That Con Houlihan will forever stand as the greatest influence on my own writing hardly requires further elaboration. Thus, the Waiting For Houlihan documentary broadcast shortly after the king of Castle Island had filed into the press room in the sky and only recently tracked down again now ranks among the most treasured items in the video library. Now read on…
It was in that midst of that wonderful programme that I first became aware of Hugh McIlvanney. The Scot is an equally senior member of the press corps and while nobody could ever replace Con, the similarities in their style and range of topics covered are striking. Therefore, Hugh’s regular columns in the Sunday Times have become an essential component of the weekly reading diet. And, to some extent, filled the void left by the great Kerry man.
Observing McIlvanny’s scepticism in the lead up to the recent bout between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao should’ve been instructive. For what transpired vindicated feelings that much of the hoopla surrounding events in Vegas – which would have wanted to happen years ago were onlookers to see either pugilist at their best – was generated in a promotional manner which made the financials of the occasion more important than anything which transpired inside the ropes.
Fears boorishly rubber stamped as the American manufactured a victory out of stymieing his admirable Filipino opponent as much as by anything he produced himself. Which frankly left the feeling that – aside from the pockets of the central figures – billing it as the most valuable contest of all time left a feeling of being severely short changed in view of what ensued.
Even more so when it emerged in the aftermath of the anticlimax that the vanquished contestant had allegedly concealed a shoulder injury in the preamble to the showdown which undoubtedly curtailed his ability to perform near his optimum.
When it comes to sport – aside from those who earn their living therein – surely the best measurement of value ought to be in the entertainment provided. Had that been the applicable criteria, the only show in town that particular weekend was in San Francisco as the WGC World Matchplay Championships delivered the type of sustained enthral which only that format of golf can.
Meddling with competition structure is an affliction which has beset the GAA seemingly for an eternity. They seem – in terms of hurling at least – to have arrived as the satisfactory conclusion. A feeling endorsed by an entertaining finale between Waterford and Cork, with victory for the former a glowing reference to the abilities of the much maligned manager Derek McGrath and his talented players.
All the time, the spectre of straight knockout competitions seems less appealing. Which is possibly why those controlling the World Matchplay sought to give players in the five day event three outings before proceeding with the elimination phase. Were one to go searching for foibles, it could be argued that it’s somewhat unwieldy. A charge capable of being justifiably levelled at many GAA competitions.
As with many things that differ from accepted norms, there are probably those who scoff at the matchplay aspect of golf. However, surely only of concrete cardiac construction could fail to be moved by the heroic, uplifting efforts of Ian Poulter in that sphere throughout several incarnations of the Ryder Cup.
Mention of the flamboyant Englishman is timely. Part of the unique appeal to that particular facet of golf is that, whereas with stroke play, an exponent’s battle is either with the course or their own minds. In this, alternative scenario, though, there’s a tangible reality that you just have to be better than the player beside you and that if your game drifts erroneously the capitulation will be costly.
Perhaps, however, it makes excelling at what is a particular craft a bit easier too. If the tides are blowing in your favour, sailing to victory becomes easier as each hole is navigated. Given Poulter’s alacrity in excelling in matchplay circumstances it was surprising to see him eliminated early.
There weren’t too many other surprises but happenings which may have counted as turn-ups were otherwise pleasant ones. Maybe most notably the re-emergence of the highly talented Paul Casey following a difficult spell on and off the course. Not to mention other gifted – if less heralded – performers like Danny Willett and Gary Woodland further advancing their growing status with commendable displays of endurance and quality.
However, being at the top of one’s profession carries meaning. It means that all comers want to usurp the position of whoever is considered to be at their peak. Whilst for whoever does happen to be in a position of superiority over their kinfolk it demonstrates their efficiency in all aspects of their chosen code.
Indeed, there should be a differential in how being at the top is measured. McIlroy and Jordan Spieth have been the dominant forces in recent times. Yet the consistently brilliant – if often luckless – Jim Furyk surely merits acknowledgement as one of the true greats. He and Casey combined with McIlroy and Woodland combined to provide better value than anything in Vegas.