Soccer proves popular but BOD reigns supreme


IT’S OFFICIAL. Brian O’Driscoll – by a whisker – is deemed Ireland’s current “greatest” sports star; Stephen Cluxton’s last-gasp point to win the All-Ireland football title for Dublin is considered the most “iconic” sporting moment of 2011; and the Republic of Ireland’s qualification for the Euro 2012 finals has been found to be the “greatest achievement” of the past year.

Yet, while a comprehensive new survey has found soccer retains its position as the most popular sport, only Robbie Keane has managed to make it into the top-five (and only barely so!) in the list of greatest current sports stars behind O’Driscoll, Rory McIlroy, Katie Taylor and Ronan O’Gara.

What does it all mean?

Well, the survey – conducted earlier this month amongst a nationally representative sample in the Republic by research agency AskChili, on behalf of Dublin-based Pembroke Communications – provides an intriguing insight into the sporting sentiments of the public, affirming that almost 80 per cent of the adult population have a genuine interest in sport.

Interestingly, while soccer is the most popular sport with 30.9 per cent claiming it to be their favourite sport (with Gaelic Games on 20.9 per cent and rugby on 20.5 per cent) and Ireland’s feat in qualifying for next year’s European Championship finals is rated as the greatest achievement, it would seem that it is the team’s achievement as a whole rather than individuals who have captured our hearts and minds.

Indeed, O’Driscoll is considered Ireland’s greatest current sports star. But only just. BOD got the thumbs-up from 16.7 per cent of those surveyed, just ahead of US Open champion McIlroy who got 16.3 per cent.

Considering the survey was conducted in the 26 counties, McIlroy’s high rating emphasises his wide appeal.

Boxer Taylor placed third (on 13.1 per cent) behind the big two of O’Driscoll and McIlroy, providing further indication of how she has managed to infiltrate the national consciousness. Among sportswomen alone, though, Taylor’s star rises even further – almost 50 per cent of those surveyed, men and women, ranked her as the female athlete most admired in a very competitive field that includes Derval O’Rourke, swimmer Gráinne Murphy and jockey Nina Carberry.

Not surprisingly, given the parochial nature of following a county team, GAA players don’t figure as highly when ranked against those playing international sports. Dublin forward Bernard Brogan, at three per cent, was the top Gaelic footballer in the category headed by O’Driscoll. Kilkenny’s Henry Shefflin was the top hurler with 2.8 per cent.

Although the indigenous nature of Gaelic Games presents a great challenge when put against the international exposure enjoyed by soccer and rugby, Dublin goalkeeper Cluxton’s injury-time point in the All-Ireland final against Kerry was deemed the most iconic sporting moment.

Cluxton’s late free-kick was chosen by 20.3 per cent of those surveyed, ahead of the 17.3 per cent who chose Darren Clarke’s winning putt at the British Open and the 13.7 per cent who selected McIlroy’s final round collapse at the US Masters.

There is also evidence in the survey that sports followers have broad interests.

When asked to nominate a favourite sport, 30.9 per cent put soccer as their number one. However, when asked what sports they were interested in or liked, this number jumped to 56.5 per cent.

Ireland’s successful qualification for Euro 2012 was rated the best achievement by 23.7 per cent, followed by Ireland’s group win over Australia in the Rugby World Cup (13.9 per cent), McIlroy’s US Open win at Congressional (10.2 per cent) and Dublin winning the Sam Maguire (9.4 per cent, which rose to 20 per cent for those living in the capital).

While soccer remains the most popular sport overall, it is interesting to note that Gaelic games (27.9 per cent) are actually the most popular among women – ahead of rugby on 22.9 per cent – which may be attributed to the belief that GAA and rugby attendances are more family orientated.

Still, Giovanni Trapattoni’s men will inspire most expectations going into the new sporting year.

In the survey, 30.7 per cent claimed that the Uefa finals was the most eagerly anticipated sporting event in 2012 with the Olympic Games in London getting 27.3 per cent.

These two major sporting competitions ranked well ahead of everything else, with the Ryder Cup – in Chicago – getting a meagre 3.2 per cent vote.