Thursday, June 10, 2010

Sporting Disasters and Moral Victories

Sporting disasters; Ireland as a nation, well we don’t really do them. Sure, we have a tendency to fuck up spectacularly when on the verge of victory but we've learned to focus on the positives and have invented that curiosity known as the Moral Victory to console us. This is sort of national doublethink that allows us to feel superiority when utter despair would probably be more appropriate.

As Wilde once said: "In your soul are precious things that can't be taken away from you." I have no idea whether it's relevant or not but it's no harm to stick in an ambiguous quote to try and look well read from time to time and the great Irish aphorist is a good place to start.

Anyway, here are six of the finest Irish sporting disasters of recent years:

1. Saipan 2002

This is surely the most over-analysed event in Irish history so I apologise in advance for giving the dead horse another flogging. The most disturbing thing about the incident was the collective national lunacy that ensued at home with people aligning themselves with either Keane or McCarthy. It was Jesus v Satan or Satan v Jesus, depending on your viewpoint. There was no middle ground. Those of us who retained our sanity and could see that two pig-headed morons had put their own egos ahead of the squad's collective interests were left crying in a corner pulling our hair out in frustration. Still it all ended well with a morally heroic penalty shoot-out defeat against Spain and the absurd but comforting notion that we could’ve won the tournament if Keane had played.

2. Sonia O’Sullivan at the Olympics, 1992-2004

First the disclaimer: Sonia O’Sullivan was a victim of her own success. She produced phases of international dominance that we are unlikely to see in an Irish track and field athlete for a very long time. At the Olympics, however, it seemed to be one heartbreak after another. In 1992 she led around the final bend and finished fourth. Just to rub things in and up the moral victory ante, the silver medallist was convicted of doping the following year. In 1996 she had the infamous eh, tummy issues and in 2000 she was pipped on the line by Romanian Gabriel Czabo. Worst of all was 2004 and the cringe-inducing crowd ovation when she came last in the 5000m final. It was as if the nation had chosen to honour her as another plucky Irish loser rather than the world class athlete she had been.

3. Chris Johnson goes mental, 2005

"Oi!! Paddy!"
Until 2005, the International Rules tests had always been competitive. Not this one however. Australia handed out some serious beatdowns both in the sporting and the literal sense. Captain Chris Johnson summed up their superiority. He was sent-off for almost decapitating Philip Jordan with a clothesline and on his way off the field he laid out two more Irish players with solid right hooks. What followed was national outrage and calls for the series to be disbanded. We got to feel morally superior to the shackle-clad convict thugs, but the truth was we were a tad humiliated at seeing one of them knock out three of our finest athletes.

4. Macedonia 1997 and 1999

Georgi Hristov, Barnsley legend
Volume one of the Macedonia nightmare just seems surreal in hindsight. Jon Goodman, the hideous orange kit and Jason McAteer’s sending off for a flying kick that Lyoto Machida would’ve been proud of. Realistically though, the result didn’t matter that much in the context of World Cup qualification. Romania dominated Group 8 from start to finish and we ended up finishing second regardless. Volume 2 was infinitely worse. We’d done the hard work in a tough group featuring Yugoslavia and Croatia and just needed to beat Macedonia in Skopje to qualify for Euro 2000. A last minute equalising header from Goran Stavrevski meant that we missed out by a single point. This disaster was almost unique as it was completely without a redeeming feature.

5. Cian O’ Connor and the doped up mule, Athens, 2004

Don't get too attached
 This was a disaster alright but only in a Basil Fawlty, slapstick kind of way. O’Connor on his horse, Waterford Crystal, was Ireland’s only medalist at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. When he was stripped of his medal after the horse failed a drug test there was mostly just a collective bout of knowing ironic chuckles. It seemed particularly funny in the light of the Michelle Smith fiasco. The incident also showed that reverse snobbery was alive and well in Ireland. O’Connor was portrayed as a pampered, Porsche-driving aristocrat. It may have meant we were left without a medal from the 2004 games but the rich kid got his comeuppance so once again in disaster we found our happy ending.

6. La main de Thierry

If Thierry Henry wasn't such a dirty frog cheat and scored that disgusting surrender-monkey goal of his, Ireland would be at the World Cup right now. Yes such was our self-righteous indignation about this one that we've felt entitled to adopt the language of the English gutter press. That we still would have had to hold out for another eight minutes and then win a penalty shoot-out widely ignored. And yes a good many of the frothing simpletons that rang the radio phone-ins and joined the Facebook groups could not tell you that it was actually William Gallas that scored the goal. But one thing that needs to be noted is that existence of any "Anybody but France" sentiment is a myth. Our sense of moral superiority rises proportionally with our sense of injustice.  We don't want France to crash and burn. No, we secretly want to indulge ourselves to the greatest extent possible. The only way we can find true closure now is if France win the World Cup, preferably by cheating every step of the way. Vive la France. Vive la Moral Victory.

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