PUNCHING ABOVE OUR WEIGHT

10 August 2012 No Comments by The Northern Standard

In some respects the current London Olympics has been a sobering experience for us on this side of the water.
Our British neighbours have seen the joy of hosting the great sporting spectacle further enhanced by a prodigious tally of medals – releasing a surge of feel-good factor that already has normally sober commentators speculating about the potentialities of the “post-Olympic Britain”.
We in Ireland, however, have had the finiteness of our capacities brought home to us by our failure to hit the medal mark in a series of disciplines, including some, such as athletics, where in the past we too have been able to bask in the glorious glint of gold, silver or bronze.
Inside the boxing ring, however, we are still a force to be reckoned with.
The achievements of Katie Taylor, John Joe Nevin and Michael Conlan in guaranteeing themselves at least a bronze have allowed Irish people to channel their own patriotic feelings into the consumption of the Olympic experience and assured us of meaningful interest when the event approaches its climax in the coming days.
Our boxers have also helped reinforce the positive image of a sport that wages its own eternal bout against disrepute.
Boxing has always had its detractors: the ethical arguments against it have many passionate advocates, and there are dimensions of boxing in its professional manifestation that continue to tarnish its image and sadden the hearts of even its most ardent enthuasiasts.
But in the amateur arena the sport continues to flourish as a channel for the energies of the young and a teacher of proper physical development, as well as a maturing influence on character and discipline.
Ireland has a proud tradition here, and the team of boxers we dispatched to the London Olympics, and those who prepared and coached them, have all perpetuated that tradition with distinction even if some have not attained the medals podium.
While it is the fighters themselves who command the main spotlight, those who man the structures in place in this country for the identification of emerging boxing talent and its development to Olympic standards are also worthy of commendation – and perhaps emulation by other sporting disciplines that appear to have fallen behind the heightened standards now prevailing.
Support mechanisms are vital to success in all modern competitive sport – but ultimately it is the exponents themselves who play the determining part in a healthy future by setting examples that inspire a new generation towards emulation.
In this respect there is perhaps no better role model in Irish sport at present than our four-time world champion Katie Taylor.
The Bray woman has done much to legitimise women’s boxing – not until relatively recently did her discipline escape the image of a novelty and somewhat objectionable sideshow to the male sport.
We can be proud of Katie Taylor and our other Irish boxers for another reason: they embody the amateur ideal the Olympics in its modern form was founded to celebrate, but which has in many respects become sacrificed.
To complain that many aspects of the Olympic Games have been taken over by professionalism and its attendant cynicism and victory at all costs attitudes is noble but naïve.
‘It is not the winning but the taking part’ may remain the Olympic credo, but commercial imperatives have long ensured that it is more a preached than a lived gospel – although its spirit can still be glimpsed in odd moments, sometimes seen in no more than the corner of the television camera’s eye, when an individual performer achieves the summit of their own personal Everest, or, like Irish triathlete Aileen Morrison, summons extraordinary fortitude in adversity to complete an event.
Not the least of the achievements of our Irish boxers to date has been to carry some of that authentic Olympic spirit into the ring with them – and emerge triumphant.
Whatever the shade of glister that shines from the medals they bring home from London, our fighters have done the country proud and given us cause for celebration at a time when the national spirits require the tonic of knowing that we can still punch well above our weight on the world stage.

BRAVO, ‘BLAYNEY SHOW!
Great praise is due to the organising committee of the Castleblayney Agricultural Show who ensured that the show did indeed go on last Bank Holiday Monday despite the extremely adverse circumstances that assailed the staging of this year’s event.
Although the inclement weather that prevailed in the weeks prior to it dictated a truncated programme, the show showed innovation and determination in putting on a showcase sufficient to draw large crowds to the Mid-Monaghan town and ensure a significant commercial spin-off for the area.
The show tradition in Castleblayney, and in Tydavnet in Mid-Monaghan, is of proud longevity, and has not diminished in stature or relevance as agriculture has undergone profound changes in recent decades.
Arguably, the shows have taken on accentuated importance as communicators of the high standards of farming expertise that prevail in this region.
They have also come to play a key role in highlighting areas of potential innovation and diversification by which agricultural incomes can be secured and improved in what has become a much changed and highly competitive environment.
Just as our farming community have learned to ride the tides of that change, and to negotiate the not always kindly whims of its meteorological mistress, so have our show societies kept their programmes relevant, and summoned admirable fortitude to keep going when the elements turn against them.
Bravo, ‘Blayney Show!

CON HOULIHAN
We pay our own humble tribute in this week’s sports pages to the great man of journalistic letters Con Houlihan, who passed away at the weekend.
Con was unique – both in his character, and in his writing style which brought delight to countless followers of Gaelic games and other sports for whom his long running Evening Press column was essential reading.
The demise of the Press group in 1995 was one of the great tragedies of Irish journalism – but Con, though not unscathed by the experience, came through to continue to purvey his highly individual take on sport through the medium of other national publications.
He became a legend long before he succumbed to illness at the age of 86 – and has bequeathed a voluminous legacy of writing, on literary, artistic, travel and autobiographical topics as well as all matters sporting, which hopefully in the near future will be properly collated and anthologised.
Such an exercise would surely secure him an elevated place not just in the pantheon of Irish journalism, but of Irish literature as well.
It would also enable his many devotees, and generations yet to discover his trove of magical phrasing and acute insight, to continue to adhere lovingly to his frequently imparted instruction – And now read on…

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