No more glorious defeats
This weekend marked a milestone in Irish sport. We had three major sporting successes without an open top bus or an opportunist politician in sight. The successes of Mark Carroll, Darren Clarke and Ken Doherty would, if taken in isolation, be cause enough for celebrations, but all three in one weekend would previously have been greeted with unbridled hoop-la and gushing tributes.
In my opinion, this is indicative of a greater sense of self-confidence among Irish people with regard to achievement on the international stage. I'm not for one minute suggesting that these great sporting achievements should not be appreciated, for I would be the first to congratulate any Irish sportsperson who achieved in their field. My point is that previously, anything vaguely resembling a win was treated as a great result for the plucky underdog, like we had no right to be even competing at that level in the first place.
This type of attitude reached its nadir with the return of the Irish Soccer Team after the World Cup in 1994. The cringe-inducing welcome home party in the Phoenix Park seemed to be the final nail in the coffin of the `celebrate for the sake of it' and `sure isn't it great that were all Irish' mentality. After the breakthrough in 1988 and the subsequent dizzy heights of Italia `90, we could reasonably expect that team of players to compete with, if not the best in the world, certainly a fair percentage of them. Our performances in USA 1994, with the exception of the historic win over Italy, were quite disappointing. Yet people were once again invited to spontaneously combust when the team arrived onto the podium in the Phoenix Park. The lack of enthusiasm among the players for this spectacle was clearly visible, for they, as professional sportsmen, were obviously quite well aware of their own underachievement.
The events of this weekend had no such hollow ring to them. Darren Clarke had beaten the world's best golfer, Tiger Woods, over 36 holes to claim the World Matchplay title, Mark Carroll beat a class European field to take Gold in the 3000 and Ken Doherty put the disappointment of missing out on his 147 break last week to beat the provisional World Number 1, Stephen Lee in Malta. These were `real' world-beating performances by people competing professionally at that level. They stand or fall on their results and need not resort to hiding any underachievement in a jingoistic spectacle of backslapping and denial.
The difference of this week is a welcome change. It is a statement of our own maturing attitude towards our professional sportspeople. It's great that we have people who can match anyone in his or her chosen discipline. It causes great interest when one of our own is doing well against the world's best and everyone with an interest in sport should be delighted with the weekend's excellent performances, but we don't have to lose the plot. The years of revelling in glorious failures said more about our poor opinions of ourselves than the performances of our national sportspeople. The acceptance of defeats so graciously and gratefully was a reflection of our stunted aspirations of nationhood. I'm not arguing for a shift in the national psyche towards a more Teutonic bent, but the false humility is thankfully no longer as prevalent. We should support our sporting representatives, we should revel in their successes and feel their losses, but in a realistic manner. The overplayed celebrations of failure cheapened the real successes we had, Let's keep the open-top buses for when they're really needed.
BY PADDY SWAINE