A sporting love that never dies
Mark Durden-Smith
December 27, 2012
Ollie Campbell in action for Ireland © PA Photos
Related Links
Features: Fair play, Billy
Players/Officials: Ollie Campbell
Teams: Ireland

In true Christmas spirit, I am fatter than I have ever been. The scales in the bathroom are at the cutting edge of modern scale technology and gave me a PB yesterday of 15 stone, 8 pounds, 4 ounces. It is clear, unless action is taken swiftly, that I am on a collision course with cardiac failure. This realisation got me thinking about interesting ways to get fit and lean. I seem to remember reading somewhere - I was probably skim reading - that the only pre-season training the great All Black openside Josh Kronfeld did was on a surf board.

That's my kind of training, something that keeps the mind interested while secretly the body is becoming a shoe-in for Heat magazine's 'Torso of the Week'. (Of course, I only buy it for my wife.) The only problem with adopting the Kronfeld surfing regime is a frustrating lack of waves in Wandsworth, south west London, even in these times of festive deluge.

Whatever lard downscaling physical purgatory programme I eventually choose I know, as everybody tells me, it will have to go hand in hand with significantly improved eating habits. I've never done dieting, which will be perfectly obvious to anybody whose path I have dominated, but may be the time has come to break my dieting duck. (Skinless I imagine.) The most apt dieting option my scant research has thrown up to date is the Jesus diet. On this plan you are only allowed to eat food referenced in the Bible.

I haven't read the holy tome for a while, but I am pretty sure there aren't any mentions of raspberry glaze doughnuts, flapjacks or New York cheesecakes - the three pronged assault unit that's been giving my arteries one hell of a battering for about forty years. This is good. The Holy Book doesn't contain, as far as I am aware, the Parable of the Banoffee Pie on the road to Damascus. This is also good. What it does have, is endless references to goats. I am therefore embarking on a strict diet of goat. I am going to stew it, grill it, flambé it, mash it, knit it. Whatever it takes. Watch this ever shrinking space.

This post Christmas haze often fuddles the grey matter as the above bears testament, but it also allows the time for reflecting and Morecombe and Wise re-run induced nostalgiaring. (Strangely, spell check doesn't seem to fancy the last word of the previous sentence or the seventh word of the next one for that matter.) Anyway, I dig a bit of nostalgiaring.

A few weeks ago for an ESPN promo they asked a few of us to name our greatest fly-half of all time. Ben Kay went for Dan Carter. Austin Healey went for Austin Healey, as you would expect and Nick Mullins for Les Cusworth. I went for Ollie Campbell of Ireland. Without hesitation. Without consideration. I didn't need to consider, for me, he just is. This selection may not stand-up to statistical scrutiny or forensic debate but he was, in his all too brief pomp in the first half of the 80's when I was going from plump sport obsessed boy to stroppy sport obsessed adolescent, my hero. That's all you really need to know but as I have space to fill I shall tell you more.

"When he place kicked his right foot would finish higher than his left ear on follow through - totes amaze ovalballs!"

The pale skinned, flame haired wisp from Malahide was my first sporting love and first sporting love never dies. When he place kicked his right foot would finish higher than his left ear on follow through - totes amaze ovalballs! (An Only Way is Essex reference that may not have a great deal of cred factor on a rugby website.) It always went over, straight between the uprights. He was the only international place kicker who, on retirement, had a 100% record. (Again, this assertion may not stand-up in court but that is according to my own rose tinted onboard database.)

I remember overhearing an adult saying he never stepped on a white line when he ran onto the pitch. I checked, he didn't. How cool was that! He would always have his shirt sleeves rolled up to the elbow - so would I. How cool was that! (Probably not very - which partially explains my singular failure with girls in this phase of my life.) He also guided Ireland to their first triple crown in 30 odd years in 1982. He was nimble, quirky, sublimely talented and to my young mind, a sporting deity.

He was also Irish. I was English. This was a forbidden love. I was under an intense English brainwashing programme by my father at the time so I had to conceal my feelings for OC. Just the mention of his name to the promo camera crew instantly brought back those hot flushes and pangs of utter idolisation. I have been revisiting those memories this week slumped in an armchair after perpetual mince pie overdosage, and they have brought me tidings of great joy.

The plump-boy-to-stroppy-adolescent crew of 2012 are spoilt for choice. They will have any number of genuine sporting Zeuses to stick up on their pedestals. But my heart will always belong to a pasty, high-kicking Irishman. Please do not tell my Dad.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Mark Durden-Smith is the lead presenter for live Aviva Premiership Rugby on ESPN

Live Sports

Communication error please reload the page.