How does one measure and define a great sporting team? In an age when such an overstated term is used so loosely - at almost any hint of success - what is the fundamental criteria we lay down to justifiably and legitimately deem a side as distinguished?
We’re all guilty of adopting a subjective and instinctive assessment of a team’s short-term triumphs whether those achievements are, in fact, minimal in comparison to those that the aforementioned hypothetical criteria has passed judgement on previously.
Ultimately, prestige and eminence in sport is derived by success; the amount of games won in a season, points accumulated, length of time without defeat and how much silverware is lifted. Consequently, it’s easy to become blinded in our assessment of sporting success by the overwhelming amount of statistics and deluge of numbers thrown in our direction while attempting to compare the successes of different teams in contrasting sports is a speculative approach.
Therefore, minor achievements are easily inflated with others not earning the recognition they deserve.
As the sporting year reaches its conclusion, players are swapping the dressing rooms for the function rooms as the “awards season” commences to honour the outstanding performers of the previous twelve months. To be the best is the absolute aspiration for any team and the accolades that follow are nothing more than an added bonus but they should be bestowed to the most deserving recipients. In truth, such awards are a matter of opinion and often have underlying flaws but surely the assessment of all candidates should be open-minded, unbiased and take all factors into consideration.
You’ve probably worked out the rationale behind this latest column and although such an award is trivial in comparison to the achievements accomplished during a historic year for the sport in this country, it’s important to acknowledge this golden generation of Irish cricketers and rightfully rank them amongst the best sporting teams of 2013.
Any feat should be recognised as the competitive nature of sport ensures winning requires vast amounts of determination, commitment, energy, emotion and hard work - no achievement should be overlooked. Therefore, the nine nominees for Saturday’s RTÉ Sports Awards Team of the Year gong are there on merit. However, what separates good teams and the great ones is the ability to stay on top, to maintain their dominance and create a sporting dynasty.
The Irish cricket team are doing just that. The sport’s interest and participation levels have reached unprecedented levels with new clubs popping up all over the country while the domestic game both north and south of the border is continuously developing and flourishing in light of the national team’s successes.
None of the vast development and cricketing explosion would be possible without their achievements on the international stage; William Porterfield’s side truly are inspiring a generation. Surely that alone ranks them among the very best and most momentous sporting teams this island has ever produced.
Some would argue that off-field victories such as expanding the game at grassroots level is not enough to warrant a place among this country’s ‘finest’ sporting teams, while cricket’s relatively ‘inferior’ sporting status in comparison to GAA and rugby is further justification. If that’s the case, than that logic is now emphatically obsolete after Ireland became the first team in the history of the sport to lift all three associate trophies in the one year.
Has any other Irish sports team achieved anything close to that level of success on the global stage in one calendar year? The Irish Olympic boxing team led by Billy Walsh, Leinster Rugby and the Irish grand-slam winning side of 2009 are the only notable recent candidates to rival such a feat and then again their dominance hasn’t be as prolonged as to that of Phil Simmons’ side.
Scanning down the list of nominees for the 2013 Team of the Year award - which will be handed out at Saturday’s usually cringe-inducing and tedious televised awards ceremony - one has to question which set of “experts” selected these contenders ahead of our cricketers. It’s in now way devaluing or making light of the achievements of the Cork Ladies football team, Liam Buckley’s League of Ireland conquerors or indeed the Galway Camogie stars but surely some context has to be applied.
How can the achievements of the four All-Ireland winners from their respective codes in GAA - all domestic triumphs - exceed a team that made history by winning an international treble?
When queried, a spokesperson for the awards committee - which are run in collaboration with the Irish Sports Council - defended their decision and explained the reasoning behind their nominations.
“We seriously considered both the Irish cricket team and Phil Simmons for nomination. All of our nominees have won either Irish, World or European titles or have achieved at the very top of their chosen sport. That does not imply that what has been achieved by Irish cricket, and others, is not significant or, in some cases, outstanding. However, we need some form of selection criteria otherwise all three nomination lists become unmanageable and the programme is impossible to produce in a coherent manner,” the statement from RTÉ said.
“Awards shows, by their nature, are subjective. It is nigh on impossible to compare the performances of individuals, teams or managers but that’s what happens here and in many other media organisations at this time of year,” he added.
Regardless of the explanation, there is a rigid bureaucratic template in which the four GAA counties are handed token nominations while the Airtricity League champions - a domestic league which is so often ridiculed - are another stable presence year on year.
Nonetheless, one panel’s judgement certainly doesn’t reflect that of the ever-increasing cricketing following in this country - there are now 25,000 children playing the sport here with the overall participation figure reaching 40,000. And, while the achievements of the national team in 2013 won’t officially be recognised by RTÉ or the Irish Sports Council, William Porterfield and his teammates can be sure their successes aren’t going unnoticed.
Although it would act as the icing on a very big cake, at the end of the day this is an inconsequential piece of Waterford Crystal that is irrelevant compared to the silverware which is proudly occupying Cricket Ireland HQ. No matter who takes to the stage on Saturday to accept their award, they’ll have done well to exceed the achievements of our seemingly undervalued cricketers.