Category: Archive

Getting it wrong

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Over in England, there had been something of a to-do, not because of the intense competition for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award, but because there was no one to award it to.
At the end of a miserable year in which British sport was desperate to find out if it had in fact won the World Underwater Ferret Wrestling Championships – any title would do after so much failure – Darren Clarke had emerged as a contender for the award following his courageous performance at the Ryder Cup.
Now Clarke, who played in the winning Europe team at the K Club just six weeks after his wife’s death, was quick to point out that he didn’t want a sympathy vote, and that there were more deserving candidates such as boxer Joe Calzaghe and equestrianism’s Zara Phillips – a granddaughter of the Queen by the way – who had actually won world titles.
In the end, Phillips took the main prize, and Clarke was saved the embarrassment of accepting an award for winning nothing as an individual. Because, isn’t winning what it usually comes down to?
Well, that’s what we thought as the contenders for the RTE Sportsperson of the Year formed a queue last weekend. The line-up included the likes of hurdler Derval O’Rourke, gold medalist at the World Indoor Championships and a silver medalist at the outdoor European Championships, and Padraig Harrington who had become the first Irish golfer to win the European Tour money list since 1989.
You also had boxing’s Bernard Dunne and Katie Taylor, as well as Aidan O’Brien and Jessica Kurten from the horsey world, while hurler Henry Shefflin, Gaelic footballer Kieran Donaghy, rugby’s Paul O’Connell and Darren Clarke again had all been part of winning teams.
A much more impressive list than the BBC’s you have to admit, and one candidate stood out from the rest. For O’Rourke – an athlete who you just know is not doped up to the gills – to win track medals at both World and European Championships against opponents, some of whom are boosting performances with illegal drugs, was a phenomenal achievement.
Of course you could have had a gr_ for Harrington who apart from ending the year as Europe’s number one, won two tournaments and was also a victorious member of the Ryder Cup team. There was O’Connell who was a key figure in both Munster’s historic European Cup triumph and in Ireland’s Triple Crown success. And there was the enduring class of Shefflin whose hurling brilliance drove Kilkenny to yet another All Ireland title.
But when it came down to it, the unassuming and superbly talented O’Rourke appeared to have the award in the bag.
Only thing was, Ireland’s great sporting unwashed weren’t going to have a say in the destiny of the gong. Instead, RTE television had assembled a group of pundits that would come up with a verdict, and so Eamon Dunphy, George Hook, Ted Walsh, Pat Spillane, Jerry Kiernan and Cyril Farrell put their thinking caps on.
“There’s no question that Derval O’Rourke has been the outstanding sportsperson of the year by quite a distance,” said Kiernan, the former international distance runner. When Spillane, the former Kerry footballing great who should know a winner when sees one, agreed with Kiernan, it seemed that the contest was over.
But at this stage we hadn’t heard from the other judges. Hook, a radio show host and rugby analyst, wasn’t too enamored of O’Rourke because he didn’t think, “we should celebrate coming second.” Had Hook forgotten that apart from her silver medal at the European Championships, O’Rourke had won gold at the World Indoors?
Walsh, a leading horse trainer, admitted he hadn’t known that much about O’Rourke until earlier in the year. There was still Dunphy and Farrell to set things straight, but they didn’t seem to be too pushed about O’Rourke either.
And so it came to the vote. With Spillane and Kiernan firmly in the O’Rourke camp, it probably wouldn’t take much to swing it, but then to a man, the remaining four judges chose … yes, you’ve guessed it … Henry Shefflin.
Kilkenny’s finest is without question the best hurler in the land, and was hugely influential in his county’s All Ireland success. He is also a model for his peers and for young players alike, but for all his qualities, he was still only one player in a team. Still only a cog in a bigger wheel.
It shouldn’t have mattered too much that RTE’s judges could have got it so badly wrong. But when an Irish athlete wins a world title and a silver medal at a European Championships, and fails to win the RTE Sportsperson of the Year award, something is seriously wrong.
We laughed, and shook our heads at this most bizarre of judgment calls. Derval O’Rourke probably shook her head as well, but we guess she wasn’t laughing.

The New Year isn’t even with us yet, and the majority of the GAA’s football managers, plus several hurling coaches, are already up in arms. You might say that managers should manage and leave the agitating to others, but when the likes of Joe Kernan, Babs Keating, John O’Mahony, Mickey Harte and Paul Caffrey get together, there is bound to be plenty of strong opinion.
Basically, there is anger over new regulations, which will see the team manager and just one selector confined to a small zone near the dugout, while the remainder of the selectors will have to sit in the stand.
If the sight of either Mick O’Dwyer, Paidi O Se, Billy Morgan and Keating prowling the sideline has been part of the GAA tapestry for 30 years, there will be no such freedom of movement for the upcoming National Leagues at least.
Opposition to the new rules brought up to 30 managers to a meeting in Mullingar, which was chaired by Kernan and Keating. O Se called the new measures “bullshit” adding that they were “typical of the bureaucratic nonsense that governs so many areas of life nowadays.”
However, one GAA official said the rules would be enforced for the leagues as planned. “They will tidy up our games and ensure that we don’t get people walking up the sideline who’ve no right to be there,” the official added.
It is possible that the managers are protesting too much. Other coaches in top-flight sports such as soccer and rugby are confined to a small area of the sideline, and made do with getting messages to their players by means of ‘runners’ who are allowed on to the pitch during stoppages. Equally, if a coach wants the opinion of his selectors before he makes a switch, he can easily do so through a radio link.
The nub of the problem here appears to be that the managers weren’t consulted in any way shape or form before the rules were drawn up. “Everything in these rules was just thrown on us,” said Kernan. “I think it’s obvious from the turnout at the meeting that we weren’t consulted. We’d be hoping for the full support of our county boards. In the future, we’ll be sitting down with Croke Park about this.”
With the leading players seeking financial grants in return for their commitment, and with the managers now suffering from premature Christmas indigestion, does anyone love the GAA anymore?

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