Sport in this country has always been unique and led a powerful relationship with our society.
It has often been represented as a means of which to showcase our strong cultural identity and has acted as a source of national pride for us to celebrate our global recognition.
The ”Big Four” has been coined the phrase for to the popular sports on this island of Gaelic football, hurling, soccer and rugby. While their order is up for debate, they are generally the most popular sports in the country through their participation rates, media coverage and level of government funding.
In a small country like Ireland, our most talented athletes are likely to prioritise these sports as a result.
As a result, national success has come on the football and rugby pitches respectively for many decades. Rugby in particular has seen huge growth and with the potential to the host RWC 2023, the sport here will deservedly reach new heights and a warming legacy.
With the county system and provincial structure in the GAA, Gaelic games will always have a strong appeal with its parish/community focus across all four corners of the island.
However, it is the rise of other sports that are experiencing growing pains that the Irish government and sporting public needs to embrace.
The two key sports that have emerged are in the form of cricket and hockey, two sports associated as being much lower down the favoured and established list of team field sports.
Both codes have had remarkable stories on the world stage for sometime considering the shoe-string budgets and limited resources they have had compared to their more established partners in the form of the GAA, IRFU and the FAI.
Cricket Ireland’s transformation has been simply incredible in what they have achieved over the last ten years in achieving full membership to the International Cricket Council and earning Test status.
Repeated World Cup heroics and the direction of a highly ambitious administration team have been deservedly rewarded. Just to provide a trajectory of their journey to date, it would essentially draw close similarities to a Sunday league team scaling to promotion into the Premier League as a football story equivalent.
Cricket Ireland now stand in the sport’s most coveted elite club. What’s more exciting is that the opportunities that will come our way in the form of more high profile fixtures means that Ireland’s exposure will further increase.
Cricket can take us to new markets not just in sporting terms but also economically, another reason why it does deserve recognition.
When Ireland played India in the 2011 World Cup, over 500 million people watched the game on TV. Regular fixtures and tours could see tourism here explode and also establish enhanced export links. Early indications suggest that the government will help a permanent stadium capable of hosting Test matches.
This summer for hockey has been loud both on and off the field. With the men’s senior team recently securing World Cup qualification following last year’s Olympics campaign, the ladies also are more then likely to qualify for the World Cup as well.
On the field, our players and teams are respected around the world and their ability is certainly proven. It is the off the field issues that are causing barriers.
The absence of a sustainable sponsor and a world class venue meant that Ireland were denied a World Hockey League spot. Nine male and female national teams have been selected for its inauguration in 2019.
The frustration is that there are nations there who are below Ireland in the world rankings.
As a result, the message here is that our players are doing everything they can in the field of play but need the infrastructure to make the next step.
There is big potential for hockey to be Ireland’s representative team sport regularly at the Olympics. Government support for a national stadium at the National Sports Campus should be considered and fast tracked so that when the time comes again to bid and grace the Hockey Pro League in 2023.
Ireland should be set and new generations will be ready to be inspired. And, with the potential for Ireland to be a regular participant in the Olympics, this should be a priority.
These sports are making noise and need to be heard. For all they have done and delivered they need to be treated as more recognised as major sports from the point of prioritised funding for facilities.
Clearly the talent is here. It is almost a case of now or never.
So often the case in Irish sport, the lack of facilities across almost all codes seems to be a recurring theme and a major need.
After all, our sports stars, regardless of code, share the same dreams and aspirations of representing the country and all should have the equal setup in order to do so.
The National Sports Campus in Abbotstown is a great concept and an impressive operation but its expansion needs to happen more swiftly.
Quite simply, the phased building approach is too slow in letting our best athletes get to work.
Another case is that in 2017 to think that a developed country like Ireland has no velodrome is a matter of great concern even when our athletes have secured podium finishes at international events.
From having the world in awe over the All-Ireland finals, to seeing more heroes scoring memorable goals and a team that passionately tries on the rugby pitch, the addition of more “stick” sports to the big boys table of Irish sport can bring success all year round with the addition of a few to be shamrock centurions as well as a fair few penalty corner goals.
Peter Nagle, Pundit Arena