Wednesday 28 September 2016

What do I think of it? I think it's...

Published 28/04/2015 | 01:20

I’ve no idea what our three former world rowing champions — Niall O’Toole, Sam Lynch and Sinead Jennings — will make of it
I’ve no idea what our three former world rowing champions — Niall O’Toole, Sam Lynch and Sinead Jennings — will make of it

Angry? I hear you. You've just lashed out and kicked the dog? I feel your pain. Lists and awards can do that sometimes. Give me the Oscars or the Emmys, but the Irish Book Awards bring me out in a rash. And don't get me started on the Second Captains' Good Wall. What's good about it? And what does 'good' mean?

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A month ago, when the Sunday Independent sports editor announced plans for a 'Greatest' magazine, my reaction was to kick for touch. Where do you start with something like that? How do you compare generations? Or sports? Or what it takes to succeed in those sports?

And where do you draw the line on doping? Those who cheated and those who competed clean? Those who were busted and those who got away?

"Sorry John," I announced. "I can't think of anything I'd least like to do."

"It will be different," he argued. "We'll do it our way."

He has.

Take the wording on the cover: there's a subtle but important difference between Ireland's 50 Greatest Sports Stars and The Stars of 50 Years of Irish Sporting Success. Is Robbie Keane one of our 50 greatest sportstars? Possibly not. Did he send us home sweating some nights or jumping from our seats? Absolutely.

And separating the list into five separate decades means we get Gibson and O'Driscoll, Giles and Keane.

The spread of sports is reasonably balanced: eight soccer players, seven Gaelic footballers, six rugby players, five hurlers, four athletes, four boxers, three golfers, three snooker players, two cyclists, a camogie player, a cricketer, a motorcyclist and a racing driver. And okay, so only three of those are women but spare us the burning bras.

The Stars of 50 Years of Irish Sporting Success does mostly what it says on the tin. I've never heard of the cricketer, Alec O'Riordan, but if he was good enough for Dermot Gilleece and Adhamhnan O'Sullivan, he's good enough for me. I'm pleased 'Himself' made the list, and Michael Carruth and Joey Dunlop and John Watson.

Michelle Smith
Michelle Smith

But Mary Peters? Really? Wasn't she British? Didn't she fly the flag for Britain? Don't we feel as much affinity for Dame Mary as we do for Lord Coe? Or am I'm being unfair? And what about Darren Clarke or Graeme McDowell? How many Claret Jugs or US Opens have we won in the last 100 years?

Johnny Murtagh gets the nod but there's no place for Pat Eddery or Michael Kinane.

Hmmm.

Steve Collins gets the nod but there's no place for Wayne McCullough.

Hmmm.

And I've no idea what our three former world rowing champions - Niall O'Toole, Sam Lynch and Sinead Jennings - will make of it. Okay, I'll hazard a guess: You cannot be ***king serious!

There's a camogie player on the list but not a single rower or swimmer, and I don't mean you-know-who. Well, actually I do.

Let's imagine for one moment that you're Michelle Smith this morning.

You open the Sunday Independent and find, to no great surprise, that you've been erased from history again. There's no mention of those three gold medals in Atlanta; you don't even merit an asterisk on the page because there's a price to be paid when they find steroids in your urine and they've delivered the bill. No 'Good Wall' for you my dear, or parading through the streets with the Olympic torch. You're out, done, persona non grata and you've got no right to complain.

But hey! Isn't that Sean Kelly on the list? Did he not test positive twice? Did he not break the rules? What is it about this one they appreciate so much?

And Stephen Roche! WTF! Have they forgotten the Italian judge? Have they dismissed her finding: "One cannot but arrive at the conclusion that Dr Grazzi was effectively involved in the direct dispensing of EPO to (Guido) Bontempi, (Claudio) Chiappucci, (Mario) Chiesa, (Stephen) Roche and (Ralf) Sorensen."

So how does this work? Are there degrees of cheating? Does it depend on the sport?

Michelle Smith is angry? I hear her. She's just lashed out and kicked the dog? I feel her pain. The list is bullshit? There's no argument. And that really hurts to say.

Sunday Independent

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