understood that the RFU and the Irish Rugby Football Union are considering suggestions that the two teams walk out together next Saturday night – as they did on the famous occasion in 1973 when the England team ignored IRA death threats to play Ireland at Lansdowne Road after Wales and Scotland had declined to play there.

Read Brendan Gallagher’s full report from the Daily Telegraph by clicking here.