As Bernard Dunne loses his world boxing crown, Gavan Reilly contemplates the poetic charm of Irish sporting life
As Bernard Dunne fell to his knees for a third time in the third round of his bout with Thai super bantamweight Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym, and later apologised to the O2 crowd for his disappointing display, spectators throughout Ireland and beyond fell into a bruised and dumbfounded silence.
Only six short months ago, the country had rejoiced as Dunne clinically claimed the WBA title from Ricardo Cordoba, hours after Ireland had claimed a long-overdue Six Nations and grand slam crown, cementing a legendary day for Irish sport.
Such feelings of crestfallen devastation are sadly too regular in the world of Irish sport, but the puzzled and curious anticlimax felt by spectators at Dunne’s defeat is a potent and powerful reminder to all of us of just how intoxicated and fanatical we Irish are about our sports, and about our national heroes.
It’s difficult to think of a country that has produced, for its size, so many world-beaters in such wildly varying fields as Ireland. Nor is it easy to imagine a country so emotionally tied to the outcomes of the sporting field; as emotionally entangled with the successes and failures of its athletic heroes as we are. In other countries, a major success is of course toasted, but rarely made cause for an impromptu national holiday. Not so in Ireland: March 21, 2009 became a mere extension of St Patrick’s Day as Hibernia toasted its champions of rugby and boxing.
Sport has a miraculous and enviable power in the world: it unites across divides of all sorts, overcomes barriers of language and class, and acts as an incomparable leveller in society. In today’s trying times, sports role as mass social escapism is all the more valuable; Dunne’s words of disappointment at his inability to help lift Ireland out of its current emotional rut became all the more laden with genuine pathos as he remembered the family of the late Darren Sutherland.
The lows in sporting life are low indeed, but it is these lows that make the successes that pinch sweeter. Dunne and his legions may feel groggy and disappointed this week, but the emotional troughs that sport brings us are the natural antimatter to the good times. Without evil, there would be no good; without disappointment and the occasional moments of despair, there would be no appreciation of the finer and happier moments of the season.
Dunne is, of course, to be commiserated for his plucky display, but the sporting world will keep turning, and we Irish will continue to be held captive by its emotional charm until another brighter day emerges for the Dublin dynamo.