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Episode One of Ireland’s Greatest Sporting Moment and there was Sonia O’Sullivan placed between Eamon Dunphy and Joe Brolly, the sporting equivalent of John Halligan sitting in the middle of Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump, trying to get a peace-inducing word in edgeways.
Sonia faced many a challenge in the course of her sporting career, but possibly none more testing than this.
The series would have seemed like a good idea at the time, but little, if anything, rattles the nation’s cage as much as their most beloved sporting moments being ranked below someone else’s most beloved sporting moments, the general upshot being the ending of marriages, children being disowned and the courts having to decide on the custody of Chihuahuas and the like.
It was easy for Des Cahill to say to the audience that if they were annoyed “let us have it”, he didn’t have to monitor the tweets, that chore falling to Evanne Ni Chuilinn. She rose to the challenge, stoically ignoring messages from those who questioned the judges’ parentage for, say, excluding Ronnie Whelan’s 1988 shinner against the Soviet Union from the 1980s shortlist (tweet deleted, sorry).
We were restricted to the 50 years between 1962 and 2012, leaving Ronnie Delany diehards banjaxed, also ruling out Darren Randolph’s penalty save from Nicklas Bendtner next Tuesday night that will secure our place in the World Cup.
Last week Ted Walsh, who will be on the November 23rd panel that discusses the 1960s/1970s options, complained that because the voting will largely be done through social media, anyone above 35ish will be excluded from having a say because they don’t have computers. With that in mind, you half expected the Greatest Sporting Moment from the 1980s to be the birth of Conor McGregor (July 14th, 1988). The Gooch was born in the same decade, incidentally, but surprisingly Joe didn’t pick June 3rd,1983 as his most cherished moment.
Before we had our five shortlisted moments analysed, we were given a quick reminder of the 1980s, lest we forgot, the summary including Bosco, snow, U2 (pre their Lithuanian shopping centre-owning days), the Commodore 64, TV GAGA, Garda Patrol, Breakdancing and the Rubik’s Cube. And Des Cahill in a furry coat, the suspicion being that no animals died in its making.
Option One: Eamonn Coghlan, World Championship 5000m Gold, 1983. And the way he smirked at the Soviet lad as he passed him. Possibly the only time in sporting history you wanted a Soviet lad to rally and overtake the Irish dude on the line.
“He was a great athlete, not just a good one,” said Eamon, de-Platini-ising Coghlan. Meh.
Option Two: Barry McGuigan wins the WBA World Title, 1985.
Eamon and Joe were effusive in their non-praise, both rating Barry’s triumph just below the battle for the last sliced pan on the shelves before Hurricane Ophelia. “It took him 15 rounds to do a job he should have done in five,” Eamon told us Barry’s manager Barney Eastwood said of the fight. Sonia tried to save the Cyclone - “You can only beat who’s in front of you” - but Eamon and Joe were having none of it. Joe’s top three? “Anyone but McGuigan to start with, I just don’t like the man,” he said. You’d guess the feeling is mutual.
Option Three: Ray Houghton’s goal against England in Stuttgart, 1988.
“It drew a line under 800 years of oppression,” said Joe. True.
Option Four: Seamus Darby’s goal for Offaly against Kerry, All Ireland final, 1982.
Sonia and Eamon bordered on the unmoved, Joe tingled.
Option Five: Stephen Roche’s climb at La Plagne, Tour de France, 1987.
From the moment Joe mentioned Lance Armstrong, Des had to launch his ‘RTE would like to disassociate themselves from those remarks’ face. And after Joe and Eamon were done, he had to remind them and us that “HE DIDN’T TEST POSITIVE”.
Time to choose. Joe opted for Seamus Darby, Sonia chose Eamonn Coghlan, and the Dunphy picked Ray Houghton. Home comforts. The odds would have been short enough.
Next? The 1990s. Ruby Walsh, Derval O’Rourke, Ronan O’Gara. As Des said, another woman stuck between two cranky men.