It’s time for new guard to step up and be counted in European Team Championships
If Ireland can’t compete at this second-tier level in Europe then God knows what chance we’ll have come Rio
Brian Gregan (238) will be competing at the European Team Championships in Santry.
Not many people are still willing to quote Chariots of Fire as one of their favourite films. But only yesterday an old neighbour came by raving madly about it, and the sad thing is these are the sort of antique DVDs you end up watching again when you’re living in a low valley deep within the Wicklow mountains, miles from the nearest TV signal.
That’s not saying Chariots of Fire doesn’t have its moments. It’s wonderfully corny in parts, with more dramatic licence than Cecil B DeMille could ever have dared, and there is that still strangely moving theme tune by Vangelis, which won him an Academy Award that year, in 1981.
Most of the acting is touchingly done too: just think of Eric Liddell and the lads running barefoot along the beach at St Andrews, in slow motion, naturally. Some of the best scenes are also more perceptively compelling than given credit for.
The Lord Andrew “Lindsay” character, the most utterly fictional of the lot, is exuberantly performed by Nigel Havers, especially when setting up the Great Court Run at Cambridge against Harold Abrahams, and in that classic training session on his estate, the hurdles lined up, a glass full of champagne placed on each one, him clearing them all, although not without spilling a drop.
Later, when they all make it to the 1924 Olympics in Paris, Lord Lindsay, still gleeful about the whole thing, is loyally cheered on as he lines up for the 400 metres hurdles, after which he turns away to face his fellow combatants, and the daunting, open track ahead of him.
We all remember what happens next, but that scene brilliantly encapsulates the essence of any sporting occasion: behind all the talk and the hoopla and all the good luck stuff comes the lonesome realisation that you’re the one who has to run the race, and the sometimes crippling responsibility that comes with it.
In many ways it perfectly encapsulates the essence of the sporting occasion that will unfold in Santry this weekend, at the lowly yet tenaciously publicised European Team Championships: this event was never going to be an easy sell, not when the format requires some detailed explanation, and even more so when the breaking news all week has been about our best Irish athletes withdrawing.
If, for argument sake, someone asked me for a random list of 20 of our best athletes over the last few years then it might include, in no particular order, Paul Hession, Derval O’Rourke, David Gillick, Joanne Cuddihy, Deirdre Ryan, Fionnuala Britton, Mark English, Ciarán O Laniard, Paul Robinson, Thomas Chamney, Alistair Cragg, Mary Cullen, Thomas Barr, Conor McCullough, Rob Heffernan, Olive Loughnane, Ailis McSweeney, Ciara Mageean, Róisín McGettigan, and David Campbell.
That is a slightly biased list, however, based on the fact that none of them will be competing in Santry this weekend. I won’t bore you with all the details as to why not (there are no walks, unfortunately, injuries will always happen, and a chest infection is apparently infectious), but what it does mean is it’s now up to the 50 best of the rest if Ireland are to avoid relegation from the First League, against the competition from 11 of the second strongest and deeply traditional athletic nations in Europe; (and again in no particular order) Belgium, Bulgaria, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, and Switzerland.