Not long now until elite athletes from all over the world descent on Rio de Janeiro to test their individual or collective skills in the ultimate sporting arena.
The story of pretty much every competitor’s rise to international selection will include words such as: talent, dedication, courage, determination, support, perhaps an ounce or two of luck… and money.
For someone like me, a moderate club cricketer, there was an expectation and acceptance that participating in amateur sport involved paying for the privilege because you played for the sheer love of the game. But for those blessed with far greater ability, the opportunity to rise through the ranks must involve a much more significant financial investment—kit, equipment, facilities, coaching, travel, accommodation et al….
It is perfectly understandable that those potentially destined for greatness in sports which have massive exposure on a world stage are almost certain to have access to the kind of funds that will enable full potential to be reached; and in certain cases achievement can bring financial rewards that would justify all the sacrifices (as well as being way beyond the imagination of your average left-arm spin bowler).
Those sacrifices still exist even if your particular talent lies in a less “popular” (if that’s the right word) game; one where representing your country is no guarantee of recognition away from your sporting circle, or media coverage, let alone monetary gain. In fact, it is possible for it to cost more to remain at the summit than the actual climb itself.
The Ireland netball squad is the perfect example.
In certain parts of the world, netball is a major attraction; watched and played in huge numbers, with coverage, sponsorship and funding all readily available for those talented enough to compete for their respective international dress.
That’s not the case in Ireland though.
To play for Ireland at netball, you need to have all the qualities listed in the second paragraph, but you also have to have very deep pockets because these girls pay for every single step of their international adventure. The majority also give their time to trying to develop the sport in and beyond Dublin, to ensure that their efforts create strong foundations upon which netball can develop and prosper.
In recent times, the squad has been able to play enough games to secure a world ranking. That ranking was no.26 until the start of this month, when a series of solid performances at the Netball Europe Open in Newcastle, which included a crucial win against a higher-ranked USA team, resulted in an improved ranking of no.25.
One place may not sound much, and no.25 may seem a long way away from the likes of Australia, New Zealand, England and Jamaica, but given the number of girls that play netball in Ireland, and the amount of commitment it takes to raise the funds simply to have a chance of competing, any rise up the rankings is a truly remarkable accomplishment.
There are very few tournaments in which Ireland can participate against teams of a similar level—the kind of teams that Ireland need to be playing to test themselves and to progress. Netball is becoming a worldwide sport (future Olympic inclusion after 2020 is even a possibility), but the geographic spread of countries ranked close to Ireland means that those limited opportunities may be thousands of miles away.
One such tournament is the Nations Cup, which is being held in September… in Singapore. The competition is played in an incredible atmosphere; girls who could walk unnoticed through Dublin will be mobbed and asked for autographs and photos by youngsters who are simply passionate about netball—and all this in a country ranked no.17 in the world.
True, there are sports with which Ireland is more readily associated, but the netball squad represent their country with no less pride than any rugby union or football (for example) international. It’s just that they seem to have to travel several thousand miles for their talent to be recognised.
I accept I am biased. I have met the girls, have got to know a few of them quite well, and am lucky to have been asked to do a few interviews and articles over the past year or so. I wish I was wealthy enough to sponsor each and every member of the squad the €1,000 or so it will cost each of them to fly to Asia and give their all for their country. There is a fundraising page—the link is below—I’ve made a donation… it would be fantastic if one or two of you would consider doing the same; I can guarantee any contribution will be massively appreciated.
Come on you girls in green!
For more Netball Ireland articles and interviews, please click below:
At the start of 2014, I began my “challenges” to raise awareness of mental health issues… yesterday I completed the 64th of those challenges by becoming a racehorse owner for a day.
The (perhaps simplistic) connection between the challenges and the underlying aim is to try and show just what can be achieved by being able to ask for help. My life with dysthymia has changed so much since I finally realised that I needed to seek help for a condition I’ve had for over forty of my fifty-two years; and even though I’m not well-known and have no real talents, I still want to use my lived experiences and challenges to try and make a small difference.
Yesterday’s trip to Ripon races took two years to arrange… and I am indebted to an old friend from my cricketing days, Keith Nicholson, for his willingness to help, his perseverance, and his fantastic support of the project as a whole.
Keith has a long-standing love of horse racing—matched only by his love of turning down my many appeals for leg before wicket down the years—and Thursday’s declaration of Dhaular Dhar in the 4:50 race finally allowed Keith the opportunity to invite me into the parade ring.
It was a beautiful but slightly breezy afternoon, and thousands of racegoers had made their way to the picturesque North Yorkshire course. I met Keith and his good friend Colin Batey outside the entrance; we collected our owners’ badges and headed for the “Owners and Trainers” bar, where I promptly spilled hot chocolate down my grey tie.
Thankfully my pristine white shirt and new jacket avoided the chocolate dribble, the tie made a full recovery after a quick wipe with a damp cloth; and hopefully I almost looked the part as we headed out to place our bets for the first race.
The favourite (and my selection) duly obliged and meant that my bets for the next three races would be covered—which was a relief since I picked out two seconds and a fairly comfortable last in the next three races.
Even though each of the races were over in a matter of a minute or two, the intervals in between and the afternoon as a whole flew by. It was great to catch up on some cricket chat after so many years, as well as exploring the course and being constantly surprised at how you were treated if you we wearing a red oval badge. One random bloke even asked me if I had a horse running… “Oh yes… just one of my string has made the trip today,” is absolutely NOT what I actually said!
As the fourth race finished, we hurried over to the pre-parade ring to see Carol Bartley lead in Dhaular Dhar (known as “Dazzler” to his friends) for what would be the fourteen year-old’s 150th race—quite remarkable. Keith said hello to Carol and had a quick chat with Jim Goldie Jr., son of the trainer… Jim Goldie Sr. (which I presume you’d worked out for yourself!).
Once saddled, Carol and Dazzler did a few laps of the parade ring, where Keith, Colin and I were now standing (and I was trying… and failing to look important). We took a few pictures, before Jim joined us and then the jockey Lewis Edmunds appeared….
I’m not sure how old Lewis is, but I’d guess he’s not many years older than the horse he was riding. Lewis is an apprentice, which means he is able to “claim” seven pounds, effectively giving the horse less weight to carry in compensation for the jockey’s inexperience. The ground was ideal for the veteran campaigner, although Dazzler apparently isn’t keen on too much wind—well there’s one thing we have in common. Lewis was instructed to get the horse comfortable towards the rear of the field and try to come with a late run that, if successful, would win me a small fortune.
Moments later, Lewis was in the saddle and Carol (no mean jockey in her own right, I understand) led horse and rider out onto the course. I must admit I began to feel a sense of nervous excitement as the horses cantered down to the start, were helped into the stalls and the race got underway.
Sadly, despite both Dazzler and Lewis’ best efforts, the next mile and a half didn’t quite go according to plan, and my hopes for a bumper payout and an early retirement were dashed….
We headed out onto the course to hear what Lewis had to say about the race, and we managed to get a couple of photos (Keith taking mine before he told me to smile), before Dazzler disappeared… presumably to have some cooling water thrown over him before a bite to eat and a well-earned rest—I had similar plans for my own evening.
I have to say it was a fantastic experience; both a thrill and a privilege to enjoy a day at the races from an owner’s perspective. Thanks especially to Keith, but also to Colin, Jim, Lewis and Carol who helped make it such a memorable day.
The latest netball world rankings were released this week and whilst there is little change in the top 15 (in fact none at all for the four home nations), there has been a lot of activity between positions 16 and 30, including, as you can see, some wonderful news for the “Girls in Green”.
By far the biggest climber is Grenada, who have jumped up a massive nine places to lie just outside the world’s top 20. It is a notable achievement for the Caribbean islanders, who acquitted themselves so well during the recent Euros in Newcastle—in fact they were the only side to beat Ireland during the tournament. Much of their game (and success) is built around their six feet plenty goal shooter Lottysha Cato, but these rankings are all about teams and not individuals, and congratulations are due to every member of the Grenadan squad.
Where there’s a climber, there must be a faller and Saint Lucia have dropped six to no.24. Sri Lanka and another competitor at the Euros, the United States, have both slipped three places in the standings, and Switzerland have dropped out of the top 30 altogether. That said it’s good to see Gibraltar making an appearance in thirtieth position. Not been a bad week for the tiny peninsular, with one of its football clubs–Lincoln Red Imps—humbling the mighty Celtic in a Champions League qualifier a couple of days ago….
But with due respect to all those countries whose efforts have been rewarded with a higher ranking (in particular Uganda, up from no.13 to no.11), the best news is that Ireland have moved up one place to no.25.
If you think that’s nothing special given the relative positions of the UK teams, then you’d be wrong.
Rankings are earned by compliance with strict criteria, including a requirement to play a minimum number of international fixtures within a defined timeframe. Such requirements are difficult to fulfil when your country gets no central funding and the girls essentially have to pay for the privilege of representing their country… training… kit… travel… accommodation… etc….
Tournaments for the lower-ranked clubs are few and far between; Ireland’s next major competition is in Singapore in September–hardly on the doorstep.
What coach Joan Young, captain Níamh Murphy and all the girls have accomplished is fantastic and, having spent some time with the squad and gained a bit of an insight into their collective determination, dedication, pride and ability, I am thrilled for everyone involved. I will be raising a glass to the Ireland Netball squad tonight… and hopefully considerably more glasses when Elaine and I pay a proper visit Dublin in October.
Right from the outset, I must point out that I never bought a single copy of Jackie; however my sister did and it is possible that I may, on occasions, have flicked through the pages—purely to see if there were any pictures of Debbie Harry….
Or (just maybe) to glance through the letters to Cathy and Claire to discover if anyone was having less success with the opposite sex than I was....
No one was.
My early teenage magazines of choice were the likes of Look In, Shoot and Smash Hits–until the latter years of the 70s, when I discovered “punk”… and NME and Sounds duly became compulsory reading material. It was therefore with some slight trepidation that I travelled north up the A19 with Elaine for last night’s performance of Jackie: the Musical at the Sunderland Empire.
No apprehension in the passenger seat though; Elaine’s musical taste encompasses the Osmonds, Bay City Rollers, Davids Essex and Cassidy et al, and I readily conceded there was more chance of hearing a rendition of Shang-a-Lang, than Anarchy in the UK….
The musical features a fifty-something Jackie (Janet Dibley) battle-hardened by the realities of adult life, alongside her teenage self (Daisy Steere), still bursting with naïve (yet totally charming) idealism and optimism.
The contrast between the gadget-filled modern world we take for granted and the comparative innocence of the generation in which most of the audience would have grown up was wonderfully realised by Daisy and Janet: the two Jackies. One wide-eyed, full of life, hoping for love and “happy ever after”; the other preparing to move house, dreams shattered with her husband of twenty years having departed for a younger model, leaving behind a son, two decades of memories… and a violin.
Framed around the magazine of the same name, the story basically explored Jackie’s relationships.
With her ex-husband John (Graham Bickley… sounds familiar; wasn’t he in Bread…? Indeed he was: Joey Boswell mark II no less), a prospective new man in her life (Max, played by Nicholas Bailey, aka the second most famous doctor from Albert Square), her best friend Jill (Lori Haley Fox), her son David (Michael Hamway), but most of all with her younger self.
The show is full of humour; much surrounding specific moments from times gone by with which so many of those in the audience could clearly identify; long-forgotten memories or feelings recalled courtesy of not only a wonderful script but also a joyous barrage of song and dance.
I am no expert in the performing arts and in no real position to offer any valid critique of those whose individual and collective talent simply lit up the stage, but in a production where the main focus is rightly on the leading ladies (Jackie Snr and Jnr, and Jill), it is two of the male characters that arguably steal the show… fair enough, some of the show.
Michael Hamway as Jackie’s son David is fantastic. He possesses a great voice and the moves he performed during the T Rex song 20th Century Boy were nothing short of spectacular. Michael gives a fine and thoughtful portrayal of a love-struck young man desperate to find his own way in the world, but possessing a rare maturity that enables him to see beyond his own dreams and actually heed his mother’s advice.
The revelation of the love interest is brilliant by the way….
And secondly there is Frankie the barman, played by Bob Harms. Striking, almost menacing in appearance, Frankie is gloriously over-the-top; and although the character is not particularly central to the plot, Bob’s performance was one of the highlights of the whole evening.
By the end of the show, most of the audience were on their feet. They had laughed, they sung, they had danced; and there was a very definite connection between those on stage and those in the auditorium. The cast were obviously enjoying themselves every bit as much as those watching; it was an infectious combination and I was almost disappointed when the party came to an end.
I now hold up my hand and admit my trepidation was misplaced. I might prefer the Sex Pistols to Tina Charles, or Stiff Little Fingers to John Paul Young, but if you grew up during the 1970s (and my birth certificate suggests I must have), then go and watch Jackie: The Musical. I dare you not to love it….
Just before 7:28 this morning, I pulled off the road on my way to work and observed the two minutes silence to mark the one hundredth anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Somme.
I’m no expert on this battle—or military conflict in general—but the detonation of a mine (or mines) shortly before 7:30am heralded the start of a British advance into No-Man’s Land in this particular part of northern France. Nine minutes earlier, a young soldier named Albert McMillan had peered out of his trench to look at the aftermath of the mine explosion at Hawthorn Ridge, when a shock wave from the blast threw him back against the trench wall….
“You silly bastard,” observed his Platoon Sergeant.
At 7:29am… “Zero Hour”… the sound of British gun fire stopped in preparation for troops going “over the top”; the sudden silence being broken only by the sound of bird song. Some of the British thought the mines had all but removed the immediate German threat; however the second device was incorrectly placed in No-Man’s Land and any hint of confidence was about to be proved horribly misplaced as the whistle sounded and the British troops swarmed out of the trenches… and into a hail of bullets.
“For some reason, nothing seemed to happen to us at first,” recalled one Private Slater, “then, suddenly, we were in the midst of a storm of machine gun bullets and I saw men beginning to twirl round and fall in all kinds of curious ways as they were hit—quite unlike the way actors do it in films.”
The landscape became a smoke-shrouded mass of shell holes and dead bodies: nearly twenty-thousand British soldiers perished on that first day alone….
At 7:31am on July 1, 2016, I restarted my journey to work. In the preceding two minutes I had sat in silence, with my eyes closed, and hands instinctively clasped together trying to comprehend the sheer scale of sacrifice and slaughter witnessed in France a century earlier. My thoughts were interrupted by the sound of car engines… people dashing to work… their lives seemingly too important to stop even for a moment and remember some of those who suffered such an appalling death to help secure the life we now take for granted.
In the fifteen minutes it took to drive the final seven miles, I wondered how many British troops would have perished: Tens? Hundreds? Thousands? People wiped out in an instant. Families devastated as so many futures… so many hopes… possibilities… snatched away in the blinking of an eye.
Unlike a number of posts I’ve seen on social media, I have no intention of drawing comparisons with the respective younger generations of 1916 and 2016; nor is there a need to find some link with the current political goings-on. All I want to do is show my respect to all those who fought— and especially the millions that died—to defend our freedom.
One hundred years ago, tens of thousands of young men died without having a choice. Observing two minutes silence and reflection in their collective memory may not seem much—and for those who decided not to… well, at least you had a choice.
Lest we forget x