TIM FANNING MY VIEW
Once upon a time, our love affair with sport was a lot less complicated…
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 Our innocent pleasure in Irish sporting triumphs has been replaced by a jaded cynicism.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.