Saturday 17 February 2018

Hurdling's outsiders leap into contention

Trainer Willie Mullins Photo: Seb Daly / Sportsfile
Trainer Willie Mullins Photo: Seb Daly / Sportsfile

Eamonn Sweeney

I know it's desperate that Faugheen won't have the opportunity to win the Champion Hurdle. But I presume I'm not the only one who sees the positive side of the withdrawal.

Instead of the inevitable walkover in the big race of the first day, we're now going to have a genuine contest. And it's not as though Willie Mullins' hopes have been destroyed by the injury to his star horse even if it was followed by the scratching of Arctic Fire. Mullins (below) still has two of the three favourites in Annie Power and Nichols Canyon.

The difference now is that they face a real challenge from another Irish contender, Henry de Bromhead's Identity Thief. And even the English will feel that the absence of Faugheen gives The New One and My Tent Or Yours a chance.

The equine purists would, I'm sure, have derived enormous fascination from seeing Faugheen romp home and immediately be named as an odds on favourite to complete the hat-trick in 2017.

Personally, I think it's better to see the blue riband of hurdling decided after a proper battle up the hill and chances are that's what we'll get now. While I admire excellence I'm ambivalent about its ability to crush all opposition. That's why I wish Kilkenny would stop winning the hurling championship and why every autumn I check the club results to see if any Armagh club is making a fist of stopping Crossmaglen Rangers or any Laois team can halt Portlaoise's football reign.

As a kid I remember St Mary's winning six out of seven Sligo football titles and in my first job as a journalist I witnessed Clan Na Gael winning the fourth and fifth of what turned out to be eight Roscommon crowns in a row. In Cork, I've seen Nemo Rangers win four on the trot. It may be impressive but it doesn't half knock the fun out of it for everyone else.

And that's why as I spent last night and the early hours of this morning watching the counts disclose their secrets, my biggest cheers will have been for the little parties and the independents putting one over on the big party machines. No matter what your political beliefs it's always good to see the outsider prevail.

In life and in sport nothing spices things up like the unpredictable.

Sunday Indo Sport

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