Saturday 24 February 2018

Jamesie O'Connor: I admire Padraig Harrington

Padraig Harrington
Padraig Harrington

Jamesie O'Connor

Any natural bias I might have towards the GAA, and hurling in particular, has to be parked in an exercise such as this. Henry Shefflin's greatness is indisputable, DJ Carey's too. And as arguably the greatest pure defender to ever play the game, JJ Delaney also belongs in that pantheon.

In the same way, who could fail to appreciate the brilliance and class of the Gooch Cooper or Mikey Sheehy on a football field?

But I have my reasons for not picking somebody from the GAA community as the greatest Irish sport star of the last 50 years. The words 'world class' are surely a prerequisite for such an accolade, and the GAA simply doesn't have that international dimension.

The contenders for me? Roy Keane. The champions league semi-final against Juventus, where he picked up an early booking, knew he would miss the final as a result, and still put the team on his back and relentlessly drove them to victory. Keith Wood, Paul O'Connell, Mike Gibson and Willie John McBride from the rugby fraternity all fit the bill too.

And has Ireland produced a better rugby player than Brian O'Driscoll? O'Connell once articulated that it wasn't the fancy skipped passes in midfield that earned him the respect of Peter Clohessy and the other grizzled Munster veterans. But rather the fact that time and time again, he was the guy bent low over a ruck, slowing their ball down as they made every effort to buckle him.

Sonia O'Sullivan, who if the playing field were level and everyone raced clean, could have won a bucket of championship medals. Katie Taylor, AP McCoy, Aidan O'Brien, John Oxx and Mick Kinane for what they achieved with Sea The Stars in 2009 . . . I could go on and on.

But I have to come up with a single name. And I find it hard to look beyond Pádraig Harrington.

At 25, and with four Majors, and the world number one ranking secured, Rory McIlroy may have already surpassed the Dubliner's achievements, and in 20 years' time, when his career is winding down, it may be a no-brainer. Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke too, with their US and British Open successes respectively, have obviously also reached the pinnacle of world golf. But Harrington was the one who blazed the trail and made it all possible. With a work ethic second to none, he proved to his fellow Irishmen that it could be done. And not just once or twice either. Had he not led, would or could the others have followed?

To shoot 67 on the last day of a Major when in contention, including what could have been a crippling double bogey on the last hole, as he did in the 2007 British Open, and yet have the fortitude to put it behind him, overcome all the negative thoughts that were surely rattling around his head, and come out and win the play-off took some guts and character.

To retain the Claret Jug and follow it up with the US PGA confirmed he possessed those attributes in spades. And it's that ability, to control his mind as well as his body, especially when the pressure is at its greatest, on Sunday, on the back nine of a Major championship, that will one day secure Pádraig Harrington's place in golf's hall of fame.

Sunday Independent

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