Greatness need not be the preserve of the victorious

It probably bemuses some and causes curiosity among others – indeed maybe it does for myself sometimes – but, the summer of 1991 is always the obvious reference point for the beginning of the influence #sport would go on to have on life in this corner. Notwithstanding the fact that a first #GAA match had been attended the previous year.

And even though #Meath eventually ended up losing that year’s All #Ireland to Down, it could justifiably be argued that it was around that time matters under Sean Boylan’s stewardship were at their zenith. However, what that period in #Gaelic football did was underscore the inclination that greatness need not be the preserve of the victorious. Meath overcame what were magnificent #Dublin and #Cork teams on the way to some of their greatest days. Sides which would go on to attain deserved glory themselves in the following years.

It’s a concept applicable to many sports too. War Of Attrition succumbed to Brave Inca in the Supreme Novices Hurdle one year before going on to be a Gold Cup winner. The latter named was defeated in a Champion Hurdle before going on to engineer success therein. Think, too, of horses such as Harchibald and Beef Or Salmon who were surely among the best never to claim the top prize in their area of expertise.

There surely weren’t many better exponents of snooker than Jimmy White who haven’t shone on the biggest stage in Sheffield while it’s sobering to consider that golfers of proven class such as Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood and Colin Montgomerie have thus far not claimed one of the game’s most important prizes.

No prizes are handed out for stating the obvious, but, in any form of contest where there are winners, there must be losers. It’s doubtful, though, have there been many instances where the victor and the vanquished were showered with adulation in equal measure as was the case with the platitudes rightly bestowed upon Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer in the aftermath of this year’s incarnation of Wimbledon.

Now, it wouldn’t be the rash judgement of a sporadic tennis fan, but nor would it require the intervention of an intervention of an aficionado such as John Inverdale to conclude that – apart from hard court at least – Rafael Nadal is nowhere near the force of old and to prompt ponderings as to how much longer the Spaniard will remain in the sports front rank.

Were there to be a confirmed diminishment in his status, it would in no way, however, detract from his multiplicity of achievements. Along with athletics and cycling, tennis must count as one of the most physically gruelling pursuits in the world. Longevity of careers is something which in many cases isn’t there anymore.

Against this backdrop, Federer’s sustained brilliance is not only admirable but is becoming increasingly unique. Djokovic’s standing as the best male tennis has to offer at present is surely unquestionable. That said, as the annual frenzy of increased interest in tennis which only Wimbledon can generate manifested itself, it’s probable that, for a certain generation, the Swiss star is the reason most began watching the sport. Even for those of us whose tennis upbringing revolved around the unforgettable ‘contributions’ of John McEnroe and, later, the brilliance of Pete Sampras, have assuredly had our interest therein reinvigorated or indeed taken to new levels by fantastic Federer.

Consideration of the physical strains of the craft merely magnify the incomparable competitiveness, durability and class of the man. At this point, it must also be wholeheartedly acknowledged that similar sentiments must apply to Serena Williams in terms of ladies tennis. Those who rightly stand among the current bastions of the game – or perhaps those of any era needn’t be compared, greatness is what it is, and can assume many forms.

No high horses need be mounted, however, if one was to differentiate between the two stellar figures, all that would do would be to accentuate the achievements of both. If there is a difference in the definition of their greatness, it actually sides in favour of Williams.

Simply because of the length of time for which she has remained, unmoved, at the forefront of her chosen arena. Something which is increasingly difficult to do – as best evidenced by the manner in which her sister Venus, among many others, has faded from the limelight. However, therein lies another facet to the enduring appeal of the Fed Express.

Between them, Serena and Roger have amassed thirteen titles in SW 19. What’s quite remarkable is that – after slumping in form to such an extent that there were those who questioned his wisdom in continuing – the last named has more recently seemed to be playing very near as well as ever.

Which emphasises that greatness projects itself in many ways. If nothing else, as long as the current figureheads keep going as they are, there’ll be an audience. Even if it’s only once a year!

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