Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 2 October 2014

Linda Brien: We should be proud Syd is one of our own

IN this era of professional rugby, retirement from the game usually means time to write a controversial autobiography or master the tango on Strictly Come Dancing.

How different from Syd Millar's days.

In the aftermath of an illustrious Ireland and British and Irish Lions career, coaching and management, he moved into administration through the Ulster branch, the IRFU and ultimately to the IRB where he became chairman and oversaw two World Cups.

This week the Ballymena man was honoured with the Legion d'Honneur - the highest French decoration - in recognition of his services.

There aren't many sportsmen whose skill base transcends the purely physical and enables them to become as successful a driving force off the pitch as on it.

And it was proud moment for our wee rugby corner to see an Ulsterman stride out onto the pitch at this year's World Cup final in France - the most successful competition yet and in no small way down to his formidable chairmanship.

Nice work if you can get it. But the glossy privilege of a title masks a thankless production line of negotiating, conflict resolution and diplomacy behind the scenes, all of which require a lot more than the insistent weight of a blunt prop forward.

I for one, only just survived a bruising encounter with Mr Millar over UTV's rights and camera access to local rugby some years ago for which I've never quite forgiven a certain mischief-maker in the BBC.

Mr Millar was, how shall we describe it - forthright - a quality I imagine has served him very well over the years.

It is a measure of the man that he chose to receive his reward at his home club in County Antrim instead of some fancy-pants place abroad.

Rugby and at its very heart Ballymena, have been such a dominant force in his life. But everything he has taken from the game, he has given back many times over. The sport is indebted to him.

Three cheers for Sir Bobby

PAPER party hats off to the BBC for an un-typically straightforward and excellent Sports Personality of the Year production.

Yes there was a minor wobble with the cringe-worthy shimmying of a sequinned and silly Mark Ramprakash (has the man no shame?) but overall it was a pretty smooth piece of TV.

And much as I enjoyed the 85-year-old unsung heroine Margaret Simons offering herself up for the England manager's job - not to mention Ricky Hatton's masterful attempts to appear coherent in the face of bloodshot adversity, THE moment was the Lifetime achievement award to Bobby Robson.

Was there a dry eye in the house? There certainly wasn't in ours as he slowly made his way to the stage where a guard of honour was formed by former colleagues and players.

He received a standing ovation and rewarded the out-pouring of affection with a lovely speech - dignified and eloquent and so unlike so much that passes these days under the banner of the Beautiful Game.

He could not have left that stage without recognising the depth of admiration and respect for him. It's just a shame that so many of our heroes and heroines, sporting and otherwise, are allowed to leave this world without such knowledge.

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