Once upon a time, our love af­fair with sport was a lot less com­pli­cated…

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - YOUR TV WEEK -

t’s not ev­ery­body’s idea of com­pelling TV, but ever since Stephen Roche’s vic­tory in the Tour de France back in 1987, I’ve been fas­ci­nated with the race. I was on hol­i­days in Cork that sum­mer and watched the fi­nal stage in The Nook pub in Youghal over a glass of Coke and a packet of Tayto. For a few brief weeks, the con­ver­sa­tion in pubs and around the din­ner ta­ble re­volved around the ef­fi­cacy of Eddy Schep­ers as a do­mes­tique.

The do­mes­tique plays a cru­cial role in road rac­ing, sup­port­ing the team leader by let­ting him ride in his slip­stream. With ev­ery­one glued to their tele­vi­sions when it looked as if Roche might have a chance of win­ning the race, Schep­ers be­came a house­hold name, as he dragged the Dun­drum cy­clist up and down cruel-look­ing Alpine peaks dur­ing the the tor­tur­ous moun­tain stages.

The most en­dur­ing im­age of that sum­mer was Roche col­lapsed at the side of the road, hav­ing dragged him­self up to close within four sec­onds of his arch-ri­val, the Spa­niard Pe­dro Del­gado, on the stage to La Plagne. Then there was Char­lie Haughey’s hi­jack­ing of the pre­sen­ta­tion of the yel­low jersey to Roche on the Champs-Elysées in Paris.

That vic­tory, cou­pled with Roche’s other vic­to­ries in the Giro d’Italia and the World Cham­pi­onships, was a re­mark­able mo­ment in Ir­ish sport. It her­alded a mag­i­cal few years in which we hud­dled around our TVs to watch Ir­ish sports­men and women com­pete with the best in the world. Euro 88 and Italia 90 fol­lowed in quick suc­ces­sion, then came So­nia O’Sul­li­van’s re­mark­able achieve­ments on the track in the 1990s. For a mo­ment, we were able to cel­e­brate with un­re­strained joy.

A lot has changed since those heady days. We’ve been through boom and bust, and cycling – as well as many other pro­fes­sional sports – has lost most of its cred­i­bil­ity. Our in­no­cent plea­sure in Ir­ish sport­ing tri­umphs has been re­placed by a jaded cyn­i­cism. Still, watch­ing those pirou­et­ting he­li­copter shots of some stun­ning cathe­dral, as the pele­ton races past fields of sun­flow­ers through the gor­geous French coun­try­side, re­minds me of when the whole coun­try was will­ing Roche and Kelly up those bru­tal climbs in the Alps or Pyre­nees. And when, in an east Cork pub, the talk was of Eddy Schep­ers… Gráinne Seoige (pic­tured) fol­lows in the foot­steps of the great Vic­to­rian his­to­rian Thomas Car­lyle in the open­ing episode of a new se­ries. The Scot­tish writer was in­vited to Ire­land in July 1849 by his friend Charles Ga­van Duffy, the co-founder and edi­tor of The Na­tion news­pa­per. Car­lyle and Duffy were on dif­fer­ent sides of the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum: the Scot was a staunch union­ist, while Duffy was one of the founders of the Young Ire­land move­ment. The pair’s tour around the coun­try co­in­cided with the Great Famine and Car­lyle’s chron­i­cle of his jour­ney fea­tures de­scrip­tions of the aw­ful con­di­tions pre­vail­ing in Ire­land at the time. Us­ing Car­lyle’s book as her guide, Gráinne re-en­acts that trip, dis­cov­er­ing how the rul­ing elite viewed the Famine.

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