Saturday 23 March 2019

David Kelly: 'Rice's award is an embarrassment for the FAI, not the writers who voted for him'

Award winner: Rice. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Award winner: Rice. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

All awards are foolish; those in sport perhaps more than any other.

It remains baffling why so many crave the act of dishing out so many when so few of those who receive them really, deeply, care.

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For these are not the prizes they really crave; awards ceremonies are preening parades for those bearing gifts, not receiving them.

Awards derive from an interpretation of merit which runs contrary to the true nature of sport which extracts reward from achievement.

Yet still people pander over such inane exercises, one that is even more trivialised by its application to team sports.

And so, from the GAA All-Stars and the unseemly need to shoehorn players into ill-fitting positions to the perennially hyped Personality of the Year and Players of the Year Awards, discriminatory opinion only fit for the bar stool is unleashed upon an unsuspecting public.

Declan Rice's bauble, however, acquires a quite different place in the rather dubious role of fawning honour. But, in deference to this writer's previously solicitous involvement with this particular event, and in defence of those in the invidious position of having to judge the best Irish soccer players of 2018 - itself perhaps a misnomer - it may be necessary to provide a case for a defence.

Quite simply, the jury were charged with deciding who was, in their varying but ultimately majority opinion, the best performer.

The evidence clearly suggested there was hardly an aggressive constituency demanding their attention; Rice, winner of two similar underage awards in successive seasons beforehand, performed with presumably less inadequacy than others to be so judged.

Politics then intervened; Rice's transfer of international allegiance, allowed by the egregious support of those who run the sport globally, saw him declare for England, spurning Ireland.

Those that once cheered him now jeered him.

The FAI, despite their unchanging adherence to their player despite the inevitability of his departure which was confirmed last month, then decided to alter their stance.

They wished to withdraw any potential award to avoid potential embarrassment, notwithstanding that much of their efforts to retain Rice were deemed demeaning to many of those who still care about such things.

The Soccer Writers Association of Ireland (SWAI) stuck to their guns and, in my opinion, correctly so. For nothing that occurred on the field in 2018 had changed, even if it had done so off it.

The decision was based on a series of sporting endeavours that had happened in that calendar year and none of the non-sporting events that occurred subsequently should have corrupted a decision made in good faith, on the basis of available evidence.

It is an embarrassment to the FAI, not the SWAI, which now sees an award being presented to a player who no longer represents their banner.

Some may posit an alternative; a hasty rigging of the vote to adjudge another winner but this would have embarrassed both bodies. It would have been obvious to all that the substituted 'winner' would only have been selected by default with the self-satisfied, smug snub to the departed Rice merely a contrived conceit.

Rice deserves his individual award and, one hopes, the many more that he will achieve in life. And one hopes that 2019 in international football provides a more glittering roll call from which my hard-pressed colleagues must decide their winner.

But remember. Awards are still foolish.

SWAI JURY for FAI Awards

Paul Lennon (Irish Daily Star), Neil O'Riordan (Irish Sun), Nathan Murphy (Newstalk), Ben Blake (The 42) and Paul Walsh (TV3/Virgin Media).

Irish Independent

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