x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

A sports-mad Ireland

As an American sports media member, Paul Pabst always looks at the local sports in the country he is visiting and finds Ireland interesting.

Wear Thierry Henry's  France No 12 shirt around Dublin and you are unlikely to receive the traditional friendly Irish welcome.
Wear Thierry Henry's France No 12 shirt around Dublin and you are unlikely to receive the traditional friendly Irish welcome.

Last week I took a holiday to Ireland. I have been to Europe many times before, but this was my first visit to the Emerald Isle. As an American sports media member, I always look at the local sports in the country I am visiting and how they view American sports. As I expected, Ireland was interesting. When I got to Dublin, I talked to a local bartender to find out about the lingering pain from the Thierry Henry handball that kept the Republic from an appearance in the football World Cup finals this summer in South Africa.

Let us put it this way, they are not over it. I am a big football (soccer) fan, but I am also American. We do not have the tradition of rooting for our national team like they do in Ireland and most other countries around the world. I asked the bartender what would happen to me if I wore a Henry jersey around Dublin. He shook his head and said: "It would not be good ? for you ? at all." Now while I know football, I have to admit that I am a bit of a novice about other sports that the Irish take seriously, such as rugby union.

I was in Galway the evening Connacht faced Toulon, which was great. The pubs were full and the fans were engrossed with the match on television. I was sitting next to a group of women who laughed as they tried explaining even the most basic rules of the game to me. I am fascinated by the brutality of rugby and the men who play it. My mistake was to let the Connacht fans know that I think the National Football League (NFL) is much tougher to play than rugby. They laughed at my statement, joking that you cannot feel anything under all the padding that American football players wear. I had no retort.

In Ireland, I also watched their main sports channels, BBC and Sky Sports. I found it interesting how they will cover snooker and cricket, but not the NBA, baseball or the NFL. American athletes that are household names in the States are completely unknown in Ireland. They may know who Kobe Bryant and Peyton Manning are, but they do not know many more players. American sports fans that are anti-soccer joke that most Americans do not care about soccer. Well, let me tell you this, nobody in Ireland cares about the NFL.

Now one thing that I wanted to see in Ireland was a real old school golf course. The British Open is one of my favourite sporting events and I really am enthralled with the courses in Ireland, England and Scotland. I arrived at the Dromoland Castle, just north of Shannon, Ireland. The Dromoland has it all, a beautiful castle surrounded by a pristine golf course. This was it. I was going to complete one of my dreams, to play on a golf course in Ireland. It did not happen.

I could have golfed that day. I could have borrowed clubs and paired up with a few locals for a round. I chose not to. The course was too nice. I did not want to disgrace it with my awful ability. I did not want to hack up this lovely course with the locals shaking their heads in disgust in the background. I already regret it. I think they would have understood. Maybe I will do it next time. As much as I enjoyed Ireland and would love to spend a long stretch there watching football, rugby and playing golf, I think I would miss American college football and the NFL too much. Let me know when the NFL adds a team in Dublin. I am moving the next day. @Email:sports@thenational.ae