Monday, October 31, 2005

A Swashbuckler, a Sprog, and a Horse's Ass

Don't look now, but I think the nag's in the Teamsters
Oh God, they've done it again. They've made a sequel to The Mask of Zorro, and they've bunged in a sprog. As if it wasn't going to be awful enough.

An Spailpín Fánach was quite a fan of The Mask of Zorro when it was released - it was old style movie swashbuckling, and it was the big screen break of Catherzine Zeta-Jones, whose pre-Raphaelite beauty, those gorgeous cascading raven tresses of hair and, if I may make so bold, that top-notch chassis, lit up the screen the way it hadn't been lit up since the glam glory days of Jane Russell or Ava Gardner. But what can I tell you? That was then, this is now, you can never go back because there is no there there anymore.

Your faithful narrator will not be darkening the door of the Savoy for this one - his heart remains broken after going to see the sequel to The Mummy, The Mummy itself being one of the best bad movies of recent years, and seeing that they bunged a sprog into that one to - no doubt at the behest of some squarehead in the Morketing Department, who doubtless had demographic charts to back up his monstrous plans. He might have turned a buck, but he'll port in Hell for exposing the frayed nerves of the cinema-attending public to one more blond-haired, blue-eyed child with a cursed lisp. And rightly so.

There was only ever one correct use of a child in cinema in recent years, and it occured in a movie that most of you have not seen. An Spailpín hasn't seen it in years, but he remembers every frame of this classic scene as if it were yesterday.

The movie was released nearly twenty years ago. It is called Warlock, and it stars Julian Sands, Richard E. Grant and the appalling Lori Singer. The story is this: Sands plays a warlock, a practitioner of black magic, about to be burned at the stake in 17th Century Boston who escapes to 20th Century Boston, and has a cut at destroying the world from there. Grant is the warlock hunter who goes through the time portal after Sands to catch him, and Lori Singer is the token skirt.

After much good business, Singer and Grant are pursuing the escaped warlock, Sands, across the United States. Sands is a good piece ahead of the pursuit, but he's lost his wheels and he's stuck in a small town in some midwestern state. Sands is stumping around, wondering what he's going to do now, and he gets talking to this portly young child, swinging on a swing. It's been years, but as I recall it, the conversation goes something like this:

Well, says the Warlock. Well, says the young fella. Quiet round here, says the warlock - where is everybody? They're at Church, says the young fella. And how well you're not at Church, says the warlock. Nah, my folks don't believe in that kind of stuff. I've never been, says the young fella. Close up on Sands, who's suddenly beaming.

CUT TO Richard E and Lori Singer, who've caught up with the warlock's wrecked wheels. We have him now, exults Richard E - the only way he'd be able to get away now would be if he made a flying potion! A flying potion, says Lori, how would he make that? He can't, says Richard E, the eyes popping out of his head, unless he can get the fat of an unbaptised child!

CUT BACK to Sands the Warlock, flying through the air just like Superman, smirking like old Henry Divil.

He must have boiled up the young fella and drained the fat with a ladle. Now that's cinema.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Drinking in a Chimney - Kehoe's of South Anne Street

Abandon hope all ye who enter here
"The weekend, wha'?"
"Yeah, magic."
"I love going for a few scoops on the weekend. I love me few pints, I do."
"Yeah. But it's hard to find a good pub in town, but."
"Yeah. It's so busy in town, it is."
"Yeah. All those mulchies."
"Yeah. It's hard to find a real Dublin pub anymore - you know, one with a few Dublin characters. Everywhere's so big now, it is."
"Yeah. But I'll tell you where's a great pub in town."
"Kehoe's of South Anne Street."
"Kehoe's? I know it, I do. Kehoe's of South Anne Street."
"You get a lovely pint of Guinness in there, you do."
"Yeah, magic."

If Dublin has nothing else, it has its shibboleths. You get to recognise them after a while - that Damien "Duffer" Duff is currently our greatest soccer player (God forgive you if you say his only rival as a diver is Jacques Cousteau - such a quip would be infra dig, bud), that Dublin needs an All-Ireland, that the queues are very long at B&Q in Liffey Valley and that Kehoe's of South Anne Street is one of the great bars in the city.

Well no, it's not. Or anything like it.

An Spailpín Fánach has been a regular communicant at Kehoe's of South Anne Street since 1996, and it's time to say that the Emperor has no clothes. Drinking in Kehoe's of South Anne Street is like drinking in a chimney only now, thanks to Herr Martin, not as smoky. Kehoe's has sheer walls that climb to the skies, and winding staircases within. And clinging to such furniture, cornices and precipices that will keep them from either falling into the abyss or being trampled beneath each other's hooves, boots or kitten heels, are the punters. The citizens. Those poor schmucks that are the butt of the all the city's jokes.

If you get bored tonight and have the ill-luck to be trapped in the city, take a stroll into town. Walk down Grafton Street, studiously avoiding the beggars, eyes peeled for the junkies and potential violence. Turn left off Grafton Street, and identify John Kehoe's by the humanity bursting out from its doors and onto the rain-swept streets, like the horsehair bursting from a superannuated sofa.

Take a deep breath, open the door, drop the right shoulder and start twisting your way into the bar - ducking, diving, bobbing, weaving. Try to get as little drink spilled on you as possible. If you're wearing white, regret your choice immediately. Don't gag on the methane - that would only spoil it for everyone else. Don't be shocked that there's no room for you on the ground floor. Identify the stairs at the end of the ground floor. Ascend. Duck, dive, bob and weave your way to the bar. Order two stouts - one of self, one for friend. Pay over eight clams for privilege of same. Don't be hurt by rudeness of staff. Hand one stout to friend, keep one for self. Take slug of stout to reduce its chances of spillage on your next journey. Curl your stout in your hand next to your ear, fashioning your arm into the double helix pattern popular with Deoxyribonucleic Acid.

Observe surroundings. Wonder why everybody looks the same. Roar bon mots and philosophical reflections at friend to overcome ambiance and "friendly atmosphere." Imbibe porter. Repeat ad nauseum - literally. Go home - taxis and nightlink buses permitting, of course. Call it a good night out in Dublin. Pray for deliverance.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

'Sé an tOcras an tAnlann Is Fearr

Kerr imithe go dti an tSíoraíochtFuair Brian Kerr an píléir ag deireadh scríbe areir. Bhí crinniú lucht uisle an FAI thus ins an Great Southern Hotel ar chul aerphoirt BÁC, agus fograíodh tar éis é gur chaill Kerr a phost mar bainisteoir foirne sacair na hÉireann nuair a shéideadh an fhéadóg dheireanach De Céadaoin ag an gcluiche Eilvéise. Má chaill, cén fáth gur bhuail mo bhuachaillí suas go dtí an Great Southern Hotel aréir? An dtaitneodh leo cleith adhmaid a chur trí chroí Brian Kerr comh maith, ar eagla na heagla, mar a dhéanadh Buffaí ar an dtéilifís?

Ach is cuma. Tá deireadh ré tagtha ar sacar idirnáisiúnta in Éirinn, agus ní fhios cathain a mbeidh a leithid arís againn. Is ait an cluiche é, an sacar. 'Sé an cluiche is coitianta ar fud an domhan, ach an bhfuil sé coitianta toisc go bhfuil sé go maith, nó an bhfuil sé coitianta toisc go bhfuil sé comh h-easca a h-imirt agus a h-eagrú? B'fhéidir go bhfuil an thréith is spéisiúil a bhainneann leis an sacar - go bhfuil dífríocht mhór, uaireanta, idir an imirt agus an scór - an rud is coitianta agus an rud is damanta leis. Cé comh dona atá tú, déanann Dia meangadh gaire uaireanta agus is féidir leat cluiche a ghoideadh nuair ba cheat duit dul faoin bhfód agus seacht nó h-ocht gcúl tugtha suas agat.

Tá suim mhór ag seoiníní ins an sacar i gcónaí, toisc gurbh é an cluiche is coitianta ar an "mórthír." Ach is cuma leis an Spailpín Fánach leis na seoiníní - más bhreá leo iadsan a cheapadh mar Éireannaigh toisc go bhfuil geansaí foirne Albánaigh ar a ndrómanna, ar aghaidh leo. Tá spéis ag an Spailpín ina múintir féin, muintir na tuaithe, muintir na hÉireann, agus an tionchar atá ag an sacar orainn.

Ó laethanta m'óige, ba thréith neamhspleachais í an súim ins an sacar. Feach ar na cuimhní bhreá a scríobh John Waters faoi laethanta a óige ins an Irish Times cúpla bhlian ó shin, agus an páirt a bhí ag an sacar ina aithne agus aithne a gcairde:

"This distance, the topography of my youth, is distinguished not by hills or rivers but by three interconnecting phenomena: soccer, cars and rock 'n' roll. The connection was that all three represented windows facing onto the possibility of escape. All three came replete with heroes - George Best, James Hunt, Rory Gallagher - and enabled the environs of Roscommon to be reconstructed into a fantasy location that might have been anywhere. But their centrality in our lives bespoke, ultimately, a desire to leave Roscommon behind. In a sense, we lived not in Roscommon at all but in the shadow of Old Trafford, within earshot of Silverstone, down the road from Woodstock, by the side of a clear crystal fountain, in the field where the wild flowers grow. Tostao. Rivelino. Jairzinho. Waters. Pelé."

Fad agus a bhí an liathróid ag a chos, níorbh é buachaill tuaithe an tUisceach ach an oiread, a thón ag teacht amach óna bhríste agus an bád Shanasa i ndán dó. Ba fhearr den chéad scoth é - peileadóir oilte agus an domhan faoi smacht a bhinnchos chlé.

Do bhain blás an fhinscéil leis an sacar liomsa agus le mo ghluinnse le fada. Ba iad foireann Brasáile í 1982, foireann Zico agus Socrates, a chur an ruaig ar an bparóiteachas dúinn. Agus túsa i do shuí no i do luí os comhair na téilifíse ag feachaint ar imirt bhreá Brasáile agus a leiní gheala buí orthu, bhí fios agat cad í draoícht agus go raibh tú faoi gheasa cheart.

Agus ceithre bliana ina dhiaidh Comórtas an Dhomhain sin, tháining Sasanach anseo a d'éirigh níos Éireannachaí ná na hÉireannaigh féin, Sasanach a chonaic spiorad tróda na hÉireannach agus a chuir faoi smacht é ar son an fhoireann sacair náisiúnta. Níor thaitín feallsúnacht sacair Jack Mhóir le cach - shíltear, i gceantar tráidisiúnta an sacair, go raibh a stíl rógharbh, gurbh cheart don bhfoireann an cluiche a h-imirt níos galanta ná an liathróid a bhuailleadh go tromchosach agus na imreoirí a rith ar a tóir mar fir as meabhar. Is cuma - bhíodh daoine ag feachaint síos a sróna ag pobal na hÉireann ó aimsir Strongbow, agus cad dífríocht a dheanfadh cúpla cinn eile? Fad a bhuadh an fhoireann, ba chuma leis an náisiún cad a shílfeá fúinn.

Tagann deireann ar gach ré, agus nuair a chuaigh Jack Mór ar ais go Shasana, d'éirigh a chaptaen, Mick McCarthy, ina bhainisteoir. Bhí an ghluin óir Poblachta na hÉireann - Moran, McGrath, Whelan, Aldridge, laochra go leir - ag éirí níos sine, agus ní raibh a leithid ag teacht suas ón ghluinn seo chugainn. Ach bhí seod amháin ag McCarthy ag deireadh an Fichú hAois, agus ba é sin Roy Keane, peileadóir nár chonacthas ríamh, agus nach bhfeicfear, is docha. Agus gach rud a titim isteach os comhair é, chuireadh Roy Keane an seó go leir suas ar a mhullain agus thóg sé iad chuig Comórtas an Domhain i Seapáin agus an Chóiré Thuas. Bhí scéal McCarthy ag an gComórtas sin cosuil le scéal Othello agus Desdemona - chaill an Ceartach péarla níos fearr na a threibh go leir, agus an bainisteoracht fréisin cúpla mí ina dhiaidh. Ba é Roy Keane an t-aon Éireannach amháin ag an gComórtas gur shil go raibh buaint Craoibhe an Dhomhain níos tabhachtaí ná laethanta fada ar an drábhlas ar oilean Saipan, agus mar sin, cuireadh abhaile é.

Tar éís an tubáíste ag Comórtas an Dhomhain, chuir an FAI a bhfear féin ina bhainisteoir foirne sacair na hÉireann. Tar éis ré Jack agus Mick McCarthy, ba chosuil le tús nua í bainisteoreacht Brian Kerr ach níorbh í - bhí sacar idirnáisiúnta tagtha arís ins an áit a bhí sé sular tháinig Jack Charlton agus aimsir tabhartha na lashanna. Fear áitiúl, Éireannach le grá mór ar an sacar, ach fear beagán neamhchleachta ar an tArdán Mór is ea Brian Kerr. Mar cé hé Brian Kerr ach Eoin Hand níos óige? Cé hé Damien Duff ach Steve Heighway a thiteann níos minic?

Tá nios mó foghlaimthe ag mo ghluin anois ná mar a bhí in aimsir Zico, Dexy's Midnight Runners agus Superman a Dó. B'fhéidir gurbh é an aois, ach níl laochra cosuil le Paolo Rossi nó Zico nó Michel Platini ag imirt faoi láthair. B'fhéidir go bhfuil Michael Ballack agus Ronaldinho comh tabhachtach don lucht óige anois agus a bhíodh Zico dúinn ag an am. Ach nílim cinnte; pé scéal é, ní dóigh liom go bhfuil an sacar idirnáisiúnta comh tabhachtach leis na h-imreoirí faoi láthair agus a bhíodh le Zico agus Socrates. Is fir saibhre iad go leir anois; cén fáth go mbrisfidís cos ar són a dtíortha agus pótaí mhóra airgid le bailliú anois ar ais ag Manchester United nó Real Madrid? 'Sé an t-ocras an anlann is fearr, agus níor chaith imeoir sacair lá gan dínnéar le fada. Agus ní chaithfidh, mo thrua dó.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Coisc Curtha ar an Spailpín Fánach Amach ins an tSín

An Cathaoirleach MaoIs bróduil an lá é seo don Spailpín Fánach agus don suíomh idirlíon seo. Fuaireasa amach ó mo dhuine san Oirtear, mo Mharcó Póló más maith libh, go bhfuil coisc curtha ag Rialtas na Síne ar an suíomh seo, Is cuma má tá tú i Beijing i measc na huaisle nó i lár na tire i Xian i measc na gnáthphobal, ní féidir leat smaointe breá an Spailpín a léamh seachas bheith i dtróblóid le gardaí síochána na Síne.

Agus cén fáth? Is annamh go critheann uaisle na gCommanach na Síne gach uair a léiann siad tuairimí laidre an Spailpín ar cheisteanna móra an lae - cén fáth nár imir Austin O'Malley ar fhoireann Mhaigh Eo sular an samhradh seo, agus mar sin de. Sin é ba chuis de - nó b'fhéidir nach bhféidir cuairt a thabairt don suíomh seo agus tú thar saile sa tSín mar tá na hamadáin céanna ag na Síneach mar sáreolaithe ríomhaire mar atá againne anseo in Éirinn ins an Roinne Sláinte. Tá blás na fírinne ar an dtuairim sin freisin, sílim.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

I Don't "Believe" It

The gap between the Irish Times and the Plain People of Ireland appears to be yawning into a chasm by the hour. The Times started out as the paper of the Ascendency, but in latter years it has been seen, as certainly liked to project itself, as the paper of the educated middle classes, the drivers of the Celtic Tiger. However, there are always little tell-tale traces in there that show that the Irish Times knows about as much about what goes on outside certain postal addresses in south Dublin as the Irish Civil Service knows about fiscal responsibility.

This is most prevalent in the Times' GAA coverage, of course. What could be more alien to the Times that "bogball," and the lurchers that follow it? A friend of An Spailpín Fánach takes a certain bitter glee in taking note of the false notes of the Irish Times' GAA coverage - referring to a team as a "XV," for instance; using "AN Other" instead of "Duine Eile" if a position on the team has yet to be filled as they wait on recovery from injury.

The lip of that great Gael will curl with extra venom as he scans the sports pages over his porridge this morning. The sports pages of this morning's IT announce that the new manager of the Limerick football team is "Mick 'Ned' O'Sullivan."

Well I'll "be" damned. How does this sort of thing get past the subs? An Spailpín Fánach can only guess that when Ms. Mulcahy was writing her infamous "People We All Know" column in that awful Saturday magazine that anyone with a double name, so common in the country, is below the salt in the Irish Times' world. And then there was Eileen Battersby's hilarious account last week of her visit to the Ballinasloe Horse Fair, and the goings-on that she saw there. What on Earth did she expect? Something out of Jane Austen?

The Mick "Ned" thing has me baffled. I read often about what a GAA guru Big Tom Humphries is on D'Olier St - could he not take them aside and explain that the "Ned" is not a nickname, but Mickey's father's name, put in Mickey's name to distinguish him for other Mickey O'Sullivans in the locale? Or does the Irish Times even care?

Monday, October 10, 2005

Nooo! Not the Smurfs!

Hell unleashed on the Smurfs, of all peopleUnicef, the United Nations' children's charity, is running an ad campaign to alert the Belgians to the plight of child soldiers in Burundi and hellholes like that. Only thing is, the Belgians realise that having Belgium's answer to Fintan O'Toole emoting for thirty seconds on the correct response to war on primetime TV won't amount to a hill of beans. So, in order to show just what war can do, they've gone and wiped out the Smurfs.

They've raised the Smurf village to the ground. The ads start off with the normal Smurf music, which is instantly recognisable, and then you hear the drone of the bombs dropping from the azure vault. Kaboom. The only survivor is Baby Smurf, wailing his head off, while the rest of the Smurfs are, in Shakespeare's words, quartered at the hand of war.

The ad can only be shown after the watershed in Belgium, and rightly so. It was shown as a news item on Belgian TV news, and any kiddies that saw it by accident are now in severe emotional trauma. Go and a have a look if you think you're hard enough, but I have to warn you - you'll need to listen to a lot of Katrina and the Waves to cheer yourself up after it.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Ár gCáca Againne agus É á Ithe

Ceist mór an lae á phlé ag An Spailpín Fánach
Is breá leis an An Spailpín Fánach, tar éis lá fada oibre, a scith a ligeadh i gcomhluadar a gcarad, piontaí dubha phórtáir in ár lámha, agus cursaí an tsaoil á phlé againne. Tar éis an plé fada feallsúnachta seo, sílim go bhfuil dhá rud ag cur isteacht ar phobal na hÉireann, nó an chuid phobail atá cosuil le cairde An Spailpín Fánach. Uaireanta cuireann cursaí eile isteach orthu, Uachtatán na Stait Aontaithe agus a ghníomha, mar shampla, nó rud eigin thar saile mar shin, ach de gnáth, nuair atá duine againn bréan den tsaoil, is é ceann amháin nó ceann eile den dhá rud seo atá taobh thiar de.

Rud a hAon: Tá an saol agus an saothar ró-chrúa againn sa lá atá inniu ann. Táimid go leir ag obair ró-dhian, tugaimid an iomarcha aimsire sa ghluaistean ag dul go dtí an oifig nó ag dul abhaile, agus nuair a buailimid abhaile, táimid go leir ró-thuairseach chun rud éigin a dhéanamh seachas feachaint ar chac ar an dtéilifís agus dul suas a chodladh. Cad a tharla don saol a bhí ag ár dtuismitheoirí, nuair ab fhéidir leo sugradh lena bpáistí nuair a shroicheadar abhaile tráthnóna? Cén fáth go bhfuilimid ag obair comh crua nuair nach bhféidir linn caighdean tsaoil cheart ghabail dúinn?

Rud a Dhó: Cén fáth nach bhfuil duine dá laghad in ann buile oibre amháin a dhéanamh, seachas bheith ag rith chuig an gceardchumann, a lámh amach agus níos mó airgid á lorg aige? Bhíos thíos ag siopadóireacht i Liffey Valley Dé Domnaigh agus thug mé cúig nóiméad is fiche - CÚIG NÓIMÉAD IS FICHE! - ag cíuáil le roinnt amadán eile, ag tnúth le rud éigin a cheannach ins an siopa breá nua-aosach den Chéad Aois is Fiche seo! Cá raibh na freastáilí? Ní mhaith leo bheith ag obair, sin é a bhfadhb. Fagaim le huacht, más gá dóibh imeacht ar an long uaigneach chuig Shasana agus an píc agus an sluaiséad a crothú acu ó chéad solas na maidine go titim dubh na h-oíche, beidh siad buiochach go leor bheith ag obair í siopa breá seo. Tá an cheart ag Mícheál Ó Learaí agus Ryanair - sin é mo dhuine. 'Sé an Learach ab fhearr duinn bheith ina Thaoiseach ná hÉireann, in aonad na hasail a raibh againne sula seo. Ó, cinnte - 'sé an Learach mo laoch!

'Sé an feallsúnóir cliste a fheicfeadh an bealach caol caoin idir an dhá scoil tsaoil seo, sílim. I bhfád níos cliste ná haon Spailpín Fánach, faraoir.

On the Session with the Department of Health

A civil servant, yesterdayOpposition leader Enda Kenny makes front page news in today's Irish Independent with the shock-horror revelation that the Department of Health - you know, those bucks that close down the hospital wards and have superbugs running about in the ones they keep open? - spent €40,000 on the session in Sligo to celebrate the installation of a computer system that doesn't work.

To which your humble Spailpín Fánach can only reply well Jesus, Inda, what else is new? All Government Departments spend money like sailors on shore leave after a three year voyage. They shoot that stuff out the door - or across the counter, depending on the time of day. Ask anyone that's involved in private industry what it's like to work with a civil service or semi-state body. The reaction will range from the cynical laugh, like Bogart in High Sierra, the nervous palsy brought on by extreme trauma, or the hysterical weeping of one who has seen and suffered too much, too young. Think of Farmer Oak in Thomas Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd when he sees his flock of sheep driven over the cliff-face by the world's most stupid sheepdog and you get a fairly good idea of what it's like to deal with these apes.

So where's Eddie Hobbs when you need him? The popular demagogue (pardon my tautology) is nowhere to be seen on this one, for the same reason that there are two hopes - Bob Hope and his brother, No - of any Government ever doing anything about the criminal waste of the country's money by sheer and willful incompetance in the civil service. It's the same reason that both Napolean Bonaparte and Adolf Hitler failed to invade Russia - there are just too many of the hoors.

This country is rife with people who are on the public purse. It's like Soviet Russia only without the space program, classical music, gulags and chess grand masters. If any politican or political party gets up on his hind legs to denounce muppetry and waste in the public service, and pledges to eradicate it, that means he's asking this great big chunk of the population to vote for the end of their job security and to ensure their heads get wrecked at work from now on until it's Gold Watch time. And no turkey is ever going to vote for Christmas. No wonder we're a nation of alcoholics - the ordinary tax-paying Joe is driven to drink by despair as a temporary release from the insanity of it all, and the boys in the Department of Health, according to Inda, are getting it all bought for them! God help us all.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

International Fools' Football

Strewth - it looks like a bit of a blue!The GAA media is all atwitter at the prospect of the upcoming "International Rules" series between Ireland and Australia. And why wouldn't they be? If An Spailpín Fánach was on his way off to Australia for three solid weeks of beer, birds and barbies, his frown would turn upside down too. But if you're some sort of innocent that wants to see Gaelic Games prosper and thrive, then you have to realise that sponsoring debauched junkets to Australia isn't going to cut it.

The official selling point of the "International Rules" series is that it offers our players a chance to play our games at the highest level, and to wear the dear old Green of Mother Ireland, that emerald gem of the Western World, for so long set in the crown of a stranger, and now taking her place among the nations of the Earth. A really good GAAman will get teary-eyed reciting all this, eventually leaving you with the conclusion that the reason we play "International Rules" is because Patrick Sarsfield would wish it, aye, and Wolfe Tone too.

That the boys are only going on the Three B Bender beyond in Oz, a hemisphere away from the trouble the strife, is only something an anti-national bowsie would think - an anti-national bowsie who's about to lose his press privileges too, young sonny Jim, so just shut your big mouth and get on-message.

The reason the Aussies play their part in the farce is even more cynical.

The Australian game lasts for two hours, and it's played at a pace and in a manner best described as rambunctious - that is to say, it's unusually violent. That means in turn, of course, that a footy season is rather heavy on the livestock, and they Aussies need new recruits. So why not pick 'em from Ireland? Bring over a few young lads, show them the bright lights of the big city, then show them a good big cheque. And if they die in service, send the remains home draped in the proud old colours of Hawthorn, sponsored by HSBC Bank, Mitsubishi Motors and Foster's, the Australian for beer.

In the 'eighties, when all Spailpíní were young, the visiting Australians had a certain glamour. There was the bearded Dipper, who was big, and the long-haired John Platten, who was small. Then the games began, the pucks landed home, and we realised the Aussies were more Irish than the Irish themselves. But that was then, this is now. There was still a certain innocence in 1984 in Ireland, but right now we do the hard sell as hard as any Yankee.

And I'm sick of it. I've sick of reading a lot of bollix in the papers about pride in the jersey of a game that no-one plays. And I'm sick most of all that Aussies are sleep-walking through the whole thing. The best Australia players couldn't bother their arse going through the motions for a bunch of Micks on the beer in Brisbane, and playing a little footie in between times. If they did, they'd do more bitching about the round ball. If they did, their best players would play, which they don't.

We're only fooling ourselves. At the end of this month, the Railway Cup, once the St Patrick's Day jewel of the GAA, will be played, and no-one will notice. Once it was ne plus ultra of Gaelic sports, where giants like Ring and Mick O'Connell played at the highest level of hurling and football, alongside men who, through being born in the wrong place or at the wrong time, never got the chance to play at the highest level but who used to make the most of their chance in the Railway Cup on St Patrick's Day. Men who were better served by the Railway Cup than by Seán Kelly's insulting and patronising Ring, Rackard and Murphy Cups.

If you still think the "International Rules" series worthwhile, can I ask one question, asked by Mickey Harte, now the series' biggest opponent (his ire fired by the Aussies' attempted poaching of Seán Cavanagh, no doubt): if the "International Rules" series of games were played in Scunthorpe and Manchester instead of Sydney and Melbourne, do you really think anyone would give a XXXX about pride in the jersey and Ireland's honour? No; neither do I. End this farce now.

Calvin and Hobbes, Ten Years On

It's been ten years since Bill Watterson drew his last Calvin and Hobbes cartoon strip. There's a lovely tribute to the cartoons in this morning's Washington Post, to celebrate the release of a deluxe Complete Calvin and Hobbes, available in all good bookstores. Bill Watterson would have made a mint if he'd ever permitted merchandising, and he never has. Amazing.

Monday, October 03, 2005

An Spailpín Fánach's All-Star Team of 2005

Francis Bellew of the Orchard CountyThe evenings are dark, the skies are grey and we're still one month away from the autumn rugby internationals. If that's not time to pick An Spailpín Fánach's All-Star Gaelic Football team of 2005, I don't know when is.

Stephen Cluxton (Dublin); Ryan McMenamin (Tyrone), Francie Bellew (Armagh), Paul Clancy (Galway); Anthony Lynch (Cork), Kieran McGeeney (Armagh), Séamus Moynihan (Kerry); Seán Cavanagh (Tyrone), David Heaney (Mayo); Ross Munnelly (Laois), Brian McGuigan (Tyrone), Stephen O'Neill (Tyrone); Stephen McDonnell (Armagh), Owen Mulligan (Tyrone), Colm Cooper (Kerry).

Interesting choice, no? How surprising to see Cluxo between the sticks, for a start - generally, if your correspondent went looking for a typical jackeen, he'd be looking behind bars, plural, sooner than he'd look under the bar, singular, but Cluxo had a very fine season, not least when he made many heroic saves in a doomed effort against Tyrone. And best of luck to him.

Those of you who read my condemnations of football violence during the year will react with either the raising of the eyebrows or the knocking of the knees at the terrible aspect of my fullback line. Well, there it is, that's the face of the modern game, and there isn't a full-forward line in Ireland that wouldn't double their scapulars at the thought of encroaching on those buckaroos' territory. Paul Clancy is a surprise, not least as he didn't play in the corner in the Championship, but Galway laid the foundation of their Connacht title on the man-marking job Clancy did on Ciarán McDonald in the Connacht Final. Given the choice between a footballer and a ball and chain merchant An Spailpín prefers to put the savage in the corner and let the footballer out the field.

Hence we have Cork's wonderful Anthony Lynch out the field at five, and that other footballer supreme Séamus Moynihan on the other wing. Neither man's Championship ended the way either would have liked, Cork humiliated by Kerry and Kerry humiliated themselves by Tyrone, but Kipling correctly identified success and failure as twin impostors - it's men like Lynch and Moynihan that remind us of how to play the game.

Kieran McGeeney is an inevitable choice at centre half-back, just as Bellew is behind him. It's very hard to think of a footballer whose influence has been as great as McGeeney's, both on the field and off. An Spailpín Fánach would have McGeeney in any team I was picking, and here he is again.

No-one's really been consistently outstanding in midfield, so a little lateral thinking came into play into making this combination. Seán Cavanagh is clearly the pick of the current midfield crop, and David Heaney was too outstanding in Mayo's Championship outings to be left out. I had very little business in starting Francie at midfield - Jack of All Trades Francie ain't - so An Spailpín Fánach displays that thing currently so lacking in the heather county, vision, and plays Heaney where he belongs, in midfield.

Ross Munnelly is just a lovely footballer, beautiful, and it's been his misfortune as a small man to play in an unusually rugged era. But Munnelly has never shown a yellow streak and gone missing for Laois, and in this age of scavenger wing-forwards, Munnelly remains true to the classicist's role of cracking them over from over thirty yards out. Brian McGuigan was outstanding at center-half forward, not as flashy as McDonald last year but has the Celtic Cross that McDanger does not. Stephen O'Neill has 5-47 in the Championship, he's in the team.

The two most deadly marksmen in the game are in the corners, Armagh's Steven O'Donnell and Kerry's Colm Cooper, and Owen Mulligan mines his current rich vein of form with his back to goal.

Unlucky to lose out? Canavan, of course, and several Kerrymen who got done unto them what they did to Mayo last year. Sin í an pheil, a mhic.

Sunday, October 02, 2005


An Spailpín Fánach has a favour to ask: if you were one of those people who went around last year saying that London deserved to get bombed because of Britain's actions overseas, or that Madrid deserved to get bombed because of Spain's role overseas, or that the Twin Towers strike was justified because of the USA's role overseas, could you ever drop me a mail and tell me what those poor bastards out in Bali ever did to piss anyone off? Thank you.