Category: Archive

Bigger dreams

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

For the uninitiated, the Triple Crown is a tournament within a tournament. The Six Nations, involving France, England, Scotland, Wales, Italy and Ireland, is the championship which counts in Europe, while tradition says that England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland compete among themselves for the Triple Crown.
It has its origins in the late 19th century when France weren’t yet admitted into the championship, and when the so-called “home” nations ruled rugby in Europe. Even when France joined the club, the Triple Crown survived.
Because outright victory in the championship was a rarity for the Irish, the Triple Crown assumed almost mythical proportions, and before the start of the current century, Ireland had only won it six times in nearly 150 years.
When Ciaran Fitzgerald led his side to memorable victories in 1982 and ’85, most of the country stopped to watch in what was a precursor to the extraordinary interest in the fortunes of the soccer team at both the 1988 European finals and the 1990 World Cup finals.
Yet, today, the Triple Crown has been strangely devalued. Not because rugby has gone professional, and not because the players don’t care about a title their predecessors sweated blood for. No the Triple Crown has lost its luster because of the sheer excellence of the current Ireland team.
Once a tantalizing reward out of reach of most, now Brian O’Driscoll and his teammates are going for a third title in the space of four years. Admittedly, when the Triple Crown was won in 2004 – a first success in 19 seasons – the celebrations were long and hard, but victory over Scotland this Saturday, to add to the earlier wins against Wales and England, is simply to be expected.
Ireland went into this Six Nations championship with a lot more than the Triple Crown on their minds. The initial target was the Grand Slam – wins over all five other countries – but that went out the window when France scored in the final minute at Croke Park. Now there is a possibility of winning the championship, but only if France slip up against England, while the Triple Crown is regarded as a third option.
In fact, in the aftermath of the comprehensive and emotional victory over England at Croke Park, the Irish players were already looking beyond the Six Nations championship and to the World Cup later in the year. It was as if they had failed in their bid for a Grand Slam, and mentally, they were already focused on the next target.
Scotland, meanwhile, are in a state of chassis having lost at home to Italy. Ireland should win the game, and another Triple Crown, comfortably. O’Driscoll will accept the trophy knowing full well that the team’s ambition is now much greater than a tournament within a tournament.
How rugby’s times have changed.

Minority are still sore about Croker
Despite the groundswell of feel good that surrounded the Ireland-England game at Croke Park, not everyone was happy that the game went ahead. Miceal Greenan for one, a former chairman of the Ulster Council of the GAA, didn’t watch the rugby. “Luckily enough I had better things to do,” he explained.
Greenan has been variously derided as a curmudgeon, a diehard, or a GAA backwoods man in his consistent opposition to Croke Park being opened to rugby to and soccer. But with so much current emphasis on political correctness, it has been somewhat refreshing to hear an alternative view.
What has Greenan in a lather is that he believes the GAA has given a leg up to competing sports. “This is not about England or the history of the stadium,” he told the Sunday Tribune, “it’s about us helping our competitors gain an upper hand.”
He mentioned the fact that the ladies’ football All Ireland final only has a provisional date at the moment, whereas dates for international rugby and soccer matches are already fixed for 2008. “Where’s the logic in that?” he continued.
“Up to a few weeks ago, Croke Park was a GAA stadium. That’s gone now and it will never be a GAA stadium again … In the GAA we are not looking after our own.”
Clearly, a majority in his own association don’t agree with Greenan’s viewpoint. But with the redevelopment of rugby’s Lansdowne Road likely to be delayed by planning constraints, and with Irish soccer as homeless as it has ever been, it is possible that there will be further requests to open up Croke Park in the future.
It is not hard to understand the frustration of someone like Greenan who has helped the GAA modernize, and who now watches as rugby and soccer reap some of the benefits.

Gillick retains 400m indoor title
David Gillick will almost certainly never win an Olympic or a World Championship gold medal, but if his career ends without athletics’ two most coveted titles, then it won’t have been for want of trying.
A year ago, Gillick was down and out. He went to the European Championships in Gothenburg, Sweden, as one of Ireland’s hopes. Even if the oxygen-draining 400 meters hasn’t exactly been fertile territory for Irish runners, the Dubliner was the reigning European Indoor champion. But instead of challenging for a medal, or reaching the final, Gillick flopped.
Perhaps his indoor success had been a flash in the pan. Perhaps he lacked the class and character to join the elite of one-lap sprinting. Perhaps he was finished before it had really started.
“I was so depressed,” he admitted after failing in Gothenburg. “I came back to Dublin and just started questioning what I was doing.”
He realized he had to make some fundamental changes, or he would slip through the cracks like so many prospects before him. So he turned his back on the familiar, left Ireland, and went to train at Loughborough in the English Midlands where he would have a new coach and a new life.
Last weekend, the 23-year-old proved he was no one-hit wonder by retaining his European Indoor title in Birmingham, England, with a superb display. Gillick ran down Germany’s Bastian Swillims over the last 10 meters to win in a hugely impressive 45.52 seconds.
His time was the second fastest in the world this year, the fifth-fastest ever on the European indoor list, and given the restrictions of the indoor track, it augurs well for a sub-45 second performance outdoors later this summer. But most of all, it signified that Gillick was back, and how he celebrated.
“I totally lost it. Two years of frustration does that to you,” he explained later. “Looking back now the disappointment of Gothenburg was a blessing in disguise because I knew I had to make big decisions after that. I had nothing to shout about over the last two years, so I just had to let out a lot of emotion.”
In 2005, he had come from nowhere. There was no expectation whatsoever, only a mild amazement that an unheralded Irish sprinter had won an indoor title. This time it was different. If Gillick had failed, it wouldn’t necessarily have meant that his career was over, but it would have hardly validated his new training regime.
But now more experienced, more hardened, and more focused on success, he proved a major point both to himself and to the doubters. “In the past, I could waver a bit, I could easily get distracted, but now I won’t let anything get in the way of my training. I learned some of that from Derval O’Rourke. She doesn’t take any s**t from anyone. And that’s the way it has to be in this sport. Only you can make it happen.”
Gillick also paid tribute to the Enda McNulty, a sports psychologist and Armagh footballer, who has helped him with his mental preparation. Having suffered badly from nerves before, he is more adept a coping with the stress of competition.
If there was heartache for Alistair Cragg in Birmingham as the former University of Arkansas star faded to sixth place in the 3,000 meters final, it was another important stepping stone in the career of David Gillick.
The indoor circuit is track’s poor relation, so how he performs outdoors at the World Championships in Osaka, Japan in August will be a further barometer of his improvement.

Remember the name
If David Gillick’s resurgence was something of a surprise, there were no eyebrows raised when John Coghlan took first place last weekend at the All Ireland Schools cross-country championships in Dublin.
Coghlan, who earlier this season won the Leinster title, took control of the race on the second of three laps and was never headed from there until the finish.
Eamonn Coghlan, the former World 5,000 meter champion, was on hand to congratulate his son.

Other Articles You Might Like

Sign up to our Daily Newsletter

Click to access the login or register cheese