Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Bung in Cheek - Why No-One Can Land a Glove on Bertie

Our LeaderTrevor Sargent, leader of the Green Party, was on Morning Ireland this morning, discussing the question that has the nation transfixed – when is a bung not a bung? It was a chance for the leader of the Green Party to do a Dick Spring, and portray himself as the real leader of the opposition – instead, not-so-clever Trevor chose to imitate Old Springer’s one lasting contribution to Irish life, as Trevor, too, dropped the ball on the goal-line.

Áine Lawlor, asking the questions in that beautiful honeyed voice of hers, gave Trevor every opportunity to take his sword from his scabbard and run An Taoiseach through the gizzard, but Trevor was as Shakepeare’s unperfect actor upon the stage, and hummed and hawed through all his schtick, starting with a botched attempt to resonate with the common man by quoting certain remarks of Trevor’s taxi-driver that morning (the common man takes the bus, T, for your information), and then sinking slowly beneath the mounting waves of fudge as the minutes ticked by.

Eventually, Áine took pity on the wilting Green, and put it to him straight: Ivor Callely had to resign – should Bertie resign?

“Well, I think it’s firstly a matter for Fianna Fáil and the PDs to determine if it’s acceptable … I think the jury is still out…”

Even Minister for Education and Notorious Government stonewaller, Mary Hanafin, TD, would have blushed if she couldn’t have come up with better stuff than that, and she comes to praise An Taoiseach, not to bury him. What was Trevor trying to do?

Whatever it was, he failed, and the great political magician of our times, An Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, slips the net once again. Watching Bertie operate is like watching Tiger Woods play golf for money – he’s so far ahead of the pack that one feels he should be made play with a stick of rhubarb off every second tee, in order to at least make a game of it. In fact, so poorly did Trevor attempt to land punches on An Taoiseach An Spailpín Fánach is half-convinced that somewhere, at the back of his head, Trevor is terrified of Bertie not being Taoiseach any more, and the country returning to the ‘Eighties once again. And if that’s not Stockholm Syndrome your faithful correspondent doesn’t know what is.

John Cooney is huffing and puffing in the Independent this morning about Bertie showing disregard for Dáil Éireann by addressing the nation via the caring arms of Dobbo and not the Parliament of our Sovereign nation, but that only for the sake of filling column inches. If John Cooney really believed that, Cooney would never have lasted as long as he has in his mean old business. Six-One News was the only way to go and it was with his characteristic timing that Bertie waited until yesterday, six days after the story broke, before ‘fessing up. Trevor Sergant would probably have rang Joe Duffy as soon as the story broke, the muppet.

Bertie, like Hannibal of Carthage, chooses his battlefields carefully, and this one suited him down to the ground. Because nobody really knows at what stage does a loan become a gift become a bung. An Spailpín certainly doesn’t – An Spailpín spotted one of his best friends a few lids there on the occasion of that man losing his wallet but, when that money was returned on Saturday, should I have claimed interest, and should my friend make a clean breast of it to the Revenue? What is the tipping point at which one should? Nobody knows. The only way this was ever going to endanger An Taoiseach in any way would be if the first revelation was a kill shot. Anything less and Bertie just gets up and walks away, like he always does.

When time passes, last night’s will not even rank as one of Bertie’s top three strokes. The most chilling political stroke Bertie pulled was showing Albert Reynolds his ballot before Fianna Fáil voted for their candidate for President in 1997, a move that would have have made a Corleone proud. But for sheer gall and joie de vivre political, An Spailpín Fánach’s own favourite Bertie Ahern moment was Bertie’s comment to Gerry Barry on the radio one Christmas, in one of those New Year round ups that they do. Gerry asked Bertie about inequality in society, and how he felt about it, or what he made of being attacked on the issue, and Bertie simply replied why Gerry, I’m a socialist myself, you know. The most cunning, the most ruthless, the most brilliant of them all, indeed.

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Monday, September 25, 2006

Tae an Méan-Lae

Seo an fógra breá a chonacas ar doras an Gresham tráthnóna Dé Domhnaigh. Ambaiste, ach ba chóir do dhuine an lán-ghalún tae a ól sula d'fhagfaidh sé an teach, chun a cuig Euro is fiche a bhaint amach. Cad a d'iarrfaí ar dhuine dá gcuirfí glaoch ar caca milis leis an tae? Feilm talaimh, is docha.

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Monday, September 18, 2006

May - D'oh!

Donaghy Caillte ag an gCasúr Ó BradaighAfter Mayo lost the All-Ireland quarter final to Kerry in 2005, John O'Mahony remarked on his radio show, in that casual, this just popped into me head way favoured by the baroque mind of that great man, that were Johnno in charge of the County Mayo, the first thing he'd do would be to camp out outside David Brady's house morning, noon and night, begging him to return to the Mayo panel.

An Spailpín Fánach is reminded of that remark on hearing this morning that the mighty Brady has announced his retirement. I would suggest that Messrs. Moran and Morrison invest in a camping stove and a tent, and immediately commence their vigil in the town of Ballina.

Mayo cannot do without Brady. Morrison and Moran must search high and low for a full back, something they did not do during the year, but in the interim they must have Brady on the pitch, enforcing. Because without him, Mayo are as innocent and helpless and Hansel and Gretel, lost in the forest.

The tragedy for Mayo was, of course, that they had only one Brady to introduce to the fray. Really, they needed a fleet of them - one in midfield, to mind Pat Harte and McGarrity, one at fullback to remind Donaghy that it's not basketball he's playing now, one at full-forward (how can you play Conor Mortimer as your only inside forward? Madness), and one or two more drifting about, to suddenly swoop at trouble-spots in the same way Superman arrives from no-where, just when the thief is about to deprive grandma from her purse.

Ciarán McDonald will suffer the brunt of the criticism of course - people don't like gods with feet of clay. But by the time McDonald's frees were curling wide the day had long been lost. And it had been lost far behind the land where McDonald roams, where Mayo's application of the defensive arts is in need of serious re-examination.

In his Seán Potts ghosted autobiography, Páidí Ó Sé remarks that when playing in senior football he could still hear in his head his childhood coach roaring "where's your man?" at him. Páidí posits that any defender must always know the answer to that question. No Mayo defender knew the answer to that question yesterday, but, were they asked to guess the location of their man, five yards from goal and drawing on the football for a rasper to put Kerry further in front would have been a good percentage answer.

Derry had a fullback many years ago who used to like remarking to his goalkeepers that any ball that came into the square was theirs, while anything else that entered the square was his. No-one in Mayo had that attitude.

Of course, Mayo getting cleaned like a fish at midfield didn't help. All year long, the footballing fullback line of Mayo have been protected by the masses of possession that Mayo have gained at midfield, thus hugely negating the pressure on the last line of defence. Yesterday, what had been a few pot shots all year suddenly became a fusillade, and Mayo had no answer. Mayo were lost will all hands after ten minutes, and the rest was window dressing.

To An Spailpín's mind after the game, 2004 was worse. It was clearly all over in 2004 after ten minutes, whereas the freakish three goals scored by Mayo before the half yesterday gave them a tiny sliver of hope. A lot had to go right in the second half to make something of it; nothing did, and Mayo slipped slowly beneath the waves, not waving, as the man says, but drowning. The only reason that second half remained in any way interesting was the extraordinary leniency of referee Brian Crowe to the punches and skulduggery that were being indulged in by both sides. If Mr Kofi Annan is thinking of sending someone to Darfur to sort out the situation there, he would want to look further than Mr Crowe who, on the evidence of yesterday's thumpage, would conclude that it's simply business as usual, and wave play on.

The customary scenes of desolation followed the final whistle, of course. The entire County Mayo were up for the final, as usual, most without tickets. God love their innocence. An Spailpín Fánach was still smiling at the remarks of a Kerryman to him, that "you got some lesson there, boy," and trying to place this defeat in the Mayo all-time top ten, when what just happened was put into sharper relief. On the Clonliffe Road I passed two little boys, maybe ten, if that old, their faces painted in green and red, and the facepaint smeared by the many tears they were crying. Welcome to your heritage gentlemen - a Mayoman's growing pain is to see the county team get wiped when you least expect them. It's stings, but it won't put you in the ground, and we'll all get over it.

Where to from here? Well, as my Lord Tennyson remarked on another occasion, that which we are, we are; one equal temper of heroic hearts. We will go home and finish the club championship, hope the Champions get the Connacht title, in keeping with the high levels of achievement of the past decade, and we'll lorry down a few pints for the Christmas. Come 2007 and the FBD league Mayo need to search the badlands for a few backs, fellas that wouldn't be too bothered about football, but certainly don't care for being made fools of. They don't need the dudes with scar tissue; they need the dudes that inflict the scars, as one of the Mexicans sent to find similar bad men to mind the house remarks in The Magnificent Seven.

And then, having used the league purely for experimentation purposes, it's time for the Connacht Championship. If Mayo get out of that, they cannot play Kerry again to soon. It's like falling off a bike - you have to get back as quickly as you can, or else the bike will get notions. The notion of curses or anything like that are fatuous. The Mayo second fifteen would still beat half the counties in Ireland, and keep it kicked out to another quarter of them. Mayo will be back. Maigh Eo abú.

FOCAL SCOIR: It would be remiss of An Spailpín in his misery not to acknowledge two truly outstanding displays in Croke Park yesterday. The first was by the Roscommon minors, of course, who came back from 0-7 to 0-2 down after twenty minutes to bring a highly talented Kerry team to a replay in a fortnight's time. The Rossies stayed true to their county motto about constant hearts, and gave their ever-true supporters something to cheer them after some barren years. An Spailpín is not looking forward to Masters Shine or Keegan and a few more of their brethren rising to the senior rank, and I can pay them no higher tribute than that.

And the other outstanding performance of the day was the Kerry seniors', of course. Mayo may or may not have been dead men walking but they still had to be buried, and this Kerry did with the sort of ruthless efficiency that helps explain how exactly it is that they've fluked 34 All-Ireland titles, and counting. Kieran Donaghy is unquestionably the footballer of the year and could be the find of the decade. Right now about the only difference An Spailpín can spot between Donaghy and the Bomber is a difference of opinion in the field of personal grooming. All that's missing are the whiskers.

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Monday, September 11, 2006

Nolite Timere - Mayo's Time is Come at Last

On his return to his native Poland after his election to the Papacy, the late Pope John Paul II took as his leitmotif the first words of the angels to the shepherds as recorded by Luke - nolite timere; be not afraid. The Solidarity movement was welling in Poland at the time but the people needed reassurance that Moscow would not crush them as the Russians had crushed so many others while the world stood idly by. And their own, Polish, pope, delivered that reassurance. For once, the long downtrodden people of Poland had a world figure to fight their corner and, with that extra assurance, they were able to march on to a new age.

Now, of course, they didn't think that new age would result in emigration to Ireland to lead roofs and serve tea in restaurants, but few journeys occur on the Cartesian plane, where the straight lines rules; in this life, we must prepare for bumps. And having gone down the blind alleys of 1989, 1996, 1997 and, most traumatically of all, 2004, your Spailpín Fánach has decided that it is no longer appropriate to be afraid, and to await the crumb that falls from the green and gold table. Now is the time to sit down among equals, and feast.

Colm Keys was on Des Cahill's new radio show - isn't it awful? Did you hear Desmond talking to Platini the other day like Platini was a ten year old? It's so embarrassing, and yet, so RTÉ - and Keys was saying that Mayo have "a right good chance" in the All-Ireland Final. And just as Constantine saw the fiery cross in the sky, so a realisation finally dawned on An Spailpín Fánach - it's not Mayo that have to counter Kerry; it's Kerry that have to counter Mayo.

Do the math. Go through the positions. The Kerry full-forward line is terrifying of course, but any full-forward line is only ever as dangerous as the ball that goes into them. If Mayo can deny Kerry primary possession, then the full forward line are reduced to the level of the civil service - standing around with nothing to do. It is unlikely that Colm, Kieran and Mike Frank would be as indolent as the civil servants in looking for work to do, but still. It's a start. And why wouldn't Mayo deny Kerry possession? Daragh Ó Sé has been as fine as midfielder as his Ríocht has produced, and it's produced both Micko and Jacko. But he is only one man, and Mayo have three. Pat Harte and Ronan McGarrity have dominated the midfields they have played against, and each one very highly rated nationally - Michael Donnellan, Pádraig Clancy, Ciarán Whelan, et al. And as well as those two, Mayo enjoy the brooding and baleful presence of David Brady on the bench, ready at all times to cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war. Brady has a point to prove; he says his terrible rage was sated by that Stephenite win in 2005, but chances he's just being polite. In the event of Harte or McGarrity taking a knock, there is every chance that Kerry will find themselves in a frying pan, fire situation.

And this changes the dynamic completely. Instead of thumping high, hanging ball into the hungry maw of Kieran Donaghy and his wingmen, Kerry's best line is isolated, while play concentrates on the other end. And there Mayo have what they never had before. Options.

When Armagh beat Mayo last year in the league and Galway beat them in the Connacht Final, they knew that Ciarán McDonald was the cornerstone of all Mayo play. This is no longer the case. Colm O'Rourke and Joe Brolly may opine that all Mayo play goes through McDonald but it does not. If the Holmes and Yo-yo of RTÉ's football analysis did a little more homework they would see this Mayo forward unit for what it is - a threat coming from any direction, at any time. Alan Dillon, in the form of his life, cracking them over from under the stands. Ger Brady, chest out, head back, churning up the waves like a ship in full sail. Conor Mortimer fizzing and cracking at the corner of the square. And most importantly of all Kevin O'Neill, the Roy Hobbs of Mayo football, the Natural whose best years were denied him by cruel fate, having one last shot now as the sun goes down on his chance, using all his nous and hunger and deep, deep skills to rage, rage against the dying of the light. And if they're minding all those bucks, who's minding McDonald?

While Mayo are not utterly reliant on McDonald, that does not mean that the great man cannot take the baton and command the day when he hears the bugle's call, as others have done in Dublin 3 on late September Sundays to write their names in letters of fire on the honour roll of Gaelic Football glory. Ciarán McDonald gave his best ever club performances on All-Ireland Final days, in 2001 and 2003. He was one of few Mayo players who performed on that awful day two years ago, and if he's given an inch he will use it to plant his right foot while throwing down a green and red gauntlet to the laws of time and space with the left. The Good Book reminds us that it's not easy for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle; if she just got a root in the transom from McDanger's cos ciotóige An Spailpín Fánach is making the dromedary an odds-on proposition.

That's a lot of water for Kerry to bail, and keep the scoreboard ticking at their own end. And if they do ship it, if they can withstand being attacked on so many fronts and take their own scores, then hats off to them and more power to them. There are lots of reasons why Kerry could win. If Donaghy, Daragh Ó Sé, Cooper, Mike Frank, if any of those bucks catch fire Mayo are in big trouble. If they all catch fire, Mayo are quite certainly doomed. But there's quite some tinder in the Mayo chamber too, and for once, as talent, hope and history combine, and internecine feuding is finally forgotten, Mayo are going into this one holding aces. Mayo for Sam, at last. Go bhfeicimid thú i gCaislean an Bharraigh, a stócaigh ó, is fada an lá a d'imigh tú uainn.

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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Can Some Good Come from the Dartmouth Square Controversy?

The travelling peopleGod never closes one door but He opens another. One of the great sayings of the Old Ireland and one that’s hard to believe in these cynical times, but we could be on the verge of seeing it proved true in Dublin City very, very soon. Kindness may yet have her day.

Noel O’Gara is a developer who has invested in Dartmouth Square, a green urban square of the kind that the Victorians delighted in building, situated between the Ranelagh Road and Leeson Street, just behind the canal, in the leafy heart of Dublin 6. Although Dublin City council had the opportunity to buy the site they – inexplicably – did not, and now Mr O’Gara and the local residents are at daggers drawn over what is to become of the place.

Clearly, Mr O’Gara’s original investment was with a view to making as much money as he possibly could. Karl Marx might not be thrilled, but we live in a capitalist world and Mr O’Gara wants his few bob. Equally, the local residents value the green space that’s been part of the neighbourhood since before Independence, and they value it greatly in this increasingly urban environment. Right now, the situation is at an impasse, and Mr O’Gara is threatening to turn the whole property into a halting site, and bedamned to the residents of Dartmouth Square.

So hurrah for Noel O’Gara, cries An Spailpín Fánach, with his heart thumping loudly in his breast. Gross indeed are the injustices and shameful calumnies that have beset the Travelling People in Ireland, and shame on us as a nation for having allowed this to happen. Obviating the current impasse by making this supremely generous gesture will surely make Mr O’Gara the toast of all right thinking people in this fine little country.

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Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Fógraí Aite Eircom i Rith an Cluiche Sacair

Robbie Keane - caiptín na hÉireann, cabhair na h-óigeAn raibh éinne curtha amach ag féachaint ar na fógraí Eircom a gcraolú i rith craolú an cluiche idir an Ghéarmain agus Éire oíche Dé Sathairn, nó an bhfuil An Spailpín Fánach ina aonar arís? Mura bhfaca tú iad, seo mar a bhí: bhí Eircom ag iaraidh taispeáint dúinn comh ceangailte atá foireann na hÉireann agus pobal na hÉireann. Taispeántar paistí ag imirt sacair, agus ball foirne na hÉireann ag cabhrú leo.

Mar sampla, bhí scannán amháin ann ina raibh gasúr ag iarraidh a chic eirice a bhuaileadh, agus cé a tháinig leis ná Robbie Keane. "Déan do rogha cá mbuailfidh tú í, agus ná déan malairt intinne, maith an gasúr," arsa caiptín na hÉireann. Rinne an gasúr gáire. Rinne Robbie Keane gáire. Rinne gach aon duine gáire, seachas amháin an scríobhnóir searbh sin, An Spailpín Fánach, a bhí ag seilg a cuimhneamh ag iarraidh smaoineamh ar an uair deireanach a bhí peileadóir mar Robbie Keane ag múiniú na paistí óga. Ba chuimhin liom Robbie istigh i gCopper Face Jacks i ndubh dorchadas na h-oíche, ag ól a dhóthain phortair, agus léim ins na páipéirí gur cheannaigh an stócach céanna leath na dtithe i mBleá Cliath theas, ach Robbie ag múineadh na ngasúr? Níor chualas faic riamh faoi.

An bhfuil éagóir á dhéanamh ag an Spailpín ar chaiptín na hÉireann? B'fhéidir go seolfar ríomhphost chugam má táim, agus déanfaidh mé leithscéal dó ó bhun mo chroíse. Ach go dtí go bhfaighidh mé an eolas sin, beidh pus ar ghnús an Spailpín agus eisean ag breathnú ar an fograí fimíneachta sin. An Ghéarmain abú.

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Monday, September 04, 2006

So. Farewell Then, Steve Irwin

Steve Irwin and friendAn Spailpín senses a very real sorrow among people about the sudden and tragic death this morning of Steve Irwin, famous for his “Crocodile Hunter” TV shows. An Spailpín is inclined to think there are two reasons for this, why we all should feel this sorrow and lost kinship with a man who was, on the surface, just another face on the telly.

The first has to do with the sudden and utterly unexpected nature of Irwin’s death. This is an age of “wellness,” where people watch their health and diets and people live longer than ever before. As such, it is deeply disquieting to be reminded that the Angel of Death is always flying about, picking his targets with his customary awful and terrifying randomness. Not a happy thought.

The other thing that strikes me about Steve Irwin is how acutely disarming he was, as a media personality, in this media age. Ours is now the age of the post-ironic, where everything is presented through a sheen of ironic comment, where everyone is too cool for school. It is not the done thing to like things or to be enthusiastic; the done thing is to affect a Tennyson-esque “Oh! I am weary, weary! I wish that I were dead!” attitude, where everything that happens in the world is somehow beneath one’s great intellect, which operates on a higher plateau. It is interesting to know that the less intelligent the presenter the more pronounced this world-weariness is. And the less likely they have read their Tennyson, of course.

Steve Irwin was the antithesis of this. Steve Irwin loved what he did, and loved sharing what he knew. There was a tremendous boyish innocence to his schtick which was disarming and global because in our hearts we don’t want to be weary, weary, and wishing we were dead; we would sooner ally with that other Tennysonian hero and drink life to the lees, would that we were let. Steve Irwin did all that, and was not behind the door about how much he loved it. As far as Steve was concerned, everything was bonzer. Go bhfaighe sé an spéis is spleodar céanna agus eisean imithe anois ar slí na fírinne. Ar dhéis Dé go raibh a anam uasal.

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Friday, September 01, 2006

Mayo v Dublin: Coda

A Ballinaman, boulevardier and friend of An Spailpín Fánach visited one of the many Elvery Sports Shops in Dublin city yesterday lunchtime. What did he see inside only a gentlemen hoping to exchange his Dublin jersey for an English premiership jersey. Mar a deireann an seanfhocal, cuir síoda ar ghabhar ach is gabhar i gcónaí é. Here's McDanger slotting over the winner; we'll enjoy it, and then store it away for the winter, while we await the great struggle ahead. Maigh Eo abú.

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