OPINION: 2017... A hard year for sports

Enda Coll sums up a side of the year in sport

BY offtheball.com 18:23 Thursday 21 December 2017, 18:23 21 Dec 2017

Floyd Mayweather Jr. in action against Conor McGregor. Image: ©INPHO/Derek Hogan

Every year, as the clocks run down on the 12 months of sports, articles circulate about the best sporting moments; the best sportsperson, the sports personality of the year.

When asked what/who were my choices for all of the above, I struggled to see past a few of the obvious choices.

2017 has been a tough year for sports, on a global and national level.

We’ve had reality checks, farcical fights, blame games and enough money to make our eyes water.

In reality, there was more to dislike about this year in sport, than there was to like.

Conor McGregor- The fight, the bank and the decline

Conor McGregor’s 2017 cannot be categorised as being ‘good' or ‘bad’ - that is completely subjective.

He’s made more money this year than he could have imagined.  

The ‘Money fight’ for the ‘Money Belt’ against ‘Money’ Mayweather definitely succeeded in its intentions.

The build-up was stomach churning. Watching two men, performing clearly rehearsed acts and still managing to let a few homophobic and racist comments slip out.  

The fight itself was a lot better than expected. McGregor held his own as best as anyone with his experience in the ring could hope to.

But it’s everything that came after the fight that makes it hard to believe McGregor can hold this year in a good light.

The homophobic slurs, jumping Octagons and shoving referees, the President of UFC saying he may not fight again.

If what drives McGregor is the same as his only opponent this year (which it absolutely could be), then it’s been a successful year. On any other level, it has been a disaster.

Bray Wanderers - the rise, the fall and the email

It seemed like a masterstroke from Bray.

Bring in top class players like Keith Buckley and Gary McCabe; suddenly you’re third in the league and in on course for Europe, after being bottom of the table for a large chunk of last season.

Then you remember: you’ve only sold 59 adult and 51 concession season tickets this year.

The club goes belly-up and you only have enough money to pay players for another week.

What do you do? Evaluate your strategy, planning and where it went wrong? Or blame the fans for not turning out?

Dennis O’Connor chose the latter..

"We need additional investment of a significant level to keep us going as we are. But if you do that, is there any point continuing here if you’re not going to be supported? It’s not right and as a sportsman, you like to go out and see the crowds, like at the end of last season. They’re not coming in, I don’t know. A decision has to be made on if we keep pumping money into this if the people don’t support it."

League of Ireland is certainly overlooked by many locals and crowds are often poor, yes. However, Bray have never had a huge fanbase, so the very notion that droves of fans would suddenly turn out after a few good results is laughable. To blame them for not turning up is unforgivable.

Football - The transfers, the corruption and the World Cup

When you think of the World Cup, you think of the best players in the world competing against each other, fans from all nations coming together in harmony, and an equality activist putting together a cautionary guide to help minority groups "stay safe" in the host country...or at least, that’s what you think of with Russia 2018!

Can we ignore these problems as long as the general outcome involves good football? Seemingly so.

It’s easy to be outraged by the money spent in football nowadays. Non-football fans are actively disgusted by it.

When you read, watch and consume football on a daily basis however, you develop a sort of subconscious numbness to it all.

"Why would Toby Alderweireld stay at Tottenham he ONLY earns £75,000 a week", becomes a perfectly normal statement.

With Neymar’s transfer from Barcelona to PSG though, you enter a different realm. Two-hundred and twenty-two million. Plus wages, plus image rights.

Newcastle United are about to sell for around £300 million, not that much more than what one player cost on his own.

It’s almost enough money to warrant utterance of that age old saying: "The game is gone".

The saving graces

There are of course some things which pull you back into sport and the magic which keeps you tuning in each year.

James McClean - The tribute, the virtues and the leadership

When James McClean won sportsperson of the year, the general consensus was that he didn’t deserve it. Many felt Con O’Callaghan was the rightful recipient, myself included.

But the Derryman was one of the shining stars on and off the pitch for me this year.

His leadership on the pitch has never really been questioned. This year however, he showed the signs of a true leader off the pitch.

He spoke out for his teammate Cyrus Christie who was receiving racial abuse on social media. He raised the issue when he could have just ignored it and left it as not his problem.

His loyalty to his teammates also shone through in the tribute to his friend and former teammate Ryan McBride. It was a small gesture which had a large impact.

The All-Ireland Championship finals

Amongst the clatter of "who gets the most grants", "Connolly shouldn’t be banned" and "trials by the media", 2017 was a great year of GAA.

The All-Ireland Football finals (both of them) were top class games between the two best sides in the country.

A goal of exceptional quality, a last minute free to seal the win, GPS-gate - It was an unbelievably entertaining finale to the year.   

The hurling season as a whole probably topped it however. Wexford vs Tipperary was one of the best sporting spectacles of the year, Joe Canning finally winning his All-Ireland and of course, Tommy Walsh’s commentary.

His monologue at the start of this year’s final is up there with the best Irish sporting commentaries of all time.

New year, same story but fresh hope

It’s always hard to conclude these things on a positive note, to find the right words that make it seem like things will get better next year.

Going off previous evidence, they probably won’t. They’ll probably stay the same or get worse.

What we can realistically hope for though is more moments of magic, like Ireland’s goal against Wales (hat tip to McClean again), Gina Akpe Moses’ 100m gold, David Clifford’s performance in the All-Ireland minor football final and Katie Taylor winning her world title.

These are the reasons we tune into sport and that make us forget, even for just a second, all the bad aspects of the games we love.


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