In times of strife, it’s only natural to gravitate towards a scenario with a comforting familiarity. For yours truly at present such situations usually take two forms. Either getting out on the land among the cattle or, where possible, attempting to take in whatever sporting action the opportunity arises to attend.
The intrinsic part sport plays in Irish life and culture is famed the world over. Indeed, perhaps it’s only when the going gets tough that it becomes truly evident. Remember in the 1980s and part of the ‘90s when the economic situation was far from affluent, events like Euro ’88 and Italia ’90 lifted the spirits of the nation.
Tellingly, also, when things were far from peachy, Croke Park was nearly always full for big games. For obvious reasons, maybe people clung to the GAA more than anything. Quite evidently they still do, as clearly evidenced – with the country again going through the wringer – by the vast crowd that congregated in Gaelic Park for the recent New York vs. Mayo game. Not to mention the considerable investment being funnelled into GAA facilities in the Big Apple.
Cast your mind back to the last time economic darkness proliferated. One of the other great sporting accomplishments of that era was Stephen Roche’s victory in Le Tour De France in 1987. Now, hindsight allows for a diversity of opinion on the Taoiseach of the day being there to witness the event. But, if nothing else, it underscored what a significant milestone it was for the country at the time.
Yet, outside of cycling aficionados, it often appears to be one of the least talked about major events. Sadly, scepticism surrounding affairs of the peloton are both understandable and justified after some of the heinous misdeeds done unto it by the shamed Lance Armstrong and others.
Equally regrettably, though, the tendency to tar an entire sport with the one brush still abides. You sense because somebody wants it to. Look for trouble and you’ll usually find it. Even at a time when it appears the popularity of cycling in this country has grown rapidly and continues to do so.
Rest assured, those who chose to start Le Tour here in the late ‘90s and the Giro D’Italia on this island much more recently didn’t do so on a whim. These things don’t just land in a given place without deliberation. Belfast and Dublin stand out as cities with a track record for hosting major sporting events. More importantly, maybe, these occasions are nearly always very well supported.
Still, there were those who went bog snorkling for negativity instead of embracing the good – economic and otherwise – to come from the Giro being here. Unfortunately, there are some venerable media bastions who seem either unprepared to or incapable of dislodging the needle from the old vinyl when it comes to cycling. In spite of that, that the sport has at least attempted to take remedial action to alleviate some of the corrosive damage (partly self) inflicted to its reputation has to be acknowledged. Reparatory work had be led from the highest levels in the sport.
To that end, the appointment of Brian Cookson as head of UCI represented an important realisation that matters needed an injection of freshness and positivity. It should thus have signified the commencement of a new era and therefore allowed for the sport to be seen as starting with a clean slate.
Scepticism is a far easier bandwagon to board, mind you. Even allowing for that, a sense of bewilderment prevailed at prominent media outlets espousing and indeed encouraging the visit of the Giro to be viewed with extreme dubiousness. Inclination is to suggest, however, that a level of hysteria managed to permeate what could and should have been viewed as a great few days for the country.
Instead, there was the unsightly and hardly necessary brouhaha over a youngster taking a ‘selfie’ of himself with a stricken rider. Nobody wants to see anybody get injured – and it probably wasn’t the wisest decision the photographer in this instance made – but gut feeling leads to a pondering that if it was any other sport would there have been such rigmarole?
Almost certainly not. Isn’t the photo of an injured Christy Ring engaging in an exchange with Mick Mackey whilst departing the pitch one of the most iconic images of all time. Most disappointing is that continued attempts to showcase matters in a bad light actually seems to fly in the face of what’s actually happening on the ground.
Cycling’s popularity appears to be in a state of continued burgeon. As exemplified again by the crowds who turned out to see the start of the An Post Ras in Dunboyne recently. Little wonder more are becoming involved in the sport, either, as the careers of the likes of Nicolas Roche, Philip Deignan, Philip Lavery and Dan Martin gain profile and momentum.
If and when these or others add to their already noteworthy achievements, methinks the naysayers won’t be long about changing bandwagons.