Thursday 12 December 2019

Painting FAI Windows....

It’s not unusual for a national sports body to be seeking a CEO or Chairman in today’s competitive world as witnessed by events recently when the CEO of the Premier League resigned before he even started due to inappropriate behaviour (before taking up the position). It might also be viewed as careless for an organisation to lose its CEO. But in the parallel universe of football where some managers are about to experience a harsh Christmas with sackings already gathering pace. But depending on which side of the debate you sit on in the perennial debate, is football a business or a sport - it’s all perhaps self-explanatory. 

Yet the Football Association Ireland (FAI) has produced its own bizarre circumstances by not only losing their CEO a few months ago; also its main sponsor and then discovering a series of financial issues that leave the Association insolvent as it seems the FAI had few financial controls or Governance guidelines during a time it was handling millions and had sizeable debt commitments. These issues only coming to light when a reported cash call by the association was resolved by their CEO at the time with a personal cheque for €100K. 

An unusual event and only made public when a leading journalist in The Sunday Times reported the story. Otherwise the song would have remained the same on Irish football and the great job being done their CEO just crtuces by his detractors. By the same token it was the FAI, a body that has always been different because of the so-called football family ethos, is accustomed to the bizarre and always makes it all sound normal. Akin to the euphemism characterised in the movie The Irishman about painting windows. 

The innards of the FAI have always been somewhere between a secret society and a local gang and always reluctant to accept outsiders. As a result, the association has seen the demise of multiple CEO’s over recent years all unable to survive the rigours of the Association. There was businessman Fran Rooney; Brendan Menton, a long-time FAI administrator; a current FIBA Board Member, Bernard O’Byrne or for those of a bygone era the Kilcoyne family of Shamrock Rovers fame. 

The job seemingly so special and specific that it could fit very few men or women on this island. Except for the last incumbent who wielded absolute control for over 15 years it appears over the organistra’s and demanded the same beyond its walls also. However, that same CEO has left the association with a €55M losses - after the FAI 2018 accounts were restated - with the 2019 accounts still to be published with perhaps another €18m loss accrued to date. In recent days the era of John Delaney leaves a landscape so drastically damaged only tough solutions remain to keep the ssociation operational. 

Albeit UEFA has provided loans in the meantime for current shorter liabilities and keep the doors open at their extensive HQ in Abbottstown outside Dublin. 

The accounts indicate the involvement in the AVIVA Stadium was beyond financial sense and perhaps the start of the cashflow difficulties for the FAI in what now looks like the remnants of a half-cooked pyramid scheme. Or a last ditched effort to help the association meet its obligations and not default on bank loans. Or a schemed to save face for the now departed CEO unable to swallow his ego or admit the Vantage Plan was never a good ticket idea at the time of economic crisis. However, humility had no value in the ex-CEO’s lexicon. 

Therefore, the schemes that followed were even a worse miscalculation and only exacerbated matters further. In fact, only the probity of the IRFU ensured the AVIVA exists today and that the FAI even have somewhere to play the Internationals or eve host EURO 2020 games. More seriously, the FAI annual accounts failed to explicitly disclose that debt liability year on year. For which Deloittes have issued a recent disclaimer after their work on the readjusted 2018 numbers was published. This all happening despite the background of endless questions over the years by members of the Fifth Estate. Many of whom faced serious reprimands by their editors for daring ask the FAI CEO probing questions on the AVIVA repayments. 

None of this was not ameliorated by Irelands’ libel laws either or when one major newspaper tycoon sponsored the FAI national management team. So, on the face of it any financial engineering went unquestioned by the proletariat, the government and all the business tycoons. Much of which still remains under investigation with An Garda. Meanwhile though the game must go on at all levels and do so without money in the FAI current accounts. 

Clearly no rocket scientists are needed to figure out that the professional game (i.e. international team etc) is a different business to the grassroots (i.e. schoolboys and perhaps even the League of Ireland). The latter needing a day to day administration while the firer doesn’t. The future can also sustain a role for club members on a national council which then has oversight of the domestic game. But there is no reason why - unless qualified – that those same roles should enable directorships at FAI Management, board or international level as currently has been allowed to happen. 

The resignation of Donal Conway and soon to be John Earley, ends that politburo type promotion system that enabled the former CEO to rise up the ranks unchecked to a position of total authority. More importantly, without the proven skills to address the business issues that he would have to face during his tenure at the FAI. Albeit much of it all was of his own naïve creation. Allegedly being advised by a Board (of two) with no requisite experience or knowledge either. 

Other federations be it the RFEF in Spain, the FA in the UK or DFB in Germany have long some separated their international football from domestic. Which is now a must for the Irish game despite the damage that has already been done. Nothing wrong with running the sport like a family but the professionals recruited, paid and held responsible for adherence to standard operating procedures from businesses and have oversight of the bigger picture. Afterall, it is a fifty million-euro business and needs to be managed as such to protect the game, the Association itself and any shareholders or stakeholders. 

The news of the termination agreement with the former CEO does not make good reading either and in stark contrast to the news facing Sepp Blatter, formerly of FIFA, or Michel Platini formerly of UEFA, who are currently being sued by those same organisations they once headed up. Whatever the details in the KOSI report – which are not yet public for sensitivity reasons - will no doubt highlight a lack of accountability in Abbottstown. But like the HSE, national broadband or voting machines these matters re political footballs. Never more so than now given a pending election in 2020. 

But what rings loud and clear is that secrecy doesn’t work. Nor does a lack of supervision as human behaviour dictates organisations need systems in order to have certain cross checks in place. Afterall, Plato, the Greek philosophers said that ‘Society was just man written large’ and by definition so are any failings which can offer opportunism in the absence of structure or control. In the FAI’s case it led to the uncontrolled financial losses, the departure of talented peoples within the organisation. It now also leaves a bleak outlook for soccer in Ireland facing years of uncertainty. 

Like a ship with a hole under the waterline the vessel has to be stabilised and some of those aboard can race for the available lifeboats. Only when the leaking is stemmed can progress be made though and in the meantime is just a race to see which battle can be won first - the sinking or the staying afloat. Not an impossible scenario but a horror movie when contrasted with the picture the FAI was selling about itself for years with their CEO appearing regularly on radio and TV shows extolling his unique alchemic touch at the helm of the good ship 

Sadly, now the association has been laid bare and is not fit for purpose so is the right time to reform all the internal structures. The short-term future though is basic survival and meet the needs so as to minimise damage to the schoolboy game or the international team. The right resources are needed in the right areas, and new aces required to take the game forward, yet not throwing out the bath water. For a start just a simple series of good auditory practices would suffice in the first instance. Unfortunately, anyone currently on the good ship kangaroo remains tainted regardless and so changes are inevitable. 

The international side of the FAI and the Senior squad will be a smaller organisation with the domestic game larger yet sustaining itself once the grant funding is restored. It should be delivered directly to the designated clubs eligible. It will continue its good work as it always has done and perhaps on a smaller scale to start. But finding the much-needed sponsors to replace Three will be much tougher yet the FAI now offers little perceived value or a brand which can offer opportunity to leading products. But the need for commercial income has never been greater or the urgency required and so it is jobbing no doubt for an impossible dreamer. But no better place than the field of dreams to start fresh ideas.

Copyright OSMedia

Friday 25 October 2019

Looking After Number One.......Or Not

Steve Hansen shared some wise words in the bowels of The Aviva stadium in November after the All Blacks were defeated by Ireland in 2018, willingly pushing the impending title of World Number One ranking Joe Schmidt’s direction. Albeit it would take months for the newfound coefficient to be recognised Hansen warned of the pressure that comes with that position. 

‘I said at the beginning of the week that this is the two best sides in the world playing each other,” said Hansen post-match, “so as of now they’re the number one team in the world. Hansen concluded, “So I guess they are favourites.” 

Former All Black’s captain Richie McCaw went through a lot of personal rediscovery after the 2007 semi-final loss to France in Cardiff and by his own admission recognised it was a tough road back. It became a time when he no longer had self-belief. Something hard to fathom when the record shows he not only returned successfully but along with Hansen secured wins in 2011 and 2015 Rugby World Cup’s (RWC). Despite all that McCaw rarely does the talk circuit and withdraws into the background of the All Black history and supports the culture where no one stands out. Despite being the only captain ever to lift the Webb Ellis twice. 

In the aftermath of Ireland’s second historic win over the All Blacks, Irish captain Peter O’Mahony, within days was appearing on RTE’s Late Late Show to discuss, what was after all, only a friendly game with nothing riding on it. An insight perhaps into how excitement of the achieving Number One started infiltrating squad thinking perhaps. Since then O’Mahony has played poorly and in Japan was just a shadow of his former himself. along with most of his fellow players. But Hansen was clever in his advice as getting to number one is the easy part. Staying there is much harder as the All Blacks know too well year on year. 

In the build up to the quarterfinal there were more strange signs as only Johnny Sexton completed the traditional Captains Run ahead of the crucial match as seemingly other players deciding that the two and a half hours round trip to the Stadium was excessive. Something even soccer players wouldn’t even dream of saying before any Champions League tie. Then a trip to see Sumo wrestling on the Thursday prior was also the type of activity best done in the early stages of the competition and rather inappropriate days ahead of the knockout stages. Or that contest that everyone in Ireland has been focused on for the past four years. 

Meanwhile New Zealand were thinking about the game it was obvious at the kick-off they came to play and play hard they did. Listening to Schmidt post-match comments, Ireland were stunned by the All Blacks and he blamed nothing in house that led to the defeat. A worrying initial assessment given the contest was virtually irretrievable after twenty minutes. 

The loss to Japan in Shizuoka though was a warning sign that Ireland were far short of even their best. Indeed, the game against the Tier 2 side showed a quicker opponent, with points of attack switching repeatedly and the return of width that killed narrow game plans. This along with rapid handling, increased line speed and sharper players ended hopes of topping the Pool A. Yet for some reason that defeat was explained away as just a bad day at the office and Ireland moved on to a rainy night in Kobe.

Then that win against Russia seemed to somewhat reassure Schmidt for some reason as he still failed to see the persistent lethargy from his team. Even though Japan easily moved beyond the attrition game so valued by Irelands management. Which in fairness has had a successful time and a place. But at this World Cup the opposition have figured out how to counter and disarm Farrell's defensive systems. The bubble think of the Irish camp a phenomenon that sometimes permeates squads during long tournaments - thus diluting the fear that should have abounded ahead of the match with the All Blacks. 

As bizarre as it may seem the thrashing was very predictable even if the 30-point differential unimaginable. Clearly Ireland over read into the win over a poor Scotland and perhaps the emotion of Joe’s last match was not the fuel needed as an aging squad suddenly seemed to look like they were playing a season too far. In fact, in 2013, Rob Kearney said in Sydney, when injured on in the Lions Tour, he would be too old for RWC 2019 and on the evidence, it may have been an accurate self-assessment. Why Larmour wasn’t fully blooded for the six weeks in Japan is unclear. 

Hansen since the AVIVA defeat has innovated both All Blacks personnel - sticking with Richie Mo’Unga and Beauden Barrett at fullback until it they both came good – and changed the way they play. Even if there was a risk and defeat, he persisted as late as September and finally sees it all come good. Meanwhile in Dublin though, Schmidt struggled on through the Six Nations, preseasons and then the world cup itself. Like the reluctant schoolteacher fearing a new curriculum happily defaulting to the known knowns. 

Whereas his country man Warren Gatland constantly seeks innovation and since his ill-fated Irish career has very much progressed with Wales and in addition on two winning British and Irish Lions Tours over the intervening decade. In contrast the Ireland team sheet in Tokyo was virtually the same as the quarterfinal against Argentina in 2015 - bar the injuries to Paul O’Connell, Johnny Sexton and retirements. 

In hindsight the decision to leave Devin Toner looks more ill-advised than it even did when the final squad was announced, as John Kleyn started once in Japan and with only 2 caps hardly carried the same command, grizzle and nous of the reliable Leinster Lock. The persistence with an out of form Robbie Henshaw and Conor Murray showed the lack of a Plan B. Obviously, the aging dynamic of the Irish talisman Johnny Sexton, the world’s most outstanding stand-off of his generation and on field captain, is one of those unstoppable things that happen.

So, there was an urgent need to blood stand offs, and if Jack Carty or Joey Carberry are not the answer then it is time to unearth some other gems. Similar to rise of Gary Ringrose, James Ryan or Dan Levy. Then also give likes of Tadgh Beirne for instance more than cameo roles if good enough. However, Schmidt’s innate cautious nature was once the strength that made Ireland successful yet over time then very predictable and becoming his weakness. 

It is a disappointing end to Ireland’s semi-final ambitions once again, but the hallmark of that obsession made Schmidt worry too much about France four years ago hoping to obviate a clash with the All Blacks before the semi-finals. Meanwhile, Argentina ate our breakfast and swiftly ended those worries, Again, in 2019 being too cute and trying to meet South Africa and avoid New Zealand in a similar way, meant Schmidt was outdone by Jamie Joseph’s Japan in Shizuoka. 

With the Irish provinces overflowing with young talent the lack of ability is not a true assessment either. Rather a failure in trust of younger players to respond to the occasion and a reflection of autocratic the Schmidt way maybe. In truth there is over focus on systems and playbooks. Rather than play what’s in front of you and respond to developing game and as result Schmidt achieved none of his own stated benchmarks at the world cup. Unfortunately, innovation is the only way to remain ahead and not always just the playing talent. 

That is something former Leinster coach Michael Cheika may argue as a lack of depth means Union competes with Rugby League, Australian Rules, overseas clubs or cricket. However, the Wallabies under Cheika probably play too much heads-up rugby with too little structure. But Gatland keeps unearthing new stars and systems even though the Welsh clubs are not performing well in Champions Cup or Pro 14. Not unlike Leinster’s loss to Saracens in the 2019 Heineken Final, Irish teams maybe ooze over confidence, yet their systems become predictable and losing critical games as a result. That is why remaining at the top becomes much harder than getting to the summit in the first place. Just ask Rafael Nadal 

Somewhere along the road to Japan, Ireland lost the ability to think on their feet and as the game changed it left the Number One team in the world watching the final from the side-lines. 

The future is bright though and the Schmidt legacy will endure even if losing to a Tier two nation is a repeat of 1999. Indeed, as have been those battles with Argentina over the years. However, the IRFU’s rush to sign Andy Farrell now seems ill advised with no time for reflection or analysis as this Rugby World Cup has shone a light in many areas. So other candidates who offer a freshness like Jamie Joseph – as a for instance - are now out of bounds. 

Although New Zealand have successions plan in place, with Hansen’s assistant Ian Foster likely to be next coach if the All Blacks win the Web Ellis again. Not unlike Hansen’s path alongside Graham Hendry. But should New Zealand fail then other names will be discussed albeit the All Blacks system means the job is not offered to non-Kiwis A policy the IRFU should consider as the list of talented Irish coaches is now endless. In the meantime, as Hansen rehabilitated his career after a dismal experience with Wales, so will Joe Schmidt in time. But it may require not so much updating his CV but his views on the game. 

On that imaginary list of potential coaches is Mark McCall now at Saracens, Ronan O’Gara back in France after Racing 92 and Crusaders; Bernard Jackman’s French experience and success has value, as does Leo Cullen currently at Leinster; Or Geordie Murphy at Leicester Tigers as Ireland needs all the ideas and knowledge that can be used in the echo chambers at the IRFU. Mais Plus ca Change and the Will Carling infamous quote about the Heinz 57 seems appropriate at this juncture. 

With the likes of Paul O’Connell, Mark McDermott currently with Russia or Conor O’Shea with Italy surely there is a need for them to be included in the wider conversation. From the outside it was one thing Schmidt wasn’t good at it seems or a good listener as he oversaw Jordi Murphy moving to Ulster and then dis-improving; or the trust Joey Carberry who then was revived when he moved to Munster. while Henshaw was brought to Leinster prematurely probably. Then saw Ian Madigan leave for France, as did Simon Zebo, when they both saw the door close post 2015 RWC. 

In the end all sports people are measured on results and the obsession with surpassing the quarterfinals was the beginning of the end. Now with the RWC 2019 over there is no hiding place or ignoring the lack of improvements in results. Rather a devastating defeat at the hands of New Zealand that will leave its mark and probably accelerate the retirement plans of the older Irish players. Which paves the way for the future and offers starts for all those that have waited so long for the chance that Schmidt never gave them.

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Monday 29 July 2019

Zidane Looking for Bale Out

It’s summertime in Madrid and always a volatile time when Real Madrid president Florentino Perez ruminates over possible new signings. Or on this occasion his new manager, or the returning manager, Zinedine Zidane. These moments are often accompanied by club clear-outs which over the last few summers have seen the departure of James Rodriguez, Mesut Ozil, and Alvaro Morata – not long after returning from Juventus. All of whom followed the departure of Angel di Maria to Paris Saint German months previously. This summer has proved no different with the exit of Ceballos and the ongoing efforts to offload Gareth Bale. Zidane clearly disinterested in keeping the Welshman 

Open rumours suggest that Neymar is a possible target – although he has no buy-out clause - but cost PSG £198M when he moved from Barcelona a few seasons ago. If Neymar did arrive in Madrid, he would join a distinguished roster of his countrymen that played at the Santiago Bernabeu over the decades. Regretfully, few of whom have been outstanding during their stay, as the likes of Kaka arrived past his peak; Robinho never matured into the promising talent he was; with Ronaldo similarly arriving late in his career and not making a good account of himself beyond 2002 season. The injuries beginning to take their toll on his body. 

The most successful being Roberto Carlos and then in more recent seasons, Marcelo. Both allegedly defenders yet more devastating in attack than in their primary roles. Although Casemiro is a favourite of Zidane, in the middle of the park, it remains to be seen whether he hits it off with thee more agile players like Eden Hazard. Who is what Madrid need given the talented Luka Modric is now on the wrong side of thirty-three – and last year was facing possible prison time in Croatia. A charge which has now been cleared. 

Though an argument can be made that Neymar fits well into that left-wing spot left vacant by Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to Juventus, it is Gareth Bale’s more natural position as he has been second fiddle to Cristiano for the past three seasons. The Welshman made his name at Spurs rampaging down the left flank and that was what made him attractive to Madrid and saw him debut for Wales side under John Toshack. Himself a former Real Madrid manager. 

What does seem very clear is that James Rodriguez is not making a return to the Spanish capital from Bayern Munich after his two-year loan period. With an unsettled Matteo Kovacic now moved to Chelsea’s, it leaves Karim Benzema has one of the highest buyout clauses at £886 million and not going anywhere at 30 years of age. But Zidane is keen fan on his fellow Frenchman at number 9 and so Karim won’t be leaving. As all managers find out when they arrive at Madrid the club’s commercial needs overrule the playing needs and so attacking midfielders Isco and Marco Asensio once tipped for a bright future at the Santiago Bernabeu - and have hefty release clauses. But they were on the Zidane sell list as he looks for funds to buy another Frenchman, Paul Pogba, a move proving difficult. With Asensio now seriously injured in preseason and Isco looking very fit they won move. 

The German Tony Kroos has also attracted interest from the Premier League and at 28 - with three Champions league medals and a World Cup - might feel a change might be good. But he just signed a new deal until 2020 amidst rumours that either of the Manchester clubs were keen on signing him. But Real Madrid perhaps couldn’t afford him to lose him if Perez is targeting the 2019 La Liga title. Although as a life sided player he does add to the clutter with Bale. 

Summer  transfers will be defined by the arrival of Eden Hazard, yet the former Chelsea player has yet to impress those in the Spanish capital and started pre-season notably over weight. 

Zidane is being frustrated on his return and unable to get all the purchases done as he wishes and knocking heads with Perez more than is safely recommended. They say one should never return to a place where success was tasted because it’s never the same second time around. .That deja-vu is obviously dawning on ZZ and he may find it a tougher job this time around.

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Thursday 25 July 2019

So Rory Where did it all go Wrong?

“So, George, where did it all go wrong?” asked the hotel bellboy who delivered champagne to Best’s room and found him entertaining a scantily-clad Miss World on a bed covered with his winnings from the casino the night before. The now infamous tale captures the enigma and legend that was George Best, that great footballer from Northern Ireland and Manchester United. A winner of two league titles and the European Cup (Champions League) in 1968. In a brilliant but all too brief career given that Best chose to retire at the ridiculous age of 28. With the world still at his feet. 

Best was one of a number of sporting legends to emanate from Northern Ireland and who sprung onto the world stage. Some of the fulfilling their potential and others who - like Best - did so but fell short of perhaps their true potential in the pantheon of sport. Alex Higgins did so in snooker winning world title on two occasions - albeit a decade apart – in 1972 and 1982. A flamboyant snooker player he was named Hurricane due to the speed of his play not unlike Best - in so far as alcoholism affected his life – making him a tabloid story for most of his life rather the talented snooker player he was. The total contrast to fellow countryman Denis Taylor who beat Steve Davis in 1985 and who to this day still is the steady as a BBC commentator. 

At times if seems to be the way Northern Ireland likes their sports stars if you add the names of Norman Whiteside, Darren Clarke or Eddie Irvine. However, it cannot be true algorithm when balanced with the likes of Barry McGuigan, Dame Mary Peters, or Pat Jennings. Just to name just a few. Yet it leads to the very question of where in that list will Rory Mcilroy be when he reflects on his career and the what might have been – following after another disastrous week in the US Open at Shinnecock Hills last week. A golfing wizard since his birth and a gifted at the game he probably fails to realise at times how talented he is. Given he has always been capable of doing magical things with a bag of clubs. 

That talent coined with a grit and determination of a Tiger Woods, competitiveness of Jack Nicklaus and work ethic of Arnold Palmer, McIlroy would have set greater standards. Perhaps fulfilling the promise, he showed ever since he could walk and his rapid progress through the amateur ranks, Walker Cup, Junior Ryder Cup in 2004 and then the professional game. An assumed trajectory since his arrival in 2008 that under his own terms looked as if the Holywood man would wrote his own script in the game. His first PGA Tour win at Quail Hollow in 2010 coming at the age of 21 and surprising none of those outside his immediate following. But perhaps it was the manner in which he slayed the field on that Sunday - with a final round 62 - that woke up the greater golf world. 

Then Rory’s rich promise then took him to hold the lead at the 2011 Masters for three days and head into the back nine at Augusta on that Sunday floating easily at the top of the leader board. When suddenly a rush of blood to the head saw him rip a driver from his bag and slam the ball down the left side of the tenth fairway almost out of bounds. In an instant the infallibility of youth was laid bare for all watching. A sense of tragedy brought to the three days achievements as Rory's round unfolded in front of millions. It was the Sunday that the leader of the tournament began to de-combust. The Major dream disintegrating in moment with caddie JP Fitzgerald helpless, as were Rory’s parents, Chubby and others. The day making the wrong type of history with a round of eighty strokes. 

Naturally for the next few months Rory became invisible with every manner of expert predicting a doomsday scenario following his Augusta collapse. Who could have thought otherwise about as the Green jacket leaked from within his own very grasp. A chance few golfers even see in a life time but in a game littered with names of golfers who never made it at Augusta: Lee Trevino, Peter Thompson, Greg Norman, Nick price and Ernie Els. So, no shame in that really as there were other majors to be chased. Albeit that Sunday in Augusta would make it a tougher road to travel. Then after a few months McIlroy showed up at Congressional, quietly, avoiding the spotlight, sticking to his pattern and looking up as little as possible. This was after all the first major since The Masters. 

Then with a margin of eight shots Rory McIlroy stormed the U.S. Open at record pace to become the first player to reach 13 under and the first to card a 72-hole aggregate score of 268. Beating records previously held by Jack Nicklaus at Baltusrol in 1980, Lee Janzen also at Baltusrol thirteen years later; Tiger Woods at Pebble Beach in 2000, and Jim Furyk at Olympia Fields in 2003. More importantly McIlroy became the youngest winner since Bobby Jones in 1923. In fact, by 2012, McIlroy was well-placed to match the major winning feats of Nicklaus and Woods had his own win rate not faded. Now on his way to 30 years of age next May, Rory has now slipped through a couple of seasons where he has not been in a major mix for a while. As Woods career proves, leaving all the winning to later years becomes harder when injuries start to take their toll. Already that Nicklaus major record looks unreachable for even Woods. 

Rory’s win at PGA Championship win at Kiawah Island is now six years ago, and his last major four years ago at The Open and that first title win at Quail Hollow now back further. Albeit he won the Arnold Palmer Invitational earlier this year and was Tour Championship in 2016, this weekend’s inclement weather in New York state certainly ended another major assault despite all the great preparations. The winning streak, hunger or good fortune now seems to have abandoned McIlroy and so the question is can he get it back like Woods. Although in Tiger’s case you could argue that his overbearing Father gave the young Woods a need to win that is still visible today - despite all the reconstructive surgery. In Rory’s case the natural talent doesn’t seed the same ambition or work ethic. Or at least that how it seems from this distance, 

In addition, Rory has brought on many changes for himself by needing club’s after Nike got out of the club business, a high profile fallout with his management company Horizon Sports; then a change to his long serve caddie for a friend and his recent marriage in Ashford Castle. Each one of which, in themselves would be enough to affect any golfers form in their own right by becoming added distraction. But coming together and self-infected for the most part must have affected his concentration levels. 

Which maybe the difference between being very good and the greatest – and more than just natural talent. Perhaps it takes a greater will, stringer discipline and a ferocious focus to match the greatest names in golf. So, at twenty-five years of age Rory was one of the few talents that could have filled that void when the indomitable Woods stepped back. But now that gap has been filled with the next batch such as Jordan Spieth, Brook Koepka, John Rahm. However, when McIlroy won his second golf major title at 23 years and three months, he was the fifth youngest player ever to do so in the history of the game, and joined an elite club that includes Young Tom Morris, Gene Sarazen, John McDermott and the Seve Ballesteros. One wonders whether McIlroy’s best days are behind him. 

So Rory, where did is all go wrong?

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Nicholas Roche - Profile

It is no easy task following your parents into their chosen profession. This is even more difficult if it is the exact same profession or sport. Yet the list is lengthy of young men and women who have chosen to exactly that and risk the caparisons; Jordi Cruyff electing to become professional footballer following in the footsteps of his famous father Johan; Enzo Zidane Fernandez similarly battling the shadow his Father Zidane, Conor Daly the Indy Series driver tracing his father  steps- former F1 driver - Dubliner Derek Daly. Whatever about following into another sporting discipline, the choice of pursuing the exact same discipline can only lead to unenviable comparisons. Particularly if your Father established some unrepeatable records. 

Yet such is the life of Nicholas Roche. Who was only three when he stood by his Fathers side on the Champs Elysee in 1987 when Stephen became the first Irishman to claim the Tour de France. Only months after also winning the Giro and was then to make it a treble year with the World Championship a few months after. But such is the character of Nicholas he is now the bearer of an impressive CV starting with the win Irish National Road Race and in doing so joined the family business as two of Nicolas’s uncles are former professionals while his cousin Dan Martin currently rides for UAE Team Emirates. 

Having set his mind on becoming a hotel or restaurant manager his thoughts changed n 2002 Mario Cipollini beat Robbie McEwen and Erik Zabel to win the World Championship in Belgium. From that moment he wanted to make it as a professional cyclist, a decision surprised his family, who encouraged him to continue with his studies. Nicolas’s determination took him to start with French amateur club VC La Pomme in Marseille and eventually turning professional with Cofidis in 2005. His all-round ability led to French based Credit Agricole and AG2R La-Mondiale teams and still remains one of the most consistent riders in the peloton today and currently with BMC Racing. 

Roche has ridden in the Beijing Olympics, the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a Espana. However, his breakthrough came in his first Tour de France in 2009 where he recorded 5 top ten stage finishes on his way to finishing 23rd overall. Over the last few years Nicolas continued to develop and in 2013 he signed for Team Saxo-Tinkoff, supporting teammate Alberto Contador. Nicholas achieved his best ever finish in a Grand Tour race, securing a top 5 position in the three-week Tour of Spain. His performance was even more impressive given he won an individual stage and became the first Irishman in 25 years to wear a race leaders jersey at a Grand Tour.

In 2014, Nicolas changed his race programme to accommodate the Giro d'Italia, which began in Ireland for the first time. The opportunity to ride a Grand Tour in front of home fans was a very special experience for Nicolas. Unfortunately, in the latter stages of the race he was involved in a crash which put an end to his chances of competing for the Overall GC. In June, he won his first stage race as a pro with an impressive performance at the Route du Sud. In July, he made his thirteenth Grand Tour start at the Tour de France. Though the team suffered a blow in the second week when Contador crashed out. In the September, Nicolas finished 5th at the Tour of Britain after which he moved to Team Sky in 2015. Proving and was an integral part of the team that aided Chris Froome to victory at the Tour de France. A month later at the Vuelta the Irish man he won stage 18 in impressive fashion.

Nico began his 2016 season with a 2nd place overall finish at the Tour de Yorkshire. Then in May he was named on Team Sky's Giro d'Italia team. In the summer, Nico won the Irish National road race and time trial championships and was subsequently selected to ride at the Olympic Games in Rio. The following tear he debuted with his new team BMC Racing and supporting of teammate of Tasmanian, Richie Porte, at the Tour de France. However, Porte’s misfortune continued and a bad crash on stage 9 end his post Sky ambitions, and so Nico was given freedom to attack in the remaining weeks of the race. In August, he lined up at the Vuelta as joint leader of BMC and the team got off to the perfect start winning the opening team time trial stage. Nico rode consistently over the remaining three weeks, which included three top 10 stage finishes en route to finishing inside the top 15 on the Overall GC. 

Full name: Nicolas Roche
Pro since 2005
Date of birth July 3, 1984
Place of birth Conflans, France
Height 5 ft 10 inch / 178 cm

2018 BMC Racing Team (WT)
2017 BMC Racing Team (WT)
2016 Team Sky (WT)
2015 Team Sky (WT)
2014 Tinkoff - Saxo (WT)
2013 Team Saxo - Tinkoff (WT)
2012 AG2R La Mondiale (WT)
2011 AG2R La Mondiale (WT)
2010 AG2R La Mondiale (WT)
2009 AG2R La Mondiale (WT)
2008 Crédit Agricole (PT)
2007 Crédit Agricole (PT)
2006 Cofidis (PT)
2005 Cofidis (PT)
2004 Cofidis (TT1) (Trainee as from 01/09)

Top results
2x stage Vuelta a España ('15, '13)
GC Route du Sud - la Depeche du Midi ('14)
Stage Tour of Beijing ('11)
5th GC Vuelta a España ('13)
2nd GC Abu Dhabi Tour ('16)
6th GC Vuelta a España ('10)
5th GC Volta Ciclista a Catalunya ('10)

1st Team Classification (BMC Racing Team), Arctic Tour of Norway
10th Stage 4, Arctic Tour of Norway
5th General Classification, Arctic Tour of Norway
10th Stage 2, Arctic Tour of Norway
1st Team Classification (BMC Racing Team), Dubai Tour

3rd General Classification, Gree-Tour of Guangxi
3rd Stage 4, Gree-Tour of Guangxi
5th Overall, Giro dell’Emilia
10th Stage 13, Vuelta a Espana
7th Stage 3, Vuelta a Espana
1st Stage 1 Team Time Trial (BMC Racing Team), Vuelta a Espana
10th Overall, Classica Ciclista San Sebastian
6th Stage 15, Tour de France
4th Stage 8, Tour de France
4th Road Race, Irish National Championships
2nd Individual Time Trial, Irish National Championships
1st Stage 1 Team Time Trial (BMC Racing Team), Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana