Wednesday 20 June 2018

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Martin Breheny: Ireland has to understand that telling ourselves we're the best in the world doesn't make it happen

Besides Croke Park (pictured ahead of the World Rugby’s visit back in March), many GAA grounds simply didn’t compare to venues in France and South Africa. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Besides Croke Park (pictured ahead of the World Rugby’s visit back in March), many GAA grounds simply didn’t compare to venues in France and South Africa. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Perhaps every country does it, telling themselves they are the best in the world at something or other. I'm in Australia for the International Rules and woke up in Melbourne yesterday morning to the throb of a city enraptured by the great event in Flemington racecourse later on.

"Eyes of the world" on us, blazed the 'Herald Sun' banner headline in a lead into 40-page coverage of the race. And then they went further. The race that "famously stops a nation" had been upgraded to "a race that stops many around the world."

They anticipated a crowd of 100,000 (it came in at a lower than expected 90,536 probably due to the chilly weather), with an estimated TV audience of 750,000 million around 163 countries. Australians celebrate their big race with a day-long flourish, but away from the carnival atmosphere rests a deep unease.

"It's not our race anymore," grumbled 'The Age' newspaper, pointing out that only three of the 23 runners were Australian-bred, with New Zealand adding two more. The rest were from around the world, with Irish trainers having no fewer than six entries.

"The race that stops a nation needs to have more representation from the country where it is run. If that means some positive discrimination towards horses that win Australian staying contests, then let's do it.

"It needs to be a race for Australians that invites the world. It has become the world's race with a dash of Australian flavour," asserted 'The Age'.

And that was before Joseph and Aidan O'Brien and Willie Mullins made it an Irish 1-2-3. A Mullins runner also filled sixth place.

It was yet another remarkable achievement by Irish racing, one which will no doubt further add to the Australians' unease over having guests ruining their glitzy party.

They love to show off everything that goes with the Melbourne Cup but don't want the big prizes heading for the airport.

That detracts from the image of Australia as hosts of one of the biggest races in the world and backing it up by having produced most of the runners and top finishers. It's a matter of national pride, which took a hit from Ireland yesterday.

Ireland has taken a jolt of a different sort through the stark statement from the technical committee adjudicating on the contenders to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup that we were last in a field of three. It stunned the IRFU, who thought they had put together a strong bid and the GAA, who thought their gesture of sporting ecumenism in making their grounds available, would be rewarded. The truth is, of course, that many of the GAA grounds on the bid proposal did not compare favourably with what's on offer in the French and South African bids.

With the exception of Croke Park and few other grounds, supporters have come to expect shoddy standards. That's down to the GAA having too many venues capable of holding (if not exactly cherishing) crowds of over 25,000.

Local pride trumps common sense so instead of having fewer grounds with more comfort, the trend has always been towards quantity rather than quality. Of course, it wouldn't even be possible to bid for the World Cup without the GAA, which underlines the lack of self-reliance by comparison with many of its counterparts.

Yet, when the figures stacked up against Ireland, a sense of shock took over. How could they do that to us?

Just as Australian racing finds it hard to accept that while they run a good show, outsiders often do better, Ireland has to understand that telling ourselves we're the best in the world doesn't make it happen.

It's a hard pill to swallow but reality and expectations aren't always comfortable fellow-travellers.

Still, the delusion goes on. While those closely involved with the rugby bid accept that the scale of the challenge has soared, Sports Minister Shane Ross and Minister for State Brendan Griffin continue to ooze optimism. Ross noted that while the technical review group's verdict was a setback, it's 'one that we can overcome'. Really?

Meanwhile, Griffin claimed 'the bid is still winnable'. Neither minister explained the basis for their conclusions, which is hardly surprising since they are no more than guff. Sometimes you have to accept how others see you rather than how you see yourself.

Irish Independent

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