Deaths of our heroes, the footballer who stole The Scream, and the week’s best sportswriting

1. “Every time I watch I am temporarily transported back to our living room, my father perched on the edge of his armchair, arms flailing, trying to explain the greatness of it all. My ignorant 14 year old self just relishing the gladiatorial aspect of two men fighting like demented kids in a schoolyard, never even pausing for breath. Hagler’s glistening bald dome. Hearns’ spindly legs. One of those moments in time. My dad is long gone. Now Hagler too.

Marvin Hagler (R) lands a right hand on Roberto Duran. Source: AP/PA Images

“I turned 50 in January and, sometimes lately, it seems like my heroes are all dying, taking little slivers of my childhood along with them. The grim reaper’s roll call of the last few months. Jack Charlton. Diego Maradona. Christy Ryan. Hagler. Those were only in the top echelon. He’s come for plenty of the supporting cast too. Leon Spinks, Ray Clemence, Doug Mountjoy, Tommy Docherty. Never idols but small, significant landmarks on the road map of my youth, names that evoke a time long ago, when, to quote the great Cork bard John Spillane, “our mothers were young, and our fathers were tall and kind”.

“No sport can thrill you like it thrilled you when you were a boy in the first flush of awareness and understanding. No goals are ever quite as wondrous again, no athletic feats as magical, no fights can stir the blood. It is all so new and romantic then and you are not yet cynical and tired and suspicious. You can still wholly marvel. Those names you learn, those things you witness, they stay with you and inform your sporting worldview forever more. Sure, you add to your store of knowledge but the very deepest parts of your brain are exclusively reserved for those characters, the ones who first colonized your imagination when it was at its most impressionable.”

Following the death of the great Marvin Hagler, Dave Hannigan writes about our heroes.

2. “‘He was very talented,’ Dag Vestlund, Valerenga’s manager at the time, tells The Athletic. “He was small, quick, tough. I liked him a lot. He was always very well behaved in my dealings with him. Always polite, very humble.”

“Except this is not the story of an ordinary footballer. And it was never scoring a goal, or running out in front of a crowd, that gave Enger his biggest thrill.

“When the police raided his home, they found the evidence that tied him to a jewellery heist in Oslo. But it was not the diamonds, expensive watches and wads of cash that made them realise this was a unique case. It was the fact Vampire, Edvard Munch’s 1893 masterpiece, was hanging on Enger’s wall.

“The painting, originally known as Love And Pain, showed a vampiric woman with molten-red hair locking her unsuspecting victim in a deadly embrace.

“It had been stolen from Oslo’s Munch museum a few months earlier. And this was just the beginning of Enger’s career as Norway’s most famous thief.”

The Athletic’s Daniel Taylor tells the story of the footballer turned art thief who stole The Scream.

3. “The image of a young Johnny Sexton brooding over a coffee in a Dublin cafe while contemplating his future at Leinster is a curious one given how his name has become synonymous with the province’s success for over a decade.

Johnny Sexton in 2005. Source: INPHO

“Yet this was the way of things in Sexton’s early days, which were marked by a gnawing frustration that he could be doing more. He was never singled out as a talent who would reach the heights of then captain Brian O’Driscoll and, in the 2008-09 campaign, he found himself stuck firmly behind Argentinian Felipe Contepomi under head coach Michael Cheika.

“”When was in the under-20s, no one would have picked Johnny Sexton to have the career he has had except for Johnny himself,” says former team-mate Bernard Jackman.

“‘With the drive he had, he was always going to find a way but he was really frustrated. I would have had a couple of coffees with him in those early days and I think he was on the verge of leaving Leinster.

“‘He was certainly wondering if there was a future for him there because he didn’t get to play in some of the big games. He felt Cheika didn’t trust him. And that really hurt him because he believed he made the team better and he did but we didn’t see it as clear-cut then as we would now.’”

Kate Rowan writes of ‘The Four Ages of Johnny Sexton’ in The Telegraph.

4. “The fluffy stuff, the romance and all that, they got from monuments and old songs and stories about the glory of Old Ireland. The Belfast Brigade would dispense with niceties.

“Being lucky was to spend the best part of your youth in prison while those outside were socialising and going to college, enjoying relationships, getting married, having families.

“Could be worse though. Chances were, you could be mown down in a gun battle or blown up by your own bomb.

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“Fitting in a bit of Gaelic football? Sure, they had that four days a week in the Long Kesh cages.

“Winning a senior Championship while on Active Service? It happened one man. Maybe more. We’ll come back to that.”

Declan Bogue writes of GAA in Antrim during The Troubles.

5. “It started out as a kind of hayseed idea, an investment they reckoned might win the odd handicap in low-watt places like Kilbeggan or Roscommon.

Danny Mullins on Flooring Porter celebrates after winning the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham. Source: Mark Cranham/INPHO

“They even named the horse in faithful recognition of what plans they had. Flooring Porter would be their fun, their social outlet, nothing more profound than that. It was 2018, a Facebook ad alerting them to some Gavin Cromwell horses headed to the sales and one, especially, caught the eye.

“Sired by four-time Ascot Gold Cup and Irish St Leger winner Yeats, they were told he could be theirs for €5,000.

“With just four in the syndicate – father and son, Tommy and Alan Sweeney, Edward Hogarty and Kerril Creaven – each agreed to commit €10,000 to what Creaven admits now was just “a shot in the dark”.

Vincent Hogan tells the story of Flooring Porter and his syndicate in a piece written ahead of their incredible Stayers’ Hurdle success.

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