Wednesday 13 December 2017

The triumph of the underdog is what draws us to sport

On the Line with Alan Aherne

Alan Aherne
Alan Aherne

I will never grow weary of sport's enduring, and endearing, capacity to champion the cause of the underdog and bring unexpected joy to the rest of us.

There's something really special about seeing apparent no-hopers going against the grain and producing results that upset the natural order of things.

And the beauty of it all is that it often happens when the watching public are least expecting it. Last Saturday was one such example, as I witnessed not one, but two, triumphs I hadn't bargained for in the space of a few hours.

My plan was to watch the Sigerson Cup final live on TG4, but I turned on the television in time to catch the closing stages of the FA Cup tie between Burnley and non-league Lincoln.

It was 0-0 moving past the 88-minute mark, and I was thinking to myself what a special occasion and magnificent achievement, not to mention a massive pay day, it would be for the minnows to get their Premier League opponents back to their own patch for a replay.

And then it happened: a Lincoln corner from the right to the far post, a looping header back across to the front stick where another flick was enough to direct the ball over the goal-line for a sensational winner.

The five additional minutes to be played appeared on the bottom of the screen, and I thought they would never end. I have absolutely no affiliation with Lincoln of course, but for that tense spell I was rooting for them and even found myself absent-mindedly biting a fingernail as the referee played a few extra seconds before finally ending the game.

And in those immediate minutes afterwards, when the roughly 3,000 Lincoln supporters at the away end went wild, it adequately summed up the power of sport to perform one basic but very important function: make people happy.

The fact that Lincoln manager Danny Cowley comes across when being interviewed as a genuinely nice guy certainly adds to the romance of it all.

And when the goalscorer mentioned that they now had to focus on North Ferriby in a league game tonight (Tuesday), it really brought home what they had achieved on a Premier League ground.

The FA Cup may have lost its lustre in some respects given the tendency of the bigger clubs to field fringe teams, but that doesn't take from the Lincoln fairytale in any way.

There was more to come on the underdog front too when St. Mary's of Belfast caused a huge shock by pipping holders U.C.D. on a 0-13 to 2-6 scoreline in that Sigerson Cup final in the very impressive Connacht G.A.A. Centre in Bekan, near Ballyhaunis.

This was an amazing achievement when one compares the playing numbers in the respective colleges. I was involved in the third level scene myself back in the day, and even then 'the Ranch' as they're known to all and sundry were well capable of punching above their weight.

They caused a sensation by winning the Sigerson for the first time in 1989, but they hadn't been in a final for 24 years until coming from behind to pip U.C.C. on Friday.

A small teacher training college, they were facing the Belfield boys who, although very lucky to pip U.L. in their semi-final, still had such strength in depth that by my count they made five changes in personnel for the decider.

Unfortunately our own Jim Rossiter from St. Fintan's, who played corner-back on Friday, was one of those to miss out, but it was certainly looking good for them when Dublin's Colm Basquel goaled twice in the early stages despite playing into the wind.

St. Mary's quickly found their feet though and kicked nine points on the trot, although U.C.D. rallied and it looked like extra-time was on the cards when they narrowed the gap to the minimum.

Something hidden deep within the human psyche surges to the fore when a group of players come together to achieve an extraordinary feat. It certainly shone through in additional time for both Lincoln and St. Mary's, and it's why so many of us would be lost without the glory and beauty of sport. It was a special few hours, no doubt about it.

Wexford People

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