The bravery of a warrior with ambassadorial grace

If everyone agreed on everything, life would be very boring. Furthermore, it wouldn’t be sustainable.

Isn’t it people liking different types of food (and drink) which leads to diversity of choice and thus production opportunities in the farming, agri-business and food sectors? Isn’t it the sight of each county having their own fan base which makes the GAA the uniquely special organisation it is? And, isn’t it because there such of divergence of opinion regarding favoured soccer teams that they all accrue such income from such a broad spectrum?

These are just a few examples. Yet, the antidote to all that is that there are certain matters, regardless of where one’s viewpoint might lie normally, upon which broad agreement is not only an option, but unavoidable. Take the peace process in Northern Ireland, it’s surely beyond doubt that if political parties – on both sides – weren’t able to at least momentarily park their differences, the ground breaking developments may never have occurred.

Mention of the latter might appear odd, but it is in fact a rather fitting beginning to what consumes the space hereafter. The island of Ireland has naturally produced a multiplicity of sporting stars spanning nearly every discipline imaginable. Without going into too much detail, one of the great things about sport is the manner in which it can bring people from all quarters together in support and admiration of excellence.

It was often said before that when people with no interest in a given – or perhaps any – sport recognise the most lauded exponent of a particular craft, it underscores the wide-ranging impact they have had. Put it this way, even those with no interest in soccer know of Messi and Ronaldo. Paul O’Connell merits similar status on rugby’s behalf, as does Phil Taylor for darts.

AP McCoy flies the flag for horse racing. And has done for as long as he’s been pulling down goggles. Setting out to do this piece, the pertinent question was: Would I be able to do the man and the aura which understandably surrounds him justice? A strange solace was derived from concluding that despite all that has and will be deservedly chronicled about him, nobody could.

Hearing AP’s retirement announcement recalled the night it emerged Sean Boylan was stepping down as Meath football manager. Cursor flashing blankly on the screen. A desire and indeed necessity to write something but not an iota as to where to begin. Once a start of sorts would be arrived it, when and how to pull up would be another matter.

So here goes. Many of the finest men ever to put a boot in a stirrup began their careers with Jim Bolger. Coolcullen a proven breeding ground for exquisite horsemen as well as equine genii. We’re talking NBA All Stars. You don’t remain as good at what one does for as long as JSB has without getting most things right.

It’s doubtful does infallibility even stretch to the Vatican however. You see, even though he will forever be known as the man who put the first ink drops of one of the greatest sporting stories ever told – when giving the boyish kid from Moneyglass his first winner (Legal Steps) in 1992, AP’s employer of the day didn’t think he’d make it as a jumps jockey!

The rider’s unquantifiable confounding of that assessment hardly pours scorn on the remarkable septuagenarian’s judgement of a sport he has been to the forefront of for longer than some of us have been alive. Rather, it presents the first fraction of a biography of someone who’s not only the greatest his own field of expertise has seen (just my opinion) but also an individual who justifiably ranks with – and these are only examples – Henry Shefflin, Rory McIlroy, Brian O’Driscoll, Ronnie O’Sullivan, Phil Taylor and more. All of whom have left marks on their arena which will last long after their innings. Directly changing the face and futures of where they excelled and inspired countless others to at least attempt to follow their lead.

In McCoy’s case, it is perhaps when you strip away the 20 championship wins and the astounding tally of winners that the true greatness of the man is revealed. The lengths he went to recover from innumerable injuries that would’ve finished beings of even normal capacities of endurance. Remember the cryotherapy sessions before the Cheltenham Festival one year?

Think, too, of his unending portrayal of being subordinate to the owners and trainers he has selflessly went above and beyond for. Treating a mount in a Class 5 selling hurdle for a trainer with paltry numbers with the same respect as a Champion Hurdle mount for JP McManus. Always the essence of respect, humility and professionalism. The bravery of a warrior with ambassadorial grace.

Objective analysis often becomes unattainable amongst the throngs of merited adulation. Aspirations of defining the greatest of all time are futile and pointless. It’s all opinion. There were fantastic jockeys before (and during) the McCoy era. Richard Dunwoody, Peter Scudamore, Charlie Swan, Paul Carberry, Ruby Walsh and Richard Johnson. Only a sample there.

Certain terms to be almost flippantly misused in this trade, but, while others will obviously get to higher levels of stardom in McCoy’s wake, rightly or wrongly, they’re likely to be judged against someone who – in this instance it is fair to say – the likes of whom we may never see again.


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