Thursday, 14 August 2008

Harrington's Status in Irish Sport

I was disappointed to read that some of the Harrington family do not think Padraig gets the recognition he deserves in Ireland for his magnificent achievements on the golf course. We here at Golf Predictor think that Padraig has always been a fantastic ambassador for his country, even long before the last 13 months, which have catapulted him up to superstar status. As a person, he has always been a credit to his family and his country and his work ethic is a shining example to youngsters everywhere.

However, Ireland has traditionally been a nation of begrudgers, where successful people tend to be knocked rather than admired. This is an unsavoury part of the Irish psyche, but I have to say that I have not personally detected this in relation to Padraig. Everyone I have come into contact with is absolutely delighted and extremely proud that one of our own has really put us on the map. In addition, all the media and the top public figures have been effusive in their praise and I'm sure Harrington will be a runaway winner of all the major sports awards come the end of the year.

While he is the undoubtedly our most successful golfer ever (Only Fred Daly at the 1947 British Open ever won a major before), there has been a lot of discussion in the Irish media in the last few weeks (especially this week!) about where Padraig stands in the pantheon of Irish sports stars. In individual sport, Padraig must be our best ever in my opinion. To win 3 majors in a global sport against the cream of world golf and in such style (the last 2 anyway!) puts him on a different level altogether. I know, I know, Tiger wasn't there for the last 2, but I'm not sure it would have made much difference, particularly in the British Open. After all, Woods loses more majors than he wins and Padraig is the only man to have played with him at least 5 times and outscore him.

Other candidates for the mantle of greatest Irish sports star ever include Sean Kelly and Stephen Roche (cycling), Michelle De Brun (swimming) and Sonia O'Sullivan (athletics). No one was a bigger fan of Kelly (an absolute savage on 2 wheels!) during the golden age of Irish cycling than me. A formidable sprinter (who spoke multiple languages with the same Waterford accent!), he was world number one for 6 years, won classics for fun, a Tour of Spain, many tour stages and four Tour de France green jerseys. In total he won 193 professional races, second only to the legendary Eddy Merckx. Unfortunately, unlike Merckx, he never won the ultimate prize, the Tour de France. Roche had one of the finest years an Irish sportsman ever had in 1987 winning the triple crown (Tour de France, World Championship and Giro d'Italia), but because of injury, he never really featured after that. Two other factors against these sporting heroes are that cycling is only really popular on the (European) continent and it has been mired in doping controversies for years.

Speaking of doping controversies, that rules out our greatest ever Olympian, Michelle De Brun, who defied age, body type and a mediocre record at the top level to win 3 golds and a bronze in Atlanta. That was one of the best ever weeks in Irish sport and the sight of the Irish flag raised highest will live long in the memory (not to mention almost causing the Irish commentator to have a heart attack!). Well, it would have had she not been discovered 2 years later to have an ability to pee whiskey during a drugs test. That's impossible (even for an Irish person!), so we have to go with the more likely explanation that it was a masking agent for illegal substances.

All in all, I think the closest competitor to Padraig for the mantle of Ireland's greatest sports person has to be Sonia O'Sullivan. Sonia slogged for many a long year in the green shirt and had tremendous success at international level, including a world championship gold, 3 European championship golds and 2 world cross-country championship gold medals. Only bad luck with illnesses prevented her from performing to her potential at the Olympics in 1996 and, more poignantly, in 2004 where she was deservedly applauded by the crowd for a bravely finishing a lap down of the field. She almost did it for us in Sydney in 2000, but unfortunately she was narrowly pipped for the 5000m title.

Sonia's unfortunate Olympic failures just hand it to Padraig in my opinion. He has proved himself at the very highest level of his sport and he isn't finished yet! Irish bookies can expect to lose a lot more money on Harrington at the big events. It's amazing that he was slated for finishing second so often just a few years ago. The great Bobby Jones also finished second a lot before he got into the winning habit and he didn't do too bad now, did he? Roll on the "Paddy Slam"!

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