Drico and Co monopolising the hearts and minds of Irish fans


SPORTS SURVEY MAIN FINDINGS:ARE WE witnessing a dramatic shift in the Irish sporting landscape? The GAA and the FAI have been given some food for thought, some of it unpalatable, with the release of a survey which shows that rugby has taken a firm hold in the psyche of Irish sports fans.

In the survey, conducted by Dublin-based Pembroke Communications, rugby dominated the primary categories, with Brian O’Driscoll rated as “Ireland’s Greatest Sports Star”, Ronan O’Gara’s dropped goal away to Wales in Cardiff deemed the “Most Iconic/Memorable Sporting Moment” of 2009 and Ireland’s Grand Slam success rated by 70.6 per cent of those surveyed as the “Greatest Achievement” of the sporting year.

If it’s hardly surprising that Ireland’s Grand Slam win, especially after such a long gap since it was last achieved, emerged as the highlight of the year for many, but the sheer scale of the vote ahead of everything else confirms how rugby’s popularity has grown in recent years.

Indeed, Kerry’s reclaiming of the Sam Maguire Cup barely registered in the 26-county survey which gathered data from 600 adults aged 21 or over, with a generally even gender balance, 49 per cent male, 51 per cent female. The breakdown of respondents by region was Dublin (45.9%), Leinster (16.5%), Munster (17.9%), Connacht (13.2%) and Ulster (three counties, 6.5%).

For the GAA, especially, some worrying trends are evident. Perhaps what will cause most concern out of the survey for the mandarins in Croke Park is that Gaelic football and hurling appear to play second fiddle to international sports when fans are weighing up the respective merits of the different achievements.

The feat of the Kilkenny hurlers winning a fourth consecutive All-Ireland, for example, trailed in behind the exploits of Ireland’s Six Nations success and Leinster’s win in the Heineken Cup. And no GAA star, in either football or hurling, managed to break into the top-five of the greatest list.

Interestingly, soccer – which was rated as the favourite sport of participants, with a following of 25.4 per cent compared to 23.2 per cent for rugby and 21.8 per cent for Gaelic football – nevertheless failed to make a significant impact in many of the other categories, although Shay Given was ranked fifth in the greatest sports star category behind O’Driscoll: the Lions star received 34.8 per cent, Pádraig Harrington 19.3 per cent, Katie Taylor 9.6 per cent and Paul O’Connell 8.9 per cent.

Taylor, in fact, has become a mainstream personality, with her achievements recognised across the spectrum. The boxer was also a runaway choice of the public for the most admired sportswoman in Ireland, claiming 62.9 per cent of respondents.

The iconic moment of the year came with O’Gara’s last-gasp drop-goal in Cardiff that enabled Ireland to beat Wales to claim the Grand Slam, a kick that resonated with 61.1 per cent of the public. O’Driscoll’s try for Leinster against Munster in the Heineken Cup semi-final and Shane Lowry’s dramatic play-off win in the Irish Open were equal second with a 14.5 per cent share.

In a year of years which saw him lead Ireland to the Grand Slam and be instrumental in Leinster’s Heineken Cup victory, O’Driscoll’s contribution to both wins has put him head and shoulders above all other Irish sportspersons.

And it would seem that the endeavours of O’Driscoll and others – following on the successes of Ireland, Leinster and Munster – has enabled rugby to increase its popularity across all age groups and among both men and women.

The survey was conducted by Pembroke Communications from October 16th to November 2nd.

Most Iconic/Memorable Sporting Moment of 2009

1st (61.1%): Ronan O’Gara’s drop-goal in Cardiff to win the Grand Slam.

=2nd (14.5%): Brian O’Driscoll’s try against Munster in European Cup semi-final; Shane Lowry’s putt to win the Irish Open in a play-off.

3rd (6.9%): Tadgh Kennelly’s jig after Kerry’s All-Ireland football win.

4th (3.1%): Mick Kinane’s win on Sea The Stars in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

Greatest Achievement of 2009

1st (70.6%): Ireland’s Grand Slam win.

2nd (5.9%): Leinster’s European Cup success.

=3rd (5.1%): Kilkenny’s All-Ireland hurling four-in-a-row; Shane Lowry’s Irish Open victory; Ireland emerging unbeaten from World Cup group qualifying.

4th (3.7%): Katie Taylor’s fourth successive European boxing championship.

5th (1.5%): Sea The Stars winning six Group One races.

Ireland’s Greatest Current Sports Star

1st (34.8%): Brian O’Driscoll.

2nd (19.3%: Pádraig Harrington.

3rd (9.6%): Katie Taylor.

4th (8.9%): Paul O’Connell.

5th (6.7%): Shay Given.

6th (5.2%): Henry Shefflin.

=7th (2.2%): Colm Cooper, Tadgh

Kennelly and Joe Canning.

=8th (1.5%): Rory McIlroy and Derval O’Rourke.

=9th (0.7%): Ruby Walsh and Ronan O’Gara.