Tag Archives: Ireland

Please release me, set me free!

The All-Ireland club championships are a joy to behold. I heard yesterday that Ballysaggart have 45 paid-up members. For them to find themselves in the field of dreams that is  Croke Park is the stuff of, well, dreams, and while it almost had a nightmarish end as they had to conjure up a late goal to avoid being left with thoughts of what might have been having let a nine-point half-time lead slip, they did themselves and the county proud with a tale of Hans Christian Anderson proportions. And it might have a happy ending yet…

Not for me though. I’m not from Ballysaggart. I’ve never been to Ballysaggart. I’ve could kinda give you directions – there’s a sign post on the road from Lismore to Ballyduff, just as you pass the golf club – but that’s the limit of my acquaintance with the place. Despite this, I was a nervous wreck following the game on Twitter and WLR. Quite apart from the pleasure to be had in seeing a Waterford team, any Waterford team, winning an All-Ireland title, I had followed their progress ever since they had tidily dispatched Tramore in the county final and want to see it through to the end.

That’s the explanation for why I was so concerned for Ballysaggart’s fate. It doesn’t make it any less deranged though. Economists like to assume that consumers make rational choices, i.e. they’ll choose the option that gives them the most satisfaction at the least expense. Following a sports team from home costs you nothing but it can still exact a ridiculous mental toll. In all the years I’ve followed Waterford, there have been only two occasions where the final game of the season ended in glory – the Under-21’s in 1992 and the Minors last year. Every other time you’d end up deflated as they came up short, no matter how well things had gone up until then. That’s the fate of almost every supporter as only a handful of teams can end the season on such a high, which makes following a team completely irrational. If it were a narcotic, government would be expected to regulate it to the point of quasi-illegality.

At least following GAA teams involves relatively concentrated highs and lows. The feeling is nothing compared to the sustained misery that is following a soccer team. Take the case of my addiction to Liverpool. Twelve days ago we – let’s just accept the collective pronoun applies in my case and leave questions of whether an Irishman can ever truly say ‘we’ when it comes to an English team to another day – experienced a spectacular high as the Reds walloped Everton in the Merseyside derby – I prefer the more accurate term ‘Liverpool derby’ but it’s an argument best left to another day. The high lasted all of five days as Liverpool stumbled badly against West Brom. Wind on six more days to yesterday and this time Liverpool were puttin’ on the Ritz against Arsenal, four goals to the good after just twenty minutes. It was great, but already the euphoria is tempered by the knowledge that there is another away games against another team in the relegation zone coming up against Fulham on Wednesday night. Should Liverpool screw up there, it’ll feel as if the mauling of Arsenal had never happened. It’s just not right to be leaving your sense of happiness open to something as capricious.

In case anyone insists on questioning the whole ‘we’ business, it’s very easy to transfer the feeling across to Waterford United. Just over three years ago, as I started out following the Blues in earnest, they pulled off a spectacular come-from-behind win over Shelbourne to secure a home tie in the playoffs. People who were there spoke of an atmosphere in the away end that would put the Kop or a terrace at a Munster final to shame. That’s lovely, except three nights later the Blues were  beaten by Monaghan United. It was shattering, and the sense of ‘we’ being for real can only make it feel worse.

I genuinely think I would be happier if I could be rid of this turbulent way of life, and while I’m too long in the tooth to change tack I wonder whether to inflict such neuroses on my son. In the midst of the ecstasy and the agony yesterday lay the Irish rugby team. I think I’ve gotten the balance right with them. I was delighted to see Chris Henry and co barrel over the line aganst the Taffs, but when they came agonisingly short against New Zealand recently, the sense of dismay faded with the hour. And the thought that the most balanced relationship is with the ruggers buggers is the most depressing one of the lot.

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Luck of the Déise

The reason rugby is my second-favourite sport to watch is the sheer intensity of a big match. There’s no hiding place on a rugby pitch, and the manner in which Wales and Ireland collided yesterday would take your breath away.

The match demonstrated just how much sport turns on luck. Daniel Finkelstein does a column for The Times called ‘The Fink Tank’ where some statistics eggheads calculate probability of an outcome in English soccer by seeing what would happen if the match(es) were played millions of times. It’s an idea that really appeals because of my repeated declarations that for minnows to succeed they have got to have one of those days where everything goes right, that one time in a million that you are going to win coming to fruition in reality rather than in a database.

One of Finkelstein’s main themes is that there are not enough matches played in the English Premier League for the eventual winners to be definitively declared the best. Six pointers like matches between Chelsea and Manchester United have a disproportionate weight. And in turn, crazy bounces or borderline refereeing decisions can be decisive.

So it was with Ireland yesterday. Having leapt into a dramatic lead at the start of the second half, the Irish team slowly crumbled under the weight of what they might achieve. The iron discipline they had shown in the first four hundred minutes of the 2009 Six Nations fell apart, and Wales clawed their way back into the lead on the back of some truly farcical penalties, not just the ones that ended up in points but in gifting the ball back to the Taffs when they were under pressure.

Then their luck changed. Stephen Jones, metronomic with his penalties all day, kicked the ball out of play on the full. Can you imagine if Ronan O’Gara had done that? The cries of ‘choker!’ would have been deafening. Yet here was a twice Grand Slam winner committing the most bone-headed error imaginable. It can’t be labelled a choke from someone who has been-there-done-that, so what do you call it?

It was an event. Fate. Stuff happens. Luck. Luck that had deserted Ireland spectacularly in recent times. The most notable occasion was in 2007. A few bizarre applications of the advantage law and a late fumble cost Ireland dear against France. Then Ireland had to wallop Italy to be sure of winning the title. But not knowing how many points were needed as France were playing Scotland much later in the day, they engaged in some kamikaze attacks to eke out one more try and ended up conceding one at the death. Duly France got the points they needed with the last move of the match against the Jocks, in itself a controversial award of a try. A fair minded observer would have said that Ireland were just plum unlucky, but it’s more entertaining in these days where everything is a mind game to put it down to some character flaw. Yes, pressure does make people crack, but a simple twist the other way could have given Ireland the Grand Slam in 2007 and no one would be labelling them chokers. It happened to them yesterday, and that penalty count suddenly seems like everything being under control.

There are lessons for Waterford here (sez he, lamely trying to link a straightforward rugby commentary with a hurling blog). We have been unlucky in recent times. No one can say that we’ve been worse than Cork over the last decade, routinely locking horns with them as equals. Yet their players have got the Celtic crosses and we don’t. We’ve had lucky days too though, like squeezing past a probably superior Tipperary team last year or any number of  ridiculously close wins you could care to recall. We’re going to need to be lucky to win the All-Ireland. The only thing we can do is make sure we’re there when our number comes up.