Even at a distance of 32 years it remains one of the finest memories of a lifetime of sports reporting – the glorious July afternoon on the Champs-Elysees when Stephen Roche won the 1987 Tour de France.
A tradition remains on the Tour to this day that the reporters from the country of the Yellow Jersey wearer get a bit more access to their man than anyone else.
So we three intrepid Irish warriors, who had spent three weeks only driving the roads that Stephen pedalled, had made sure to be in place beside the presentation podium to strike for our interview when the formalities of trophy presentations, Amhran na bhFiann and La Marseillaise were over.
And then we saw a chance not to be missed. There, on top of the stand, was our Taoiseach Charlie Haughey holding on to the champ for grim death and not letting anyone ease him out of the way.
Occasionally, Jacques Chirac, Prime Minister of France and Charlie’s host on the day, got a look-in. But this was our leader’s moment and he was not letting the opportunity drift away.
But we were not letting our chance slip either. A few waves, a few gentle shouts of ‘Charlie’, a nod at the Irish Ambassador to France who was standing beside his boss, saw us get nowhere.
There was only one thing for it. Knowing that no Irish politician ever forgets his roots, I bellowed at the top of my lungs in my finest northside Dublin accent “Charlie”.
And immediately the head snapped around, ‘the Boss’ saw the notebooks, yes we carried notebooks back then, and we got our scoop with Charlie to go with the interview that would follow with Stephen.
But it was the pictures of that afternoon which became famous. There are only two types of photo of Stephen Roche from that day. He was either on his bike or standing with a grinning, balding gentleman beside him.
It became so famous that when, a few months later, the OPW were returning a Bald Eagle that had strayed across the Atlantic back to the United States, Charlie turned up to see the mighty bird off from Dublin Airport.
The cartoon that appeared the following day had the Bald Eagle saying “I know you, you are the lad who won the Tour de France.”
So it was with Shane Ross yesterday when the Minister for Sport placed himself at Katie Taylor’s shoulder during her homecoming and never left it.
Now as Minister for Sport, it was right that he was there to welcome the four-belt World lightweight Champion home on behalf of the Government.
That was his job, but he should have got into one photo and then moved around to talk to Katie’s family, friends, those who had helped her achieve this wonderful feat and generally let Katie get on with doing what she wanted to do in the crowded Arrivals Hall of Dublin Airport.
Who is God’s name advised Shane Ross to behave like a star-struck teenage boy in the presence of a supermodel? Or did his advisors tell him to do the ‘one-picture’ right thing and he ignored them?
Whatever, Minister Ross’s relationship with the last part of his Ministerial brief of Transport, Tourism and Sport is woefully weak. Yes, it is easy to bash the FAI when they are down, and God knows enough people want to do that and have cause to do that.
But FIFA, the world governing body of football, are very strict on political interference in their domestic governing bodies. They have suspended several African, Asian and South American Associations in their time when those countries Governments have got too close to football.
The Minister’s constant calls for the entire FAI Board to stand down now, or at least by the AGM due in July, and his obvious dislike of UEFA man Noel Mooney being a six-month appointee to the FAI, is getting very close to outright political interference.
Yes, of course, he ought to be ensuring that any taxpayers’ money sent out to Abbotstown is used in the manner proscribed.
But in this issue, and in his ridiculous posing with Katie Taylor, he is not showing himself to possess the diplomatic niceties that ought to be part of the package when you are an Irish Government Minister.
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