Class is often non-conformist

In a sporting context, Colm O’Rourke’s final salvo against Dublin is easily recalled. Indeed, his entire farewell season was outstanding – as were most of the 19 which preceded it! I can still remember feeling totally dismayed when Sean Boylan left him out for the opening joust of that 1995 campaign against Offaly.

Going back even further – a quarter century in fact – it was obvious that, on the day a Leo Turley and Hugh Emerson-inspired Laois catapulted Boylan’s (first) great team out of the championship at the first hurdle that an era – the most glorious in our county’s sporting history – was ending.

Such feelings were only magnified incalculably recently when observing the sorrowful sight of Usain Bolt pull up injured at the end of his final race at the World Championships in Athletics, hosted by London. At this point, it must be pointed out that my earliest recollection of track and field revolves around the whole Ben Johnson affair. Little did anyone know that, in terms of that kind of nefarious behaviour, said episode would only be the tip of a very large iceberg.

Anyway, even allowing for all that, it’s a fairly safe punt that far more seasoned observers of athletic fare than I would count he of lightening speed as the greatest they’ve ever witnessed. There’s an argument – perhaps a credent one – that the Jamaican should have hung up his spikes after the last Olympics. However, class is often non-conformist. The unfortunate manner in which the  greatest of sporting careers concluded cannot in any way diminish the magnitude of what was achieved therein.

Mind you, not all departures end in sorrow. Think of Henry Shefflin – entirely fittingly – getting to bow out at the pinnacle of top level hurling. In another sporting sphere, to some extent at least, Phil Taylor is doing something similar. Darts is another one of those sports – akin to golf and rugby and cricket and, believe it or not, horse racing – which have been something of an acquired taste for yours truly.

Whatever about the manner in which the Stoke man may carry himself on occasion, one can but marvel at his longevity and enduring class. That said, even Cecilia Ahern would get hard to come up with a notion as romantic as that of ‘The Power’ taking out one of the major hauls in the code which he has illuminated for so long on this, the concluding part of his professional journey.

Yet that is exactly what transpired at the World Matchplay Championship in Blackpool. Taylor’s triumph thence ensuring that he will most likely reach career conclusion with the same amount of Matchplay titles as he has amassed in the World Championship itself – 16. Then again, him being him, it wouldn’t surprise in the slightest were he to exit in fairytale fashion at a time when Fairytale Of New York shall be reverberating on radios!

Earlier in the season, Peter Wright’s first televised ‘major’ success was unjustifiably belittled by some as a selection of the top brass in darts weren’t taking part in the event in question. Such a stance not only demeans the class of Wright himself but also ignores the fact that – as there are so many top class players on the PDC circuit that, even in the absence of some of the elite, there was still a top class field to overcome.

However, no such caveats were required on the occasion of Taylor’s latest remarkable victory. They were all there, and he beat them all, convincingly. None more so than Michael Van Gerwen in the final. During commentary, Wayne Mardle opined that – if Taylor did triumph – he should end his self-proclaimed final season there and then on the spot. There would have been little quibble had he chosen to do exactly that. Gut feeling is, though, that the competitive streak in the man was always going to preclude such an outcome.

Similar sentiments certainly apply to Roger Federer. Akin to Bolt, as mentioned earlier, the Swiss will always top any list of favourites here in his chosen arena of excellence. Difference being that where the sprinter – for various reasons – has had differing levels of opposition to contend with, Federer’s zenith has coincided with a gloriously sustained era of magnificence in his sport.

It’s only natural, I suppose, that everyone thinks of the stars of ‘their own’ era to be the greatest. And, while the sentimentalist in me will always harbour a special place for John McEnroe, the greatest percentage of the acquisition of a taste for tennis occurred in conjunction with a period when Federer and Rafa Nadal and Novak Diokovic and Andy Murray have taken the game – and its popularity – to perhaps its greatest level.

Without wanting to invoke a pun, Murray’s form can at times be hit and miss, Nadal’s career – glorious and all as it is – could have been even more so were it not so ravaged by injury, and, of late, even the sensational Serb Djokovic  has been emitting signs of being fallible.

To simply say that Roger is out-staying them all would be to ignore the fact that he did, in fact, take a sabbatical of several months before returning to mop up several titles in more recent times. He did, mind you, as production of this column was beginning, suffer a surprise a surprise defeat to the burgeoning German Alexander Zevrev at the Cincinnati Masters.

Be that as it may, instinct is to think the swashbuckling Swiss will continue to defy convention for a while yet!

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