Thursday 27 October 2016

There's little room for subtlety of argument in sport post-mortems

Gerard O'Regan

Published 24/10/2015 | 02:30

Maybe it was unfortunate that, in the searing emotion ​following​ such a seminal game, Madigan upbraided himself so publicly on television for his performance
Maybe it was unfortunate that, in the searing emotion ​following​ such a seminal game, Madigan upbraided himself so publicly on television for his performance

Once again, it was a week where the battles we fight in the high stakes arena of international sport held up a kind of mirror to the Irish psyche.

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Some unlikely emotions came​ tumbling out, unleashed by the quixotic nature of success and failure in the sporting sphere.

Two images ​in particular emerged from the hope and heartbreak of recent days. The first ​was​ Ian Madigan, place-kicker on our international rugby team, berating himself for the fact those Argentinians had faced us down as we wilted​ under their heady mix of power and panache

The other is that lonesome picture of Billy Walsh at the ticket desk in Dublin Airport, catching an early-morning flight to the US. He has been a national boxing coach of some genius - the primer for a steady stream of hard-fought ​medals in the Olympic Games, World Championships and European Championships.

He​ said he​ ​had wanted to stay in Ireland - but it seemed there was no longer room for him here. ​Suddenly,​ it was a bit too crowded for his undoubted talents. What has his whirlwind of success stirred within the pantheon of ​the sport here​ to make such a departure necessary?

There is also a certain irony ​that it has been​ rugby and boxing which have been making the headlines in recent days. The​se​ are two all-Ireland sports that have given countless golden moments to aficionado​s on both sides of the border.

Rory Best, from Craigavon, throwing in the ball for a crucial Irish line-out, or Belfast fighter​ Paddy Barnes slugging it out for a tough three rounds wearing the green singlet, are moments that have stirred the heart of many a sports lover, whether they be from the Shankill Road or the west Kerry Gaeltacht.

It's ​unquantifiable​ ​how much unity of the spirit has been generated on the island of Ireland by the flavour of this shared experience, brought about by our rugby players and our boxers pitting their skills against the best in the world.

Yet, on a strictly sporting level, ​the​ rugby team has​ been having a hard time of it since that World Cup defeat to Argentina. The whys and wherefores of our inability on the day to halt the Puma juggernaut have, justifiably, been well aired. But could it be that many of those who rushed to judgement slightly lost the run of themselves with some of their after-the-event certitudes?​

Maybe it was unfortunate that, in the searing emotion ​following​ such a seminal game, Madigan upbraided himself so publicly on television for his performance.

It was an attempt at brutally honest self-analysis. But such courage mattered not a whit to the post-match naysayers. Neither did comments from Joe Schmidt, ​who ​insisted our kicker had more than done his bit for the team - even though it was ​clearly ​ an underperforming day for the Irish.

​F​or some of those who ​were ​ determined this week to wield the knife, there has been little room for subtlety of argument. As far as they are concerned, some of our top players have gone from heroes to near zero.

There has to be rigorous analysis after a big-game defeat, but too much has been little more than knee-jerk - and, in the case of some pundits, can be classed as the usual quest for attention-seeking or self- publicity.

Could it be that the explanation for the Irish inability to put the Argentinians to the sword is all a little simpler? Are there not times when humans just can't get things going despite all sorts of preparation and intent? Maybe the main reason we simply failed to play to form is that we ​had psychologically peaked for the French match one​ week earlier. Both mind and body simply refused to get into top gear just seven days later.

But one match down doesn't mean this Irish team - one of the most successful sporting units the​ country has ever produce​d​ - is no longer a top-flight outfit by world standards. Who is to say that, if Ireland played Argentina once again - say in a couple of weeks, with a full-strength squad - we would not beat them?

Joe Schmidt​ and his warriors have won many a battle. Rumours of their demise are greatly exaggerated.

Meanwhile, whatever happens with the Billy Walsh affair, things can never be quite the same again in the confined world of Irish boxing. Sports Council Chairman, Kieran Mulvey, gave full vent to the anger and exasperation felt by many sports lovers in what has become an increasingly tawdry affair.

This drama will play out further in the coming days, with all sides in this sorry saga jostling for position. But much damage has been done. It all brings to mind that one-time humorous aside from the American comedienne Bette Midler: "The worst part of success is trying to find someone who is happy for you," she complained.

Billy Walsh might have understood as he waited for that red-eye flight in Dublin Airport this week.

Irish Independent

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