‘Fearghal’ on Sport

 
 

Trapattoni, Harrington and Cody are all under the spotlight in the first instalment of Fearghal Kerin’s tentatively named new column

THE BEGINNING OF a new Observer year heralds the first ever Fearghal On Sport, a forum for me to vent my frustrations, knowledge and witticisms, in a feature likely to be ignored by many just reading the sport to find their name in a match report.

Nonetheless, I’m taking the responsibility seriously; I’d debated the alternative title of ‘Kerin Affairs’, but that might’ve been a tad obscure. And piggybacking on the paragon of sport that was Michael D Clark is difficult enough as it is. Suggestions for slightly more original and clever titles are therefore most welcome!

Given my promotion to the side of page 17, and the expectations that come with such lofty placement, many will be disappointed at what is to come. Given the string of accumulator bets I’ve placed and lost this summer, often in the most obscure circumstances (Newport County’s draw with Lewes last month was sickening), my confidence in my own status as a bastion of sporting knowledge is at its lowest ebb, but we may plough ahead regardless.

Depending on who you’re talking to, Giovanni Trapattoni is either a Messiah, here to guide us to redemption on the high veldt next summer, or a parasite sucking life from our once-swashbuckling national side.

In many ways neither is exactly correct, as the playoff is likely to be the rock upon which the Irish team perishes. There are several good teams bound to finish second in their groups, and though the likes of Croatia haven’t covered themselves in glory in this campaign, it’s hard to imagine Ireland having an answer to their class. The same goes for Serbia, likely to finish behind France in their group, and though Portugal seem odds-on to be eliminated at the group stages, they are yet another of the quality teams that would be heavily favoured to eliminate Ireland.

For whatever reason, there seems to be ignorance amongst the Irish as to the perils of the playoffs. In recent memory, Ireland have been defeated by Belgium and Turkey (the latter game memorable a brawl that would make Millwall v West Ham look tame) and have only advanced past mediocre Iran at the play-off stage. Victory is by no means assured, though thankfully Northern Ireland’s defeat to Slovakia means we won’t suffer the ignominy of being knocked out by our rugged, sexily-accented, over-achieving cousins.

For what it’s worth, I’m not criticising Trapattoni or the Irish players. Not unlike the North, Ireland have a reasonably limited squad and have done well to achieve what they have so far. Criticism of Trapattoni’s tactics and pragmatism confuses and annoys me. Firstly, isn’t victory regardless of the manner in Nicosia in 2009 several times better than the 5-2 mauling at their hands in 2006?

Secondly, Trap has never played flowing, tici-taci football wherever he has managed, so for those who heralded his arrival to jump on his back once they see his work is hypocritical, and exposes the ill-informedness of Dunphy… er, I mean, the critics-at-large.

One of the pleasures this summer has been watching Padraig Harrington complete his battle with his swing demons, and start competing for tournaments once more. At the time of writing, he’s sunk eight consecutive rounds below 70 and though it hasn’t been enough to retain either of his majors – or indeed any event – it has been enough to keep him in FedEx Cup contention.

There are few evenings comparable to a Sunday watching Harrington sink the back nine in full flight, though if he could avoid quintuple bogeys at such stages, it would make those evenings less wasted.

With UCD’s Shane Lowry having a fairytale summer, and Rory McIlroy’s rise to the forefront of the Race to Dubai, it’s been a great summer for Irish golf. Per capita, Ireland must be the best in the world at golf, with Northern Ireland in particular producing an amazingly disproportionate amount of talented players. Long may it continue.

Successful teams are often universally disliked, especially if they are a ruthlessly efficient team that rarely looks like losing. If they dominate a sport for years, they become all the more hateable. Yet there’s something about the Kilkenny hurlers that I find hard to hate: maybe closer observers or opposition players see systematic fouling or intimidation of referees, but I don’t. Instead I see a team that are never rattled, and for whom the greatest threat is not from opposition teams, but from emerging squad members taking their places.

Like all the greats – from Aidan O’Brien in horse racing, across the board – there seems to be a feeling with Kilkenny that they’d rather have the other teams be as strong as possible. Kilkenny natives have often said they take no pleasure in putting five goals past Offaly or Wexford, and it’s this yearning for a higher standard that makes them the team they are – though a sending off and a dodgy penalty do help.

To finish, I want to clarify one issue. I’m not sure if I was one of the members of the press that Brian Cody was thinking of when he said there was a witch-hunt against Tommy Walsh, but if I am, I apologise. Anything to resist being torn apart like poor Marty Morrissey.

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