The curse of the ‘favourite’

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“And Ireland have won the World Cup…”

The commentator is drowned out by roars, Guinness flies through the air. Grown men cry and hug each other as they get whipped across the face by flags and green jerseys.

Finally.

We won. Joe Schmidt’s players are lying on the ground in a state of exhausted ecstasy. The Yokohama stadium around them is a sea of unwavering green joy.

Everywhere you turn, people are happy. Then you reach your stop and get off the bus like a normal person and go about your mundane daily business, having dared to dream. But like hope, a dream – if I may steal Red’s lines from ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ – is “a dangerous thing”…”It can kill a man.”

The World Cup may not kill you, but now Ireland are ranked first in the world, we fantasise. Unfortunately, the higher the expectation, the higher the possible fall.

Schmidt says our controversial new position is nothing but “a label”, and an unwanted one at that, insisting the All Blacks are still favourites to win the ninth World Cup, which kicks off on Friday, September 20.

But once we stop ruminating about how we managed to be No‚ÄČ1 despite a recent 57-15 thrashing by England at Twickenham and a poor Six Nations, we put ourselves in the ghastly position of imagining what it’s like to win. But we do so at our peril.

Remember when we could have beaten Spain and possibly made the final of the Fifa World Cup in 2002? It was our best chance to date. For some fans, the Irish dream died that day, never to return.

Now, qualifying for Euro 2020 would be an achievement. Painfully, Ireland would play at least two matches at home. Imagine. But back to reality.

New Zealand, who have won the World Cup three times, are still poised for greatness even if they’re not on pole position. They won’t falter to pressure either way.

I liken them to Istabraq who won the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham three times, a sure bet favourite in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

But, a racing survey conducted by Betmix found favourites only win 35pc of horse races, fluctuating due to distance, surface, class and race size, preferring smaller events.

Hence, we are more likely to win in the rugby than the football.

In football, being favourite going into a tournament is a curse. Last year, Germany became the fourth European World Cup winner in a row to lose in the first round. France, Spain and Italy did so previously.

Being favourite means fortune-telling. Taking the Monday after the RWC final on November 2 off. Saving money, in case you have to fly to Japan last minute.

As a half-German Germany fan, I’ve been there. It’s more torturous than being an Ireland fan. Once you have the ability to win but don’t, the fall is atrocious. I’m still not over 2006, or 1966 for that matter.

If the Irish team doesn’t qualify, I go, “Oh well, that sucks.”

If the Germans don’t qualify, I plan to sit out my days with the indigenous Huli people in Papua New Guinea, never speaking of football again.

Some say the laws of attraction will make things happen; I think when it comes to sports that’s bulls**t. Otherwise England would win all the time, which would be awful.

This week, Brian O’Driscoll threw it out there. “I absolutely think they can win… They can win that group, and then beat South Africa or New Zealand.”

He’s not afraid of rabid disappointment. So I shall still go there too – against my better judgment and superstition.

Ireland start their rugby campaign on September 22 against Scotland and I’ll put it out there – what harm? Ireland will win the World Cup 2019.

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