After Mayo lost the All-Ireland Final to Donegal in 2012, a football man, a fatalist, and a personal friend of the blog remarked that this could be the beginning of an unprecedented era in Mayo football, where the heather county would manage an unprecedented feat of losing three finals in a row.
We’re two up on that now so those of you unlucky enough to be from somewhere other than the sweet county Mayo may excuse us if we’re a little twitchy in the year ahead, and whistle past every graveyard we see. James Horan has committed to another year, and the crusade will begin again in New York City in May. Fingers crossed.
The main story in Gaelic football was of course Dublin, who won their second title in three years and are showing all the makings of a dynasty. They have the best squad of players they’ve had since the 1970s, and the best coaching and management. They’re the team to beat in 2014, no question.
A rebuilt Kerry will be interesting, God only knows what Cork will be like, Tyrone are a team it’s hard to be fully convinced about and if you’re looking for a dark horse you could do worse than Galway, curse them.
It’s hard to see Donegal reaching the heights again, there’s no reason to expect Meath or Kildare to raise the bar in Leinster, which means that we could be looking at our first repeat matchup in the All-Ireland Final since 2009. Mayo are looking good for those three losses in a row alright.
In hurling, Clare were deserving champions as Davy Fitzgerald answered his critics for once and for all. To read the papers during the Championship was to be told that John Allen, Jimmy Barry-Murphy and Anthony Daly were the Balthazar, Melcior and Casper of hurling, while Davy Fitz was some sort of monkey that only recently swung down out a tree.
But Davy outgeneralled them all, tying Limerick in knots in the semi-final, playing an unexpectedly traditional lineup against Cork in the drawn final and then pulling a substitution masterstroke in the replay. Cork fought to the end and their iconic manager proved his class once more by looking on those two imposters, success and failure, and treating them just the same.
In rugby, the long-anticipated end of the Lions Tour was brought closer by Sky Sports’ genuinely awful coverage of the 2013 campaign. By the end it was hard to escape the conclusion that Will Greenwood would see a trip to the shops for a pound of tea as a timeless Odyssey across a desolate, barren plain, while Scott Quinnell would declare Samson bringing down the Philistine towers as one and the same with his opening the curtains of a morning. The level of hype was ridiculous, embarrassing and one of the reasons why so many non-rugby people find the Lions a joke.
Of course, the Lions touring Australia of all countries was half the problem. The Lions tour only works in countries were rugby is king, which means New Zealand or South Africa. Australia was only added to the schedule when South Africa was in its apartheid exile, and should have been swiftly removed once the Springboks returned. There is a better case to be made for the Lions touring Argentina than Australia. The Australian public could not give a stuff about rugby and indifference is a much greater enemy to the tradition of the Lions than countless hammerings at the hands of the All-Blacks.
As for the tour itself, there was shock, horror, hurt and genuine sorrow at home when Brian O’Driscoll was dropped for the third test but, in the bigger picture, the team justified Warren Gatland’s decision by not just winning, but by destroying Australia. A bad ending for O’Driscoll, but the correct call by management.
O’Driscoll is on his goodbye tour now – all rugby people’s one wish now is that this great man just doesn’t get hurt. It would perhaps have been better if he had retired, but Brian Moore was right when he said that if O’Driscoll were to retire, someone would have to retire him. A brave man fights to the end. We have been lucky to have seen him.
Monday, December 30, 2013
Friday, December 27, 2013
|The Palace Bar, Fleet Street - the south-western|
corner of the Mayo triangle, September 21st, 2013.
These are days of magic and wonder in the county Mayo. It’s not always obvious to us, just as it’s not always possible to see the wood from the trees when we’re in the wood. But in time, when the world has turned a little more, and the young have grown up and the old have passed on, it’ll be clear as crystal to those who can look back just how great these recent years have been.
Twenty years ago next summer, the Leitrim Observer was the butt of some cruel jokes when that newspaper published a map of Dublin with directions to Croke Park prior to Leitrim’s 1994 All-Ireland semi-final against Dublin. Ho, ho, ho, thought the bigshots. God love them down in Leitrim, lost in the big city.
But it hadn’t been so long since Croke Park was a mystery to the County Mayo as well. It took twelve long years between 1969 and 1981 for Mayo to win the Nestor Cup, and the win over Tyrone in 1989 was Mayo’s first summertime win in Croke Park in thirty-eight years. Cities change a lot in thirty-eight years; we could have printed a map ourselves, and found it useful.
Now? Now, the people of Mayo know Croke Park as well as we know Croagh Patrick – backwards. We know where to park, where to eat, where to stay, where the good seats are, why it’s not wise in an age of austerity to buy from the concession stands inside or from the hats, flags and headbands men outside. We can spot a ticket scalper from fifty paces, and a man with a spare ticket from one hundred. We meet the same faces in the same places, tell the same jokes and dream the same dreams.
And we’re dreaming yet, of course. The ashy taste in the mouth come five to five on those third Sundays is something we could do without, and you can read better informed opinion on the finer points of the football side of things in the sports pages. But on the social side of things, on the cultural side of things, on what it means to the people of Mayo, at home and abroad – these are days of magic and wonder.
By the time August rolls around, three quarters of the counties in Ireland have resigned themselves to watching the Championship on telly, with no shouting interest. Not us. Mayo are consistently in the first division of the League, and consistently in the final eight of the Championship for the past twenty years. How many other counties can say that? How many other counties carry their banners to the capital, year after year, summer after summer?
For who knows what reason, the stars seemed to align on the Saturday night before the All-Ireland this year. There are two approaches to the All-Ireland Final always – either have a settler or two at home and travel up in the morning, or travel up on Saturday and do your settling in the city on Saturday night.
As your correspondent is currently exiled in the city, this isn’t an issue. Normally, the plan is to have one or two in town and then get home at a Christian hour, the better to rest for the trials ahead. This column made the same plan this year – town, few pints, home on the last bus.
But, for whatever reason, there was something happening in Dublin city that night. Something Mayo. Thanks to the Mayo GAA Blog, the best Irish sports resource on the world wide web bar none, it’s become a thing to assemble in a bar called Bowe’s, on Fleet Street, just south of O’Connell Bridge, before big Mayo matches. And on this particular night, it seemed like everybody in the county was in a transplanted Mayo triangle, formed by O’Connell Bridge, Bowe’s on the eastern side of Fleet Street and the famous Palace Bar to the west.
In Bowe’s, I met my cousin’s daughter, a child in my mind, a clever, chic and sophisticated young woman in reality. In the Palace, I met another cousin, home from Northampton for this most Mayo of events.
We sometimes forget how big Mayo is, and what a distance there is from north to south, from east to west. On that Saturday night, the plain of yews seemed to shrink to that one triangle in the capital, as we compared townland pronunciations, memories of past teams and dreams of the future.
After the disappointment of the All-Ireland Final, Keith Duggan wrote in the Irish Times that it isn’t that Mayo people don’t care about football; it’s that we care too much. And Duggan had a point, up to a point.
We do care too much. Football in Mayo isn’t just football. It’s everything we were, are, and hope to be. Everything that has gone wrong in our lives, everything that we regret, everything that we wish for, is wrapped into the fabric of the jersey that features the green above the red, and that’s an awful lot of weight to carry in one jersey in any one year.
And when Mayo do with their fourth All-Ireland we’ll find that it hasn’t solved everything. That regret is still real, that what’s done can’t be undone, that not all wishes come true. But when that small disappointment subsides, we’ll realise that what we want is what we had all along – the togetherness of it all, the adventure, the having something to look forward to all summer, the camaraderie under the green and red flags and banners, and the heady and thrilling pride of being from such a place as the sweet County Mayo.
Happy Christmas, one and all, and especially to yet another cousin whom I met high up with the eagles on the big day itself and who told me he enjoyed the column. See you next year, Mike. Up Mayo.
Tuesday, December 24, 2013
Being a sentimental fool, I like to put a up a Christmas song around this time of year for the day that'll be in it tomorrow. But this year is a bit special.
I found footage on You Tube of French soldiers celebrating Christmas in 1939, with a soundtrack of the great contemporary French singer of the time, Tino Rossi, singing Minuit, Chrétiens (O Holy Night) and Trois Anges Sont Venus. The footage of a army chaplain vesting and saying midnight mass in the Maginot Line is extraordinary. How many of those soldiers lived through what came in 1940? Maybe we don't have it so bad after all.
Nollaig shona daoibh go léir, agus go mbeirfimid beo fós ag an am seo arís.
Friday, December 20, 2013
The great man has moved on. In years to come, grandchildren will climb up onto the old people’s laps and ask “where were you when you heard the awful news that he was gone?”
“Who?,” you’ll say. “Nelson Mandela?”
“No,” they’ll say. “Seán Ó Curreáin.”
To describe the resignation of Ireland’s first ever Coimisinéir Teanga as a storm in a teacup is unjust to both weather and delph. Ó Cuirreáin’s resignation mattered in that world within a world that is the Irish public service, and even then in a very small corner of that.
To the country outside, the public that is passionate about saving the language, the public that pays lip-service to the language by singing the first three words of the anthem in Croke Park and the public that genuinely hates the language, Ó Cuirreáin’s resignation mattered not a jot. The world kept on turning just the same.
And that’s a pity. It’s to Ó Cuirreáin’s supreme credit that he did resign when he realised that there was nothing for him to do. Others in his place would have hung on like grim death, recognising a handy number when they saw it. So Ó Cuirreáin is to be celebrated for his patriotism.
What is to be regretted is that it came to this. That there isn’t sufficient vision to properly protect the language and hand it on for future generations, rather than see a slow race to the grave between those who would kill the Irish language by neglect and those who would kill it by incompetence, like pandas rolling over their cubs.
What is the job of the Coimisinéir Teanga? The Coimisinéir Teanga exists to ensure that the Official Languages Act is enforced. What does the Official Languages Act do? The Official Languages Act ensures that anybody who wants to conduct business of the state in the state’s first language, Irish, may do so.
So let’s think about that for a second. Remember back in September when the Government pulled the plug on the non-use exemption for motor tax and people had to queue for hours to register their vehicles before the Revenue took another slice out of them? Imagine queuing for that long, and then queuing some more until they found someone behind the desk who could speak Irish to you. You’d want to have thought of bringing a packed lunch before you left the house. And maybe a sleeping bag.
In an ideal world, of course you could do your business with the state in the first language of the state. In the real world, you’re grateful for what you can wrestle off them before whatever amenity it is you’re after is taxed, confiscated or otherwise disappeared.
The policy of mass translations and government jobs in perpetuity is a classic cub of the Tiger. The Government of the early 2000s, swimming in money, much preferred to throw great bags of the stuff at problems rather than work them out. Easier to set up a Coimisinéir Teanga to ensure you could apply for the pension or an pinsean as you pleased than to think about how differently the Irish think about their language now, the greater level of positivity that exists towards the language in the Galltacht, the area outside the Gaeltacht, and see if there’s any symbiosis that can be built between the two.
Irish will never return as the first spoken language of the country as long as English remains the de facto world language, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a huge role to play in the country. Unfortunately, finding out exactly what that role could be would be hassle; better to just write a cheque and forget about it for a while.
Therefore, we find ourselves in a situation now where the problem remains and there isn’t any money to throw at it. And now that belts are being tightened, the voices who are anti-Irish are suddenly getting louder about wastes of money on a “dead language.” The Government are unlikely to appoint another Coimisinéir Teanga – what would be the point? That will only cost them money and if Ó Cuirreáin couldn’t squeeze blood from a stone it’s hard to see the next man or woman doing it either. And in the meantime, the language is left to drift further towards the rocks.
Besides; ensuring the language is vibrant and well is not the job of the Comisinéir Teanga, and nor does it have anything to do with the Official Languages Act, 2003. That is a whole other can of worms.
The body in charge of the wellbeing of the language is Foras na Gaeilge, a cross-border body set up in December, 1999, as a dividend of the Good Friday Agreement. It is one of the more low-profile public bodies, to say the least, and far be it for a hurler on the ditch to assess what he knows little about.
But I do know this much: there is no received pronunciation in Irish. There is no dictionary in Irish, where Irish words are defined in the Irish language just as the Oxford English Dictionary defines English words in the English language.
There is a terminology board, whose responsibility it is to create words for things that haven’t existed before. Fighting over what is “pure” Irish and what isn’t is one of the things that scares people away from the language, but the current “correct” translation for tweet, as in the social media communication is “tvuít.” If that’s Irish, I wouldn’t like to hear Klingon.
So farewell, then, Seán Ó Cuirreáin, broken on the wheel of the nation’s hopelessly mixed-up attitude to its own language. I hope whoever takes over has more luck.
Tuesday, December 17, 2013
The Four Eights proposal is that both the Ulster and Leinster Championships will feature preliminary rounds featuring Ulster and Leinster teams from the lower depths of the National League. One losing team from Leinster and one from Ulster will be added to Connacht, and the two remaining Leinster losers will be added to Munster. This way, all four provincial Championships will feature an equal eight teams – hence, “Four Eights.”
Except that they won’t. Connacht has seven counties that currently compete for the Nestor Cup – the five native counties, plus London and New York. Seven plus two equals nine, not eight. So it’s either back to the drawing board with that one, or else it’s bad news for the Gaels across the water. Or perhaps Galway – one can always dream.
McGee also remarks that one of the reasons that this “Three Eights and One Nine” proposal is necessary is because the current structure disenfranchises the club player, who often sees the club championship fixtures postponed for as long as the county team stays in the Championship. And that’s true, as far as it goes.
The problem is that the counties who stay a long time in the Championship are very seldom those who play their league football in Division 4. How often could fixture congestion have been an issue in Wicklow or Waterford in the past 140 years? As for the rest, this proposal will have no affect on them whatsoever.
Nobody doubts the credentials of McGee or his committee, or their intent, or their ability. But they have put forward a wrong solution to something that isn’t even a problem in the first place. The rationale behind it is baffling.
Every year, whenever someone gets hammered in the Championship, a talking head appears on the Sunday Game or someone writes a why-oh-why column in one of the papers, bemoaning the “inequality” of the Championship. You can’t argue with a paper, but at no stage does Des Cahill on the Sunday Game or, God forbid, Michael Lyster, ask the moaner on TV just what exactly is it about the Championship that’s unfair, with specific reference to the provincial system.
The broad stroke theory is that some provinces are easier to win than others. But which is it? Is winning Leinster easy or hard? The same team has won Leinster for eight of the past nine years, and was unlucky to lose in the odd year of those nine too. Does that mean ten of the eleven football counties in Leinster are pushovers?
People think that the standard of Connacht football is poor. How is that the Connacht Champions have won three quarter-finals and two semi-finals against the other provinces in the past three years? Two quarters and a semi against Ulster teams who are to be added to the Connacht Championship to either give them a chance or else to beef up Connacht? It makes no sense. There is no clear thought here.
All people hear is the moan. Nobody takes the moan further to see if there is a rationale behind it, or if it’s just moaning for moaning’s sake. But the facts are that there is no evidence that the Championship is unfair.
The Championship is a knockout sporting competition. For every winner, there are 31 losers. Is that fair? Most people think it is. So at what point, as you work back, does the Championship stop being “unfair”? Most people think the Championship only gets fair after the August Bank Holiday weekend – “that’s when the real Championship begins,” say the pundits, as all the best teams are there.
But hold on – if all the best teams are playing at the start of August, surely the system that got them there must be correct? And you’re telling me it’s broken and needs fixing?
When asked for an alternative to the modern-day slave trade that is the GAA senior football championship, the plaintiffs like to point to the UEFA Champions League as the exemplar of all that is good and right and most of all, fair, in a sports competition.
This year, Zenit St Petersburg have got to the second round with six points from their group games. Napoli got twelve points in their group game, and are going nowhere. What’s so fair about that?
There is no perfect system. In sports, someone’s got to win and someone’s got to lose and it isn’t always the best team that wins – that’s what makes it so compelling, and such a true mirror to life. There is no structure, anywhere, in any sport, that is always perfectly, entirely “fair” because it’s so hard to define just what “fair” is.
Besides. The two greatest inequalities in the GAA have nothing to do with the competitions. They have to do with the fact that counties have different population sizes and have different access to money.
The only way of dealing with the population size issue is a transfer market. People have talked about this occasionally in hurling, and there are dark rumours of attempts to carry it out in football. But people are generally of one mind that when Mayomen no longer play for Mayo or Kerrymen no longer play for Kerry we might as well pack it in and play whatever garrison game best suits our particular part of the world.
As for the money – well, once the lid is off that jar it never goes back on. Eugene McGee himself wrote once that allowing shirt sponsorship was the ruination of the GAA, as it allowed money to become a factor. The GAA was seen as being heavy-handed in opposing Kerry’s famous sponsorship deal with Bendix washing machines in 1985. Perhaps if they had held the line better back then there wouldn’t be as much chequebook football as there is now. It’d certainly do the counties toiling in Division 4 more good than giving them a third chance of a hiding in a “Three Eights and One Nine” Championship format.
Friday, December 13, 2013
First published in the Western People on Monday.
There are definite limits to the foodie’s obsession. For the foodie, the joy is – or seems to be – in the hunt, rather than the kill. A true foodie doesn’t seem to spend that much time eating actual food. The hobby seems to be much more about either sourcing exotic ingredients and then cooking them in a no-less-exotic way. After that, it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if it all went in the bin, as most foodies are remarkably thin – a look seldom associated with those who winter well.
If foodies ate as much food as they talk about, they’d waddle around the place like human-sized penguins, always carrying satchels full of sandwiches in case they came over weak and needed a quick snack in between restaurants. Instead of that, they’re all thin as rails.
All of this reverence towards food is a genuine mystery to your correspondent. When cornered into eating out once, one of my companions at table asked me if I liked hot food. “Well,” I said, “I prefer it to the food being cold, like.”
This was the wrong answer, and I came across as being insufferably rude. But that wasn’t my intention – my answer, as well as being the first thing that came into my head, was and is my honest opinion. For your correspondent, eating is a means to an end. I am hungry; I eat; I am not hungry any more. Three simple steps, with the middle one just a detail compared to the misery of the first and the joy of the last.
For me, rhapsodies about the nature of the food I ate or the subtleties of its cooking are as bizarre as someone telling me that the train that travels from Ballina to Dublin is an eighteen-year-old General Motors 201 powered by a two-stroke, 3200 horsepower V12 engine. I couldn’t care less about the choo-choo – I just want to know how long you were stuck in Manulla.
The strangest thing about the foodie is what he or she chooses to champion as good eats at any one particular time. Sometimes it’s something that you’re fully familiar with, like the vogue for serving black pudding as a starter in the nicer restaurants.
You thought it was just another part of the breakfast, and here is now in its fifteen-Euro-a-plate glory. It’s like seeing Mick Wallace TD in a suit. You’re not quite expecting it.
But sheep guts are now, like, so last year. In the closing days of 2013, it is difficult to open a recipe book without learning about all the great things you can do with kale.
Kale, for those who don’t know, is a kind of wild cabbage. The difference between it and tame cabbage is that tame cabbage forms into a head, while the kale leaves stay separate. If a head of lettuce and a head of cabbage went to the office Christmas party and had a bit too much of a good time, kale would be the result.
Rachel Allen describes kale as one of her favorite vegetables in Rachel’s Irish Family Food, one of her many cookbooks. Gwyneth Paltrow actually drinks the stuff, as she testifies on her website, Goop.com: “Kale is full of calcium and antioxidants and just about everything else—it’s one of the best things you can put into your system. When juiced with a bit of lemon and agave, kale turns into a sort-of grassy lemonade.”
A sort-of grassy lemonade. I can imagine the delight of Harriet the Heifer but Anto the Western People Columnist? No, thank you. I’ll stick to the Lyons’s tay, thanks all the same.
What’s most bizarre about this second-class cabbage being hailed in the Manchester Guardian as “the hottest vegetable this season,” is that kale has a prominent role in one of the greatest of Irish poems, the Doneraile Curse. The poet who wrote the curse, Patrick O’Kelly, must surely spin in his grave every time kale gets written up in a glossy magazine or featured on some TV cookery show. Of course, glossy magazines and TV would startle him too, he being dead for the weight of two hundred years.
The Doneraile Curse came to be written when O’Kelly had his watch stolen while visiting that sleepy Cork town. Like all writers, O’Kelly was fully aware of the dignity of his person and, when he decided to take revenge on Doneraile for the insult done to him, he didn’t spare the timber.
O’Kelly damns Doneraile every which he can, excoriating the place over 62 burning lines. He wants fiends to assail the town, the sun never to shine in the town, fire and brimstone to fall on it, and so on. And naturally, he also considers certain alterations to the diet of the citizenry:
May beef or mutton, lamb or veal,
Be never found in Doneraile,
But garlic soup and scurvy kale
Be still the food for Doneraile
Kale is scurvy no more. Lady Doneraile, that sensible woman who bought O’Kelly a new watch in order to undo the curse (which he graciously lifted over another sixty-two lines), would serve it every evening at table if she were still on the go. This is the fickle nature of fashion. Next year, it may be our friend the parsnip, or asparagus may make a long-awaited but little-longed-for return. But for now it’s fields and fields of kale as far as the eye can see.
Friday, December 06, 2013
|I diagnose - money. Lots|
and lots of money.