Picking the bones out of a year’s sport...
Stevie G began a long goodbye that would make Brian O’Driscoll’s exit look like an abrupt dismissal.
Our US ambassador Conor McGregor kicked off a bout with his middle finger extended in Dennis Siver’s face. Coach Bill Belichick was as shocked, shocked, as Captain Louis Renault to find that 11 of the 12 footballs supplied for the New England Patriots offence in the AFC Championship Game had somehow become deflated. Quarterback Tom Brady, accustomed to the equipment help catering to every delicate whim, hadn’t noticed a thing.
And then, a prophet emerged. Preaching an alien gospel. Little known Tim Smyczek took staggering, mosquito-bitten Rafa Nadal to 5-6 in the fifth in the Australian Open. A shout from the crowd on Rafa’s toss and the serve is wild. Take it again, offers Smyczek. “There’s almost always a right thing to do and a wrong thing to do,” he said after defeat. It was a clarion call for a new way of sporting life. A sportsmanship charter.
What did we think to ourselves? No wonder this lad is only world number 112.
A week into the Ryder Cup gig, Darren Clarke was still sitting on his hands, not a single vice-captain appointed, nor blue and yellow goldfish sourced, nor motivational painting commissioned. At home, Poults doubtless tossed and turned, all sense of purpose ebbing away.
Anderson Silva’s positive test reminded us it might not be wise to trust everything to UFC, in the search for web clicks and social content.
And Sky Sports delivered two cruel blows from which many have yet to recover. Thinking well outside the box, the marketing department delivered the first — Sky Sports 1 inexplicably moved to 402. Not since ‘New Pippa’ were so many viewers confused.
The second was a surgical strike in the war on bantz. The hordes who gather behind Sky Sports News reporters on Deadline Day were forever dispersed, their sex toys gone with them. We will remember it as the true end of innocence; when it was no longer enough to be seen on television, but necessary to go viral on Facebook making a show of yourself on television.
They might be our native games, yet isn’t there something of the modern GAA that jars crudely with who we truly are; a people beloved of a shortcut, of easy answers, of taking it handy, of winging it and hoping for the best?
When did we sign up for The Sacrifices and The Demands? For the joylessness and especially the drinking bans?
They are sports that await a maverick, a coach who says, publically at least: ‘Lads, never mind The Savage Hunger, I think ye’re good enough to win it this year doing the bare minimum.’
In Clare, after Davy O’Halloran and Nicky O’Connell were dispatched, the rest had their chance to ask for leeway, for compassion. To show that it really was all about 1 to 30 on the panel.
But they turned their backs. From there, it was hard to see them winning much.
Meanwhile, even as Mourinho cantered to more glory, Gilesy sensed something: “An evil presence, in many ways.”
Raheem Sterling insisted his reluctance to re-sign for Liverpool had nothing to do with money, the surest sign yet he’d soon be departing for big bucks.
Tony McCoy gave up chasing winners in what we now know was a bid to win the big one, a knighthood. And Leicester manager Nigel Pearson produced, in a press conference barney with a journalist, the year’s most entertaining ‘controvassy’.
Even as he set out to insult, Nigel’s innate competitiveness took over and he found himself insisting he would make a better ostrich than the one settled in front of him. “If you don’t understand that question then I think you are an ostrich — your head must be in the sand. Is your head in the sand? Are you flexible enough to get your head in the sand? My suspicion would be no. I can. You can’t.”
Wherever the Tinkerman takes them, Nigel will always have that victory.
We lost Billo and one of our top, top politicians came up with the best possible tribute, praising him for anchoring “the best analytical soccer programme in Europe”.
It was exactly the kind of outlandish statement you might hear on a good night on Billo’s ‘soccer programme’. You could almost hear Eamo saying it. “Italian analytical soccer programmes are muck, Bill. This is the best analytical soccer programme in Europe… let me finish, Bill.” And you could almost see Billo flip the pen in his hands and recline further in his chair, a job well done.
Mourinho basked in the glory of Premier League victory with what many read as a snide dig at old foe Pep, mainly because it was. “Maybe in future I need to be smarter and pick countries where even the kitman can be champion as manager.”
And yet, from this distance, we see another chapter close, with a dawning realisation he had sucked what he could out of this crowd. The same realisation that may have dawned on Sepp Blatter, as the first of the Fifa arrests were made.
The outrage that dogged John Delaney for telling Ray D’Arcy how he’d coaxed €5m out of old Sepp for Hand of Gaul might have been considerably less if we had known then what poor value we’d be getting out of a rumoured half a mil we’re giving Ray D’Arcy.
Jimmy Doyle left us but left behind standards and memories.
There were harrowing scenes at the US Open in Chambers Bay, with victims in slacks forced to climb slopes and tackle discoloured lawns. The old adage, a good walk spoiled, no longer applicable.
The BBC no longer have much truck with golf, and counted down an end to their interest in any sport with the symbolic decision to rebrand Today at Wimbledon as Wimbledon 2day, replacing most of the tennis highlights with chit chat and bantz — what they probably call, at boardroom level, “tennis content”.
A quirk of fate scuppered the best-laid plans of the camogie chiefs. How could they possibly have foreseen that in the event of a draw where both teams scored the same number of goals, they might have the same tally of points too?
Or perhaps it was their best piece of planning of the year, because all of a sudden everyone was interested. Briefly.
In hurling and football, The Sacrifices and The Demands endured by the players were matched only by those watching some grim fare. The annual ‘Fix Gaelic football festival’, scheduled, for as long as we can remember, for between September and March, began unseasonably early.
Hurling, meanwhile, was in transition, reckoned Dónal Óg Cusack, as teams experimented with different approaches to losing to Kilkenny.
The collapse of Tyrone’s Tiernan McCann under modest tonsorial pressure sparked a fresh lament for the lost art of manliness, with soccer largely blamed for the contagion.
Interestingly though, for all the finger-pointing at ‘The Premiership’ — as we must still call it — the blame-game was beginning to take familiar shape.
Across the water, they have always generally laid most of the responsibility for the rise of ‘simulation’ at the door of Johnny Foreigner.
Gaelic football hasn’t yet managed to integrate Johnny Foreigner into a sufficient cohort worth pointing the finger at.
But it will always have the Nordies.
Mind you, for all the influence The Premiership was bringing to bear, nobody was yet ready to turn on their medical staff for treating an injured player.
The respective celebrations of the All-Ireland champions gave some indication why neither looks likely to be overhauled any time soon.
Don’t mind your pitch invasions and laps of honour, forget that most of the supporters were halfway home, Richie Power enjoying a few pucks in Croker with his young lad was the most Kilkenny way possible to celebrate an All-Ireland win. The Dublin lads, too, remained notably calm, reserved, professional on The Sunday Game.
A touch apocryphal perhaps, but word was they were keen to avoid excessive public jubilation to deny Kerry any further motivation for next year.
Maybe we had reached peak GAA self-denial.
Do you recall, in 2006 or whenever it was, the very last queue around the block to buy a flat off the plans? Perhaps we witnessed the sporting equivalent on October 11; crowds streaming early out of the Tipp county semis in Semple to watch ‘the rugby’.
They were rewarded with what Keith Wood called ‘the most extraordinary level of bravery I have ever seen’, as Ireland turned over France.
Yet, just one week after that eggpocalypse, Rugby Country was already disintegrating, the unfathomable courage of these heroic men not nearly enough.
Since, we have seen that warcry ‘Munster til we die’ re-purposed as ‘Munster til we’re shite’ as the crowds stay away, or cheer ironically instead of hushing for the kickers.
Who, now, will come up with the bailout?
In better news, Shane Long finally justified his decision to pass up the chance of an All-Ireland in blue and gold by lashing past Neuer.
Just a couple of months after scorning nefarious media outlets for declaring war on his sport, new IAAF chief Seb Coe was shocked, shocked to find the Russians haven’t been particularly zealous in the war on drugs and that many of them may well have been drugged to the gills ahead of the London Olympics.
Thank goodness all this didn’t emerge before Seb claimed much credit for that feelgood festival.
As the war on terror came up short on an horrific night in Paris, we still flicked between news and sport and found some joy in the fog in Robbie Brady’s ghostly goal.
Of the many unsavoury characters jostling to become Britain’s spiritual leader in 2015, only Jamie Vardy has given them a motto. And so ‘chat shit, get banged’ — a cryptic tweet of Vardy’s from 2011 — has become the rallying call for a people grown tired of empty rhetoric.
And as the Leicesters and Watfords and Palaces storm the upper reaches of the Premier League, nobody has dared talk about their ‘philosophy’ for months.
After Vardy struck on December 14, Mourinho mustered one more chat afterwards, grousing that his players had betrayed him. A few days later, he got banged.
Interestingly, this new worldview hasn’t filtered through to UFC yet, as McGregor proved in 13 seconds. But then the English haven’t warmed to the octagon as we have.
The underdog spirit was alive during a magnificent week of surprises at the Ally Pally. These great men of infinite resources, who stay calm in a madhouse, can always find solutions in adversity and this year the defeated Phil Taylor dug deep: “I’m finally getting divorced in February so next year I will come back, push on and see what we can do.”
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