Friday 24 May 2019

We have the sweetest sporting deal on earth

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Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

Verily we have been favoured by the gods. They have blessed us in such a way we can celebrate without hesitation the performance of a team of ours which was beaten 6-0 in a World Cup final.

To everything there is a balance - if you are America, or Russia, the way it works is that you win a truckload of medals but you also have certain expectations which mean that if you get beaten 6-0 in front of the world, it is a very bad thing.

In the old Soviet Union, you could be sent to the salt mines for less. There would be talk of "root-and-branch" reform, there would be a deep interrogation of the decline in the character of this generation which had somehow brought such sadness on the Motherland.

That's the deal with the superpowers, you get to win until you're sick of winning, but you can't lose 6-0 in a big game without some kind of a national emergency being declared.

It's not a very good deal really, when you compare it to our deal - and yes I know we've had no choice but to accept it, but if we could choose the deal that is right for us, I think we'd still have gone for the one that we have. All of us except Roy Keane, and even he seems to be softening somewhat of late.

Our deal involves raucous celebrations after being literally hockeyed in a major final, and no half-hearted celebrations either.

Having no expectations, we treasure anything that is any good that comes our way - in our international sporting lives we have achieved that otherwise elusive state of being poor but happy.

While the aristocratic Spaniards or the hockey-rich Indians were consumed with self-loathing when they were beaten by us, we would probably have been contented enough to lose to them - that's the deal, after all, and it works for us.

I am even told by an aficionado that 6-0 was actually quite a good defeat in the circumstances - in hockey if a team is basically superior, the old floodgates can open alarmingly. In which case, in such an unforgiving sport, conceding just the six can be quite an achievement in itself. Being "hockeyed" comes from hockey, oddly enough, and yet we Irish who knew nothing of hockey were able to grasp all this intuitively. We knew that even when they were losing, by not losing more heavily, they were winning. We knew, because we just know these things.

Thomas Barr wins a bronze in the 400 metres hurdles at the European Championships and we are beside ourselves with joy, even as it is mentioned in passing that this is the first medal that any male Irish track athlete has won in a sprint event at this level. Again there are countries who would deploy their most decorated officers to keep a lid on such a mortifying piece of information, fearing for their very existence as a serious nation in the international community if such a thing became widely known - by contrast, for us it is probably the best part of the whole Barr triumph.

But the joy that we derive from our fantastically rare international triumphs is not the only way in which we have been uniquely favoured by the gods - they have also situated us right next to the UK, allowing us to enjoy the Premier League almost as "our" league, without the responsibilities of ownership, as such.

So we could be luxuriating in the sumptuous RTE series The Game, which tells the story of hurling and its place in our island story, knowing that from this weekend all the way through until next May or thereabouts, there will be another game going on for us.

Is there another country in the world which is lucky enough to have its "national" sport beautifully positioned in those few weeks of summer in which there is no meaningful action in the Premier League? The genius of the founders of the GAA such as Michael Cusack is rightly acknowledged, and still perhaps we do not fully appreciate their achievement in devising these codes which occupy us so handily when there is not much else happening.

How were we blessed with such far-sighted leadership? I have noted of course that our great rugby writer Neil Francis believes that rugby has become "our national game". Now there is not a man alive who enjoys the work of Franno more than I do - there couldn't be, even among the ranks of the alickadoos.

But I have to say this to Franno - at the Aviva Stadium last Saturday, a full house of approximately 50,000 people showed up to watch Liverpool playing Napoli in a "friendly" that was so meaningless, it has sent me to my thesaurus to find synonyms for "meaningless" which might somehow capture the precise level of the meaninglessness that we are talking about here. Try valueless, unimportant, insignificant, inconsequential, nugatory, insubstantial, of no use...

Try them all, and then remind yourself one more time that 50,000 Irish people filled the Aviva - your Aviva, Franno - just to be there.

But we won't take this argument any further, because frankly, there is no argument.

The great thing here, is that we are still doing so well at the rugby, that it was so robust even after the Great Crash which involved so many members of that close-knit community.

The only fear now, is that we are getting so good at it, it is taking the good out of it.

Sunday Independent

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