Best Sportswriting

The abandoned Five Nations and more of the week's best sportswriting

Enjoy a selection of some of our favourite pieces published elsewhere over the last seven days.

1. “As they left Croke Park last Sunday as All-Ireland Junior club champions, some Kilmeena stalwarts must have been pinching themselves at how quickly things can turn – in both directions.

Kilmeena lost an All-Ireland Junior Final to Nobber of Meath in 2003 in Cremartin of Monaghan. They were Intermediate the following year and with a lot of very talented young players coming through, there was only one direction the club was heading. Up.

Neilly Ryan was a teenager when he came on in that final – he must have thought he was coming into the team at just the right time.

They were intermediate contenders within a few years, but when the Celtic Tiger bubble burst in 2008, few clubs were hit harder than Kilmeena.

Work brought their brightest and best to the four corners of the globe.” 

The crash took Kilmeena’s brightest and best all over the world and by 2013 they were a bad junior team. For The Mayo News, Edwin McGreal charts the story of how they rose to become the first Mayo team to be crowned All-Ireland junior football champions.

2.  “Flores studied the finest Argentine coaches: Carlos Bilardo, Jorge Valdano, Hector Cuper, Cesar Menotti, but most of all he studied Bielsa whom Pep Guardiola described as the best in the world. He also did his coaching badges.

“By 31 I knew I’d need to properly learn English, in addition to the conversational French I had from school,” he states.

“My plan was to save to study English in Dublin for eight months because it was cheaper than England and then French in France for eight months. Four months into my time in Dublin, I needed to find a job. It was more expensive than I’d thought, but the job paid me €1,000 per month. I shared an apartment with seven people and the rent was only €200 a month. After I spent the rest on food and lessons, I was saving money for a trip to France when my English was good enough — and then that trip to Southampton.”

Bielsa, meanwhile, was in between jobs in Bilbao and Marseille.

Flores knew that he was preparing his coaching staff for their next job and that they often prepared in the same town outside Buenos Aires, Maximo Paz.

He asked his friend Camilo to visit the town to try to get a message to Bielsa or his people.

Camilo didn’t meet Bielsa but instead met a volunteer who used to work with one of his assistants Diego Reyes, who was told about Diego Flores.

The links were incredibly tenuous.

In the meantime, the budding manager moved to Paris to brush up on the language.

“Everything was so expensive and I knew straight away that I wouldn’t be able to afford to stay in Paris. Then I read in the newspapers that Bielsa had accepted a job at Marseille and so I moved there,” he says matter of factly.

It was while living in a hostel in Marseille, he received an email.

“It was from Diego Reyes. They knew I could speak French and he invited me to come and see them. I cried when I received this email and the girl on the reception in the hostel asked if I was OK.”

The two Diegos met and got on. Reyes was one of Bielsa’s trusted lieutenants and asked Flores to come in, help and learn.”

(€) For The Athletic, Andy Mitten tells the tale of one man’s quest to work for Marcelo Bielsa.

3. “This story begins on 30 January 1972, when the British Army’s Parachute Regiment shot dead 13 people in Londonderry after opening fire on a civil rights march. The demonstrators had been protesting against a new law giving authorities the power to imprison people without trial in Northern Ireland.

Bloody Sunday will forever be remembered among the most terrible events of the Troubles. In its immediate aftermath, three days later, as some of those killed in Derry were buried, the British embassy in Dublin was set ablaze and destroyed.

The Five Nations of 1972 had opened on 15 January – 15 days before Bloody Sunday. Wales had a strong side, Ireland too. Anticipation among rugby fans was high, but soon the sport was sent into disarray, like so much else.

Ireland began their campaign with victory over France on the outskirts of Paris on 29 January. They would then play England at Twickenham on 12 February.

Willie John McBride, the former Ireland captain, and former British and Irish Lions captain, recalls being accompanied by an armed guard.

He says: “I remember being in London and having protection and asking the guy with me ‘How real is this?’

“He said: ‘We don’t know and we will never know.’ So you lived with that hanging over the top of your head all the time.

Fifty years ago the 1972 Five Nations Championship was abandoned, left unfinished for the first and so far only time in its history. For the BBC, former players and rugby officials recall that time with Chris Howells. 

4. “There was a time when it looked like he might rule the world. Del Potro exploded into the sport as a teenage marvel, and was only 20 when he triumphed at the 2009 U.S. Open, demolishing Rafael Nadal in straight sets, and roaring from a 2-1 set deficit in the final to beat Roger Federer, back when Federer was at his most Federer, and had won the New York tournament the prior five times in a row.

Del Potro’s game was a brute shock. He had all the weapons for modern tennis—most notably a low, flat forehand he would whistle from the baseline like he was gripping a Roman Candle. While he was big (the Open win made him the tallest-ever major tournament champ) he could be crafty when needed, and he had the compulsory five-set endurance, too. Tennis had Roger, Rafa, Novak and Andy, and Delpo was younger than all of them. He appeared poised to own the decade.

He did not. That tall body repeatedly let del Potro down. A right wrist derailed him just months after his U.S. Open breakthrough. Surgery and rehabilitation followed. It felt cruel, as if the tennis gods had blessed del Potro with the ability to throw lightning bolts—and then rudely stripped the super power away.” 

Jason Gay of The Wall Street Journal on an emotional send-off in Argentina for Juan Martin del Potro.

5. “Rooney’s career lends itself to all kinds of different themes but perhaps the most powerful is this idea of guilt and redemption. Many footballers have erred like Rooney but few repent quite like him. When he was sent off in a crucial World Cup qualifier in 2011, he insisted on writing a personal letter of apology to Uefa. There is an anguished, almost childlike penitence there, one that in our current age of faux-emoting and corporate non-apologies feels almost refreshing. Rooney does not just request forgiveness; he supplicates and begs for it, almost as if the pain of sinning is worse than the punishment.

Take, by way of further example, an interview Rooney conducted to promote his new Amazon documentary. Most of the media coverage centred on his admissions of alcohol misuse at the height of his fame: not a new revelation but one that allowed lots of websites to put the words “Rooney” and “booze” next to each other in a headline. But one of the more revealing snippets was his guilt at going to the 2006 World Cup despite not being fully fit. “To this day, I feel terrible for Jermain Defoe,” he discloses. “I literally took his spot at the World Cup and took his dream away.”

In the Guardian, Jonathan Liew considers how Wayne Rooney deals with a mortal fear of judgment.


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