Despite our problems rugby and racing wins prove Ireland has changed for the better - Comment

Conor Ganly


Conor Ganly


rugby grand slam cheltenham conor murray

Conor Murray.

It was appropriate that this St Patrick's Day marked one of the biggest sporting achievements in Ireland's history.

It came in the same week Irish trainers, jockeys and horses went to the mecca of national hunt racing Cheltenham to win a lot more races than their English counterparts.

In some ways, the victories in the quite different codes reflect the extent to which Ireland is now maturing into an independent and successful nation,

Roll back the clock to the grimmer decades. The war years, the grim 50s the 1980s.

Irish teams and horse trainers travelled more in hope than expectation.

To win a rugby match in Twickenham was like finding water in a desert.

The losses were hard to stomach but it was often the manner of defeat that was the real sickener.

Apart from some notable exceptions, our rugby teams were shambolic outfits.

The team led by Mick Doyle and Ciaran Fitzgerald was the beginning of that change. Their success planted the seeds.

When rugby went professional the IRFU opted for a system that proved the perfect match for our country.

They focused resources on four professional teams and the international set-up.

Since then rugby has flourished and all the teams have won major trophies.

In horseracing, Ireland used to go to Cheltenham with just a few good chances. The English dominated. They also cherrypicked our best horses. Our trainers had to work with little or no resources with the result that Cheltenham turned into an embarrassing shambles. Given Ireland's long equine history the failures were difficult to digest.

But now, things have gone full circle.

The Irish trainers now travel to England every March with horses that are certainties. Our punters travel in the expectation that they will not be broke after the races.

Willie Mullins is backed by international trainers while Gordon Elliot has the support of Ryanair's Michael O'Leary. Owner JP McManus backs many Irish trainers but also invests in the British industry.

While Ireland has big problems like the health service and housing, the sporting success last week proves the country has changed for the better. The professionalism in this achievement is even more pleasing.