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What Have You Done For Me Lately? Alistair Cragg Is Just The Latest of A Long Line of Irish Athletes To Be Thrown Under The Bus After Poor Performances
by PJ Browne


"Everybody's Got an Opinion. What's yours worth?" (Bet365.com)

Two Irishmen sitting in a pub having a pint, eyeing the brothel across the street. They saw a Baptist Minister walk in. "Isn't it a shame to see a man of the cloth going bad," said one. Next they saw a Rabbi enter. "Begod, even the Jews are falling victim to temptation." A Catholic priest enters the brothel and one said: "What a terrible pity, one of the girls must be quite ill." 

        


February 2009 - Fayateville, Arkansas - At the 2008 Olympics, Irish athletics displayed  its familiar if peculiar form of self-disparagement. L.P. Hartley's observation 'The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there,' is an apt reminder of our conditional attitude to Irish athletes.

Alistair Cragg was struggling with an Achilles injury before the Games began. During the Games hamstring and hip injuries undermined his effort; he had no sense of how serious and debilitating the injuries would prove to be. He trailed badly in the 1,500 preliminaries, but treatment convinced him to enter his specialty, the 5k. "It's the Olympics, you have to give it a shot," he said in his first interview since August. He qualified for the final but dropped out of the race after 2,600m.

 

Reaction in the Irish TV studios and newspapers was vicious. Asked about his  motivation just to finish at all costs, he said, "I really could not have finished it. I could have been walking around still, it's seriously bad." He was labeled a choker, a quitter.

 

The Irish Times went further.

 

"We're pretty much agreed by now that Alistair Cragg is a loser, but then he's not really one of ours anyway."


(Editor's note: The writer of the Irish Times piece Ian O'Riordan has written us as he believes the quote above is being mis-represented. He writes, "That was an opinion piece I wrote during my coverage in Beijing. I like to challenge myself as a writer. I never underestimate my reader. So in the spirit of Oscar Wilde I wrote a deeply sarcastic piece to express how I feel the Irish athletes are often unfairly perceived at major events such as the Olympics." He went on to add, " No Irish journalist has been (more) supportive of Alistair Cragg over the years and I will always regard him as one of the best athletes we've had."

 

The article is certainly a complex read. To read the article in its entirety, please click here to judge for yourself. Ian explains himself in great detail in this message board post)

When Gerard Hartmann, renowned  physiotherapist, was contracted by UK Athletics to work with the British Olympic team, reaction in Ireland was muted. Hartmann was hugely popular having worked with GAA players, rugby players, jockeys,cyclists, and even golfers. His reputation was indisputable and well merited.


In his own way Hartmann portrayed the positive face of a Limerick that was universally derided by the media. There was no talk of Hartmann selling out to the Brits; he was no less Irish because he chose to work for better terms with the old enemy. Not in Limerick anyway.  Hartmann took advantage of a lucrative deal and more power to him. Jim Kemmy MP, the last true Irish Socialist and writer once said that when it came to sport, "Limerick is the most cosmopolitan of cities." How right he was.


Earlier Cragg had called Eamonn Coghlan to task for padding his reputation in a TV studio rather than being supportive of the athlete. "Bring him over to the Phoenix Park and we'll train him," Coghlan quipped. That provoked the inevitable laughter but it was unseemly and inappropriate. Jerry Kiernan babbled on about Cragg setting his sights on the marathon distance his mantra about every middle distance athlete. Cragg may never run a marathon, certainly not before he has finished with track.


"I don't trust any of them. They all have an angle." John Joe Barry, Villanova and Ireland(1948 Olympian)


Six months on and Cragg is unable to train. He spent two weeks in Germany with the best medical man in the world. He has one man in his corner who understands the fickle nature of the media and athletic fans. Mark Carroll (Leevale and Providence College) was a media hero when successful but scorned and diminished when he was perceived to have failed. Cragg continues: "Mark Carroll has been very understanding and wants me to get free of injury." Carroll is Athletics Ireland's manager of the American based Irish athletes. "I have two more Olympics in me. What happened has left  me deeply distrustful."


John McDonnell the legendary Arkansas coach continues to guide and support Cragg. Frank O' Mara is one of the Arkansas legends that  Cragg looks to for inspiration. "I'm so aware of what he did here; he was a class act. His efforts to get the Limerick Leader every week is part of the folklore that has grown up around him here. Niall O' Shaughnessy was another outstanding Limerick athlete. It would be nice to emulate what they have done before I finish."


Cragg
 is the latest in a long list of Athletes who have fallen foul of either the Olympic Council of  Ireland and/or the media. Their treatment of Sonia O' Sullivan left a lot to be desired. If Cragg needs any perspective on this, he should read Jim Hogan's book,'The Irishman Who Ran for England.'  The book has sold out its original run and is not currently available.


Hogan's story is compelling. He ran for Ireland in the Tokyo Marathon, 1964. He was treated disgracefully by Irish officials and certain newspapers. He was forced to change his allegiance to realize his potential.  He wore an English vest in the 1966 European Marathon and won the Gold medal.

Hogan is saddened by what he sees: "There was bonfires on every hillside around Dromin when I won the Gold medal. My own parish supported me but I tell you I took fierce stick over it in many parts of the country," he told this writer. "I was called names you couldn't repeat. They said I was a quitter for not finishing races especially in the Irish papers. In truth I was carrying injuries or sick. I don't see any point in finishing a race just to say you finished."


"I'd say the same thing about the Olympics. If you're injured and out of contention by all means pull out. What the jaysus does an athlete gain by trailing in after the medals are won. If that's what they call a moral victory I'd quit or find another activity. No competitive athlete with any self-respect should have to put himself through that. And another thing. If a runner is lapped in a race he should be fd out of the race entirely or be moved to an an outer lane. They're just a nuisance."

"It's very clear to me that the boy (Cragg) is injury prone All he needs is to get it right on the day  and what's more, there isn't another f..g athlete anywhere near his class.   He is a rare talent and we are fortunate to have him. There is a desperate lack of quality in the country."


"The reaction didn't surpise me. Not much has changed since my day. Those TV pundits have won nothing at the Olympics. We should be doing everything and anything to get the best out of his talent. I suppose tis too late for him to switch to the UK or America."

 

Cragg, 28, will enter some BUPA runs during the year and possibly the 2009 European Cross Country Championships in Dublin.

 

Note: Jim Hogan is donating his 1966 Gold Medal to the Hall of Fame at the University of Limerick. It will be a significant occasion and the public is urged to attend.


PJ Browne, Limerick and New Jersey. Divides his time between the US and Ireland. He now writes faster than he runs.

He has written before for LetsRun.com. In 2002, he dared to ask Regina Jacob's about drugs at the Millrose Games and was told by a USATF employee, "Dont you know that Regina is idolized in this country, and she is the most popular female athlete that we have?" 

 

In 2006, he wrote an article discussing whether Irish athletes should pursue scholarships in America.

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