Dublin: 10°C Monday 27 September 2021

Stringer at 40, Phil Taylor's curtain call and the week's best sportswriting

It’s Sunday morning and you know what that means….. stick the kettle on and feast your eyes on some brilliant long reads.

1. “He puts on his club tracksuit. He heads upstairs, and takes a seat in the stands. His work is over before the game starts. His job, from that point on, is simply to watch. That is what Taylor has done for much — too much — of the last 18 years. Before Southampton, he played for Arsenal, Aston Villa and Manchester City, among others, and yet it feels like he has barely played at all: just 95 times in total; only 10 games since 2009 and not at all since 2015. He looks back on his career with no little fondness — the players he has called teammates, the clubs he has called home — but substantially more frustration at the lot he was assigned. Taylor has spent his entire career marooned in soccer’s most unappreciated, unwelcome role: backup goalkeeper.”

Southampton v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League - St Mary's Source: Andrew Matthews

Rory Smith talks with 37-year-old Stuart Taylor about the sobering realities of a career acting as a third choice goalkeeper in the New York Times.

2. “As he departs, you’re really none the wiser. Like all of us, Taylor is a web of spinning contradictions. He’s retiring but not really retiring. Happy but not really happy. Fine for money and yet still weirdly preoccupied with it. Surrounded by plenty of people, but close to very few. Perhaps the price of genius is that nobody truly understands you. Or perhaps the price of indulging genius is that you never truly get the time to understand anyone else.”

DARTS Final Source: PA Archive/PA Images

Jonathan Liew chats with Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor as he embarks on his final World Darts Championship – a polarizing figure of genius and contradictions who, for better and for worse, won’t be remembered just as the greatest darts player of them all.

3. “On January 2, 2017, the greatest golfer you’ve never heard of, Wayne Westner, composed a farewell letter to his family on his laptop computer. It contained a reference to Romeo and Juliet. Two days later, Westner drove from Johannesburg, South Africa, to the coastal town of Pennington, where his wife Alison was staying with her son from a previous marriage, his wife and their five-year-old daughter. He had in his possession the laptop and a 9mm handgun. Wayne Westner was a mythical figure in South African golf, a towering talent whom Gary Player describes as “one of the most physically gifted players I have ever seen. The way he got through the ball reminded me of Ben Hogan, and I don’t say that lightly.” But Westner’s career was cut short by a freakish accident, and life after golf had not been easy for him, as he battled alcoholism and depression.”

Golf - Alfred Dunhill PGA Championship - South Africa Source: EMPICS Sport

Alan Shipnuck delves into the fascinating career of Wayne Wester, the greatest golfer you’ve never heard of.

4. “The 5-year-old boy chased his father around the concrete soccer court, his feathery hair falling over his eyes. Around them the shouts and squeals of other children and the shrill whistles of a referee created a hyperkinetic cacophony reminiscent of any playground. In this moment, it felt almost possible — almost — to forget the metal bars on the windows of the spartan room, to ignore the guards keeping silent watch, and to experience, briefly, the illusion of freedom.

“The father, Sebastiano Russo, 45, has been incarcerated at Opera prison, a maximum-security facility here on the outskirts of Milan, since 2015, a circumstance his young son does not fully comprehend. Russo’s wife, Rosa Bianca Cappelletti, said the boy used to refer to the prison as “Dad’s house.” Lately, he has been calling it “Dad’s cage” and asking why he cannot see his father more often. The sight of the two kicking a ball around one recent afternoon in the prison’s cold, concrete gymnasium filled her with emotion.”

Andrew Keh visists Milan’s Opera prison where an Italian nonprofit organizes soccer matches in an effort to foster healthy relationships between inmates and their children.

5. “Four months after defeating Muhammad Ali in the Fight of the Century, Joe Frazier landed in Belfast for a music tour and declared with unwanted prescience that – “I don’t expect to be a worldwide success as a singer but I love it. It’s hard work, much harder than boxing”.

“Six days later, Frazier left having had more turmoil and humiliation visited upon him than could ever be inflicted in the ring by Ali. The tour was a farce: Frazier played to near-empty venues, flounced out of others, snubbed various dignitaries along with most of the Irish press corps, had his Rolls-Royce damaged and ultimately had to be rescued by Gardaí from an “unruly Roscommon mob.”

Muhammad Ali dies at 74 Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

Gavin Cooney recalls Joe Frazier’s ill-fated singing tour of Ireland in 1971 just months after defeating Muhammad  Ali in the Fight of the Century.

6. “He won a Rearden’s Club All-Star on Wednesday but couldn’t attend because last week he married Denise and they jetted off to South Africa for the honeymoon. They’ll be home for Christmas and he can keep tipping away with Churchvilla and a bit of a five-a-side – despite his strength, Paudie isn’t fan of the gym and likes to put the hurley away rather than winter in the alley. He’ll return with Imokilly and Cloyne again as Fergal Condon’s side look to defend their SHC crown, which the division managed in 1998.

‘I won’t say there’s no pressure, but at the same time if you lose there’s not the same fallout. You’re not spending half an hour beforehand going through tactics and spare men. Obviously there was man-marking and a few basic plans in place, but it was never over-complicated. It was about the 15 going on and hurling as hard as they could.

‘Imokilly let you tip away and do your bit. It turned out that I scored more than ever and in the games I didn’t, others did. There’s a difference trying to win for Imokilly as opposed to: ‘win for Imokilly, do well for yourself, get on the Cork team’.”

Paudie O’Sullivan Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Éamonn Murphy speaks with Paudie O’Sullivan, who explains why he hurled better than ever this year after leaving the demands of the inter-county scene behind him.

7. “As he turns 40 on Wednesday, Stringer is still running. In a couple of weeks, his contract at Worcester Warriors expires but the scrum-half, who won the first of his 98 Ireland caps in 2000 against Scotland, has no thought of hanging up his boots. Physically, he says he is better in shape than he was 15-20 years ago while his enthusiasm for the game has only intensified as he has got older.”

Peter Stringer Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Daniel Schofield talks with former Ireland international Peter Stringer about playing the game after hitting his 40th birthday last Wednesday in The Daily Telegraph.

The42 has just published its first book, Behind The Lines, a collection of some of the year’s best sports stories. Pick up your copy in Eason’s, or order it here today (€10):

‘I’ve gotten a good bit of attention, which wouldn’t really be what I’d look for’

‘This game is massive in many, many ways’: Murray calls on Munster to show progression

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Aaron Gallagher

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