Sunday, January 01, 2006

Hand Me Down Me Crystal Ball - An Spailpín Fánach's Sporting Preview for 2006

An Spailpín Fánach reads in this morning's Sunday Times that Michael Foley advises the people of the County Mayo to be patient. "With a Connacht title well within their grasp and a panel and management surely capable of delivering at least that, it's hard to see a problem."

All-Ireland finalists hoping for a provincial title fifteen months on? Nothing like shooting for the moon, is there Mick?

An Spailpín was bitterly disappointed to see the appointment of Mickey Moran as Mayo manager, and was bitterly disappointed on two counts. Firstly, An Spailpín is a Johnno man, and cares little who knows it. Secondly, it's as clear as mountain poitín that the County Board wanted O'Mahony as manager, or else their shafting of the most successful Mayo manager ever doesn't make much sense. Incompetence is something that always troubles your correspondent, and watching the County Board thrash about trying to appoint a manager after Johnno realised that they were offering the position of whipping boy rather than county manager was depressing in the extreme. If you've ever seen a pianist trying to bang out Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue while wearing boxing gloves you'll get an idea of the level of subtlety at which these bozos operate. A lesson for all political conspirators out there: when you're planning your coup, make sure you have the successor ready in the wings before the body of the incumbent hits the floor. Or else the result may be Mickey Moran.

It seems, from reading the press, that Mickey has a magnificent reputation in the country as a coach. How odd that this magnificent reputation never lead to Mickey's name being touted as a new Dublin manager, whenever that most glamorous of posts was in the offing. One can't help but wonder who propagates this Mickey-is-a-great-coach shibboleth, but I would bet a sneaky fiver on it being Mickey himself. Or else, perhaps, his mother.

Mickey Moran, supercoach, has won one, 1, national title, a national league with Derry (I think) in 1995. That places him on the same level of achievement as Pat Holmes, who at least had the bonus of actually being from Mayo and serving her football cause with honour and distinction when-ever he wore the green and red. Pity about his management career, but nobody's perfect. The danger with Mickey is what I suspect was the problem with the Pat Holmes era, in that the manager was not picking the team. I don't think Mickey is going to pick the team either, to be terribly honest. I think it's going to be picked for him, and if Mickey has any objection to that, it may be suggested to him that he take a peek at his expenses cheque, and see whose name appears at the bottom. Mickey then faces the agonising choice of following the money or saying screw the gelt, I'm here for the honour and glory of the sweet County Mayo, and damn the consequences. Our prayers will be with him during his long dark night of the soul.

Hopefully all this will seem as ridiculous come high summer as An Spailpín's confident prediction that Galway would win the All-Ireland in football last year. But, do you know, I doubt it? I don't think Mayo will be in trouble in the league, as which-ever division exactly it is that Mayo are in is clearly the weaker of the two first divisions, with no real shortage of gluggers in there. Mayo will be whacked in Kerry of course (how those chaps hold that '96 semi-final against us), but should get enough points in between times to survive, and maybe even get another League semi-final scutching in Croker such as that delivered by Armagh last year. But come Championship and playing for keepsies, Mayo supporters should be heading for Carrick-on-Shannon in fear and trepidation - provided they escape the fleshpots of London town, of course. Leitrim's playing resources are slim, but how bravely they stretched those resources last year, and what bad beats, as the poker players say, they suffered last year. Luck turns, and if they can keep the panel together, the ball has to hop Leitrim's way soon. On a purely selfish note, An Spailpín can only hope it won't be at Mayo's expense.

On an unselfish note, if Leitrim are to beat Mayo in Carrick next June how wonderful it would be if Roscommon were to be their opponents in the County Final. Not because I think everybody should have their chance - I do not, who do you think I am, Joe Higgins? - but because such a marvellous rivalry exists between the two counties, and what an occasion it would be, an occasion for rural Ireland, the real people of Ireland, those poor faceless souls whom we call brother, sister, father or mother, who are never represented on RTÉ or in the newspapers. Those poor dumb slobs, that forgotten majority after whose sisters you've lusted, brothers you're played football against, whose mothers taught you and who's fathers gave you work in the summer. Those people that stood by you in good days and bad, and whose last act for you will be walk with you to the church when you're on your very last day out. I think those people deserve a day out, and I think a Connacht Final between Roscommon and Leitrim would represent the ne plus ultra of that demographic. By the Tuesday after the game I would be heartily sick of both of them, of course, and fervently wishing a plague on both their houses, but what can I tell you? It's New Year's Day, and the sun has been shining. Even Spailpíní have hearts.

As regards other codes, looks like the rugger team is buggered. An Spailpín watched Leinster and Munster in the Celtic League on telly yesterday and the difference in class between Felipe Contrepomi and Ronan O'Gara at stand-off half was deeply depressing. Other insights were available too - Shane "Shaggy" Horgan is as slow as a greyhound that's eaten half a stone of sausages, and the only reason Gordon D'Arcy looked good two years ago was because he was in the reflected luminescence of Brian O'Driscoll's incandescent genius. D'Arcy has other problems too - Dorse is currently in very real danger of losing out to blindside flanker Cameron Jowitt for the best hair in Kiely's of Donnybrook. Where did it all go wrong, Dorse?

I hope the Welsh win the Six Nations again, I really do. They got no justice from Sir Clive on the Lions tour, but weren't they just thrilling against Australia in the autumn international at Cardiff? And they had to play without their starting centre partnership of Shanklin and Henson. As a nation Wales has its issues of course, but as a rugby team they still remember what the game is supposed to be about; that's courage, dash, adventure and glory, and not seventeen stone wing forwards thundering into each other like bumper cars in a run-down carnival.

There was a time when my generation used to measure the passing years in terms of World Cups. That seems less viable now, after such a poor 2002 World Cup. The worst German team ever getting to the finals, North Korea and Turkey in the semis? What ever happened to the notion that this is the Great Stage where genius burns brightest? Somebody's agent must have objected. Still, even if it's a poor World Cup it's still the only one we've got, and An Spailpín Fánach will be investing a pensive pony on the hosts to win once more. For three reasons. Firstly, hosts traditionally do well in World Cups. Secondly, in Bastian Schweinsteiger Jerry surely has one of the great nomen qua nomines of the World Cup - Richard Wagner would have belted out another Ring cycle on the sheer Germanic strength of this young man's name alone. And finally, if Germany wins it, imagine how it'd piss off the Tans?

FOCAL SCOIR: An Spailpín Fánach urgently counsels all sensible men and women to have nothing to do with Ryder Cup. Waves and waves of propaganda will crash and thunder all around you as September approaches, but you must be strong and remember, it's only a competition if both sides want to win. Tiger Woods has done little to hide his distain for the Ryder Cup, and if the Yanks don't have Tiger they don't have a team. The Ryder Cup is the sound of one hand clapping, and another feeding frenzy for the rich and privileged in Irish society to get richer and more privileged. Have nothing to do with the worship of their ersatz golden calf.
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