If Kevin O’Neill is to become Seán Flanagan’s successor as the captain of an All-Ireland winning Mayo senior team later this year, historians will almost certainly look back on last night as the moment when the dream started becoming a reality. To beat Cork in Cork in never easy; to beat Cork in Cork when Cork are managed by Billy Morgan is difficult, but to beat a Billy Morgan managed Cork side in Cork when six points down at half-time is more or less impossible. Did I add that Mayo were without their first choice midfield and Ciarán McDonald as well? Yet Mayo came back from the dead in the second half last night and in so doing ran an electric charge through Mayo’s collective football psyche. This could be the start of something beautiful.
The return of Sam Maguire after fifty-six years is something of a chimera in Mayo after so many false dawns since the first O’Mahony breakthrough eighteen years ago, but Mayo have quite clearly been knocking at the door in the past decade. That is why O’Mahony has been brought back even while there are still many in authority who are waiting for him to trip up, and last night showed why it may just be worth it.
Consider the problems O’Mahony faced last night. He was without his first choice midfield pairing of Ronan McGarrity and David Brady, and up against the best midfield pairing in the country, Nicolas Murphy and Derek Kavanagh. What else can O’Mahony do but thank God for Pat Harte, and pair him with David Heaney, slot in Aidan Kilcoyne for Trevor Mortimer, and hope for the best?
Disaster strikes. Alan Dillon is injured, and Kevin O’Neill, recently returned from injury, is sprung into the fray, with the county praying it’s not too soon after the injury. Aidan Campbell is then injured, and Marty McNicolas, whose own career has been so blighted by injury, comes in. Mayo are holding their own, as the bench depth and breadth of talent pays off.
Only for disaster to strike again. Twice. Cork have unearthed a monster full-forward called Michael Cussen, as every petri dish in Ireland is searched for a Kieran Donaghy clone. Cussen, towering over Mayo’s rookie fullback James Kilcullen, punches one goal and sets up another. At half-time, Mayo are on the ropes, down 2-5 to 0-5. You’re John O’Mahony, what do you do?
Haul off Kilcullen before any more damage is done? Whom do you put back there to stand sentinel at the gate? Heaney? Are you sure that’s entirely wise? Jimmy Nallen? Even if Heaney does go back do you then need Nallen to come on at midfield? One third of your starting forwards are gone and two more aren’t exactly pulling up any trees. Do you send for Austin, and tell everybody whose shirt number is greater than 4 to welt it up to Austy and hope for the best? What if they get another goal? It’s not like you can send Kilcullen back in and tell him you were only messing.
An Spailpín Fánach is not privy to the Mayo dressing room, but your faithful narrator and habitual punter will lay a buck to a bad back tooth that the first thing Johnno told his charges was: don’t panic. Things are by no means as bad as they seem.
Mayo were six points down, yes. But that’s the thing about goals in Gaelic Games – you really can’t legislate for them, either for the scoring of them or the stopping of them. They just seem to happen, like some of those wilfully capricious events dictated by the Greek Gods in Homer. So you just forget about them, tell James Kilcullen that he’s doing fine, that’s he’s wearing the jersey for a reason and to stick by his man and everything will be ok.
Next, you point out the fascinating fact that Mayo are not getting cleaned like a fish at midfield. Not at all. It’s a bit harum-scarum out there, but football was never a precision science and harum-scarum is a lot better than it might have been. So what to do with all this not entirely expected possession?
Run at Cork with it, and see how they like it.
The eleventh Psalm tells us that a scorching wind shall be the lot of the wicked; it was certainly the lot of Cork last night. Mayo tore right through them, scoring 1-3 in the first five minutes to sensationally level things and thrill Mayo hearts from Belmullet to Cricklewood Broadway. The second half proved more expansive than either manager would have liked, and Cork, in truth, were very unlucky not to have taken the game once they recovered from the initial Mayo onslaught. But profligacy in front of the posts brings its own punishments, and it cost Cork last night.
It is unusual to write of a Mayo attack that were more frugal with possession than the opposition but that was the case last night, and two men were behind it. Kevin O’Neill put on a display of pin-point passing that displayed, once again, what a classy, classy football this man is, and Conor Mortimer came of age.
C-Mort is one of the faces of Mayo in this first decade of the 21st Century, and his football adolescence, like all adolescences, has at times been painful to watch. But every year he’s added something more to his game and last night Conor looked very much the real deal. His long range shooting was on the money, his goal breath-taking, and his standing up to the abuse doled out by some very streetwise Cork backs was a credit to him. Ray Silke made him man of the match, and Silke was completely correct in his assessment. Last night in Páirc Uí Rinn, Conor Mortimer became a leader of men.
So what does this mean in the long run? Very little of course. It’s two points in the league bag, it’s a sharp but useful learning experience for Kilcullen, now a wiser and better man and full back, and Mayo are now more or less assured of Division 1 football next year. Had he his druthers, An Spailpín Fánach would now play more or less joke teams in the remaining fixtures, at home against Dublin and away to Tyrone. What’s the point in getting to the playoffs? May 20th and Mayo’s looming Championship encounter with Galway in Salthill is plenty close enough without Mayo needing any more warm-up matches. The media will be getting hot and bothered about Dublin looking for revenge over the summer but even Pillar Caffrey admitted that it doesn’t mean a thing in terms of next Sunday. For Mayo, it’s all about Galway in the Championship.
Galway stuffed Westmeath today, pulling away in the end with scores from Derek Savage and Pádraig Joyce – you may have heard of them. Reports of Galway’s demise have, as ever, proved premature and Johnno’s all-seeing eye will have noticed that fact – just as Galway themselves will have noticed that a certain Johnno effect is to be seen in his native heath. An effect with which they themselves are fully familiar.
And, as the evenings begin to stretch and the Championship nears, if the good people of the Galway football heartlands of Tuam and Milltown and Dunmore get in their cars and drive the few miles north to the Mayo border and get out and try to catch that strange sound born on the wind, and rising from the heather and the peat and whins, it can only be the fairy families and clans of Mayo hailing the new king, Johnno, Johnno, Johnno. No wonder Enda Kenny’s hair is standing on end.
Technorati Tags: sport, GAA, football, Mayo
Sunday, March 25, 2007
Friday, March 23, 2007
Anyone who feels like a treat, now that St Patrick’s Day is past and we’re moving quickly towards the summer, could do an awful lot worse than investing twenty sheets in ‘Dir Cúm Thóla & Cúil Aodha, the new CD from Seán Ó Sé and Peadar Ó Riada. An Spailpín invested at the start of this month, and is listening constantly still, discovering new wonders. A shining light in these dull and vacuous times.
The story of the record is this: Peadar Ó Riada and Seán Ó Sé first performed together at the Requiem Mass for Seán Ó Riada, Peadar’s father and the father of Irish traditional music as we know it. In the ten or so years between his composition/arrangement of the Mise Éire soundtrack and his sudden and untimely death in 1970 Seán Ó Riada’s revolutionised Irish traditional music and Ireland’s attitude to her musical heritage. All we have now in music we owe in no small part to Seán Ó Riada and this new record by Seán Ó Sé and Peadar Ó Riada is a kind of acknowledgement and retrospective of those forty years that have gone by since, and the thousands of years gone by going back to the Tuatha De Danann, of course.
What a retrospective it is. In this age of prolonged record parturition, Ó Sé and Ó Riada did it old school – they performed a concert in Cúil Aodha in December 2005, Ó Riada at the piano and Ó Sé standing beside him, belting out the songs, and stuck it on tape, deciding they would stand or fall by that, and never mind the fairy dust and the reverb.
Ó Riada and Ó Sé have been planning this record, on and off, in the forty odd years since they first performed together at the Requiem for Seán Ó Riada and by God it’s been worth the wait. Seán Ó Sé replaced Darrach Ó Catháin as the singer with Ceoltóirí Chulainn, the band of traditional musicians that Ó Riada formed in the 1960s, and from whom sprang the original members of the Chieftains. Ó Sé is a long time at it now, past three score and ten years of age, and in ‘Dir Cúm Thóla & Cúil Aodha he brings the experience of those seventy years to bear in his reading of the songs on the record.
Ó Sé’s voice is loud, in the same sense that Luke Kelly’s voice was loud. It demands to be heard. In an interview on Áine Hensey’s marvellous and essential traditional music program, The Late Session, on RTÉ Radio 1 last Sunday night, Ó Sé talked about the Irish tradition of abhar amhrán, saying a song, rather than singing it. Ó Riada’s subtle and humble accompaniment gives the songs all the space they need to tell their stories, as Ó Riada steps back and Ó Sé steps forward to sing of Outlaws of the Hill, Carraigdhoun where the heath is brown, and the tragic consequences of Aughrim’s Great Disaster and Seán Ó Duibhir a’ Ghleanna being worsted in the game. The performances of Ó Sé with Ó Riada’s piano accompaniment remind An Spailpín of nothing so much as Paul Robeson with Alan Booth on piano live at Carnegie Hall, and no higher praise am I able to bestow, even though Ó Sé is not, of course, the basso profundo that Robeson was.
In the Hensey interview, both Ó Riada and Ó Sé talk about the importance of place and tradition in the CD, and that’s clear from the title – Ó Riada is from Cúil Aodha and Ó Sé from Cúm Thóla. To his shame, your faithful narrator would not be able to find either on a map, but he cannot but feel envious of anywhere that enjoys so rich a tradition as this. It behoves everybody with a heart beneath an Irish breast to buy this record, but to An Spailpín’s mind, this duty weighs especially heavily on that thirteenth tribe of Israel, the men and women from the rebel county of Cork. For no other reason if not this: Cork enjoys one of the great county songs in The Banks of My Own Lovely Lee, and here Seán Ó Sé gives a definitive reading of that truly beautiful song. “The maid with her lover the wild daises pressed / By the banks of my own lovely Lee.” If you don’t think that a simply gorgeous image as we prepare to put the clocks forward for summertime, An Spailpín suggests you send for the vet immediately, and tell him to bring every damned bottle he has, as the case is very, very serious.
‘Dir Cúm Thóla & Cúil Aodha is a fine and worthy addition to a body of work that goes back to those Ó Riada records of the sixties, now being reissued and re-mastered thank God, and the irony is that very few people would recognise Seán Ó Sé if they met him in the street. If you do, stop him and thank him – the nation owes him a debt which will never be repaid. Go n-éirí leis níos fearr arís ins an trí scór is deich ag teacht chuige, ár laoch is ár Caesar, ár nGile Mear, rí na h-amhránaí, Seán Ó Sé.
Technorati Tags: Ireland, culture, music, Seán Ó Sé, Peadar Ó Riada
Monday, March 19, 2007
While the media snow job on the Irish rugby team and rugby establishment continues unabated (“Cruel Call Rains on Irish Parade,” “Endgame Cannot Really Tarnish Glory that was Rome,” free poster in tomorrow morning’s Independent, and so on ad nauseum), at least the players know what’s going on. The piper Hickie, that fine old under-appreciated servant of Irish rugby, is ruefully philosophical in this morning’s Irish Times, while Ronan O’Gara was being brutally honest in his assessment in today’s Indo.
"I don't think I'd be jumping around if we won the championship to be honest. It'd be good but it wouldn't be great. Not too bothered with it really, if that doesn't sound defeatist. Our goal was to win the Grand Slam. It's all ifs and buts now. We didn't do the business in Croke Park. That was our aim."
The outhalf – and a good bet for player of the Six Nations – is calling it as it is. As is the typically trenchant Brian Moore in the Daily Telegraph – Ireland were the best team in the Six Nations and have come away with nothing. And all the colour posters in all the newspapers in all the world won’t change that.
The most interesting analysis of why that is comes from a surprising source. An Spailpín has always harboured a deep distrust for the former Leinster and Scotland coach Matt Williams, who has a bit too much of the Guy Smileys for your correspondent’s liking, but Williams is on the money in today’s Irish Times. Williams questions why it is that the team is so inconsistent and lays it at the door of the coach. Now, it could be that Williams has a little agenda going on (he’s always been loyal to Keith Gleeson in his columns – Williams is not a man to forget, it seems), but his remarks about the inconsistency of the team being put at the door of the coach make a lot of sense.
“For me, the responsibility stops with the coaching staff. Rather than alleviate pressure, they seem to create it, thus inhibiting performances. They need to create an environment that allows the players to perform. We have to assume the drop in performance is a down to a problem at management level. So while taking credit for the good days they must stop denying the fault exists and attempt to address it.”
Why does Paul O’Connell always play better for Munster than for Ireland? Why does Geordan Murphy play better for Leicester than for Ireland? Why haven’t we seen more players given a run?
The fact of the matter is that Ireland will not win the World Cup. This is not a reflection of the team, its talent or even of its coach – it’s simply a reflection of the format of the competition and the shallow pool of players from which Ireland can call. The World Cup has a profoundly high player attrition rate – this is why Graham Henry, whose New Zealand team have the biggest and best pick of players in the world, has been looking for a thirty man team, rather than just fifteen. Henry knows that if Dan Carter or Richie McCaw or Jerry Collins gets hurt he needs men who can step up, because to go the World Cup and hope your key players won’t get hurt is naïve in the extreme.
Ireland don’t have that luxury. If John Hayes gets hurt there is nobody to replace him. Ireland might as well phone in the sickie and go home if they lose Hayes – Atlas with the world on his shoulders is the only comparison to the big man from Bruff. Did you notice that when Eddie O’Sullivan was running the bench on Saturday that Hayes stayed on for the eighty minutes? That’s how much he’s needed.
And because of that, because Eddie O’Sullivan and his staff must know that Ireland doesn’t have the player resources to win the World Cup, you can forgive him concentrating on the Six Nations. You could even forgive him for not experimenting with players in the Autumn internationals. But when he puts all his money on the Six Nations he has to come away with something and Ireland have, sadly, come away from this Six Nations with nothing. Nada. And that is a bitter pill to swallow. This is a golden generation of Irish rugby, with Brian O’Driscoll, An Drisceolach Gan Smal, its captain and inspiration, peerless in the pantheon of the greats. It deserves better than hard luck stories.
Technorati Tags: sport, rugby, Six Nations
Monday, March 12, 2007
The Irish rugby team has been delivered a second chance by England’s shock defeat of France yesterday. After the disappointment of the loss against France, the team gets another chance to win the Championship and finally achieve the potential of the greatest generation Irish rugby has ever seen, and perhaps ever will.
The stakes are simple. If Ireland win in Rome, Ireland will have done all that can be asked of them this Monday morning. Lose, and the cheerleaders in the media will finally have to admit that they have been derelict in their duty of not asking harsher questions of the regime as to why they are so happy to settle for second best in the Championship three years in a row, and to humiliate themselves by celebrating trophies – the Triple Crown – that have gone the way of the dodo since the advent of professionalism.
Technically, Ireland could beat Italy and still not win the Championship, but that would be only on points difference, and points difference is not a satisfactory way of deciding anything, least of all a Championship that gives each team only five games. The old system of joint Champions was much more satisfactory and much more in keeping with the ethos of the game. However, as An Spailpín Fánach has been critical of the regime he will concede a win over the Italians in Rome as definitive proof that the Irish are not chokers, as their accusers – most noticeably that lion-hearted hooker for Harlequins, England and the Lions, Brian Moore - has claimed.
If Ireland lose, however, then it is quite clear that the team are chokers. Ireland should have blown Scotland away on Saturday – we are talking about the third best team in the world here, aren’t we? Isn’t that what the nation has been told? Yet the Scottish fell on their own claymores in the last ten minutes, conceding stupid penalties that Ronan O’Gara was able to convert. What lead to this? Why were Ireland so poor?
The question of an assault that may or may not have been perpetrated on Ronan O’Gara has sidelined the Irish media in their post-match analysis of that Irish performance – not that sidelining those fans with typewriters was anything like a challenge. Thuggery in international rugby is nothing new – anybody that thinks it is ought to ask themselves why Richard Sharp had his cheek smashed by Francois “Mannetjies” Roux when the Lions played Northern Transvaal before the first test of the 1962 tour of South Africa, or where the sportsmanship was in the Lions’ own infamous 99 call twelve years later. What is unusual about skulduggery in rugby is talking about it.
Rightly or wrongly, “that sort of thing” was regarded as part and parcel of the game. It had to do with a particular kind of double-think; it was perfectly acceptable for a gentleman, playing a gentleman’s game, to punch, kick, gouge or otherwise assault an opponent, but it was never acceptable for a gentleman to accuse an opponent of punching, kicking, gouging or illegally assaulting an opponent because a gentleman would never dream of punching, gouging, kicking or illegally assaulting an opponent. Hypocrisy reigned. An Spailpín is not defending the indefensible, but simply outlining the code which Eddie O’Sullivan transgressed in his post-match accusations.
The worrying thing about the O’Sullivan accusation is that it is neither one thing or another. O’Sullivan knows the name of the player whom he suspects of strangling O’Gara at the bottom of a ruck, but he won’t name him. He has, however, chosen to go half-public on the issue, and in being neither one thing nor the other he has, like Lear, cleft his crown in two halves and left nothing in the middle. If Eddie wants to go public, he should go all the way or else keep his yap shut and let the rules and conventions of the game sort out the issue. To do otherwise is to kick up the dust in what could be seen as a deeply cynical exercise in media management, and worse, it make the Irish look like crybabies, something they have never been, even at their lowest ebb.
Eddie O’Sullivan likes to portray himself as an outsider to the ivied elites of Irish rugby, but it was clever politicking on O’Sullivan’s part that got him the job in the first place – at the cost of his predecessor, Warren Gatland, who, as a New Zealand native and a coach of Connacht here, could not have been more of an outsider if he had been from the planet Mars. O’Sullivan’s critics – those few whom the coach hasn’t been able to get on message or off the rugby beat – maintain that O’Sullivan’s notoriously conservative selection policies and game plans have put his own win/loss record ahead of the development and progress of the national side. Saturday will tell, among many other things, whether or not Eddie is all mouth and no trousers.
Ireland are holding aces coming into Saturday’s game. Italy are enjoying their greatest ever season, their first ever season with two wins to show for their troubles, but there are question marks over the quality of both wins and – stop me if you’ve heard this before – Ireland are third best team in the world. Ireland have lost Paul O’Connell, who cannot be replaced, of course, but the French have been without Fabien Pelous for the entire campaign, and there is no whining to be heard from them over that. Ireland have a golden generation and, in their captain, Brian O’Driscoll, unquestionably Ireland’s greatest ever player. Most talented, most committed, most brilliant. It’s now or never for the Irish team – Rome awaits, and it’ll be thumbs up or down by the final whistle in the Stadio Flamino on Saint Patrick’s Day. Let honour’s thought reign solely in the breast of every man, and we shall finally see what this team – and their media-happy coach – are made of.
Technorati Tags: Ireland, sport, rugby, chokers
Tuesday, March 06, 2007
An Spailpín Fánach was interested to note in his New York Times yesterday that Bono is to guest edit Vanity Fair magazine. This comes as news – An Spailpín’s Writers’ Market 2007 tells your humble and penurious correspondent that Vanity Fair magazine does not consider freelance submissions, so why they should consider a freelance editor seems puzzling.
Bono is to edit the July issue, and his aim, according to the NY Times, is to re-brand Africa. “We need to get better at storytelling,” he says. “Bill Gates tells me this all the time. We’ve got to get better at telling the success stories of Africa in addition to the horror stories.”
Doncha just love the way he drops Bill Gates in there?
AIDS is, of course, of great concern to Bono, specifically the devastation the disease is wreaking in sub-Saharan Africa. “What is more interesting to me is that we are losing the fight against AIDS in Africa,” says the chanteur. “There are still 5,000 Africans dying every day of a preventable, treatable disease, dying for lack of drugs that are available at any corner drugstore.”
So Bono has two agendae in his impending editorship of Vanity Fair – positive African success stories, and doing something about a “preventable, treatable disease,” viz, AIDS.
Allow An Spailpín Fánach to help, and kill two birds with one blow. Not only is there a positive African success story, but it is a success against AIDS itself and it does not involve adding to the largesse of the multi-national drug companies at all.
The President of The Gambia, Yahya Jammeh, announced last month that he has found a cure for AIDS. Having no truck with those corner drugstores beyond in America, His Excellency has cooked up a herbal potion that does the trick just fine. What exactly is in the stuff? His Excellency is being coy about that, telling Sky News reporter Emma Hurd that he would not tell her “in a million years” what’s in his ointment, but let’s get a little perspective here – while President Jammeh wouldn’t give the time of day to some bint from British TV, what is her moth-like presence compared to the supernova of an Irish rock singer?
An Spailpín is quite sure that once President Jammeh meets Bono he’ll do a twenty page colour spread for the July issue of Vanity Fair on his AIDS curing ointment – the best way to grow the herbs from which it's made, how not to get it on the sheets, and what were his favorite tracks from The Joshua Tree.
It’s exactly the sort of positive spin on Africa that Bono is looking for. Life expectancy in The Gambia is 56, according to the CIA World Factbook. That mightn’t sound like much in comparison to Ireland at 77, but how much better it is than Zimbabwe, whose President, Mr Robert Mugabe, must be a very poor man with the hoe indeed – life expectancy in Zimbabwe is 39 and dropping as AIDS lays waste to the former “bread basket of Africa.” Peter Godwin’s recently published When a Crocodile Eats the Sun gives a harrowing account of contemporary life in Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, but that’s not the sort of positive “success story” that Bono is looking for in his rebranding of Africa. So piss off, Peter, don’t call us, we’ll call you. Now Mr President – do you think if we dropped in a few turnips with the herbs we’d have a cure for the freckles?
Technorati Tags: Culture, Vanity Fair, Bono, AIDS, Africa
Monday, March 05, 2007
Those people for whom the long history of the English monarchy exerts a fascination – and your correspondent is one such – will be all a-twitter today from reading in this morning’s Daily Telegraph that historian David Starkey is claiming to have finally identified a contemporary portrait of Lady Jane Grey, who reigned as de jure Queen of England and Ireland for nine days in the summer of 1553. Lady Jane is one of the great martyrs of the English Reformation, but no contemporary portrait of her was known until Dr Starkey’s discovery at the Yale Center for British Art. And even now Dr Starkey is hedging his bets, not willing to go higher than a 90% claim that the woman in the miniature is the misfortunate monarch.
Lady Jane’s tragic fate was another of the side effects of her great uncle, King Henry VIII’s, determined ambition to hose half of England, leading to quite a complication succession once the old goat finally kicked the bucket. Brendan Behan quotes an apposite - if nasty - quatrain in Borstal Boy:
Ná thrácht ar an mhinistéir Ghallda,
Nár ar a chreideimh gan bheann gan bhrí,
Mar níl mar bhun-chloch dá theampuill
Ach magairle Annraoi, Rí.
Henry VIII was succeeded by Edward VI, who died of tuberculosis at the age of fifteen after a six year reign. And this is where it got interesting, and how the misfortunate Lady Jane ended up losing her head.
Lady Jane Grey was not Lady Jane Grey when Edward VI died; she was Lady Jane Dudley, having married – or, more correctly, having been married to - Guildford Dudley in May of 1553. Dudley’s father, the Duke of Northumberland, was a Protestant and regent to Edward VI, and it was very much in Northumberland’s interest to shore up the succession before Mary Tudor, the eldest daughter of Henry VIII and therefore the first in line for succession, could ascend to the throne. Northumberland had made a nice big ball of money for himself during the Reformation as part of the taking over of the Catholic monasteries and he was damned if Mary, a Catholic, was going to make him give all the loot back to the papists. So he made a power play where Lady Jane Grey was named Heir Presumptive to Edward VI in Edward’s will. Edward died on July 6th, 1553, and four days later Northumberland proclaimed Lady Jane Queen Jane.
Her reign lasted nine days. The succession was not deemed to be something you can bequeath in a will, and Mary Tudor was eventually crowned Queen by right of primogeniture in October of 1553. Lady Jane was taken from the throne to the Tower of London. She pleaded guilty to a charge of high treason in November of 1553 and four months later was beheaded.
Three hundred years after Lady Jane’s execution Paul Delaroche painted his remarkable portrait of the Nine Days’ Queen’s final minutes, currently gracing the top of An Spailpín Fánach. Like all great artists, Delaroche didn’t let the facts get in the way of his vision – instead of the darked room populated with swooning maidens, Lady Jane’s was an open-air public execution. If it happened tomorrow, Lady Jane would probably have suffered the final indignity of having Davina McCall stick a microphone under her nose before the axe fell to ask her who was more regal, herself or Shilpa Shetty. The English Reformation was a bloody and murderous time, but at least Lady Jane was spared that barbarism.
Technorati Tags: Culture, history, Monarchs of England, Lady Jane Grey