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Wednesday, 24 June 2009

As Irish As Big Jack

Like many of my countrymen, I’m proud to be Irish. Being Irish brings certain traits with it: a general (and abhorrent) dislike of them from across the water, a pride in our arts and heritage, and a devotion to our sports teams. We love being Irish and we love following our sports teams. No matter where we play, there is always a large and vocal presence of Irish people to support our own and while I’m in no doubt that the importance/uniqueness of this is overstated by ourselves, we are a nation of sports lovers.

In return for this devotion, we expect many things in return, most notably pride in the shirt/flag. We want our sports stars to represent Ireland with dignity, honour and most importantly passion because they are representing more than just the island of Ireland; they’re representing the sport mad community that lives here too. Be it rugby, football or Gaelic games, when our men/women represent Ireland, they become an extension of each sports fan in this country.

Yet the essence of this Irish-ness, and indeed of other nationalities, has become weakened in recent times. In athletics we have seen Africans such as Rashid Ramzi, Stephen Chorono (Saif Saaeed Shaheen) and Albert Chepkurui (Ahmad Hassan Abdullah) defect from their home nations and instead compete for Asian countries such as Qatar and Bahrain, often for no reason other than financial reward. We here in Ireland aren’t immune to allegiance switching – who can forget the ‘Oi-rish’ football legends such as John Aldridge, Ray Houghton and Terry Phelan. These are players who were adored by the Green Army for their exploits on the field, as was their English manager, even if their passports and birth certs weren’t from this country.

So does it matter where someone comes from? There are reports that Ireland boss Giovanni Trapattoni will look to take advantage of new citizenship rules from FIFA and invite players such as Kevin Nolan to line out for Ireland. He’s become available now that FIFA say he and other players are eligible, even if they’ve played for other nations at an underage level, in Nolan’s case England. He qualifies for Ireland under ancestry rules, though oddly he also qualifies to play for the Netherlands. Would the Dutch be happy to see a Scouser called Nolan lining out for them?

In an increasingly globalized world, people’s nationalities have become less defined than they once were. A growing number of athletes will have a choice between two or more countries, as Aldridge and Houghton had in the 1980s. They chose Ireland, and represented us well, so maybe being from this little island isn’t that big a deal after all. Maybe we just want our sports stars to play as if they are one of our own.

1 comment:

  1. A really interesting point you make gav. I,like yourself, am a proud irishman. I'd cheer for a guy sitting off o'connell bridge if he was competing against someone in a foreign jersey.
    I too find it unuusal to see african athletes swap nationalities for greater financial gains, although sometimes this is not always the case. Many switch because of high standards in their native lands, only the top percentage of athletes receive serious government backing & in order for many of these athletes to develop they need the funding thhat they cannot get access to as they are ranked outside the country's top 4/5 ranker athletes. It is usually when they go abroad, find backers & have access to better facilities that these atheletes flourish.
    In the case of the Irish soccer team under jack charlton... hmmm. I love the example of Clinton Morrison. He qualified to represent us through his grandmother. When he got the call he admitted that he knew very little about Ireland, but was so excited by the prospect that he studied irish history & culture and learned the irish anthem ás gaelige! He embraced his "irishness" and as a result endeared himself to the fans.

    Look at it from the other side. Martin Keown. Both his folks are irish. They would visit here every summer. Martin & his brothers even play gaelic football in london. Then boom england come calling and he plays with them. He has grown up with irish culture, been surrounded by Irishness all his life & yet wanted to further his professional ambition.
    The like of Kieran Bracken & Shane Geraghty in Rugby. Played for and were developed by the Irish under age structure but decided to play for England. Stephen Moore, born & raised in Ireland, family moved to Oz when he's 7 - he's now the Wallaby hooker.
    My point is really, If somebody wants to say they are Irish and proud to represent this country, its history and heritage then that'll do for me!