Australian sportspeople put my teeth on edge.Have you ever come across any of the breed of whom you might have said, ‘you know, he mightn’t be a bad lad to meet up with for a pint’?
Their rugby players — union and league alike — seem to specialise in brawls and unsavoury incidents.
Their cricketers are inseparable from the concept of ‘sledging’.
Their soccer players include Harry Kewell, which seems sufficient evidence for my thesis in and of itself.
Their Australian Rules players include the difficult to stomach Jason Akermanis, whose exploits reached a new low, somewhat out of sight of his previous new low, with a loose attack on the late Jim Stynes.
However... the Australian public, sporting and non-sporting alike, were outstanding last week. Akermanis was roundly condemned by other Aussies for his meanness of spirit in attacking Stynes, but that’s not what I refer to. Australia’s farewell to Jim Stynes was humbling to see even from half the world away.
When Housman wrote about an athlete dying young all those years ago he contrasted the noisy crowds the sportsman heard in his prime with the silence at his funeral — townsman of a stiller town — and zeroed in on the feats frozen in time:
Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man
Not applicable to Jim Stynes, though. It’s difficult to imagine anyone coming to Ireland in their late teens, dominating one of our indigenous sports — and then doing so much work for charity on his retirement to receive one of our highest civilian decorations.
The fact Stynes was given a state funeral in Australia is remarkable enough; what is almost unbelievable is the consensus in his adopted country that it was merited and appropriate.
Again, the thought experiment leaves you a little lost.
Who could possibly replicate that life trajectory on these shores?
Stynes’ passing merited newspaper supplements and blanket media coverage. Incredible figures were mentioned, but one stuck out: the Reach Foundation which he founded put approximately 600,000 children through its doors, helping them to overcome all sorts of personal issues.
Australia did Jim Stynes proud last week: this column isn’t fond of admitting a mistake — who is? — but maybe there’s more to these people Down Under than we thought. Stynes passed away on Tuesday, March 20. The day before, a statue to Nicky Rackard was unveiled in Wexford town.
Nicky Rackard died in 1975, though. You’d have to ask why it took nearly 40 years for a county to commemorate a man who embodied its spirit on the field of play and who helped hundreds of people to battle alcoholism when he hung up his hurley.
Could it be that we could learn a little from the Australians when it comes to remembering people appropriately?
With that in mind I was rooting through the email inbox when I came across a missive from Bernard O’Donoghue, winner of the Whitbread Prize for Poetry, fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and — significantly, for our purposes — a native of Cullen, in north Cork, and veteran of many a Munster football final.
The Match Coach: In memory of heroes
I had just, or so I dreamt, moved on ahead to the bridge where the weeping willow
bows down over the river, when I saw Garry MacMahon running back towards me out of the mist.
’Hurry on!’ he called: ‘The coach will leave without you, and you’ll miss the match.’
’Who else is coming?’ I asked him. ‘Who is already on the bus?’
’John Kerins is there’, he said. ‘Tom Creedon will come for certain: Humphrey Kelleher, Jim Brosnan, Christy Ring, and Michael McCarthy from O’Donovan Rossa’s.’
’I’ll come’, I said, ‘If you’re sure Toots is there. And tell me one last thing: who is the driver?’
Garry said ‘If it comes to it, I’ll drive the bus myself.’
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