Friday, May 11, 2018

All-Ireland Championship Cancelled for Next Three Years, Possibly Forever

et in Arcadia ei
History matters in sports. One of the great joys in the completion of any sports season is the ranking of that season’s Champion among the pantheon of the greats.

We kid ourselves doing this, of course. All-Ireland Finals have been played over sixty, seventy and, for a short time in the 1970s, eighty minutes. The catch-and-kick game of the 1960s isn’t the almost-basketball game of the 1980s and the current game is the least like any of its predecessors.

What role would Brian Dooher, say, have played in the 1960s? Would the legendary Mick O’Connell of Valentia even get a jersey in this era where high-fielding really isn’t a thing anymore? If you were to play an imaginary game between a team of the 1980s and a current team, how do you even up the playing field?

Do you load up the men of the 80s with protein shakes, broccoli and weight programs? Or – your correspondent’s own preference – do you load the contemporary athletes up with warm Smithwick’s ale and a twenty-Carroll’s smoking habit, and see how much they fancy running up and down Croke Park then?

All good fun in the pub to while away the winter while the Championship sleeps, ready for another year.

Sadly, all that comes to an end this summer. The introduction of the so-called Super 8s means that this year’s Championship, and future Championships to come, are as different to the previous 130 years of competition as a brick is different to an ice cream cone.

The Qualifier system put great strain on the Championship by giving the Great Powers a get-out-of-jail free card while claiming to level the playing field for the smaller counties. But for all that, the fact that the eventual All-Ireland Champions still had to play three knockout games meant there was still a hint of what the Championship had been, and should be.

How many true knockout games did Kerry have to play in their ‘80s Golden Years? What about Galway coming into the hurling championship at the All-Ireland semi-final stage? Not that awful many.

This new age of the Super 8s, however, is a definite break with tradition. There’s no point codding ourselves anymore. Whatever puncher’s chance the underdog had prior to this is now legislated out of existence.

Powerful counties that have tradition and money on their side now have the rules of the competition itself in their corner as well. Dublin or Kerry can now lose twice, in their provinces and in the Super 8s, and still be in an All-Ireland semi-final, happy as Larry and licking their lips at the prospect of munching down whatever lambs are fed to their slaughter.

Darragh Ó Sé left the yerra behind in his column in the Irish Times during the week. The Provincial Championships doesn’t matter a tu’penny damn any more, according to Darragh. The Championship only begins in July in the Super 8s. Everything prior to that is shadow-boxing.

How has this come to pass? How has the Championship been turned on its head without Gaels seeing comets in the sky, or great cliffs falling into the sea, or any of those other portents of great change?
It’s all down to Money, of course, long-recognised as the root of all evil.

Eugene McGee once opined that the GAA lost its soul when it first agreed to shirt sponsorship. Whatever; whenever it happened the genie is out the bottle now, and there’s no getting him back in without some profound and uncomfortable sacrifice on many people’s part. And neither sacrifice nor restraint is a noted quality of Modern Ireland.

Quietly, unnoticed by many, an opinion grew within the Association, fostered by the GPA and their media enablers, that the GAA has a duty to offer the elite athletes of the nation a space or forum to display their gifts. This, aligned with Croke Park Teoranta’s insatiable desire for dollars, combined to bring about our woe.

The GAA that existed to provide the opportunity to play Gaelic games to as many people as wanted to play them has been pushed aside by a new organisation, eager to grab some of that sports/leisure industry revenue. The cuckoo has taken over the nest, and the end is nigh for the GAA as we knew it.

We are now on the slope that will tumble us, sooner than we think, towards a professional league of maybe eight football teams, six hurling. They’ll call themselves Leinster Lions or Breffni Badgers or the Earl of Desmond’s Rangers, and they’ll have woolly mascots that the kids love and it won’t be too bad, really, and we’ll get used to it sooner than we think, even whingers like your correspondent. But what it won’t be is what we once had, the pearl worth more than all our tribe that was the Championship.

Which makes it all the more important to speak truth to power now, before we are lost, and identify what it is that is before us. This new Super 8s Championship is a damnable thing. It is despicable, hateful, monstrous. It is an abomination, an affront in the sight of Almighty God.

And somehow it is here, all set to ruin the summer like one thousand showers or one million protests on the Garvaghy Road. It is a crime and a sin that the Super 8s now rig the Championship to ensure that only the rich can survive. We should shed a tear and keen a lament for that which is lost. We surely own it that much after all these years.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Why Mayo Don't Win All-Irelands

The Irish Examiner’s Kieran Shannon wrote a marvellous profile of Tommy Guilfoyle, the greatest Clare hurler of whom you’ve never heard, last summer. Tommy Guilfoyle was, and is, a prince. He is all that you could ask a man to be.

Guilfoyle's hurling career was dominated by injuries as freakish as they were frightening, and also he had to deal with the sort of personal tragedy that puts all those games we play in their true perspective. Tommy Guilfoyle spent the early ‘90s meeting with Triumph and Disaster, and treating both imposters the same.

And then, in 1994, it all came together. Injury free at last, Guilfoyle was back playing with the county and reminded the Banner of his talent by hammering two goals home against Tipperary, hated Tipperary, in a league semi-final in Limerick.

Ger Loughnane then took over as Clare manager at the end of the 1994 Championship. Loughnane is from Feakle, the same club as Tommy Guilfoyle, and Loughnane had trained Guilfoyle at Under-14. For Clare hurling, 1995 was going to be The Year.

And so 1995 was – just not for Tommy Guilfoyle. When Loughnane selected his panel for the 1995 Championship, Guilfoyle wasn’t on it. Guilfoyle wasn’t happy about this, and held it against Loughnane for sixteen years. And then news broke of Loughnane’s cancer battle and Guilfoyle, like the gentleman he is, put things in perspective and renewed his friendship with the man who denied him an All-Ireland medal.

Why didn’t Loughnane pick Guilfoyle? For this reason: Loughnane knew exactly the sort of team he wanted playing for Clare, and exactly what it would take to make them. The brutality of Clare’s training in 1995 is well documented.

Loughnane knew Guilfoyle couldn’t take that sort of punishment after all he had been through, and Loughnane also knew that there were no half-measures. No exceptions could be made. Everyone had to get equal treatment. And so, in the name winning, Loughnane cut Tommy Guilfoyle’s heart out and threw it in the bin.

If Tommy Guilfoyle had been a Mayoman, his would have been the first name down on every team sheet in 1995, and Clare would still be waiting for an All-Ireland. Clare people would love Tommy Guilfoyle and happily fight anyone who dared besmirch him or question his right to stand in the pantheon with Leahy and Whelehan and Pilkington.

But they wouldn’t know what it was like to hear the Clare shout ring out from Jones’ Road all the way west to the crashing waves of the broad Atlantic itself, as the team came home to the torchlights with the Liam McCarthy cup on the front of the bus. They’d still be waiting on that particular joy.

In Mayo we think they’re big-time because of all these finals we’ve been in. Mayo are everyone’s second county and we lap that plamás up like cats at a saucer of milk. We never stop to ask if all that milk is any good to us, or if it’d be any harm to have a shot of whiskey now and again instead, to put hair on the chest.

Anthony Daly was Ger Loughnane’s captain when the curse of Biddy Earley was broken in 1995. Nineteen years later, he resigned as Dublin hurling manager after Tipperary hammered Dublin into the ground in a quarter-final. He was doing colour commentary on RTÉ radio some weeks later when Limerick put up a heroic-but-doomed stand against Kilkenny in the All-Ireland semi-final on a wet day in Croke Park.

Joanne Cantwell asked Daly what TJ Ryan, the Limerick manager, would be feeling on the sideline. Daly, as ever, didn’t hold back. TJ Ryan will be proud of his men, said Daly, and would not feel the scalding humiliation Daly himself felt when he watched Tipperary lay waste to Dublin from the Dublin sideline earlier in the summer.

Daly went on to talk about the welcome the Limerick players would get back home, and how everyone would congratulate them on how well they played and commiserate them on their bad luck. They don’t commiserate you on back luck in Kilkenny, mused Daly; if Kilkenny had let a chance to win slip as Limerick had done, they’d go off and pick a team that wouldn’t let that happen. No forgiveness.

That’s the difference, said Daly. If you want to be big-time you have to be ruthless. You have to be able to cut the beating heart right out of your best friend and throw it in the bin like it’s nothing more to you than a chewing-gum wrapper. Winning has a price and if you can’t pay it, you can’t have it.

Up Mayo.

Monday, February 26, 2018

TV3's Rugby Coverage

Quinny. Great, fantastic, brilliant.
As a colour commentator, TV3's Alan Quinlan is a little on the black-and-white side. It's hard to know why this is the case - Quinlan worked with Sky Sports before TV3 won the Six Nations, and his fearsome reputation as a player would suggest that he knows where bodies are buried.

None of that came through in his commentary on the Ireland v Wales game on Saturday. It's disappointing, not least because the game is difficult to analyse.

If Ireland were so good, why were Wales within three points of snatching a result at the death? How did Ireland overcome the losses of Henshaw, Henderson and Furlong (to say nothing of Farmer Seán O'Brien)?

Were the replacements so good that suddenly Ireland has discovered a rich seam of international players? Were the missing players maybe not-all-that-exceptional in the first place? Or is it the case that the system is more important than the man in modern rugby, especially in Joe Schmidt's particularly mechanised vision of the ancient game?

These are the questions Quinlan should elucidate for us as the game progresses, not least as modern rugby is so very technical now. Just as the missing nail cost a kingdom, so a man coming in the wrong side of a ruck can now cost a Championship. It's hard to keep up.

It's likely that Quinlan does know all this. He won a lot with Munster when Munster were as gods in Ireland, so he must have figured something out along the way. But whatever that is, he's either unwilling or unable to share with the viewer.

Quinlan's delivery is odd - when he speaks there's a breathless quality to him, like a man whispering at the top of his voice. He's always excited, which is the same as never being excited. He tends to say "Watch Sexton here", or "watch Best here" but never goes on tell us why - either because he's too excited or expects we can discern patterns in the hillocks and drumlins of red- and green-clad beef strewn about the five-metre line without a guide.

Also, for a man who is relatively new to the job, Quinlan has developed two peculiar quirks in his commentary. Quinlan is very prone to the colour commentator's capital error of repeating what the main commentator just said. In an effort to perhaps disguise this, Quinlan elides his remarks to simply listing the players names. "Best, Murray, Sexton, Earls!" he roars. "Sander, Farrell, Sander, Murray!" "John, Paul, George and Ringo!" "Matthew, Mark, Luke and John!"

The more surreal of these quirks is Quinlan's extraordinary reliance on adjectives. This is something he's almost certainly unaware of - who thinks of parts of speech when they speak? - but it is almost certainly unique to him. There are many poor colour commentators - Tommy "Tom" Carr springs to mind - but the adjective stream is a new one on me.

Your correspondent was watching the game for the first twenty minutes before the penny dropped about Quinlan's reliance on adjectives. After that, to keep score on each one was, with me, the work of the next sixty minutes.

Alan Quinlan used fifteen different adjectives to describe play in those sixty minutes. There is a case to be made that he used sixteen, if you consider "what a" an adjectival form - what a kick, what a pass, what a tackle. Sadly, it took me a little too long to twig and I did not keep score of that one. I'll be ready again.

On the others, he used seven adjectives once and once only - bad, big, effective, impressive, incredible, super, and tremendous.

Huge and massive were called to the front twice. Wonderful was used three times, dangerous five, good eight, fantastic eleven, brilliant twelve and, the clear winner with thirty-four carries across the gain-line was great. Great kick, great catch, great tackle, great offload, great ruck, great maul. And so on and on and on.

The Quinlan adjectives are relentlessly positive. The only negative adjective Quinlan used in those sixty minutes was bad, and he only used it once.

Quinlan used dangerous five times but, in rugby, that can be seen as a compliment. Whenever Quinlan himself was described as dangerous in his playing days, it was always meant as a compliment - unless used by the citing commissioner, of course. From this we can only conclude that not only has Alan Quinlan taken some sort of Positive Thinking course, he's come out the other side. Brilliant.

Back in studio, Shane Jennings is a thoughtful analyst but, in an unfortunate echo of international career, he struggles to get noticed above the sulphurous hot air of his gasbag co-analysts. Reader, your humble correspondent would happily spend an hour listening to the Minister for Finance, Mr Pascal Donaghue, TD, extemporise on the Irish income tax bands viz-a-viz European tax harmonisation with particular regard to corporation tax and the liquidity of the sovereign than ever hear one more word on the subject of rugby from either Shane "Shaggy" Horgan or Matt "Maddie" Williams. At least neither Franno nor Hookie have made their way to Ballymount - a small mercy for which a nation offers its grateful thanks.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Social Media Ninjas and the Eighth Amendment

The Eighth Amendment Committee
The Times Ireland edition led yesterday with a story about an (unnamed) Irish anti-abortion campaign group that has hired a company called Kanto to handle the digital side of things once the campaigning starts.

Kanto was founded by one Thomas Borwick, who describes himself as the Chief Technology Officer of the Vote Leave Brexit campaign, and the story goes on to speculate that, because of the tactics used in the Brexit campaign, the hiring of Kanto and Mr Borwick “will raise fears about the Eighth Amendment referendum.”

Maybe. Maybe not.

The definitive book of the Brexit campaign is All-Out War, written by Tim Shipman, chief political correspondent of the Times’s sister paper, the Sunday Times. It’s 662 pages of small type in paperback, 26 of which are a fairly comprehensive index. Neither Thomas Borwick nor Kanto are mentioned anywhere in those 26 pages.

In the index section dealing with Vote Leave, we are directed to ‘and digital campaign, 414-19, 421, 424-25, 464.’ Thomas Borwick isn’t mentioned there either.

Shipman identifies Vote Leave’s digital campaign as a key part of the shock victory. On pages 414 to 419 of his very readable book, Shipman identifies the key players – Henry de Zoete, digital director. Zack Massingham, of a Canadian social media company called AggregateIQ.

And there were three astrophysicists from the west coast of the USA who were brought in to crunch numbers in the same manner Wall Street hired physicists to construct models to persuade people to invest in subprime mortgages before August, 2008. We can’t be sure, but it’s unlikely that Thomas Borwick was one of those astrophysicists.

A quick Google revealed some, but not very many, references to Borwick as CTO of Vote Leave, most notably a piece by Carol Cadwalladr in the Guardian. And the man himself is not sparing in singing his own praises on his LinkedIn page with regard to his work with Vote Leave: “I have gone through the process of everything from wire framing websites to daily scrum meetings and planning our central database system for 43 million voters and maintaining an 80 user computer system.”

Just below the Experience section in LinkedIn, as the great world knows, is the Skills section. The specific computer skills Borwick lists are Microsoft Office, Microsoft Excel and HTML. Quite a modest list for the Chief Technology Officer of a system sitting on a 43-million-row database that was used to create the biggest political upheaval in Great Britain since the Glorious Revolution of 1689.

Your correspondent has no fears for Thomas Borwick’s PR career. Borwick’s father is Jamie Borwick, 5th Baron Borwick, and his mother, Victoria Lorne Peta Borwick, Baroness Borwick, is a former Deputy Mayor of London and MP for Kensington. The family have a coat of arms – three bears’ heads, a row of three eight-pointed-stars, all on a white background. One imagines even the haughty Lannisters sitting up and taking notice.

What this means is the man has contacts. If you hire Kanto, you get access right into the ventricles of the beating heart of the British establishment. What you may be less likely to get is the sort of computer savant that the unnamed Irish anti-abortion group may be expecting. Whoever that anti-abortion group is, it is to be hoped they kept the receipt.

Monday, January 15, 2018

On Referendums

The 'eighties, man.
RTÉ are guilty of some sloppy reporting of Ms Mary Laffoy’s remarks at the opening of the latest meeting of the Citizens’ Assembly in Malahide on Saturday last. RTÉ tell us that “Ms Mary Laffoy told the members that the holding of referendums is a fundamental part of democracy,” but what MsLaffoy actually said was “The holding of a referendum is a fundamental component of our democracy.”

The “our” is important. They never hold referendums in the USA. They hold them all the time in Switzerland. They are held very rarely in the United Kingdom and, after the unmitigated disaster of the last one, they will think long and hard before calling the next.

Ireland holds referendums to change the constitution because the constitution dictates that it can only be changed through referendum. The current constitution succeeded the Free State Constitution in 1937. The Free State constitution was changed by act of parliament, as the US constitution is. This is what happened to the infamous Oath of Allegiance – De Valera and Fianna Fáil dumped it in jig time, and quickly took apart other provisions of that Free State constitution that they found equally objectionable.

There then being nothing left but the bones, Fianna wrote up a new constitution which was accepted by the people in 1937. Eighty years ago, and counting.

There were fourteen referendums held in the first fifty years of the Constitution, of which ten passed and four failed. There were twenty-five more amendments passed in the next thirty years, and more failed referendums than your correspondent could be bothered counting (the numbering on Wikipedia seems a little inconsistent).

As European integration continues referendums will be needed more often and will be less and less suited to changing the constitution. Referendums are suited to broad-stroke topics, rather than Brusselspeak. The legalese will be too subtle to be suited to a referendum debate and vote, and it is the nature of referendums that when people are in doubt, they will vote no to be on the safe side.

The idea of representative democracy is that the people shouldn’t have to wade through this sort of legalise to make decisions. The sovereign people elect representatives to carry out their wishes, and its those elected representatives that are to do the wading through the legal thickets. If the people dislike how their representatives do that wading, they elect some other representatives. Representative democracy.

However. The nation is now lumbered with a series of problems when it comes to referendums. The first problem is that the Ireland of 2017 is starkly different to the Ireland of 1937 and the constitution is no longer suited to the governance of the country. Ireland needs a new constitution.

The second problem is that while the population is better educated in such things as skills and diet, we are less educated as regards civics, public standards, public behaviour and the very definition of nationhood. This is part of a general western malaise of course, but a small country like ours should have been better able to hold its public representatives to account.

Whatever the reasons, the fact is that if a new constitution were written by a joint committee of Pericles of Athens, Thomas Jefferson of the United States and Cú Chulainn, the Hound of Ulster, it still wouldn’t get passed because a combination of cranks, demagogues, ne’er-do-wells and out-and-out fools would get together to find a fault, any fault, and persuade a scared and gullible electorate to take no chances boys, take no chances, you wouldn’t know what they’d be up to. Don’t take a chance!

The third problem is that the current crop of public representatives are rather in love with the idea of referendums, as it means they don’t have to take responsibility for what they were elected to do. Taking responsibility is about the last thing they want to do.

A craven reaction to the Abortion referendum is only to be expected, of course. But the twenty members of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Funding of Domestic Water Charges voted unanimously – unanimously! – in favour of a referendum on the ownership of the nation’s waterten months ago. There were usual suspects on that committee but there were also politicians there who aspire to governing the country, and who should hang their heads in shame. By whom I mean Barry Cowen, Alan Farrell, Kate O’Connell, Willie O’Dea, Lorraine Clifford-Lee and maybe one or two others. The full membership is here.

The chances of any government addressing this referendum issue and the datedness of the constitution are, of course, extremely slim. They’re quite content with this piecemeal, heads-down, rock-no-boat agenda while the European super-state is being built and Ireland is left out. Until the day comes when the Taoiseach of the day is called to Brussels and told there isn’t going to be an Irish constitution any more.

He or she will be told that the country’s economy has crashed four times and being bailed out three, and no matter how often you’re told you’re told that your insistence on seeing houses as capital assets, your limiting of access to justice to those who can pay and your inability to police the country is scandalous, shameful and a bridge too far, the penny just won’t drop. We’re sorry Paddy, but we’re taking the keys of the car. You’ll be much safer with us to mind you.

But, of course, it will be too late to cry about it then. The British are ninety-five years gone. We have no-one to blame but ourselves.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Year in Sports

The businessmen who run Croke Park are not noted for their wit. A pity; should it be a thing that Dublin win a fourth All-Ireland title in a row, wouldn’t it be funny if the traditional post-match playing of Molly Malone were swapped for Linda Ronstadt’s rather super cover of the Everly Brothers’ classic When Will I Be Loved? It would seem to strike the correct note.

The apparent disdain in which the team is held isn’t easy to understand. Pilar Caffrey’s Dublin, with their notorious Blue Book, were difficult to love. But the Gilroy / Gavin generation are the real deal. They are legit in every way a GAA team can be legit, and yet still Ireland withholds its heart.

Part of this may be jealousy. It would be nice to think there’s more too it than that, but there probably isn’t. Would Kerry of the Golden Years be held in the same regard as they are had they not be rendered mortal by Offaly in 1982?

When Meath were in their dark pomp in the 1980s they were hated. Has time humanised them, or was it the loss to Down (not to take anything away from that fine Down team) in 1991 that had the same humanising effect on them as Offaly’s win had on Kerry?

Those greybeards who remember when snooker was a big deal may remember Steve Davis was never loved until he was past his prime; then he became the Grand Old Man of the Green Baize. Is Ireland waiting on Dublin to lose, to return to the mortal realm, before forgiving them for being so much better than the rest? And when is that to happen, exactly?

Reader, I’m damned if I know. Mayo are in pole position among the challengers for the crown, but the trauma of thinking about my own beloved county actually winning an All-Ireland and all that would imply would reduce your correspondent to writing with crayons on greaseproof paper behind high walls and under medical supervision, so let’s not go there just yet, while the season of brotherhood and goodwill is still with us.

The reality is that it is hard to make a case for anyone living with Dublin, to say nothing of beating them. Leinster is a wasteland and, no more than Mayo, Monaghan and Tyrone can only knock on the door for so long.

Kerry remain Kerry, of course, and the impact of the disgraceful Super 8s remains to be seen, but it’s very hard to imagine any team better suited to a Super 8 structure than the current Dublin setup. Tradition, legend, values – may I introduce you to the Almighty Dollar? God help us all.

When historians get around to recording and passing judgement on these changing times, will the publication of Jackie Tyrell’s book be seen as the most significant event of 2017 in hurling? We’ve waited for over a decade for an insight into Kilkenny in the Cody era. Now we have it, does it take from the achievements of that great team? At what stage is a title not worth winning? At what stage can you say a team has gone too far, and it becomes necessary to remind people that sport isn’t life and death; sport is what we concern ourselves with when we need a break from life and death. It’s something to think about.

As Gaelic Games slide further from shamatuerism to fully-blown professionalism, it’s interesting – and horrifying – to look at rugby, which has been professional for 22 years. What has survived, what has thrived, and what has gone by the wayside.

Who would have thought, for instance, that domestic French rugby would set the standard for the world game, and that this club standard would come at the expense of the French national team, once the personification of a way of looking at the world that is quintessentially French?

The current situation cannot last, but what will come in its place nobody knows. The fruits of the banal weekly brutality of the professional game is also a harvest that has yet to be gathered, and will not be nice when it is. Dónal Lenihan made this point very well in his very thoughtful and under-estimated autobiography, released last year.

The Lions Tour, once described by the late Frank Keating as a cross between a school tour and a medieval crusade, was one of those institutions marked for doom when the game went professional, but went from strength to strength instead. On the balance sheet, anyway; neither the heads nor the hearts of fans seem quite sure what to make of the Lions, just as they don’t quite know where club competitions, Six Nations Tournaments and World Cups fit in relative to each other. In the light of Seán O’Brien’s strident opinion of the second-most successful Lions tour of New Zealand in over 110 years, maybe even the players are struggling to keep up. Or it could be all those bumps to the head, of course.

Rugby fans in Ireland are at a particular disadvantage as Irish rugby journalists take the notion of fans-with-typewriters to new depths. What Martin O’Neill wouldn’t do for the coverage Joe Schmidt gets, even though Martin O’Neill has nothing like the talent available to Schmidt.

Certainly, Schmidt’s artisanal style of rugby has never got the abuse that O’Neill’s hearts-on-their-sleeves, lead-in-their-boots soccer team habitually get, even though Schmidt has a better selection. And that’s not even counting the chaps who make Michael Flatley of the Clan Flatley seem as Irish as the very Blarney Stone itself.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Current Political Situation

Whatever else is to befall the unhappy nation on this pivotal day in Irish politics, it has to be hoped that An Taoiseach has kept his receipt for the five million or so Euro he spent on a Strategic Communications Unit. If they hadn’t ballsed-up the Thursday messaging, the government would not be on the edge of a precipice today.

The minutiae of who read what email when doesn’t matter in terms of the government's survival. Fianna Fáil have been watching the government, and the government watching Fianna Fáil, since the budget. Both know the end of the confidence-and-supply agreement is close; neither wants to be left being reactive to the other when the thing goes wallop and it’s time to face the people.

The latest McCabe revelations resulted in Sinn Féin tabling a motion of no confidence in the Tánaiste on Thursday of last week. This left Fianna Fáil in a dilemma; if they went against the Sinn Féin motion and something else broke about the state’s disgraceful treatment of Sergeant McCabe, Fianna Fáil lose ground to Sinn Féin.

Fianna Fáil cannot lose (further) ground to Sinn Féin because Sinn Féin will get a boost from a new face on the posters and from the fact that Sinn Féin represents the greatest potential change in the election anyway. Every electorate dreams of the far-away fields.

Therefore, Fianna Fáil had no option but to declare their own motion of no confidence in the Tánaiste. They missed a trick badly in not pulling the plug during the final days of Enda Kenny, when the disgraceful story about the breathalyser-fixing by the Gardaí broke. That would have been perfect, because the issue was so clear-cut and easily understandable. Fianna Fáil could not lose another opportunity.

In the light of this, the sensible play on Fine Gael’s part would have been to either keep schtum or else jettison Frances Fitzgerald with the greatest dispatch. You may say this would have been grossly unfair on Mrs Fitzgerald; reader, what’s fair got to do with it? This is politics, the dirtiest game there is.

Alan Shatter lost his job on the basis of political expediency. The noted moralists of the Labour Party defenestrated the Taoiseach that brokered the first ceasefire in Northern Ireland in a fit of political pique. Charlie Haughey, to echo Jeremy Thorpe’s famous quip about Harold MacMillan’s night of the long knives, laid down his friend for his life in 1990. That’s politics.

However. Fine Gael did not take this sensible option. Instead, Fine Gael went on the offensive, with Eoghan Murphy, a man without whom Leo Varadkar would not now be Taoiseach, delivered a studs-up performance in defence of Frances Fitzgerald’s honour on Prime Time last Thursday that bet the farm on Fianna Fáil backing down.

This was an extraordinarily naïve decision. All politicians like wriggle room, but Irish politicians need it most of all. Fine Gael’s public doubling-down on the Tánaiste means that any concession to Fianna Fáil looks like a climbdown. Sinn Féin had already closed off Fianna Fáil on one flank; Fine Gael’s outrage that anybody should look crossways at their Tánaiste left Fianna Fáil with no option but to light the fuse.

As Sarah Bardon of the Irish Times pointed out yesterday on Twitter, the messaging from the government has softened considerably since Thursday:

And that’s all fine, but Fianna Fáil remain in a Grand-Old-Duke-of-York dilemma. All these things have to be understood in the context of the general election that will be fought early next year, if not before Christmas. How will Fianna Fáil’s argument of being responsible and putting the nation first stack up against Sinn Féin’s constant attack of Fianna Fáil being part of an elite that is willing to stoop to anything to keep itself in power, instead of doing the right thing in the name of that good man who was wronged, Maurice McCabe?

Politics is broad strokes. How do subtleties about changes to the Department of Justice work as broad strokes? Badly, is the answer. For Fianna Fáil, anything less than the Tánaiste’s head is a Sinn Féin win. In the light of this, Fine Gael’s only chance of limiting the damage would be for Frances Fitzgerald to do a Sidney Danton before marching bravely to the guillotine, and hope to be avenged in the election after Christmas. A cobbled-together compromise means an early Christmas for Sinn Féin HQ as their long march to power comes three to five seats nearer.