Wednesday, December 13, 2006

There's Something Vaguely Familiar About This Glittering Award Ceremony

After using its dead-eyed analytical skills and shrewd judgement to tell you why Darren Clarke would win the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award last week (an annus mirabilis for Zara Phillips and no mistake), it's only fair that TSA brings the same sagacity to bear on the field for our own national broadcaster's humble award.

Otherwise we would be subject to accusations of Anglophilia, be put on a register of some sort and be run out of town for whistling Land of Hope and Glory near playgrounds.
The RTE Sports Person of the Year (Oh! How that subtle change in nomenclature distracts us from the shamelessly ripped off origins of the award! Well done, RTE brains trust people!) shortlist does seem to glow with the light of achievement a little more than its British counterpart did.
Probably, however, that is because our status as a small nation whose flag generally flies fairly limply at international sporting events means that anything we do accomplish gets properly Olé-Olé'd until just short of the declaration of a national holiday.
Also the international isolation of the GAA means that, as someone has to win the All-Ireland in the major codes, then it can generally be said to have been a good year for at least two people within the GAA, which pads out the list a little.
Soccer gets nary a nod, having to compare itself as it does with other countries. That, however, doesn't excuse an ignominious twelve months for the game on this island. It comes to a close with the Eircom League (now, post-merger, run by those crack logistical experts, the FAI) promoting the third place team in its second tier over the second placed, due to them having more nice astro-turf pitches and such, rather than the usual, antiquated criteria of a superior points total.
Yes indeed, domestic soccer is taking administrative sporting farce to exciting new places, bookending a year that started with Walsall's assistant manager becoming the 'world-class' captain of the good ship Republic of Ireland, and was defined by that listing vessel being wrecked on the hitherto unprecarious shore of Cyprus.
Enough of absent friends, then. To the people in the tuxedos and ballgowns (on that note, pray to your God, whomsoever he may be, that we may be spared Tracy Piggott in another plunging neckline. My eyes! IT BURNS!)!
Once again the Darren Clarke issue arises. Thing is, rather than the mob-emotion of the general public being considered, the RTE award is voted for by a panel of "esteemed" experts. Chaired by Tom McGurk, the panel includes Eamon Dunphy, George Hook, Pat Spillane, Cyril Farrell, Ted Walsh and Jerry Kiernan. Therefore we can expect the casting of cold eyes of analysis on the affair, which may preclude Clarke.
Anyway, would Darren have won a public vote since the whole new girlfriend business?
- "But he's been through so much! Isn't it nice for him?"
- Is it not a bit soon though? I mean, it's not for me to say, but...."
Darren's great mate Padraig Harrington is also nominated, as befits the man who heads the European Order of Merit. One feels, however, that, until Padraig brings home the Major-flavoured bacon, the whiff of underachievement will, probably unfairly, deny him an award like this.
In GAA, Kieran Donaghy might be a contender, for the meteoric, fairytale nature of his rise, were he not lacking mantelpiece space from all the GAA and GPA awards he has squeezed into his hourse over the last few weeks. Henry Shefflin was only his usual perfection, and thus may be passed over in the manner that consistent brilliance is often taken for granted.
Non-horsey people like myself would tend to regard Aidan O'Brien as a token contender, there to represent one of the few sports in which we are a world power. But then you look at what his horses achieved this year - a fairly normal one - and you think that perhaps the esteemed RTE panel should get together only to thrash out who should finish second.
The Irish Champion Stakes and Irish Derby (Dylan Thomas), the Irish and their British equivalent (Alexandrova), the Phoenix Stakes (Holy Roman Emperor), the Critérium International (Mount Nelson), the 2000 Guineas and Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (Goerge Washington), the Ascot Gold Cup (Yeats), the Queen Anne Stakes (Ad Valorem) and the Shadwell Turf Mile at the Breeders Cup meeting in Kentucky. All were scooped by Ballydoyle this year. Phew!
Still, one imagines this award will go to someone who performed under the glare of the cameras and the pressure of the occasion, and as such a trainer like O'Brien is likely to be passed over.
In boxing there is a World (Katie Taylor) and European Champion (Bernard Dunne). As many are still a little 'iffy' about female boxing, Ms Taylor will probably be congratulated politely and sent on her way, the lads on the panel trying desperately, and failing, not to patronise her.
Dunne may get a podium place, the hoopla and excitement of his big night in the Point still fresh in the memory.
After Zara Phillips, Jessica Kurten might have a chance, but I feel the jodhpur madness must end here.
That leaves Derval O'Rourke and Paul O'Connell. Personally, I hope that O'Rourke gets it.
We're very cosy with our major sports in this country, probably because we don't have as many
successful competitors in other sports as we did in, say, the 1980s. O'Rourke deserves our attention and the recognition of this award for genuine achievement (World Indoor 60m Hurdles Champion and European (outdoor) 100m hurdles silver) in a sport we (Sonia O'Sullivan apart) have not excelled in for a long time, and in a discipline that we have generally found to technical and 'foothery' to be bothered with.
And I have a sneaking feeling Paul O'Connell will be getting to lift the team award anyway....

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