Rugby League Expert & Columnist
Brian Carney: Great Britain team should put countries before clubs
Last Updated: 29/10/19 3:43pm
Sky Sports rugby league expert and former Lions international Brian Carney tells us why more emphasis should be placed on the individual national identities which make up the Great Britain squad...
I was delighted to see the Great Britain & Ireland team brought back this year. It was always an uplifting experience going into camp and mingling with players from other clubs.
Naturally, people from certain clubs tended to gravitate towards their clubmates, but that broke down after a while and you would find yourself having a coffee with a player from Bradford, a player from Leeds, a player from St Helens and a player from Hull.
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There really are people from disparate sides pulled together for one cause, which is what it's all about.
But what I would hope for the future of this Great Britain & Ireland side is that players don't have the feeling that they're in camp with people from other clubs, because that's not what this is about. Ultimately, this is meant to be about players from different countries coming together - and it's a point I feel has been lost.
It shouldn't be Joe Philbin going into camp and seeing Jonny Lomax and Lachlan Coote as just from St Helens. When the international game has its house in order, it will be Irish representative Philbin going into camp seeing Coote from Scotland and Lomax from England.
That's hugely important, otherwise - Coote and Philbin notwithstanding - you're essentially playing with the English side. If it's just England in another badge then I don't think we're going to make much significant progress.
There is another side to this: If you want to develop Scotland, Wales and Ireland, they need to have their own identities. It needs Philbin coming into a Lions side as an Irish representative, Coote as a Scotland representative, and Regan Grace and Morgan Knowles as Welsh representatives.
I was the first Irishman to play for the Lions since Tom McKinney in 1957. Had it been Great Britain on its own then I wouldn't have played for them and I certainly wouldn't have played for England because it's not my country.
It needed to be Great Britain & Ireland, but you need proper promotion of the brand and I'd say they're quite a way off doing that properly. You need proper development of Irish, Scottish and Welsh identities too.
They've got to raise the profile of these sides and put the resources into them, so people can get behind their country and then get very excited when there is a Great Britain & Ireland squad announcement.
We still have this mentality of players going in representing their clubs. There is a bit of identity confusion and it's been ill-thought-out for a number of years.
I've been involved with rugby league for 20 years and one of my first experiences was playing for Ireland around the time of the 2000 World Cup with Terry O'Connor and Barrie McDermott, who I work with now on Sky Sports. They were immensely proud to play for the team and Ireland, I felt, had an identity then.
You could pick players from there into a Great Britain & Ireland team and that's what needs to continue to happen. You need to be encouraging players to go and play for Wales, Ireland and Scotland as well as England.
The template is there with rugby union's British & Irish Lions and they do a brilliant job of promoting that. Take someone like Johnny Sexton - he doesn't go into that team as a Leinster player, he goes in as an Ireland player.
They missed a huge trick with just rolling England head coach Wayne Bennett in as well, when I would have plumped for a candidate like Daryl Powell.
There was an opportunity to re-establish the brand and give it some clarity, and they didn't do that. You can see that because it manifests itself in the way people refer to the squad.