The budget is killing us Irish, but at least we'll always have sports

They say to never start a column with a question so here goes with two of them -- Budget Day 2009, how was it for you? And how was it for those of us paid to watch sport for a living, a wonderful gift we should never take for granted?

Let’s start with you. If you’re lucky enough to be reading this latest nonsense on American soil then congratulations -- chances are you got out of here just in time.

Any day soon the last person to leave Ireland will be asked to switch off the lights on the way out. That’s what happens, as one Irish exile in Canada told RTE Radio on Tuesday morning, when the country fails to save for a rainy day.

We’ve had little or nothing but rainy days here for the past two months, and that’s economically as well as physically.

The budget on Wednesday of last week proved it, a budget with nothing more to offer in terms of job creation than a reduction in the excise duty on alcohol.

That move was undertaken by Brian Lenihan, allegedly the man in charge of our national finances, in an effort to stop thousands of people crossing the border into Northern Ireland every day to stock up on cheap beer and wine.

Well, Brian’s latest moves will stop the flow of traffic north, but instead of crossing the border at Newry pretty soon we will all be heading out the departures gates at Dublin and Cork and Shannon airports.

Ireland Inc., as the man now living in Canada said the other morning, didn’t prepare for this rainy day when the Celtic Tiger was roaring in the nineties and the early part of this century, roaring beyond belief as it now transpires.

The men who made most of the money at the height of the boom are now the men who owe most of the money in this current gloom, and guess what? They can’t afford to pay it back.

That’s why the Fianna Failures in government are now taxing us ordinary men and women in the street to bail out the banks and the builders and all the other bowsies who filled their big tent at the Galway races for all those years.

Those who made hay while the sun shone on Ireland are now ruining life here for the rest of us who looked on in astonishment as they piled up the cash and the helicopters.

And right now the loony Lenihan and his cohorts are asking us mere mortals to pick up the pieces with cuts and taxes at every turn.

It’s sickening. And it’s not fair on those of us who remember the depression of the eighties to have to live through it all again, nor is it possible for those of us over 40 just to up sticks and leave as so many of us -- and you -- did before.

I’d go in the morning if I could, but Australia doesn’t want people my age. Portugal can’t provide a suitable education for my teenage kids, and Obama’s America has yet to embrace the Irish in the manner in which it should have done years ago as a thank you for building your fine land.

So it looks like me and mine are stuck here for the time being at least, and the only hope of a respite from the recession lies on the sporting fields of Ireland and beyond.

I realized as much last Wednesday afternoon. Just as Brian Lenihan was getting to his feet in the Dail (Parliament) to announce his latest Draconian efforts, so a packed ballroom at the Shelbourne Hotel was getting to its feet to celebrate the achievements of a sporting nation that continues to punch above its weight.

The occasion was the Philips Sports Manager of the Year award, an afternoon when the merits of Declan Kidney, John Oxx, Brian Cody, Jack O’Connor, Michael Cheika and Giovanni Trapattoni among others were feted.

On stage at the Shelbourne Hotel were many of the trophies that have landed in Irish hands in the past 12 months, not least amongst them the Epsom Derby via Sea the Stars, the Heineken Cup via Leinster, the McCarthy and Sam Maguire Cups via Kilkenny and Kerry and the Grand Slam trophy via Brian O’Driscoll and his own boys in green.

The glittering collection of trophies, and many of those who spoke, reminded us that sport seldom recognises the doom and gloom prevalent in ordinary everyday life.

At a time when the country is economically and politically bankrupt, our real cheerleaders are the people we feted in the Shelbourne last Wednesday and those who play and perform for them.

Take Oxx for example. At a time when the racing industry is struggling with the effects of the downturn like every other Irish industry, he managed to send Sea the Stars out to six Group One wins this year, an incredible feat that included the Guineas-Derby-Arc treble.

Brian Cody’s Kilkenny won their fourth All-Ireland final in a row in 2009. Kerry came back from the brink to triumph in the football decider.

Trapattoni’s Ireland almost made it to the World Cup finals. Rory McIlroy and Padraig Harrington made millions on the great golf courses of the world.

Bohemians and Shamrock Rovers and Sporting Fingal gave domestic football something to shout about in a year dominated by farcical headlines.

Bernard Dunne and Katie Taylor and Matthew Macklin won titles in the boxing ring, and Olive Loughnane walked her way to a medal on the athletics track.

Michael Cheika’s Leinster won the European Cup, a feat that would have guaranteed him the manager of the year award in the not too distant past.

But head and shoulders above all that and all those great sportsmen and women, in the eyes of the Philips judges anyway, were the achievements of the rugby team sent out to represent its country by the great Declan Kidney.

That Irish team played eight times in 2009 and won seven of their games en route to the Grand Slam, the Six Nations and the Triple Crown.

They even rounded off the year by beating the World Cup winners South Africa in the battle of the northern and southern champions at Croke Park.

Thus the minority sport that is rugby gave a nation back its pride at a time when our political and business leaders were doing their level best to beat us all to a pulp.

That’s why Declan Kidney won the Philips Sports Manager of the Year award for the third time in four years last Wednesday afternoon as the rest of the country was digesting the latest Budget Blues.

Of course, if Trap’s team had made it to the World Cup finals then he’d have won, but the less said anymore about those French frauds the better.

We can only deal in realities, and the reality is that Kidney’s team delivered in the nation’s hour of need and he deserves all the accolades coming his way now.

He is a great coach, a modest man and a superb leader who is not without a sense of humor, something we all have to work on in current circumstances.

As he stood up to talk to emcee Des Cahill last Wednesday, Kidney made an amusing comment that deserves a second listen.

“You know it’s funny Des,” he said. “Sea the Stars wins all those races and gets put out to stud. We win the Grand Slam and all I have to look forward to is talking to you!”

The laughter initiated by that Kidney line resonated long into the night around Dublin’s Baggot Street, even as around the corner those still in Dail Eireann tried to make the best of the bad lot that is the current Irish economy.

We got to escape the budget thanks to sport, and we did so comfortable in the knowledge that at least we have another great sporting year to look forward to in 2010 if nothing else.

And don’t be surprised if Declan Kidney’s Ireland are the stars of the show once again.

HERO OF THE WEEK

Roy Keane’s Ipswich won again on Saturday, but the man showed a new maturity on Sunday when he admitted to The Sunday Times that he may have been hard on Mick McCarthy when the FAI deserved the full force of his Saipan ire all those years ago. Keane the manager is clearly maturing by the day. Much more of this and I might start to like him again!

IDIOTS OF THE WEEK

The British public voted Ryan Giggs as the winner of the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year award on Sunday night, a ridiculous decision if ever there was one considering the 36-year-old is nothing more than a bit player at Old Trafford these days. Surely world motor racing champion Jenson Button would have been a better choice? Even Giggs admitted he never dreamt he’d win the award!

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