Juggling in Ireland

 

Tara McCamley joins UCDs juggling society in order to get an insight into the world of juggling and circus performing within Ireland. Tara explores the opportunities and events that aspiring and up-and-coming jugglers can take part in and attend as well as what draws people to the sport and these events in the first place.

Milan, Match-fixing & Money: The Story of How Athlone Town Became Ireland’s Laughing Stock

2017 was arguably Athlone Town’s worst year in its 130 year history. This season is bound to be interesting, writes Dylan O’Neill

Lebron James enjoying unprecedented Season 15

Lebron James has done the seemingly impossible.  No, that’s not make it out of the streets of Akron, Ohio, raised only by a single mother to become arguably the second greatest basketball player of all time … instead, he has managed to get better in year fifteen of his career.

Better might be an overstatement, but he clearly is showing off an improved shooting stroke this year, coupled with a zen mastery of basketball knowledge, while only slightly losing some of his otherworldly athleticism, which has seen him at least return to MVP form (and possibly lead the MVP race).

However, just to show how rare what Lebron James is doing I’m going to compare him to the greatest to ever play the game at year fifteen in their respective careers.  The numbers speak for themselves and Lebron is truly showcasing the kind of unique athletic specimen he truly is.

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Points Per Game (PPG) is often a stat people look to in order to see the dominance a player has over a game.  Sometimes a misperceived stat as it is over glorified, it is still the main aim of the game, put the ball through the hoop.  Lebron is miles ahead of his Hall of Fame counter-parts, almost 3 points ahead of his nearest rival as seen in the graph above.  Legendary scoring machine and widely considered the best basketball player of all time, Michael Jordan, only averaged a 20 PPG for a lowly Washington Wizards team that didn’t even make the playoffs.  Albeit, Jordan was 39 years old at the time, while Lebron only turns 33 at the end of December (although Lebron has played more games than Jordan).

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Not only is he scoring more than all of these other great players at this stage of their career, he is also shooting it at a better rate than any of them.  The graph above shows the players True Shooting Percentage (TS%), which according to Basketball-Reference.com, is a “measure of shooting efficiency that takes into account 2-point field goals, 3-point field goals and free throws”.  Again, James leads this category by a healthy margin with a TS% of 65.7 percent, which trumps Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s percentage of 60.8 percent.  He’s a full five percent better than a 7”2 giant, who had the most unstoppable shot of all time and also got most of his points within five feet of the basket.

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While Lebron is a scoring machine, he is better known for being able to do everything on the basketball court, he can dominate a game with more than just his scoring.  James is known as a gifted passer, often compared to the great Magic Johnson for his court vision.  The chart above shows that only assist king, Steve Nash (11.4), bests him in this category.  Not even all time great point guard John Stockton could muster up more assists than ‘The Chosen One’.  Nash of course had the advantage of playing full time point guard with his only real job to set up team mates, whereas Lebron is averaging 8.3 assists while also averaging 8.3 rebounds.  Lebron isn’t particularly close to the top of the rebounding pile, however, as shown in the graph below, he is above the mean.  He is bested only by some of the best big man rebounders to ever play the game.

Lebron also stuffs the stat sheet on the defensive end.  Combining steals and blocks Lebron sits in 3rd with 2.4 per game.  One of the best defensive players ever, Hakeem Olajuwon, obliterates the competition with 4.1 per game.  However, Lebron James shows his versatility on the basketball court by being near the top of all of these categories.

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Lebron James not only dominates traditional statistics, he’s an advanced stats mercenary.  Lebron by any metric is great, hence being considered one of the best players ever, but when compared to all of these great players, it’s not even a contest.  Player efficiency rating (PER), is widely regarded as a stat that can truly quantify how valuable a basketball player is on the court.  According to basketball-reference.com, PER,  ‘The Player Efficiency Rating (PER), is a per-minute rating developed by ESPN.com columnist John Hollinger.

In Hollinger’s words, “The PER sums up all a player’s positive accomplishments, subtracts the negative accomplishments, and returns a per-minute rating of a player’s performance while adjusting for pace.”  ‘The King’s PER in year 15 is just astounding, it is a full four points better than his closest rival Karl Malone, who in all honesty is the only one who came close.  Karl Malone, revered for how well he kept his body during his career, was the pinnacle of fitness later in his career.  That James has easily outperformed him is a testament to the work that Lebron has put into keeping his body in phenomenal condition even at this late stage of his career.  The only way to compare his PER in this season is to compare it to the all-time single season PER.  Wilt Chamberlain holds the record of 31.82 in his fourth season in the league while he was 26 years old, and averaged a mere 44.8 PPG and 24.3 RPG.  Lebron, at nearly 33 years old in his 15th season, would have the 9th highest PER ever if the season ended today.

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Win Shares per 48 minutes (WS/48), is a stat which directly correlates with the player’s direct impact on his team winning a game.  Again, Lebron shows he is not just a superior player but absolutely vital for his team to succeed even in the regular season.  The graph above shows that Karl Malone is Lebron’s only true challenger when it comes to comparing players in year fifteen in their respective careers.  However, this is one time ‘The Mailman’ can’t deliver as ‘The King’ rules over all when it comes to players a decade and a half into their respective careers.  The graph below is simply an amalgamation of all the stats mentioned throughout this article to show his utter dominance in every aspect of the game.

So, what does any of this even mean?  We already knew Lebron is one of the best ever to play the game and his longevity has always been a big factor in that.  It seems though that even comparing him to past greats isn’t fair.  So who better to compare Lebron to other than, well, Lebron James!  James’ tenth year in the league, when he won his second NBA championship and fourth MVP trophy is widely regarded as the greatest Lebron James season, statistically anyways.  This was when Lebron was in the prime of his career at 28 years old and was playing for a powerhouse Miami Heat squad.

James slid to the power forward position and Coach Eric Spoelstra was using James masterfully to get him easy chances around the basket.  This was pinnacle Lebron, the apex predator, the cerebral assassin, the final evolution.  However, it seems Lebron still had more growing to do as a player and has developed even further.  The graph below compares these two seasons.  Lebron this year trumps his past self in points, rebounds, assists and TS%.  In the 2012-13 season, James was one vote shy of becoming the first ever unanimous MVP.  This year is comparable, if not more impressive.  Is Lebron going to make history again and become the first player ever to win an MVP fifteen years into his career, five years after he won his last one?

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Stats taken from Basketball-reference.com, Lebron James stats as of December 2nd 2017.

By Lee Shields

Reid reflects on Olympic experiences

Aileen Reid was highly tipped to do well at London 2012 but after a crash on her bike she finished 43rd. Gavin Hyland talks with the Olympic triathlete to find out how she rebounded from the disappointment of 2012.

Having a disappointing Olympics would be enough to destroy anybody’s confidence but that is not how Aileen Reid reacted to her 43rd place finish at the London Olympics in 2012.

“I had a disappointing swim and I had to rush the cycle and that led to the crash on the bike. I was proud I finished but it was not the day my Olympic dream was supposed to be,” explains Reid.

It’s 5pm in Australia where Reid has been living for the last year and she tells me she is looking at the stadium where the Commonwealth Games will be held. Reid intended on competing at the games but injury has forced her to retire as a triathlon athlete.

It is a far colder 8am in Dublin when we are speaking and the former Irish Olympian tells me the weather is one of the reasons she moved to Australia.

“People are out at 5am doing all sorts of exercise from running to surfing. It’s not just sporty people, everybody does it. The sun is out,” the Derry native laughs at the last part as it’s a very chilly October morning in Dublin and she can’t help being giddy with the difference in weather.

“Every Thursday afternoon kids do sports and they are not forced, they genuinely want to be active,” said Reid.

Before she gets too carried away with her new life in Australia, I pull her back to her time as an Olympian. After the disappointment of 2012, Reid continued to train and was back representing Ireland at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

Reid lists off places she visited for training camps in preparation for Rio. “We went to Kenya for a training camp and then we had a heat preparation camp in Florida. I had a much better experience in Rio even though I didn’t break top 10 or anything like that.”

As she casually mentions the pleasures of cycling through the Japanese countryside or swimming in the Mediterranean, I ask if she ever got to enjoy seeing those places.

“I probably didn’t enjoy it enough. I missed out on a lot of experiences and I didn’t always enjoy the experiences,” confesses Reid.

She would encourage young athletes to remember to enjoy the experience and the events athletics affords them.

Reid prepared well before competing by attending training camps, including heat preparation and altitude training. “Athletes train for the type of conditions they are going to compete in. That is why we had a training camp in Florida right before Rio.”

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Aileen Reid representing Ireland at Rio in 2016. Source: Morgan Treacy

The future of Irish athletics

The former Olympian tells a familiar story when asked about the situation in Irish athletics. There are talented athletes in the country but funding is lacking.

“We have the athletes and we have the coaches but we sometimes don’t have the investment,” said Reid.

A sense of frustration creeps into the Olympian’s voice. “Volunteer coaches are expected to produce high performing athletes while these other guys were sitting in their high chairs.” It is unclear who these “other guys” are. Financial issues in the Irish Olympics set-up are not new, the boxing squad famously had financial trouble and the Pat Hickey controversy emerged during Rio 2016.

Equal Sport

Reid, a former PE teacher, is now coaching children in a private school in Australia and she believes that triathlon is a good example of a gender balanced sport.

“Lots of schools have training camps and there is equal pay and prize money throughout the sport.” When speaking about gender inequality in other sports, Reid doesn’t have much time for excuses. “There’s no reason in this day and age why women shouldn’t have the same access to changing rooms and equal prize money,” argues Reid.

Things seem to be far easier for the two time Olympian since she moved to Australia. “If I wanted to go swimming in Ireland I would have to put on my layers, my boots and in December, I would have spent 10 minutes scraping the ice off the car and that’s all before I even get to the pool. Here I go down in my shorts and t-shirt with nothing more than a towel and I can swim for as long as I want,” gloated Reid.

Ireland cricketers set for first test match next year

Ireland will make cricketing history in May of next year when they take on Pakistan in their first ever Test match, it has been confirmed today.

The news came after months of speculation and was finally confirmed at the International Cricket Council meeting in Auckland this week.

“We are excited to welcome Pakistan to Ireland for our inaugural Test match next year,” Cricket Ireland CEO Warren Deutrom said. “It has been our wish to make our Test debut in front of our own fans within twelve months of becoming a Test nation, and against a big team, so I’m delighted.”

Ireland and Afghanistan became the 11th and 12th teams to be accepted into the exclusive club that is Test cricket in June. Neither side have made their debuts in the Test arena yet but Ireland will change that next May.

Ireland captain William Porterfield welcomed the news saying: “Test cricket is the pinnacle of our sport and I know how much this game will mean to not only the players but all involved with Irish cricket. It’ll be another step on what has been an incredible journey for our sport in a relatively short passage of time.”

Ireland have punched well above their weight in one day international cricket over the past decade, beating the likes of Zimbabwe, the West Indies, England and famously at the 2007 World Cup, next May’s opponents, Pakistan.

No venue has yet been set for the historic clash but Malahide will be the heavy favourite to host the event. Belfast and Clontarf have also been touted as possible venues.

By Leo McGuinn

The group that nearly got away

Ireland rarely do things the easy way. Monday’s win in Cardiff was one of the most impressive away victories in the country’s history, probably the most impressive when you factor in that the game was win or bust. But it should never have come to that.

Before Monday’s game, the campaign had threatened to become a campaign of ‘what ifs’ following an abject 2017.

November’s win in Austria saw Ireland sitting pretty on top of Group D with 10 points from 12 and with back-to-back home games with Wales and Austria there was a real chance to gain a stranglehold on the group. Victory over the Welsh, who played with 10 men for 25 minutes, would have put the boys in green seven points clear of their Celtic rivals at the halfway stage of the group.

Instead they would limp to a 0-0 draw in Dublin that maintained the status quo. June’s clash with a depleted Austrian outfit offered the chance to regain momentum at the top of the group, but again they were held to a draw, producing one of the worst home performances of the O’Neill era in the process.

The insipid September draw in Georgia that followed put Ireland firmly on the backfoot and brought them to a must win home game with group leaders Serbia that they promptly lost, once again failing to exploit a man advantage for the best part of half an hour.

That defeat saw Ireland drop to third behind Wales and represented a dramatic fall from grace since beating Austria. What could have been a seven-point buffer following the home game in March was now a one point deficit.

Trailing Serbia by five points with just two games remaining meant that Ireland’s only realistic chance was the play offs if they could beat wales in Cardiff, however they would need favours elsewhere to ensure they would not be the worst second placed team.

Miraculously, Scotland did Ireland the favour they needed by beating Slovakia and then failing to beat Slovenia, meaning that a win in Wales would suffice for the play offs. Ironically, it is not the first time Scotland have done an Irish campaign favours either, their defeat to Georgia in 2015 was the difference between Ireland qualifying for Euro 2016 and not qualifying and their win in Bulgaria in 1987 saw Ireland qualify for their first ever international tournament.

With Monday’s game in Cardiff a must win for both sides, the game had the feel of a cup final and Ireland to their credit executed a game plan to perfection. They dug in in a difficult environment and struck at the opportune moment, a wonderful goal from James McClean that will go down in the annals of Irish football history and sparked wild celebrations among the travelling Irish contingent. Thankfully they were still celebrating come the full-time whistle.

However, the job is only half done and Ireland face the prospects of a play off for the 4th time in the last five campaigns. Their possible opposition (Switzerland, Italy, Croatia, and Denmark) is daunting but Irish fans will cross their fingers that they are drawn with either Switzerland or Denmark.

The Danes failed to qualify for Euro 2016, a tournament comprising of exactly half the teams in Europe so their credentials must be called in to question.

The Swiss, on the other hand, won nine of their ten games in qualifying but it was a visibly poor group featuring one good team in Portugal who were still on a come down following their European success last summer and Ireland would fancy their chances against a team they beat last year, albeit in a friendly.

Italy and Croatia represent far more daunting opponents and it would be a tough ask to overcome either in two legs. Having said that, Martin O’Neill is slowly building a portfolio of major scalps as Ireland manager and there is always a chance he will pull off another Germany or another Italy or another Austria. Wales can now be added to the list of higher ranked scalps and it was a win that saved Ireland’s campaign.

But they should never have been in need of that win. The what ifs have been shelved, for now. Hopefully, they will be shelved for good in a month’s time.

By Shane O’Brian