The anatomy of a sporting bandwagon

WITH little enough to keep us going at all these days, weeks like the one Rory McIlroy and Conor Niland gave us mean all the more. But even in better times, the life-affirming rallies known as Irish sporting bandwagons have been good to us.

Heineken came along and gave us an appreciation of our provincial boundaries the Railway Cup just couldn’t manage. Padraig Harrington filled pitch and putt courses, Cian O’Connor and Eddie Macken before him compelled small boys to slap themselves on the backside scaling deckchairs on the lawn. Roche and Kelly made every cycle to school a peloton. The cricket lads, ah, made us watch cricket for a couple of days.

Tennis, however, has never really been the subject of a true bandwagon before. By now, of course, we have returned to the serious business of GAA and soccer transfers. But first, there was a ten-step programme to follow.

1, Seal of approval: With the country bunched, now, more than ever, we needed a little reassurance. This fellow won’t make a holy show of us, will he? Just as every celebrity visitor to these shores is invited — nay beseeched — to tell us if they “like Ireland”, we needed someone to vouch for Conor.

Thankfully, an Andy Murray tweet about Wimbledon wildcards did the trick.

“Conor Niland deserves one — great attitude.” Next week, we’ll want him beaten, this week he’ll do grand as a reference.

2, Getting to know you: You’ll have noticed how Matt Doyle became American-born Matt Doyle this week. Some pundits skipped Doyler altogether and went back to Sean Sorensen in ‘77 for Ireland’s last appearance in the men’s draw. Cork-born Sean Sorensen, to afford him his full title. We can be fussy enough when it suits us.

Of course we’d have made do with a blow-in but to get fully behind Niland, first we had to do a bit of tracing. The findings were ideal; father Ray played minor for Westmeath, senior with Mayo. And what’s this? Cousin Joe has a Know Your Sport umbrella. Bona fide!

3, Lift-off: No bandwagon can be officially declared open until Ian ‘Zeitgeist’ Dempsey takes the wheel. Ireland’s Oprah. Paul Collins remains Ireland’s Paul Collins.

4, The crash-course: Within five minutes of the throw-in against Mannarino, lads who last tuned into Wimbledon to see if Borg could do the five-in-a-row are telling us they “knew Niland had the right stuff since the time he bet Berankis of Egypt out the gate in the Davis Cup”. But at the same time, they’re blue in the face from saying he badly needs to work on the sliced backhand.

6, Naysayers: There will always be curmudgeons who have no truck with it. “Sure the pair of them wouldn’t keep it pucked out to Federer.” But the most ingenious complaint of the week came from one intractable Thurles man. “I don’t like sports that aren’t timed.” Wimbledon — just glorified Next Goal Wins.

7, Tubridy: When a final push is needed to get the last few stragglers on board the wagon, Tubridy takes over, whistling Dixie.

8, The scapegoats Very little good has ever come from singing The Fields of Athenry and, sure enough, the individuals who organised the first strains of it as Niland closed in on fifth set victory have a lot to answer for.

In truth, however, the real culprit was in charge of RTÉ’s live blog, writing, at 4-1 in the decider: “It should really be a formality from here.”

No, we’re not sure if Montrose cutbacks have given George Hamilton extra duties during the summer.

9, The inquest: In what we now call the Roy Keane Years, this would have been a much crueller affair. News would already have filtered through that Niland had been up after 11 on Monday night watching A Question of Sport, eating cheese sandwiches. No wonder he ran out of steam. Would Roger Federer eat effing cheese sandwiches? We seem to have calmed down a lot on that score lately though, perhaps a positive side-effect of our fiscal shame. Nobody seemed to mind when the cricket lads went on the razz after beating England. And last Sunday, Rory showed us the value of holding fire after one bottle job.

10, The turning of our backs: Postscript, 2020. A young Irish buck wins Wimbledon outright, the first Irishman to compete in the men’s draw since 1977, although Birmingham-born Conor Niland made the first round in 2011.

Warning for Roman in Villas-Boas’ Island past

AT this stage, it’s a well-worn curio on Andre Villas-Boas’ CV. Head coach of the British Virgin Islands at 21. A 14-1 defeat by Bermuda in 2002. Shaun Goater got five.

But what did they make of Andre on the Islands? When he answered the phone as if he’d been expecting the call from Cork all day, Patrick Mitchell — the Trinidadian who has Villas-Boas’ job now — first made it clear that they knew him then only as “Luis”.

He’d just heard the news from Chelsea and had been idly leafing a coaching document Villas-Boas had left behind in Tortola.

Patrick was national U19 coach under Luis and his recollections may just sound a warning note for Roman Abramovich.

“He was a very good guy to work with. Very plain in what he said.

“When we lost him, we lost a lot.”

And why did Luis pack his bags after just a year in paradise? Goater wasn’t the reason.

“At that time, the president of the association had one of his family as coach. And I think this was a disrespect to Luis, because when he was trying to take us to the next level, the other guy would say ‘I’m from here, you can’t tell me what to do’, things like that.

“He wasn’t allowed do his job the way he wanted to and I think anyone would get frustrated. He wanted to stay and do a lot of work with us. It wasn’t a fall-out or anything. He was a quiet person, but when he wanted something, he wanted it done.”

Jose, Felipe, Avram and Carlo would undoubtedly sympathise. But will Luis’ virgin experience of a meddling boss be repeated at Stamford Bridge?

Wide ball, wide ball

SOMETIMES you wonder what kind of career Robbie Keane, Frank Lampard or Nani would have had if the soccer lads were as obsessed with wides as they are in the GAA. Attempts always seemed a fair enough euphemism to me but that’s a tally only recently favoured by GAA statisticians. And wides still rule the roost.

If you listen to the pundits and the hurlers on the ditch, 20-20 hindsight is the one attribute missing from every player’s locker. “Should have let it in around the square.”

So when Joe Canning fires them over from miles out, like he does most days, he is rightly applauded for his accuracy. But when things don’t go right for him, like they didn’t last Saturday, he has lost the run of himself and might as well start taking the puck-outs as well.

Kildare’s forwards are another division that fall foul of the GAA’s wide police. It will hardly bother them if enough attempts fly over to beat Dublin tomorrow.

Judge & Jury

THE ACCUSED: The GAA’s new “Video and Streaming Policy”.

THE RAP: Disregard for clubs and overseas supporters.

EVIDENCE: The new dictat from Croke Park prevents clubs streaming games live on the internet while an inter-county fixture is being televised. And clubs must now apply for permission to stream a game at any time.

THE DEFENCE: At a time when attracting sponsors is not easy, the GAA’s commercial department must protect the televised product from competition.

CROSS EXAMINATION: Would the few hundred emigrants and infirmed who log on to watch Tipp club hurling really impact the audience for an Ulster Championship football match?

PROSECUTION: For years, most GAA club websites were a wasteland, partly due to the poorly-designed templates foisted on clubs by HQ. Now, as soon as a club or two shows some online initiative, they are stamped on.

VERDICT: Guilty. The clubs are already almost entirely at the mercy of the inter-county championships when scheduling games. It’s time for a little give as well as take.

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