Sonia O’Sullivan: Resources do not guarantee sporting success

There has always been the issue in sport of funding and the buying of success

Dublin captain Stephen Cluxton lifting the Sam Maguire. For all their apparent advantages, Dublin were just that bit craftier, using all their experience to hang on by their fingertips. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Dublin captain Stephen Cluxton lifting the Sam Maguire. For all their apparent advantages, Dublin were just that bit craftier, using all their experience to hang on by their fingertips. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Even before they lifted the Sam Maguire in Croke Park on Sunday, there was talk of Dublin football domination in a negative tone. I find it a little strange that whenever one team or individual dominates then some people will always look at the negative impact this might have on the sport. It’s great to win, fantastic to defend your title. But keep coming back again and it doesn’t always sit comfortable with everyone.

In the past you were elevated to hero status, could do no wrong. These days if one person or team continues to win then they are often questioned rather than celebrated.

There was an obvious weight of support for the Mayo team throughout the country. In the end the Mayo players and supporters were devastated. The rest of us just walked away and wondered where they went wrong, the result left unchanged once more. Mayo came so close but just couldn’t get far enough ahead or take control of the game to swing the result in their favour.  

These chances don’t come around very often, and they can spend the rest of their lives wondering what might have been

I could certainly feel for the Mayo players. They’re not finished yet, but for some of them Sunday was probably their last chance to win an All-Ireland. It’s a bit like a top athlete who misses out on an Olympic medal after so many near misses. These chances don’t come around very often, and they can spend the rest of their lives wondering what might have been.

Advantages

Then came the analysis and the apparent advantages Dublin have over the rest of the country; the greater pool of footballers to choose from, the greater financial backing, the more professional set-up.

For all these apparent advantages surely Dublin should have won with greater ease and certainty? Instead they were just that bit craftier, making the most of crucial opportunities, using all their experience to hang on by their fingertips.

This sometimes happens in other ways when the aging athlete goes up against someone younger, faster. If they’re that bit craftier they can still win.

Then, as you really start to slow down, you might get introduced to age-graded tables to see how you really compare to those around you.

It’s a fun and motivating tool, and anyone who has run a park-run recently will have noticed you can change the results by clicking the age-grade column: now the leading runner is based on age, with the greatest percentage top of the list.

So it becomes a graded comparison of all runners, taking into account the sprightly young athletes and the ageing runners giving it everything to maintain some speed in the legs.

In school competitions there are sometimes different categories based on the size of the school and number of pupils. This helps to balance out the schools with a greater pool of athletes and the school that is getting nearly every pupil in the school out to compete. It helps put things in perspective, a weighted result.

Smaller counties

But, of course, the big world of elite sport doesn’t work like that. There will only ever be one All-Ireland football title, and I don’t think there should be different awards for smaller counties with fewer resources or longer travel times to training, etc.

It can be one more positive statistic to put things in perspective when comparing teams and the pool of people they are drawn from; a small sense of satisfaction to help lift the gloom and regain motivation, to take a step back and appreciate the performance that sometimes gets lost in the final result.

There has always been the issue of funding and resources, and the buying of success. It has already gone out of control in Premier League and European soccer, and it is now seen in plenty of other sports too, including athletics and cycling.

A picture taken on August 11, 2012 shows Britain’s Mohamed Farah celebrating after winning the men’s 5000m final at the London 2012 Olympic Games in London. Photo: Oliver Morin/Getty Images
Mo Farah: the team around him gives the runner every possible advantage an athlete can have. Photograph: Oliver Morin/Getty Images

You just have to look at Mo Farah and the team around him, giving him every possible advantage an athlete can have. Chris Froome and Team Sky would be in a similar category.

With that also comes the finger-pointing and the whispering: how can they be so good? Has their dominance gone beyond what is humanly possible?

We want to see and feel our athletic heroes as a better version of ourselves, fitter, faster and stronger. Then when they begin to scale heights beyond what seems achievable, the methods are questioned. We begin to lose faith, and don’t really know if all results are credible.

Let down 

Part of the problem is that we’ve been let down before. Lance Armstrong took a lot of people for a ride with his dominance, and then when the truth came out it felt like a lot of trust in sport was lost in that moment.

There are plenty of moments like that in the Netflix documentary Icarus which I watched recently, and came across as a basic manual on how easy it is for athletes to cheat. But still most athletes want to do play fair.

Often it’s not any magic pill or potion but the ability to remain injury-free, not get sick and train consistently

So often it’s not any magic pill or potion but the ability to remain injury-free, not get sick and train consistently; to be able to recover from hard training sessions and back them up, day after day, to be the best athlete you can be. It becomes addictive and you don’t want to let it go.

I had many injuries down through the years, weeks and weeks of no running, ploughing up and down a swimming pool in an aqua-jogging belt, or else in the gym on an old rickety stationary bike.

Eventually I would accept my predicament, a blessing in disguise, realising I’d be more determined and focussed once back on my feet running. Would things have been different if I had more medical back-up, more resources for a quicker return to the track?

Then I look around now and see Irish athletes with constant support at their finger tips, the best facilities at Sport Campus Ireland, everything under one roof. Only I wonder is that what it’s all about, handing over responsibility to others to take decisions for you, the controlled conservative approach.

It may be the healthy option, it may deliver a constant level of performance, but will it ever deliver greatness?

Took risks

Mayo chased that greatness throughout the game on Sunday, took risks, made rash decisions, were brilliant, desperate, then devastated. Many Mayo players will be wondering can they go for one more year.

Not quite an Olympic cycle, but some have been leaving from Croke Park empty-handed since 2012, and in the big scheme of things that’s just two Olympic cycles. Sydney was my third Olympics, and when you break things down the impossible all of a sudden looks like a possibility – and the dream is alive once again.

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