Saturday 20 December 2014

Off The Ball: Klitschko steps away from ring for toughest fight yet

Ukrainian has already had political impact -- but defeating government is a huge ask

Donny Mahoney, Diarmuid Lyng, Michael McCarthy, Colm Parkinson

Published 18/12/2013 | 23:30

Vitali Klitschko
Vitali Klitschko

There's a photo of Vitali Klitschko taken in the moments after he was defeated in the sixth round of his heavyweight title fight against Lennox Lewis in 2003.

The right side of his face is beaten to a pulp. His eye is black. His cheek is cut up and bloodied. Beside him, his then largely unknown brother Wladimir comforts him. Despite the savagery written all over face, Vitali still looks defiant. He would only lose one more bout.

On Monday, Vitali essentially called time on his boxing career. The 42-year-old is now squaring up to a much more dangerous opponent.

In the last 10 days, he has become the face of the pro-Western protest movement in his native Ukraine. According to Der Spiegel, Vitali, who's leader of the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform party, is "being groomed" by Angela Merkel to be the main pro-Western presidential candidate in next year's Ukrainian elections. His decision to vacate his WBC belt is seen as a final step in a career pivot into politics, and comes as thousands are taking to the streets in Kiev demanding the country align itself with the EU and the US.

Many athletes have made the transition to politics in retirement, but few have become as geopolitically relevant in such a short space of time as Klitschko. His potential political power was blatant at a protest captured on YouTube a few weeks ago.

Riot police looked ready to repel a group of violent protestors with force. Klitschko grabbed a bullhorn, as 10 people around him struggled to lift him up. He shouted down those attacking the security forces as thugs hired by the state and implored the crowd to remain non-violent. The protest continued peacefully.

Vitali and Wladimir represent the generation of Ukrainians old enough to remember the dying days of the Soviet regime, yet young enough to indulge in the freedoms and excesses that the West can provide.

To understand Vitali's politics, one need only to look back to a journey he took to Disney World in his youth with other promising young Soviet athletes, his first outside the USSR, which he explained in 2007.

"I went to America believing it would be a horrible country full of horrible people. I returned home with bubblegum for my brother and lots of Coca-Cola, which we'd all heard about but never tasted.

"My father was in the air force and was, naturally, a communist. I told him everything I'd been told about America was rubbish, the people were happy, smiling and friendly, and the country was wonderful.

"He told me they'd made a special effort to give that impression to me, but it was a false impression."

There is another photo of the Klitschkos I saw recently, a 'selfie' taken at a protest. The brothers are trying to act like ordinary faces among a larger crowd, but in the background, protesters can be seen photographing the Klitschkos photographing themselves.

Their enormous stature is one part DNA, one part celebrity. But is it enough to banish the spectre of Vladimir Putin?

DM

 

Is this the real life? No it's just an American football fantasy

It's 4.45 on Tuesday morning. The last three hours have been spent cheering on Detroit Lions Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush. It was to no avail. I've just been eliminated from my fantasy football (NFL) league's play-offs.

The pure obsession that consumes most of us who play this game is bizarre. On Tuesday morning, I watched a massive NFL game with huge play-off implications, and could only see two players.

Everyone else was a distraction, a hindrance or a ball-hog taking my guys' touches. Watching sport for sport's sake is no longer sufficient.

And now it is over. Immediately, I realise it's 5.0am and I've just spent the entire night shouting at a screen about something that is utterly meaningless.

Mercifully, a weight has been lifted. I no longer want to spend nights worrying about the injury status of Ben Roethlisberger.

Naturally, by springtime, this relief will have faded. The urge will again rise. I'll be counting the days until next August's draft and, ultimately, redemption.

Right now though, it's going to be weird just watching the rest of the NFL season for the sake of football.

MMCC

 

Penney drawing on 'The Art of War' to build Thomond trust and silence critics

Philosophy. It's what we talk about when we talk about Munster these days.

About the way to play the game, and whether a team, and a manager, can and should change its philosophy, even when that philosophy seems as much a part of the firmament around Thomond Park as the Curragower and the Shannon.

Donnacha Ryan spoke to the show on Monday night, hours after putting ink to a contract that will keep him with Munster until 2017. He too spoke about philosophy.

"I had a good chat with Rob (Penney) about it recently enough. I don't know if you ever read the book 'The Art of War' by Sun Tzu.

"Basically, if you stretch the defence, there's a lot more opportunities to puncture holes. Attack flows like water. It's much easier for water to penetrate holes. If you play narrow, defenders bunch up, and its impossible for water to get through.

"If you pull wide in attack, defenders have to mark you, which stretches the defence."

The Munster way is pretty ancient in the context of Irish rugby, but it's apparent that the Penney way finds its impetus in military texts from the Zhou dynasty. He may never convince some members of Munster's legendary generation that his tactical approach is right for this team, but results like Saturday in Perpignan embolden him.

And most importantly, the likes of Ryan and Conor Murray have decided to stick around to see where this philosophy takes them.

DM

 

Swans star Walsh getting back on track after horror hamstring injury

We had Kerry and Sydney Swans star Tommy Walsh on the show yesterday to bring us up to date on his injury situation.

He tore three hamstring tendons off his bone and was unable to run for six or seven months -- probably the worst hamstring injury I've ever heard of.

Hamstring injuries were the most frustrating injuries throughout my football career. They had a habit of striking at the worst possible time -- one tear in 1999 saw me miss a Sigerson Cup and a U-21 Leinster final, and I missed the majority of the 2003 Leinster Championship, Laois' best season in 57 years, because of a bad hamstring tear.

The timing was dreadful for Tommy too as he had just broken onto the Sydney Swans first team and begun to establish himself. The worst is over now -- he recently began running and hopes to step things up in the new year-- and he is aiming to regain his starting place and win a new contract.

If not, GAA fans across the country would love to see him home in the green and gold again.

CP

 

Getting closer to Blues action left this humble punter out in the cold

'Sorry ... but ... how do I put this ... do you not know who I am?" The words escaped me as I was challenged by a steward on moving a few rows closer to the action at the Aviva on Saturday at Leinster v Northampton, on realisation that a massive stanchion prevented me from seeing the TMO screen.

"No sir, I don't," came the reply.

"You mean, you don't know who I am?" I asked again, admittedly rather preciously.

"Let me tell you. I'm the one that paid my way in to the stadium, paid with my time, my time spent doing my job, in exchange for some paper, that I gave for the tickets you printed, to get me in the turnstiles.

"I was in The Bath and Slattery's and contributed to your micro-economy with a group of friends all looking to get behind Leinster.

"I walked in the door and admired the fanfare, almost consumed by the colour, the sounds and the smells. The occasion. Attractive girls handing out cans of Heineken, aware that they are there to attract my attention, that I'd in some way feel vulnerable enough to purchase whatever was in her hand. Or maybe I'm a cynic and it's coincidental she was a looker.

"I'm one of the ones that made it on time -- early, even. Early enough to soak up the atmosphere. To make out the remnants of a stadium beneath the enchantment of the endless advertisements that usurp the space.

"I listened to the announcer drum up the crowd, interact with them, get them involved in their Saturday night, as though the game wouldn't do that. And as the cries of 'Leinsterrrr, Leinsterrrr, rang out around the ground, I was among those thinking 'I like t...'"

"You're in the wrong seat, sir -- and I'll have you thrown out unless you move."

"But ... the stanchion ... that supports the stadium ... it's in my way of the real reason I'm here... the game ... the action ... the talent... and all these seats. Empty! If I don't move, you will throw me out? Me? A supporter?"

"Yes, sir. I will."

"Ahhh, disobedient consumer. Good night, sir. I'll find my own way out. Just as I did on the way in."

DL

 

Spain reign by stopping 'Wallace'

We spoke to Graham Hunter last night about his new book, 'Spain: The Inside Story of La Roja's Historic Treble'.

It's heavy on details and anecdotes that add an extra dimension and colour to the achievements of this sensational generation of Spanish players.

Luis Aragones, their coach at Euro 2008, provides plenty of material. The night before the final in Vienna, much of his pre-match communication was focused on the German midfield.

Aragones was especially intent on stopping 'Wallace' from playing.

Eventually, Xabi Alonso raised a hand. "Coach, I'm pretty sure his name is Ballack." Aragones replied, "Ballack? Wallace? I prefer Wallace. I'm calling him Wallace from now on." Fair enough.

Fernando Torres later recounts a story from the night of the final.

"When we were waiting in the tunnel, ready to go out, and the tension was rising, Aragones went up to the German captain (Ballack) and said: 'Good luck, Wallace'. He looked at us, smiled and winked. What a way to take the pressure off!"

JM

Irish Independent

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