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30 March 2014 Edition

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Springtime means showtime

Between the Posts

Slippery slopes and farewells in France

AN EARTHQUAKE which started in Derry was being felt in Dublin over the St Patrick’s Day weekend. Fortunately, the seismic event was man-made.

Manager Brian McIver and his Oakleaf team gave an impassioned exhibition in Gaelic football to the home crowd in Celtic Park. In the process, the Derrymen taught the All-Ireland champions a lesson in Round 5 of the National Football League. It also helped to silence those sporting pundits who still pretend Ireland comprises 26 counties.

However, it wasn’t all bad news for the boys in blue on St Patrick’s weekend.

Their cousins with the camán took on the mighty hurlers of Kilkenny. It was a rematch of the showdown which between the Dubs and the Cats last year which was one of the highlights of the 2013 championship. On this occasion, Kilkenny stepped onto the field as Division One leaders while Dublin are struggling against relegation. And with backs to the wall, the Dubs finally triumphed in a tough, unrelenting contest. It also reaffirmed that hurling in Áth Cliath is in top flight.

It wasn’t only Kilkenny who found themselves on a slippery slope.

The winter Olympics and Paralympics ended with a young woman from the North of Ireland winning a gold medal. Kelly Gallagher may not yet be a household name but this woman, whose parents hail from Donegal, is a partially-blind downhill skier. The significance of her achievement is not reflected in anyway by the media coverage of the event. Instead, underlying inequalities concerning the role of women and Paralympians in the sporting life of our country were reinforced once more by media disinterest. But for a partially-blind woman from Ireland to attain an Olympic gold medal by skiing downhill at speeds of up to 100km is truly historic.

Someone else who felt the hand of history on his shoulder was Brian O’Driscoll. The Irish rugby legend enjoyed the perfect send-off from the international game as Ireland won the 6 Nations Championship tournament in a bustling, bruising battle against France. Hailed by many as the greatest-ever Irish rugby player, O’Driscoll was name-checked by American President Barack Obama in his St Patrick’s Day news conference. The current Ireland coach, Joe Schmidt, could not speak highly enough of his number 13: “He is the Prince and deserves what he has earned.”

After the finale in Paris, O’Driscoll told the media scrum gathered to hear him: “The emotions are starting to kick in now. It feels great to be a two-time 6 Nations winner.”

However, there was also a hint that O’Driscoll knew it could all have turned out very differently: “Not many players get to finish their career on their own terms.” This is very true.

The reality for many young sportspeople is that the onset of injury or other life events may inhibit their development and potential for a career. In a matter of seconds, their involvement in sport can be brought to a sudden and sometimes crippling end. The ramifications can reach far into other parts of the life of a sportsperson.

There are risks in sport which few talk about or foresee. In the course of his career, O’Driscoll has surely glimpsed some of these in the lives of teammates or friends.

Players are told to take their chances. This emphasis on chance is important. High-performing sports people grow aware of the complex interaction of circumstance and surroundings, of preparation and performance. They come to understand that the next match, the next race, the next round could be their last. They learn (or at least the best ones do) that the tighter you hold on the more quickly you lose control and miss the moment.

In many ways, sport is like a metaphor for life. Sport is a journey towards an end, but the end in itself is really the journey. Spring 2014 marks an end to this stage of the journey for Brian O’Driscoll. For others, the journey has just begun.

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