Monday 27 February 2017

McCoy gets worldwide recognition he deserves

There is a type of parlour game played by entrepreneurs called the Money, Power, Recognition game where they are asked to rank in order of importance to them the three motivators of the title and (more interestingly) to explain the rationale behind their ranking. It is often revealing to understand the primal drivers that underpin them.

The link between successful entrepreneurs and sport's gold-plated achievers is closer than you might think, but the gap is even shorter when you choose Tony McCoy as your sportsman. Very few champions in any sport are in a position where they have only known what it is to be number one for the entirety of their career. AP McCoy's maiden season (1994/5) as conditional jockey in the UK brought home the riders' championship with a record-smashing 74 wins. He became the first jockey to migrate from champion conditional to champion jockey outright the next season (with 175 winners) and he is about to be crowned champion once again this year for the 15th consecutive time. He is racing's ultimate entrepreneur.

If Michael O'Leary revolutionised the concept of air travel by overturning well-worn precepts about how an airline should operate, turning what was once inconceivable into the now commonplace, then McCoy has accomplished the same in jump racing -- redefining the essence of what it means to be a jump jockey. Where they lead, others aim to follow.

I am reminded of one of my earliest encounters with 'Wee Authney' from Co Antrim back in 1998. Travelling to lowly Fontwell in midweek to spend a day in his company, I recall even then registering his achievements as phenomenal without being privy to the absolute domination that was to follow. My Fontwell recall was occasioned by a question I asked of the champion then. "If you don't know what it's like to lose a jockeys' championship, how do you continue to motivate yourself to keep winning?" His answer was "Fear". More specifically, it was fear that someone would come from behind and overtake him one day.

While that fear has never diminished, another fear began to grow wings in recent years. The fear as he reaches mid-30s that he might become the greatest ever rider never to win jump racing's greatest ever race, the Grand National. He had been on the floor seven times in his attempts. He was cruelly thwarted by a loose cannon, Paddy's Return, which whipped around and lynched him on Clan Royal five years ago. Was he fated to fail? Richard Dunwoody and Mick Fitzgerald both remarked last week how the first question they get asked by a member of the public is about their Grand National wins. The racing tribe is an extremely insular unit and, like it or not, horse racing in the scope of UK national sporting interests comes far down the pecking order slotted somewhere between stock-car racing and kite-surfing.

When AP McCoy failed yet again to receive even a nomination for BBC Sports Personality of the Year last December, racing puffed its chest in indignation and expressed its outrage. How could one who achieved so much be recognised by so few?

In winning the Grand National at the 15th try on the ironically named Don't Push It, AP McCoy accomplished two things. He conquered one of the precious few remaining dragons in his own career but he also put himself in the space to be recognised in the wider sporting firmament. Ride 3,000 winners and racing lights up. Win one National and the world, with its 600 million viewers, lights up.

In winning the National, a remarkable transformation occurred in McCoy. What many know of the private McCoy for perhaps the first time made itself public. The Man of Ice began to melt. The notion that his two-year-old daughter could now be proud of him in spite of all his mesmerising accomplishments just because he had won the one ogre of a race that had eluded him till now tells you everything about fear as a driver and how irrational it is.

I'm sure AP has never played the entrepreneur's parlour game but if he did I am equally sure that Recognition would be ranked first. But not recognition in the sense of wanton tinsel lust for fame and glory, but recognition from his daughter, his parents, Willie Rock who started him, JP who patrons him. In short, those who invested the most in him. Those that matter.

And in embracing those that matter we began to see the real McCoy. The personality that is beyond the self-flagellating, relentless, often moribund figure perceived by most. He may not covet the BBC Sports Personality award or the public recognition it entails, but having at last acquired the entry ticket of winning the National he should now see it out all the way. Because he's worth it.

IAN McCLEAN

Sunday Independent

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