It’s been an extraordinary weekend of sporting success in international competitions for British and Irish sportsmen and women.
On Saturday morning, rugby fans cheered the British and Irish Lions to an emphatic win against Australia in Sydney. There had been controversy over the team selection. But a team, in which Welshmen were most numerous but the game-changing try was scored by an Irishman, gave the Lions a series victory against a southern hemisphere side for the first time in 16 years.
Meanwhile, British and Irish boxers were winning medals in the EU Women’s Boxing Championships in Hungary. In an echo of last year’s Olympic Games, both Katie Taylor and Nicola Adams won gold for their respective countries. Plenty of other boxers in the British and Irish camps also took home honours. Miss Taylor also won the boxer of the tournament award.
Sunday produced more victories for British and Irish sportsmen. Andy Murray became the first Briton in 77 years to win the men’s singles championship at Wimbledon. The reaction in Britain to the Scotsman’s triumph has been little short of ecstatic; the country will doubtless ride these waves of emotion – gratitude, relief, joy, admiration, pride etc. – for days to come. My wife and I watched the match in the company of Irish friends, regular attendees at Wimbledon. You would have been hard pressed to tell which of us was more delighted by Andy Murray’s victory.
In Sunday’s stage of the Tour de France, Dan Martin, the nephew of the legendary Irish cyclist Stephen Roche, won a stage win in that race, the first time an Irish rider had achieved that for 21 years. The last rider to do so had been Stephen Roche himself. Meanwhile, the wearer of the yellow jersey and race leader so far is Chris Froome, a Briton (albeit one brought up in Africa).
To cap it all, on the same day, Graeme McDowell from Northern Ireland took home the French Open Golf trophy with a magnificent final round of 67 at Le Golf National, the venue for the Ryder Cup in 2018.
British and Irish sportsmen and women won important victories in international rugby, boxing, tennis, cycling and golf over the weekend. Is there any greater significance or meaning to be drawn from their achievements? I believe there is.
This weekend’s amazing series of successes is clear evidence of a shared British and Irish sporting culture. It also shows that our athletes and players – British and Irish – are capable of world beating performances. For the fans and spectators, it is a reminder of how much we have in common in sport and how much it means to us. And, whatever the friendly rivalry when we play against each other, the emotions we feel after weekends like this last one are evidence that, across these islands, people will together celebrate the victories of our sporting men and women when they triumph against the rest of the world.
From Munster to Ulster, from the Highlands of Scotland to the Welsh valleys, in the industrial cities and the green and pleasant countryside of England, last weekend you would have found plenty of people with plenty to celebrate. Long may our collective sporting success continue.