Clark on Sport: The Final Column

 
 

In his final article for The University Observer, Michael Clark hails the accomplishments of the Irish cricket team and Manchester United. (He is not happy that he is forced to do the latter!)

The Irish cricket team have once again shown their mettle and deserve immense credit for booking their place at the 2011 World Cup with the minimum of fuss. After the heroics in the Caribbean two years ago, Irish cricket has not progressed as was hoped but at least another opportunity to put Ireland on the world stage has been secured. The recent qualification tournament has confirmed Ireland as the ‘best of the rest’ and William Porterfield’s men will go into the next tournament with high hopes of defeating Test nations.

The top cricket nations are guilty of the same selfish conduct that is so apparent amongst the top rugby nations. Despite defeating two test nations and tying with another, thereby reaching the last eight of the World Cup, Irish cricket has been left to own devices and no effort has been made to give Ireland exposure and fixtures against the elite of the cricket world. Clearly, the Asian power block that dominates the International Cricket Council (ICC) has no interest in being humiliated by minnows in the future, as Pakistan and Bangladesh were in 2007.

Despite these doubts as to the ICC’s motives, I would still be reluctant to grant Test status to Ireland before the game has reached a critical level of support within the nation as a whole. Bad as Bangladesh and Zimbabwe are, there is no doubt that cricket is a popular national sport within both countries. Irish cricket is still a minority activity, despite the boomlet that followed in the wake of the World Cup.

The appalling weather experienced during the 2007 and 2008 summers literally dampened enthusiasm and we can but hope that the weather gods grant us a better summer this year. Cricket has very little presence in Munster and Connacht while facilities in the vast majority of clubs in Ulster and Leinster leave a lot to be desired. The Irish Cricket Union must get serious and should zealously seek out sponsors and government funding from both sides of the border. Unfortunately, the vagaries of the recession will likely put the development of Irish cricket into cold storage in the short term.

In the meantime, the Twenty20 World Cup in England in June gives Ireland another chance to assert itself on the international stage. Twentyover cricket has been a staple component of the Irish domestic cricketing diet for decades. Here’s hoping that the Irish David uses this experience to slay a few more cricketing Goliaths this summer.

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MY EIGHTH BIRTHDAY will always be extra special as it was on that day that Arsenal beat Liverpool 2-0 at Anfield in the last game of the season to win the old First Division on goals scored. Nearly 20 years later, I feel it is my duty to wax lyrical on the merits of another titanic clash between the two teams. Yes, the stakes in 2009 were nowhere near as massive as 1989, but the gargantuan effort and attacking verve displayed last week should give this four-all draw a special status in English league history.

The purists will of course disagree, but it is generally the case that poor defences make for exciting games. In particular, last Tuesday we saw a team with a slow defence and a strong aerial presence in attack (Liverpool) face a team that is totally incompetent under the high ball with a skilful and pace-y attacking philosophy (Arsenal). I was only able to watch the last 20 minutes live and in those frenetic moments, almost every single attack from both sides looked dangerous.

Arsene Wenger’s decision to leave Arshavin on the bench for the FA Cup Semi-final was exposed as the nonsensical folly it was as the Russian almost defeated Liverpool single-handed. Arsenal now face the unenviable prospect of beating Man. Utd over two legs and then either Barcelona or Chelsea to win a trophy. Poor Liverpool face an even grislier fate.

They have produced their best season in domestic football for nearly a decade yet look likely to lose out on honours. It will be difficult to reproduce this season’s form next year let alone surpass it; they will have to hope that their opponents lose their lustre.

The Premiership race looked ready to explode into life as Spurs took a two-goal lead at Old Trafford last Saturday but United’s barrage of goals in the second half looks to have finally consigned this year’s title to Alex Ferguson’s men. One should never say never but a three-point advantage and a game in hand appear to be an insurmountable lead.

If United do hold on, they will be the first club ever to complete two separate three-in-a-rows, outdoing the achievements of Huddersfield in the twenties, Arsenal in the thirties and Liverpool in the eighties. Much as I hate to write it, the dynasty that Alex Ferguson has created, moulded and sustained now stands as the greatest in English football history.

Such a claim may be controversial; I’m certain that zealous Liverpool fans will cite the Shankley/Paisley/Fagan era as the pinnacle of dominance. Similarly, Arsenal fans will likely claim that had World War Two not engulfed the Earth, the Gunners that dominated the thirties would have gone on to dominate the forties. Such claims have merit but surely fall to the prodigiously long roll of honour outlining the victories and achievements of Manchester United.

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THIS WILL BE THE LAST TIME Clark on Sport appears in the pages of The University Observer. I have finally completed my doctoral studies after ten long and enjoyable years in UCD and I feel that it is now an appropriate time to bring this column to a conclusion. It has been an honour to write for one of Ireland’s best student newspapers.

Back in September 2004, the editor had a page to fill in his first issue. I volunteered to fill it with a review of the Athens Olympics. By Issue three of that year, Clark on Sport had become a regular fixture and has remained so for 58 consecutive issues of The University Observer. Only the elusive and shadowy Talleyrand can claim a longer history.

I hope my readers have enjoyed my opinionated and idiosyncratic musings over the last five years. I would like to thank all the Editors, Deputy Editors and Sports Editors who have continued to indulge me as I continuously produced my articles hours or sometimes days after the prescribed deadline.

As for the future, I will eat, breathe and think about sport as never before. I was very proud to get the opportunity to describe an Irish Grand Slam last month. Unfortunately, some other moments of sporting joy have consistently eluded me.

However, sport allows offers a chance for redemption. With every new season, hope is reborn and a sports lover can dare to dream. When Leinster finally wins the Heineken Cup and when Arsenal win the Champions League, I hope my loyal readers will think of me…

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