SAILING: DEFENDING TITLE-holders Ireland were thrown a lifeline of sorts earlier this week as Hong Kong was tipped as favourites for next July's Commodores' Cup in Cowes following an announcement at the Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC) in London.
A strong challenge is once again expected, with ex-pat Jamie McWilliam leading the charge to take the trophy for this top amateur event.
Earning the prediction brought a smile to the face of 2010 winning team captain Anthony O’Leary: for too long, Ireland were the pre-event favourites for this event and despite sailing well found winning form over-turned in the closing stages of the week-long biennial series.
The old adage of offending an Irishman by paying him a compliment was generally regarded as the kiss of death for hopes of a victory until last summer’s herculean effort by the mostly Royal Cork Yacht Club sailors competing under the Irish Cruiser Racing Association (ICRA) banner.
But times have changed, utterly so, and questions flowed at St James’s Place regarding Ireland’s economic woes and whether even a token defence can be mounted.
On the other hand, Hong Kong are faring relatively well and Mandrake, the former Irish Tiamat, looks set to return to Cowes, while McWilliam is a partner in a new Jason Ker 40-footer. Plenty of competitive options are available to complete the three-boat line up.
France, meanwhile, are looking to at least three squads to challenge for a third win, according to the man from UNCL, the French offshore racing association.
There are plenty of changes in store for the event. For a start, Rolex has ended its long-running sponsorship of the event and has been replaced by Brewin Dolphin, the private investment management company who previously sponsored the Scottish Series.
The RORC organisers have also opened up the rating bands for the series to make easier combinations of boat sizes to compete with combined fleet starts the norm for every race.
Ireland face an uphill struggle to mount a credible defence, though O’Leary’s Antix is certain to be a key part of a 2012 team. Completing the three boat line-up was part of a call to interested parties last week by the ICRA leadership, but little can be done to shed the pre-event billing of under-dogs, which suits Ireland just fine.
Meanwhile, a gauntlet of another sailing kind was also thrown down earlier this week at the media briefing for the aquatic sports lining-up for the London Olympics. Irish Sailing Association performance manager James O’Callaghan re-stated the ambition to achieve a medal result.
Two boats are capable of this: Peter O’Leary with David Burrows in the Star and Annalise Murphy in the Laser Radial. O’Callaghan also aims to have the 49er skiff duo of Matt McGovern and Ryan Seaton achieve a top 20.
All three boats must first qualify at the ISAF Sailing World Championships in Perth in December, where podium places will be a secondary priority to earning a place in next summer’s main event.
Next week the ISA will also announce the line-up of competitors, drawn from classes and the Pathway programme, for the Junior and Girls All Ireland Championships to be sailed in Firefly dinghies at the Royal St George Yacht Club on October 29th and 30th.