Two seconds from heartache – when sport hurts

The match was level at 2-2, with two seconds left to play and a goal is conceded. One team is not going to compete at the greatest show of all, the Olympics Games in London.

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On most other weekends the exploits of the Ireland Men’s hockey team would have caused emotional turmoil and devastation because of the injustice of the way they lost in the final of the Olympic qualifier, shattering dreams of playing at the highest level of sport on offer.

What happened to Fabrice Muamba puts things into perspective. The 23-year-old footballer collapsed on the field during a game after suffering a cardiac arrest. He remains in a critical condition in the London Heart Hospital.

Flag of the field hockey team of Ireland (Four...

Although this is true it would be unfair to dismiss the exploits of the men in green who put every ounce of energy, passion and drive they had into achieving success for themselves and the people who helped get them there. This includes the thousands of wayward, jotter wearing enthusiastic wannabes who line out for their club sixth elevens on a cold, drippy Saturday afternoon from Raphoe to Rochestown.

These boys didn’t just turn up in Dublin on Sunday and give it a go. They have put in hours of training, travelling and analyzing to contribute in the most effective way they possibly could. They missed family events, nights outs and watching their own club mates create and break records for the number of swings and misses in front of goal (or equivalent legendary horlicks around the country). They deserve recognition for the effort they put in.

Bill Shankly wasn’t often wrong but we were reminded this weekend that sport isn’t a matter of life and death. The heartache the boys in green will be feeling today is testament to the dedication and talent they possess. On paper they weren’t supposed to beat Korea who are ranked ten places above them in the FIH world rankings but the calculations gone into creating this hierarchy don’t account for the blood, sweat and tears given by every member of the Ireland squad. With two seconds left on the clock, it was a cruel way to lose but any result other than winning would have felt just as tragic. Sportsmen and women want to finish on top and although the result wasn’t what Ireland wanted they did themselves proud, their peers are looking up at them and they live to fight another day.

Has Olympic patriotism sidetracked the FA’s appointment of a new manager?

Every country would want their national sport teams to be coached by someone from home, they would also want all the best athletes and players in the world to be from their own country but this doesn’t happen. The best exponents of a game/sport are found in all four corners of the world. It’s true that some countries tend to breed a class that is better suited to certain disciplines than others – Kenyans in distance running, Cubans in boxing and English in dwarf throwing contests, but, concentrating on these isles for now, Great Britain and Northern Ireland is too small to have homespun world beaters in all the sports we want. The mission should then be to find the best person for the job, wherever they hail from.

Association crest

The Football Association’s insistence on hiring an English manager to take control of the football team was a panic reaction to an immature act on their behalf of extending the contract of Fabio Capello before the World Cup in 2010. They forked out big dough for a man who hadn’t proved himself in the role, so to deflect blame away from the organization they concluded that this case came about because Capello had the wrong type of passport.

Although the media have savagely stuck to this point of nationality the FA have been name dropping foreign coaches with impressive pedigree that have been added to their long list (or is it short list?) of possible men to approach in the future but we aren’t rushing it, we want to consider our options, there is no hurry timeframe they are dealing in. Is this

Louise Redknapp interviews her father-in-law H...

Redknapp to oversee England on the pitch?

because the candidate seemingly preferred by everyman and his British bulldog, Harry Redknapp has been offered an improved contract in his existing job? It might finally be dawning on the FA that they have taken so much time to decide on the decisions they are decisively taking that Spurs won’t hang on any longer (and who can blame them?) and have put words into actions by attempting to keep ‘Arry at White Hart Lane. From the moment Capello resigned the public have been waiting for the press conference to remove the transparent veil over Redknapp’s head and officially welcome him to Wembley way.  But what if he turns them down and choses to stay in club management, live in Dorset, walk his dogs on the beach and win the Champions league instead? Which well-worn quasi pensioner who speaks a colloquial version of the Queen’s English would step into the spotlight then? Of the twenty clubs in the Premier League this season, foreign managers head five. How many of the fifteen others have credentials lofty enough to coach the sixth ranked team in the world (reads somewhat more flattering than it appears in the flesh) who’s greatest achievement in the last decade has been a quarter final appearance in the 2002 world cup where they lost to eventual winners Brazil, (that and Peter Crouch’s goal scoring record)?

Back to the point – the best man should get the job so why limit the possibilities? England has some great coaches, the majority of which are included in 15 currently employed by PL clubs; that is why they have those jobs. The patriotic aura unavoidably escaping from all things Olympic is penetrating into other sports. Football is included in the Games, but not football as we know it. The Olympic version of the sport is generally overshadowed by the dozens of other games that wholeheartedly consider the competition to be the pinnacle rather than a useful exercise for the younger generation. On the drawing board at FA HQ should be names such as Bento, Scolari, Sabella or Laudrup, failing that, apparently Glenn Hoddle is available.

And I haven’t even got started on Lancaster, the RFU, or plastic Brits…..

London prepared?

London was awarded the Olympics in 2007, since then there has been a steady stream of information, relevant or not, interesting or not released about the various aspects of the Games. When the leaning clock of Westminster chimed midnight to ring in this new year, the 2012 floodgates opened. The Olympic marketing machine must be on performance enhancing steroids such is the intensity of the information produced on every detail of the event. Well not every detail; as we know LOCOG is a private company and doesn’t have to reveal how it runs its operation particularly when ticket distribution is questioned. The ‘no publicity is bad publicity’ adage doesn’t apply when skeptical MPs and taxpayers catch the smell of blood in their nostrils.

Half a decade after the confirmation the greatest sporting show in world was coming to my backdoor, I finally go into the Olympic park. Having looked at the giant triangular white fittings of the still unnamed stadium from far and near this week I got to cross the boundary line and cross into an actual Olympic venue. The oversaturation of insignificant minutiae concerning how fabulously the London has risen an Olympic spectacular from the ashes of the East threatens to overshadow the actual Games itself. I went to the diving World Cup held at the Aquatics centre as part of the London Prepares series, one of the test events for this venue, determined to take it all in. I wanted to assess the experience like a rad-taped obsessed clinical pen pusher as well as a sports fanatic desperate for a stat attack.

The London Aquatics Centre during its unveilin...

London Aquatics centre will host the diving competitions during the Olympics

The World Cup passed both rigorous examinations. Compared to the numbers attending the real Olympic competition, the amount of people around the park was small but getting to the venue, through security and seated was a breeze. The queues weren’t long and the bag check was painless. The stewards could do with some extra briefing though. Everyone I spoke to was pleasant and smiling but their knowledge seemed to be restricted to their role on the one spot they were instructed to go to and stay put on. When I asked one man which venue was next to the Aquatics centre (which men were casually walking on the roof of) he took a wild stab in the dark and plucked a sport from his brain which when it came out of his mouth he seemed uncertain if it was even a sport let alone a plausible answer to my question. Not a disaster by any means but the query was a mere starter for ten, and the staff, and/or volunteers will need to be ready for many more peculiar inquiries than that.

Sports wise the event went without a glitch aside from the final dive of one of the British athletes. If organisers thought this would go according to script they are in for a rude awakening!