14 August 2008

Year of the Podge, Year of the Hat

No, no. This won't do. Firstly, Drogheda United come within a missed sitter of defeating Dynamo Kiev and reaching the third qualifying round of the Champions League (I've read and re-read that last bit and can still barely believe it, for so many reasons). Then, Pádraig Harrington only goes and wins another major. What the hell is he playing at? Is he not aware that not only is he messing with the meticulously mussed-up hair of Irish sporting tradition, but is in danger of dissolving the very fabric of the universe with the faulty, corrosive detergent of high achievement?

There's something altogether unnerving about it. It's not just how he's developed the knack of raising his game when it appears all is against him (rounds three and four: 66, 66). It's not just that he now actively relishes walking the tightrope of the back nine of the final round. It's how much he appears to be in control of his game, how he appears (however temporary or illusory it may prove to be) to have this golf thing sussed.

In the latest edition of the Sunday Tribune's monthly magazine Mad About Sport (crap title, good read), sportswriter and sports psychologist Kieran Shannon discusses a common trap for sportspeople, in which they become too caught up in their final goal to appreciate that it's the process that matters. All you can control is what you do and how you do it. All you can do is get the process down, and que sera sera. Shannon quotes Joe Jacobi, American gold medal-winning canoeist in Barcelona in 1992: "Our coach liked to say, 'The Olympics are like a poker game. You spend time trying to build the perfect hand, then with as much confidence as you have, you throw down the cards and say, "This is what I've got."'"

Harrington, never one to shy from the cerebral element of sport, seems to have mastered this: "I've got to focus on what I'm doing. Tiger focuses on what he does, I focus on what I do. I could win nineteen more majors - if Tiger wins twenty, have I failed?...I understand that I may win or may lose. That's the difference...If I went head-to-head with Tiger and I lost, I'm not going to think I'm any less a player. I understand that you can win or lose at this game. The idea is, put your neck out there, take your chances, take responsibility. Some days it will go, some days it won't."

And he lives for the do-or-die of the majors: "I can't wait for the next major. Seven months away, the Masters. All I want to do is play major golf. I just love the intensity of the last nine holes of a major championship...I like to have that responsibility in the final round."

Harrington is fully confident in his ability and has total control over that which he can control. He is seriously contending to be the greatest player in the world, perhaps one day (it's not impossible - see Nadal, R.) to overtake Eldrick T.

This is just wrong.

Where's the plucky loser gone, Paddy? Where's the snatching of defeat from the jaws of victory? Have you forgotten that it is your solemn duty to give us something to gripe about, something to really sink our bleached little incisors into?

Where's the creative incompetence? Could you not just have, like, accidentally-on-purpose slipped an extra putter into your bag? You could have discovered it halfway through a final round in which you've made a blistering start, nine straight birdies having left you in a nigh-on unassailable lead. We could have seen the shocked, anguished look on your face once you'd discovered your error and realised that the resultant eighteen-shot penalty had rendered your divine golf utterly useless.

But no! You had to go and be all steely and Zen and make the important shots and win another goddamn tournament. There's a delicate balance to the world, Pádraig, and your unremitting brilliance is threatening to throw it all sorts of weird-ass ways. There's a rumour going round our way that a cow has given birth to a foal and a three-headed chicken which took wing and fled into the dark night. I'm not saying you're responsible. But you are.

Thankfully, the Olympics are here, and the discombobulation which accompanied the unadulterated joy of the Harrington triumph has been mercifully offset by some exquisite buffoonery.

The official caps for the Irish swimming team were ruled to be illegal, owing to the fact that the manufacturer's logo was printed on them twice, one more than the permitted amount. Unfortunately, this contravention of IOC regulations was only discovered in Beijing, leaving the Irish swimmers with boxes full of useless equipment and a scramble to find some new hats. One member of the team, Melanie Nocher, had to hurriedly borrow one from her colleague, Andrew Bree, who had a spare.

Unfortunately, it was too big for Nocher's head, which meant that instead of wearing her goggles with the strap on the inside of the hat as usual, she wore them with the strap on the outside, to try and hold the hat on her head more securely. When she dived into the pool at the start of her 200m freestyle heat, the strap moved up the back of her head and water filled the goggles. This forced her to stop in the middle of the race to adjust them, costing her a potential place in the semi-finals.

All of which resulted in much embarrassment and a good old-fashioned round of 'It Wasn't My Fault'. It's just like Irish sport should be.

Some people just don't get it, though. Canoeist Eoin Rheinisch finished in a remarkable fourth place in the K1 slalom, leading coach Déaglán Ó Drisceoil to bemoan the state of facilities for the sport in Ireland. Apparently, Rheinisch has to spend 220 days a year abroad to train and compete. Well listen here, paddle-boy - if it's good enough for our footballers to have to leave the country in order to get anywhere, it's good enough for you, bud.

Honestly. This country.

Flickr photos by GeorgieR and Mike Bartley.


Steve 19/8/08 2:13 PM  

Was it Harrington's right wrist that was injured for the US Open? If so, that explains why he's being cautious, holding that full-size trophy with his other hand.

Water girl and paddle boy didn't quite have it sorted, but have other Irish athletes fared better? I'd hate to think that Padraig used up all the luck that Ireland had coming its way.

Fredorrarci 19/8/08 4:37 PM  

We have two boxers in the semi-finals, so they are guaranteed at least bronze; there's another Irish boxer with a quarter-final to come. It's all ridiculously wonderful. Plus, Paul Hession reached the 200m semis where he finished fifth, which was magnificent, and there have been some other PBs and national records scattered hither and thither, including for Nocher in the 200m backstroke.

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