Where would we be in sport without hype?
The Oxford English dictionary describes hype as being ‘extravagant or intensive publicity or promotion’. Who are we to argue with the good people in Oxford? The reason I bring this up is that over the weekend, the online response to people (yours truly included) who dared to ask were the Irish rugby team being unjustifiably hyped up was incredible. Social media tends to be a dark place at the best of times, but you would think that those asking the question had just insulted the last 10 generations of their respondents. A particular favourite of mine was someone telling me to “stick to talking to Tony Kelly because you know nothing about rugby”. Don’t you just love Twitter?
Let’s look at the facts though. Ireland were beaten, and let’s be honest, well beaten by England in their home turf at the Aviva Stadium. It was a result that few saw coming, but a performance that I doubt anyone would have predicted. This was an Ireland side coming in off the back of that win over New Zealand, and being spoken about as almost nailed on certs to win the Rugby World Cup as a result. Let me go back again to the word hype. ‘Extravagant or intensive publicity or promotion’. Can that permeate into players minds and in turn, show its output in their performance? On the evidence of Saturday night, you would have to think it can, and it did. Paddy Power did his usual PR blitz with a series of Brexit related billboards around Dublin, but it was the English who had the last laugh. A bonus point win that sees them now almost nailed on to win the Six Nations championship, something which you have to feel is gone from Ireland because of that bonus point.
So where does that leave Ireland for the rest of the campaign? Well for starters, a response in terms of performance is needed against Scotland this weekend to try and get the bandwagon back on the road. Losing to England in February doesn’t mean the death knell for Ireland’s chances of winning the RWC in September, but surely it will lead to a more balanced approach from media and supporters. This is the golden generation of Irish rugby we are told, but yet in a competition where there are only a handful of teams with a chance of winning, Ireland have never made the last four. We are great in this country for taking pleasure when our soon to be non EU neighbours build up their soccer team before major tournaments only to see them fall flat. We don’t seem to enjoy it as much when that mirror is turned on ourselves.
Anyone who was in Newry last Sunday who wasn’t affected by the horrific injury suffered by Dermot Coughlan is clearly made of stone. One of the great white hopes of Clare football was helpless as his leg gave way from under him before Charlie Vernon’s accidental intervention saw him suffer a dislocated and broken ankle. First and foremost, we wish Dermo a speedy recovery. Clare football needs him, and so too does his club Kilmurry Ibrickane. He’s been prodigious talent ever since his days in Annagh National School, and he has an awful lot more football left to play.
What made it all the more upsetting is that it all could have been avoided. Word started to filter through from the Clare camp when they arrived in Pairc Esler that parts of the pitch were frozen and clearly unsafe to play on. Some players described section of the pitch as being like an ice-rink while they were going through their warm-up, so why wasn’t the game abandoned? Yes there was a good crowd in with a strong Clare contingent who had made the journey up, but fans, media and anyone outside the camps are irrelevant in situations like these. Colm Collins pointed out that it was the manager who had travelled nearly four hours to get to Newry that was able to see the pitch was in a dangerous state, but that the local lads didn’t bother to flag it. If player safety isn’t paramount, then why do we even bother? There would be no games without players, so therefore their welfare should be at the centre of all considerations. So what if people had come all that way to see a game or so what if it would have taken a bit of time for a re-fixture to be arranged. If players felt unsafe playing the game, surely that overrides everything else?
To say that this season’s National Hunt fixtures haven’t captured the racing public’s imagination would be an understatement. This season has been a damp squib for a number of reasons, some outside of human control and some within it.
The brilliant summer of 2018 meant that the National Hunt season was always going to have a slow start until the ground eased but no-one would have imagined how long that would take. The result is that many horses had their comeback runs this side of Christmas and even at the Dublin Racing Festival just last weekend, Henry de Bromhead lost two horses and withdrew a third for fears with the unforgiving ground underneath the grass.
So when a horse such as Apples Jade turns in such an incredible performance as she did when slaughtering Grade One horses by 16 lengths, lighting up the season and stirring many a heart, you’d imagine her owner would be in attendance.
But no. Michael O’Leary was otherwise engaged. When Ted Walsh drew Michael’s brother Eddie down on why he wasn’t at Leopardstown, Eddie said Michael had chosen to go to the rugby instead.
Rightly, Ted Walsh tore strips from Michael O’Leary on live TV for not being bothered to show up.
It is less than 10km from Leopardstown to the Aviva Stadium and Apples Jade ran over three hours before kick-off. To say you can’t do both is ludicrous, especially when holding a taxi licence for the sole purpose of navigating Dublin traffic quicker than everyone else.
There are thousands of people in Ireland that can only dream of owning a horse of the calibre of Apples Jade but O’Leary can’t be bothered to even go and watch her run in the biggest race of the day at a massive racing festival. It certainly doesn’t look good when one of, if not the biggest owner in the sport doesn’t even turn up to Ireland’s showcase meeting. How can we sell racing to the general public, if even owners are deeming it not worth their time to show up at a racetrack?
With HRI effectively ostracising the general public from racing by selling TV rights of Irish racing to the subscription channel Racing TV, the last thing the sport needs is to be snubbed by one of the sport’s most recognisable figures. Racing appears to be constantly struggling for ways to advertise itself correctly and O’Leary needs to realise his position in the sport is key, and he needs to promote the sport and not just support it financially through his Gigginstown House Stud venture. Or his horses could be running in front of empty stands in a few years.
In other news on people in powerful positions making questionable decisions, what Tom Ryan was trying to achieve last week by saying the GAA felt bullied into hosting the Liam Miller tribute game I just don’t know. I really don’t. It was a joke that the GAA took as long as they did to grant permission for the game to go ahead in the first place, after first refusing the request. The last thing the GAA should be doing is attracting attention to that debacle once more. The fact that the director-general of the GAA is even mentioning bullying in the first place is quite humorous. I’d wager the Kildare GAA members got a good laugh out of that one after their ordeal last year with the Newbridge or nowhere fiasco. Common sense sometimes must come into the equation and this is definitely one instance in which a closed mouth catches no flies.