Tuesday 20 August 2019

Ewan MacKenna: 'The cringeworthy Irish reaction to Eoin Morgan's win sums up the big problem with international sport'

Eoin Morgan with Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May
Eoin Morgan with Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May
Ewan MacKenna

Ewan MacKenna

As Megan Rapinoe spoke, it was a stark reminder of a truth her own views try to rail against.

The further you go left, the closer you suddenly come to the right in some senses.

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It was after the United States' World Cup win and the new poster-girl for diversity, equality and liberalism was coming across as a strong conservative.

"I think that taking care of others, standing up for yourself and other people if they don't have the ability to do so is very uniquely American," she uttered.

It was the sort of blinkered view of her country, but also of nationalist egotism and international ignorance, that might as well have come from someone like Lindsey Graham.

Pity.

In a sporting sense that isn't what should irk most around her and her teammates' attitude, for they do have many good traits. Instead what annoys should be their sale of sporting unity and a huge amount of people buying into it, as a queue forms behind them far beyond their precious borders.

Regularly we've been told we should all rejoice at their success because this is a team that's a mix of colour, creed and sexuality. Really?

That should be a given considering most societies' make-up, thus it shouldn't matter in the sporting sphere. It's sport, which needs to be built on rivalry and for that you need rivals and a healthy dislike of the other. Or at least that used to be the case.

There've been many reminders of the kumbaya infestation lately. This month the biggest men's soccer match of the summer took place at the Copa America, when Argentina ran into hosts Brazil. A game that ought to be near the top - if not at the very top - of any bucket list, in the tunnel before the match, handshakes became hugs, before hugs became pecks on the cheek.

Seriously? No one is suggesting violence and no one could condemn a handshake after, but this?

Then there was our own little addition to this love-they-neighbour approach, which would be great in the real world where we ignore it more and more, instead of shunting it into sport where it has no place and actually diminishes what it's about.

On Sunday, Eoin Morgan belted out God Save the Queen and later lifted the World Cup for England.

"How could we not be proud?," was a general sentiment forced by many in Ireland.

More accurately though, how could we be and why should we be proud?

* * *

As the car made it's way closer and closer to Belfast, the conversation about the game naturally picked up. Or, to be precise, a conversation about one all-consuming element.

It was 2006.

Ireland were playing a one-day international in the city.

England were the opposition.

And our Ed Joyce was playing for them. THEM.

The debate began and carried on until a group of us took our seats. By the second innings, Joyce happened to be fielding right on the boundary metres away but the few words hurled in his direction from those around were in jest rather than delivered with any anger. The logic was simple.

At the time, his ambition was to play test cricket. Therefore he wasn't so much changing countries, rather almost changing sports so he could play the highest form of the game via the five-day version.

Years later when Ireland were rewarded with the chance to compete at that level, he was no longer an England player and back at home. All was well.

In essence, it made sense. And until two years ago, that same pass could be freely given to Eoin Morgan. No more however, although to express this is to be roared down by some pseudo - and unfortunate - political correctness.

With Morgan's mother being English, he absolutely has the right to play for whichever nation he chooses, and we'd be hugely hypocritical here to complain about such a choice. On top of that, who a player represents at underage is not clear-cut and should not be set in stone, for identity isn't always obvious in childhood, as in the case of Jack Grealish, and there isn't always the logistical openings to be taken to another country for training, as with James McClean.

That doesn't clear the Rush native though, for there are only two paths left in his case.

If his ambition was to play test cricket, he should have quit England and come back in 2017. But if his ambition was to play for England, he should have made that clear as an adult and not denied an Irish player a senior spot as he simply used that jersey to get his move. He has since claimed option two in interviews, noting that "from the age of 13, I wanted to play cricket for England. I've never felt any shame in saying this is what I wanted to do". Nor should he feel shame.

But he should feel guilt about piggybacking on the country of his birth, for it deserved better than to be a springboard for personal ambitions. Besides, this also devalues cricket as international games need integrity via strict guidelines for them to have purpose. We've already seen rugby here and elsewhere do away with the notion of where you are from mattering, when it must be the cornerstone.

What it's leaving is a bizarre situation, for in Ireland we've reached the stage now where we cheer on American women, where we cheer on mercenaries we buy in on rugby fields, where we cheer on those that went away and won with others. It's been reduced to an art exhibition where everyone stares on in agreement. It's all simply about beauty.

Is our self-esteem and self-confidence really that low? As a comparison with this Morgan situation, can you imagine South Africa getting behind CJ Stander or New Zealand roaring on Bundee Aki at the Rugby World Cup in a few weeks? And we aren't even an historical rival. Yet here we are with our cringeworthy behaviour. 

There were many reasons to hope England lost in arguably the greatest game of cricket ever. One was the fact it was England. And as the game progressed, to see the umpires in a draw game give Ben Stokes a six instead of a five was frustrating. Worse was handing the trophy to a team who on the board scored no more runs than the opposition, and conceded more wickets.

But the best reason to hope England lost was Morgan. None of this is a shot at him personally, for he comes across hugely well.

There are those who'll tell you that it's mean-spirited and you'll likely be kicked from the hand-holding, flower-in-the-hair-wearing circle telling us we are all winners. And they'll tell you too that it's an unsporting attitude to carry.

It's not though. The truth is that it's the most sporting attitude imaginable to cheer against him.

For that's what sport is actually supposed to be about.

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