Pretending we know our Derwael-Fentons from our Voronins; nodding sagely when a commentator says that medley swimmers aren’t huge fans of the breaststroke – did you see the 13-year-old winning the gold in the skateboarding, and has defending completely disappeared from sevens rugby?
Every four years – or five, in this case – we become experts in sports about which we normally know nothing, and there is a pleasing comfort of sorts to it all.
When I were growing up, wall-to-wall sport on television was only becoming a thing and so, because there was less of it, it was more appreciated and there were more shared moments. At the end of June, the local tennis court – idle for the previous 50 weeks – was booked out as Wimbledon fever descended; then it was time for the Tour de France, so we scaled the local hills and pretended they were the Alpe d’Huez; before climbing our imaginary horses and scaling the cushion-based jumps like Eddie Macken around the time of the Dublin Horse Show.
Now, with so much sport on, the traditional big events are just small parts of the never-ending schedule and there aren’t as many water-cooler moments outside of the most popular sports, but the Olympic Games are different and that’s a good thing. Being so used to watching the same events, its can be an eye-opener to witness such other exotic attractions. The first Olympics I can recall is 1992 in Barcelona, becoming rapt with weight-lifting, track cycling and handball (not the GAA one).
That same fascination still exists and, if nothing else, it shows me that the television in the den isn’t stuck on RTÉ Jr, as I had assumed to be the case.
Peppa Pig, Mya Go and Gigglebiz have given way to the early-morning exploits of Mona McSharry, Brendan Irvine and Nhat Nguyen. With all due respect to them and many others on Team Ireland, they wouldn’t be universally known, but they and their sports are given great exposure and the young – and not so young – watching might be inspired. It’s a bit like reading a newspaper – you come across articles that you wouldn’t necessarily have sought out, and you’re all the better for it.
Having so much broadcast time to fill also allows RTÉ to colour in some background on those wearing the green singlet, jersey or wetsuit. Behind each Olympian is a story of perseverance, endurance and often knock-backs but ultimately success – not all of them will win a medal, but getting to the Olympics at all is something only 0.0013% of the human race will achieve.
Stand-out interviews so far have been Emmet Brennan and Brendan Hyland, pulling back the curtain on the vulnerability that we don’t see when finely tuned competitors are in action. Similarly, if the O’Donovan brothers had never won a medal last time out in Rio, they would have been remembered for their entertaining pre- and post-race slots.
Of course, they did come good and showing a bit of personality away from the water didn’t prove to be an impediment to their performance on it. Sadly, too often it seems to be the case when it comes to the GAA that, while managers trust their players to play to their best in front of big crowds, they fear them running their mouths off in the papers or on television prior to that.
Last week, there were two senior provincial football finals (see panel) but the build-up was low-key and it has been a pattern throughout this compacted summer. Fans and pundits alike lament how there aren’t as many ‘characters’ as there used to be, but the reality is that the players themselves are no less interesting and are just rarely given the opportunity to express that.
That’s just an aside, though – we’ve another week or so of events from Tokyo to enjoy. CL
In the interests of full disclosure, it should be pointed out that Sunday Times sportswriter Michael Foley is from Cork, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he was wrong when he tweeted: “Cork-Kerry must be the only rivalry in sport where most neutrals are rooting for the favourite, and absolutely wire into the underdog when their underdog status is proven beyond doubt.”
For 20 minutes or so in Killarney last Sunday, there seemed to be a chance that Cork might show that last November’s win over Kerry wasn’t merely a one-off ambush as they led by five points, but from there Kerry turned things around in devastating fashion and won by 22 points.
Given that a hammering was predicted in most quarters beforehand and Kerry are seen as the likeliest side to stop Dublin making it seven All-Ireland titles in a row, the post-match discussion shouldn’t have amounted to much – nothing to see here, all present and correct – but of course there was time and space to chastise and castigate Cork.
“They were always going to lose, but they shouldn’t lose by that much,” was the consensus, as if a well-oiled Kerry team with a scent for revenge had a stop button that could be easily pressed.
Cork footballers will always be second fiddle to the hurlers, even when their results are better and while you can be cruel and say they can’t win at the moment, even when they win, they can’t win – any successful Cork side that manages to win an All-Ireland will have the ‘should have won more’ tag applied.
There are the usual calls for a change of manager in Cork, as if Ronan McCarthy is the sole thing stopping a team that should otherwise be challenging, but history has shown that that’s no guarantee. And, while it was a poor performance and a poor result, it’s not representative of the overall footballing landscape in the county – in 2019, the minor and U20 All-Irelands were won and they face Offaly in an U20 semi-final this Saturday.
Change will always happen slowly and having a footballing behemoth like Kerry next door means that the Cork progress indicator is always harshly measured. Such is life. They will lick their wounds and try to bounce back – what else is there to do?