Thursday 22 February 2018

The Last Word: Force project players to adopt Irish names

Fionnuala McCormack of Ireland during the Women's 10000m final of the 23rd European Athletics Championships. Photo: Sportsfile
Fionnuala McCormack of Ireland during the Women's 10000m final of the 23rd European Athletics Championships. Photo: Sportsfile Newsdesk Newsdesk

Fionnuala Britton made plenty of headlines with her complaints about African athletes defecting to Turkey and representing that country in the European Championships.

The Turks aren't alone in doing this kind of thing. Over the years Qatar and Bahrain have shelled out big bucks to entice foreign athletes to don their colours; Rashid Ramzi, who left Morocco for Qatar and won both world and Olympic gold 1500m titles before the latter was stripped from him as a result of doping offences, is probably the best known.

One oddity of the process is that the countries involved like their African imports to change their names. Hence poor old Gregory Konchellah of Kenya found himself saddled with the moniker Yusuf Saad Kamel after switching to Bahrain. Maybe we should take a leaf from their book and insist that when Bundee Aki, CJ Stander and the rest of our rugby imports don the green jersey they call themselves Thady Quill, Eoghan Ruadh O'Neill or Mick the Miller to take the bad look off things.

A low-key exit for a low-key legend

Last week the great Tim Duncan retired from the NBA in the same low-key way he'd conducted himself during his career. Whereas his great rival Kobe Bryant announced his impending retirement at the start of a season which then turned into a long farewell cavalcade for the LA Lakers man. The exceptionally modest Duncan, as always, shied away from drawing attention to himself. Yet the man who inspired the San Antonio Spurs to five NBA titles will go down as one of the greatest players in the history of the game. Only five players have more points in play-offs, only two have more rebounds and none have more blocks than the power-forward from the Virgin Islands. Not a bad career at all for a lad who wanted to be an Olympic swimmer but had to abandon that dream when Hurricane Hugo destroyed his island's only decent-sized pool in 1989 and his fear of sharks prevented him from taking to the sea.

Farewell to a great of the fight game

Olympians Paddy Barnes, Michael Conlan and Brendan Irvine are just the latest in a long line of great pint-sized pugilists from Belfast. One of the best of them all was Freddie Gilroy, who died a couple of weeks back at the age of 80. Gilroy was a member of the most successful Irish Olympic team of all-time, the boxing squad which won four medals at the 1956 Games, one silver and three bronze, Gilroy taking bronze at bantamweight.

A sterling professional career followed which included British, Commonwealth and European titles and a narrow points loss in a world title fight against Alphonse Halimi in 1960. Perhaps Gilroy's biggest fight was his October 1962 British and Commonwealth title bout with fellow Belfast man and former world champion Johnny Caldwell which drew a crowd of 16,000 to the King's Hall and is regarded as perhaps the finest fight to take place in Ireland. Gilroy won a savage bout on a ninth-round stoppage but never fought again. Goodnight sweet prince and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

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