Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Mayo Championship Preview 2009

Whack, whack, whack, hammer, hammer, hammer, bang, bang, bang. It’s John O’Mahony’s third year in charge of the Mayo senior football team and the rebuilding process continues apace. But O’Mahony knows more than anyone that the Mayo supporters are fickle jades, and the pressure is mounting to do more in the Championship than beat Sligo and Cavan.

Trying to figure out when this rebuilding is over and there’s a team to compete for glory, An Spailpín was struck recently by an analogy Frank O’Connor uses in His Father’s Son, about a monkey eating his own tail. Subjectively, the monkey is eating, which is a good thing. Objectively, the monkey is being eaten, which is a very bad thing.

Subjectively, Mayo rebuilding is a good thing after the trauma of 2004 and 2006. Objectively, the Mayo senior football team is in a state of chassis, and that is not good at all.

Much has been made, here and elsewhere, about John O’Mahony’s tremendous power as a positive thinker and motivator of men. Seán Óg de Paor makes great play of it in his marvellous autobiography, Lá an Phaoraigh. But your correspondent can’t help but wonder if O’Mahony hasn’t missed a trick in that rebuilding process; if Mayo weren’t that broken in the first place, and the perpetual forelock-tugging that is the Mayo birthright blinds us to the fact that the Mayo teams that contested those All-Irelands were much better than they’re given credit for.

You’ll note the use of the word “trauma” to describe 2004 and 2006. But that’s not strictly accurate. September 26th, 2004 and September 17th, 2006, were wretched certainly, but everything else about those summers was magical. Beating Galway in Castlebar after gifting them a 1-3 start in the first ten minutes in 2004 was magical. Beating Tyrone in Croke Park in 2004 was magical. Throwing down a gauntlet to the Hill in 2006 and then backing it up by winning the game was magical. And the All-Ireland defeats do not mean that those other games didn’t happen. All the Mayo people who said that the All-Ireland defeats of 2004 and 2006 made them wish they’d never got out of Connacht are now getting their wish. Do they feel better?

But Mayo people are always too quick to tug the forelock, bow the head and get into to the gutter to make way for our betters. Colm O’Rourke opined on television before the Dublin v Tyrone game last year that there were four big teams of the current decade, Kerry, Tyrone, Armagh and Dublin, but Dublin were the only ones that hadn’t won an All-Ireland. The facts are that Dublin haven’t even won a semi-final while Mayo have won two. But anything Mayo do is dismissed, on the basis that Mayo were “punching above their weight.”

It’s so much a matter of perspective. The Mayo fullback gets scorched by Kieran Donaghy in the All-Ireland final in 2006, and people shake their heads and say the craythurs, sure Mayo never should have been there at all. One year later the Cork fullback gets burned every bit as badly, and he wins an All-Star. What is the difference?

Implicit in the notion that Mayo were punching above their weight is the notion that the Kerry wins in 2004 and 2006 were inevitable. That Kerry beating Mayo was as inevitable as night following day. Well no it damn well wasn’t.

Here’s when Kerry are impossible to beat. When they are in the All-Ireland final, because they always peak in September. When their talismanic captain is back in the colours. When they have not one Kieran Donaghy, but two. And when the opposition are trying to manage with the their greatest ever player having retired. With their chief scoring forward in dispute with the management. With their pivotal forward lucky to still be able to see, to say nothing of play football. With no midfield and big issues in the fullback line.

It was as hard, if not harder, for Tyrone to beat Kerry last year than for Mayo to beat Kerry in 2004, because Kerry were much more vulnerable in 2004 than they were last year. And Mickey Harte himself has acknowledged just how slim the margins are.

Mickey Harte did an interview with the great Keith Duggan of the Irish Times on the 31st of January this year where Harte summed up exactly what the difference is between winning and losing:

This is the problem, I think, with the assessments of teams who lose. Retrospectively, you can give them six or eight good reasons why they lost and yet if they won, those same reasons are regarded as dead-on.

“I know what would have been wrong with us if we had lost: ‘bringing Stephen O’Neill back was crazy’. ‘Why did we wait so long to bring Kevin Hughes into the middle of the field?’ ‘Why did Owen Mulligan not come in sooner?’ ‘Why was Brian McGuigan not starting?’ ‘Why did you take Joe McMahon out of half forward to corner back?’ – crazy decision if we lost. But because we won, nobody bothers with them.

That’s the margin. That’s the difference between a hero and a bum. And instead of appreciating glory days not seen since John A Costello was Taoiseach, the Mayo County Board threw John Maughan to the wolves in 2005, Mickey Moran and John Morrison after him in 2006 and even though the Mayo Board gave him another two years on his contract, Johnno will be feeling the heat if Mayo don’t claim some sort of coup this year.

How far away are they? Well, Mayo currently struggle even more than usual to put scores on the board, and Congress’ craven rejection of rules reform doesn’t help the cause. The absence of Ciarán McDonald baffles on a number of levels, and the success of the Irish’s rugby team’s golden generation in finally sealing the deal before they were too old puts the perils of Mayo’s golden generation in depressing perspective, not least with Brady, O’Neill and others having already hung up their boots for the last time.

And meanwhile, in his workshop, John O’Mahony continues to rebuild. Whack, whack, whack. Hammer, hammer, hammer. Bang, bang, bang.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Championship Preview 2009

The Championship begins on May 10th when the ball is thrown in between Mayo and New York, and it can’t come soon enough. In these grim times the GAA is about last thing we have to remind the Irish of what’s best about ourselves.

Naturally, it being our one shining star, we do our best to crush the best things about it at every opportunity, just as the panda rolls over her young. She doesn’t really mean it, but they’re dead just the same.

The latest manifestation of this urge to self-destruction is the deeply depressing defeat of the new rules – which weren’t new at all, of course – at Congress at Easter. Séamus Mallon once described the Good Friday Agreement as “Sunningdale for slow learners,” and it’s hard not to echo that great man’s frustration at the lazy and indolent resistance to cleaning up the game.

The so-called new rules were a watered down version of the sin-bin that was introduced in 2005 League. The sin-bin was a perfect solution to persistent, niggly fouling, and much more effective than what was introduced this year. So naturally the managers whined at every opportunity, saying that this man didn’t deserve a yellow, or that man didn’t deserve a yellow.

Well, yes they did, because the new rule said that the bin was what you got for being an unrepentant sleeveen. An Spailpín has often mournfully wondered if the sin-bin could have been successfully introduced if they had concurrently introduced a blue card, say, thus depriving the managers of that shield that their man “didn’t deserve a yellow.”

Too late now, of course. The bin failed and the sending-off with substitution failed, and the reason why is this: too many people like the system they way it is. They don’t think the game is about protecting flair players. They see it as a game where the only thing that matters is winning, and if that means raining punches into a man’s kidneys and then protesting that you were only playing the ball ref, feck’s sake, you were only playing the ball, then so be it. Congress has sown the wind in voting down the rule reform – let’s hope they don’t reap the whirlwind come high summer.

Jack O’Connor was one of those who opposed the rule reform. Jack is some ticket. This is the same Jack O’Connor who wrote in his essential memoir that before Kerry could face the 2006 Championship he himself had to “actually learn how to coach the tackle. Genuinely I don’t know how to do that. Tacking is something that was never heard of in Kerry, beyond telling a fella to go out there and not foul the man.” (Keys to the Kingdom, p 7, Penguin Books, 2008).

An Spailpín Fánach is happy to report that while St Patrick never did make it to the Kingdom the tackle most certainly has, and the re-appointment of O’Connor is an indication that Kerry mean business this year, aching as they do to finally put down Tyrone once and for all.

Tyrone are more than willing to face Kerry again, of course, and the prospect of the counties meeting again on All-Ireland day is one to savour and dread in equal measure. Savour, because it’s the defining rivalry of football this decade; dread, because there is a lot of bitterness between the teams, and that can lead to things getting ugly. Ugly has no role in Gaelic games. However, your hopelessly romantic Spailpín has alternative matchup that I contend would be just as good.

To An Spailpín’s mind the best game of the year last year was the operatic contest in monsoon conditions in Croke Park between Galway and Kerry, and a rematch of that would grace any All-Ireland final. Kerry need no build up, but Galway deserve to be hailed as the purists’ choice for football right now, and they have a man who could be the best footballer in Ireland, Michael Meehan, coming right into his pomp. A Galway-Kerry final would be a game to savour.

Unfortunately, neither Galway nor Kerry are that attractively priced for those who enjoy a little punt on football. Kerry will almost certainly win the All-Ireland again, as talent, will and tradition combine to tremendous effect in the green and gold, but their price is not encouraging and you would need a few more points with Galway to make up for the midfield issues unresolved there since Kevin Walsh and Seán Ó Domhnaill retired, waters who weren’t missed until the well ran dry.

Cork are a popular fancy and always produce teams of big, strong footballers, but Kerry have the Indian sign on them and it’s hard to discount that. Advocates of Cork will point to the Munster wins but it’s hard indeed not to believe that Kerry only start taking things seriously when the pilgrims have descended from the Reek.

Anybody seeking riches from outside the Big Three of Kerry, Tyrone and Galway must look to Ulster to find value. Kevin Egan, that Faithful Gael, made the point recently that Championship winners who come from nowhere are rare in recent times, and doubly so since the introduction of the Qualifiers further comforted the strong and afflicted the weak.

But if you must insist on finding such a team, you need to find one that is sufficiently under the radar to have a nice fat price, and sufficiently big time not to freeze on the great stage. And then you consider the Under-21 Final being played later this week, the rich lessons of history, and the penny drops as you sweep down to the sea to put a sneaky shilling each way on Down at 66/1. 66/1 to go all the way is real value here, for those who cannot in conscience back short-priced Kerry.

Mayo? This time tomorrow An Spailpín hopes to discuss in this space what their prospects are like in Year III of the Second Coming. See you then.

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,

Saturday, April 25, 2009

John McGuinness is Not John the Baptist. Irish Nation Please Copy.

An Spailpín Fánach is stunned by the reaction to John McGuinness’ whining during the week. McGuinness got the road during the junior minister reshuffle and isn’t happy about it. Nobody would be – some people have enough in to take it on the chin and move on, some throw rattles from prams. God didn’t make us all the same after all.

But what is stunning, and deeply depressing, is the way the man is being hailed as some sort of Messiah. Marian Finucane is reading out texts on her radio show this morning along the lines of “at last, someone with the guts to speak out.”

But that’s nonsense. An Spailpín wants to know if McGuiness is only “speaking out” because he lost his state car. John McGuinness was a junior minister for two years – why didn’t he do something then? Talk is cheap. McGuiness held the reins of power for two years – what did he do with them? If he hadn’t got the road, would he be doing half the talking?

John McGuinness is doing a lot of whining about Mary Coughlan, having carefully picked the softest target in the Government. Twenty years ago Mary Harney was a junior minister to Pádraig Flynn at Environment, and she managed to clear up the smog in Dublin. Mary Coughlan can hardly be trickier than Pee was in his pomp. Has John McGuinness done anything like that with his junior ministry? Or even close?

No, he has not. And yet you read on the front page of yesterday’s Mail about what a clever and talented fellow John McGuinness is. Clever and talented how? His website would suggest his IT skills are limited, for instance.

An Spailpín Fánach has a question for John McGuinness – if things are so golly-gosh bad with Brian Cowen, why doesn’t McGuinness resign the Fianna Fáil whip entirely? Joe Behan in Wicklow, at least, had the courage to do that just that – why doesn’t John McGuiness put his money where his mouth is and quit the party?

McGuinness can’t join Fine Gael. Not because of any ideological issues of course ... but because Phil Hogan is the sitting Fine Gael TD for the Marble City and There is No Way on God’s Green Earth Phillo and McGuinness are going hand in hand up the aisle. Phil has had quite enough trouble with one McGuinness as it is – he doesn’t need another, thanks very much.

John McGuinness could always run as an independent of course, and put his money where his mouth is.

Or maybe not. How about the Labour party? Séamus Patterson got elected for Kilkenny and Labour for forty years – there’s certainly a seat there. Why doesn’t McGuinness nail his colours to the mast and do that? Labour would certainly welcome him – they got hammered in the last election in Carlow/Kilkenny and are desperate for candidates all over the country – look at whom they’re running for the European elections, for instance. Why doesn’t John McGuinness join them if he finds the current Government so intolerable – as and from the moment of his sacking, and not so much before?

But even more to the point – why doesn’t someone in the national media ask him, instead of giving him a free ride? Have we given up entirely on joined-up thinking?

Technorati Tags: , , , ,

Friday, April 24, 2009

An bhFuil an Neamhspleáchas Tuillte ag na Gaeil?

Fógraíodh Poblacht na hÉireann ar an lá seo nócha bliain ó shin, an 24ú Aibreán, 1916, os comhair an GPO, Sráid Sackville (mar a bhíodh), Bleá Cliath. Bunaíodh Saorstát Éireann i 1922, sé bhliain tar éis an tÉirí Amach - tamaillín beag i rith na ocht gcéad bliain a bhíodh na Gaeil faoi smacht an choróin.

Ach an cheist atá ag bhur Spailpín dóibh inniu, trí bhliain is nócha tar éis an tÉirí Amach, ná arbh fhiú don bPiarsach, don gCléireach agus do na roinnt daoine eile ar chaill fuil nó saoirseacht nó an saol féin ar son na tíre bogadh sa chéad áit? Ar chóir dóibh an scéal a ligeadh mar a bhíodh, agus Éirinn a fhágáil mar oileán beag ar thaobh na mórthíre, ball sásta an Ríocht Aontaithe? An bhfuil neamhspleáchas tuillte ag na Gaeil?

I rith na blianta saibhre in Éirinn, blianta atá imithe anois, ba fhaiseanta an rud é a rá, tar éis béile bhreá éigin i dtigh Paddy Guillbaud's nó teach mar a chuid, go raibh a h-anam caillte ag Éirinn agus an saibhreas linn. Tá an saibhreas caillte anois, gan filleadh le tamaill fada, má bhfilleann ar chur ar bith, ach níor fhill anam na nGael ar ais. Agus an cheist a chuireann an Spailpín air féin ná an raibh an t-anam céanna ann riamh, nó an rabhamar á mealladh orainn féin leis na blianta?

Bhínn an-tógtha le cúpla líne filíochta ón bPiarsach tráth amháin, in a scríobh sé faoi uaisleacht na nGaeil, gurbh cine uasal iad na nGaeil in ainneoin a gcuid slabhra; "august, despite their chains."

Agus an tír i bponc ceart anois táim ag fanacht ar an uaisleacht sin, an uaisleacht in aghaidh na slabhra, an uaisleacht as a bhfásann ceart na nGael bheith saor agus ár n-áit a thógáil i measc náisiúin an domhain. Cad a fheicim ina h-ionad? Gach duine is diabhal ar sráideanna na tíre ag beicéal cad fúm féin, cad fúm féin. Gach duine is diabhal gan bacadh cad a tharlóidh go dtí go dtiocfaidh siad slán féin. Gach duine is diabhal ar an nguthán go Liveline ag insint Joe go rinneadar botún ina ngnó féin ach nach bhfuil siad féin ciontach fúthu, ach gur chóir an rialtas iad a thabhairt slán.

Dúirt Gael cáiliúil uair amháin nárbh í an cheist cad a ndéanfaidh tír duine ar a shon, ach cad a ndéanfaidh duine féin ar son a thíre. Tá an Spailpín ag fanacht anois ar daoine a ndéanfaidh rud éigin ar son a dtíre, in ionad bheith in a suí ar a dtóin bhoga ramhair ag fanacht ar seic agus clárach ar a bun. Beidh mé ag fanacht tamaillín, sílim.

Féachaigí ar an tír a rinneamar ins na nócha bliain atáimid "saor." Táimid níos ghiorra leis an mórthír ná mar a bhímis riamh. Tá ár meán chumarsáide neamhspleách caillte linn, agus na Gaeil sásta go leor ag léamh nuachtáin Shasana agus ag breathnú ar a teilifís. Conas atá cultúr na nGael difríocht le chultúr mór na mórthíre, mar a bheadh an agus an Lord Lieutenant i bPáirc an Fionnuisce fós?

Cáintear go minic an fhéachaint istigh a bhíodh ar siúl ag an Saorstát ins na fichidí. Is fíor go raibh an iomarca béim acu oraibh féin, agus nárbh chóir dóibh an domhan mór a seachaint go dtí mar a sheachnaítí san aimsir sin. Ach ba chóir dóibh seasamh ar rud éigin, ar an Éirinn Ghaelach a bhí á thógáil acu. Ní sheasann na Gaeil ar rud ar bith sa lá atá inniu ann. Tá brionglóid Éireann Gaelaí caillte anois, má chreideadh inti sa chéad áit.

Tá tríocha Dáil Éireann tógtha ag na Gaeil ó bhunaíodh an chéad Dáil nócha bliain ó shin, bunadh ar chomóir an rialtas seo le déanaí. Sin roinnt ama ar gcultúr féin a chur ar an rialtas, agus a sheasamh go bródúil i measc náisiún an domhain. Cad a rinneamar i rith na tríocha Dáil? Bhunaíomar agus coinnealbháimid beo cultúr ina bhfuil áit cónaithe polaiteora níos tábhachtaí ná cad a chreideann sé nó sí. Tá an iomarca Teachtaí Dála againne, agus tá an córas toghadh líofa go leor.

Léigh mé Cuimhní Cinn le Liam Ó Briain cúpla bhliain ó shin. Bhí an Brianach amach i 1916 agus ba iontach é léamh chomh brionglóideach a bhíodh sé agus a gcomrádaí faoin Éire nua a bhí á bhunú acu. I rith an cath, bhíodar i gColáiste na hOllscoile, Átha Cliath, ar Ardán Phort an Iarla, an áit atá an NCH sa lá atá inniu ann, sílim. Bhíodar ag iarraidh baracáid a dhéanamh, agus d'iarr cúpla Óglaidh ar an mBrianach an chóir dóibh cúpla seanleabhair a úsáid sa bharacáid. D'fhéach an Brianach ar na leabhair agus dúirt sé leo "sin iad Annála na gCeithre Máistrí. Má táimid ag troid ar rud ar bith, táimid ag troid ar an leabhar sin. Cuir uaibh iad."

Cé fhios anois in Éirinn cérbh iad na Ceithre Máistrí, nó cad é a leabhar? Sin an mhéid atá saoirse tuillte ag na Gaeil.

Technorati Tags: , , , ,

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Fangs for the Memories

It’s ironic that vampires are so big in the culture now as Ireland is being sucked dry by her people's own excesses. Count Dracula stares balefully down from posters on lamp-posts in Dublin as part of the municipality’s One City, One Book promotion (reading more than one buke per calendar year would cause anybody’s head to explode of course – best not to take the chance), while the critics rave about Let the Right One In, the remarkable Swedish vampire movie that’s currently on general release.

Let the Right One In is not like other vampire movies that you’ve seen. It’s about a little boy called Oskar, living in a soulless suburb of Stockholm and getting bullied at school, who becomes friends with a strange little girl next door called Eli. Eli walks barefoot through the snow, can’t eat sweets, and knows exactly how Oskar should respond to the bullies. No Swedish pacifism for her.

The children playing Oskar and Eli look the part, but the real horror in the movie is the utterly hideous suburb in which Oskar and Eli live. They live in a block of flats that are like Finglas in the 1970s without the anti-social activity. There is no social activity at all – just a tremendous, soul-destroying ennui that leeches the life out of you just as much as little Eli drains your blood when she’s feeling peckish.

As horror films go the movie is quite tame, really, except for the occasional gory bit, and the lasting terror is of that awful housing complex. Horror films shouldn’t be quite so – dull, I’m afraid. But it is so terribly Swedish - close-ups are the vogue in Swedish cinema always, and the claustrophobic effect of this in Let the Right One In is that when we see Eli, that unearthly child, scurrying up the side of a building, our only reaction is to say “you go, girl! Anywhere but here!”

How far from our elegant host at Castle Dracula, who so enjoys the children of the night and the music they made. Dracula is a strange choice indeed for promotion – Stoker’s connection with Dublin is tenuous at best, and the book really isn’t that good. It really isn't.

It would be interesting to discover why the Corpo chose Dracula above any others. An Spailpín is willing to bet that while many of them will have seen the movie, very few will have read the book. A promotion that claps itself on the back over one book a year would suggest that the promoters are a little off the pace when it comes to reading. A current promotion in Eason’s, where the book will be signed by The Count himself this Saturday lunchtime - how selfless of him to put his notorious aversion to sunlight aside so they can shut up the shop at half-five as usual - would indicate the audience that Dublin City are going for, and the literary set they ain’t. How very depressing.

Better, then, to ignore it completely and sate your thirsts with Joan Acocella’s marvellous appreciation of the book Dracula, warts and all, in the New Yorker some weeks ago. They have super writers in the New Yorker, and Ms Acocella is one of the very best. Bon appetit.

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

O'Connell's Steam Engine: Emulating McBride in South Africa

Lions coach Ian McGeechan sprung more than one surprise when he named his thirty-seven man panel for the upcoming tour to South Africa at Heathrow this morning.

There are fourteen Irishmen on the squad, more than Ireland have ever had before, and Paul O’Connell has been named captain. It’s thirty-five years since O’Connell’s legendary predecessor for the Lions and Ireland, Ballymena’s Willie John McBride, captained the most successful Lions tour of all time, also in South Africa, in 1974. History repeating would be very welcome indeed.

The biggest shocks in McGeechan’s panel are the naming of two men who had no part at all in Ireland’s Grand Slam win, Limerick’s Keith Earls and Tipperary’s Alan Quinlan, but it would be the bitter, bitter heart that would begrudge either man his moment.

Both men are at opposite ends of the their careers, Earls just starting out but the son of a father whom many consider would have played many times for Ireland had he not made the crucial mistake of being born on the wrong side of the tracks, and the stalwart Quinlan, who has been so often left out of Ireland selections for so long. Many glasses will be raised to those men tonight, and I hope the porter is sweet.

McGeechan’s selection of O’Connell as his captain, and such flinty forwards as Quinlan and England’s Simon Shaw, would indicate that McGeehan has no intention of letting the side get bullied in the trenches by Die Bokke. It is unlikely that the infamous 99 call will be heard on the high veldt this time around, but its spirit remains.

One of the many heartening things about the upcoming tour is the return to traditional Lions virtues after the all-too-predictable horrors of New Zealand in 2005. Sir Clive brought 45 players four years ago but clearly had decided his starting XV long before they set foot in New Zealand. The rest were only ever window dressing.

McGeehan seems much more likely to let the team evolve in the six games before the first test in Durban on June 20th. Someone once described Lions tours as a cross between a school tour and a medieval crusade; if McGeehan and co can capture that buccaneering spirit than the chances are good for a record third win in South Africa against the two time and reigning World Champion Springboks.

Ironically, considering the rich history of the Lions at half-back, it is at the pivot that the Lions will be most vulnerable. Mike Phillips is the most likely contender to wear 9, and a man who cannot but remind the Springboks of their own Joost van der Westhuizen in stature and attitude, but it is hard not to be nervous looking at the back up options. Twelve years ago Matt Dawson came from nowhere to become one of the stars of the tour in the best Lions tradition; could Tomás O’Leary or Harry Ellis step up to the same degree if anything happens to Phillips?

The Lions biggest concern is at out-half. Steven Jones and Ronan O’Gara are seasoned professionals playing a professional game but, compared to the great Lions 10s of the past, Campbell, Bennett, the immortal, imperious Barry John, Kyle and Morgan of the fifties – well, it’s hard to see them quite matching up. Once the forwards have gone toe to toe with Bakkies Botha and won the ball off him, there is still then the question of what to do with the thing. The Lions have always been about running rugby; everybody plays a variation of total rugby football now, but it would be a shame if the Lions were to lose that cavalier spirit that made the jersey so famous, even though they only ever won three tours in 27 attempts.

James Hook of Wales and Danny Cipriani of England were the up and coming men with the potential to come alive on a Lions tour, the single greatest stage in World rugby with all due respect to the French, but neither of them have made the cut. It’s a source of concern, but not one that undoes the daring selection of McGeehan or the flutter of anticipation at the prospect of the Lions taking on the Springboks under African skies. Roll on tour, roll on.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,

Friday, April 10, 2009

Ní Nach Ionadh Nár Éirigh Liom!

Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,

Thursday, April 09, 2009

What Will Des Cahill's Sunday Game Be Like?

Yesterday evening’s announcement of Des Cahill as the new presenter of the Sunday Game is something of a disappointment. It’s not as shattering a disappointment as watching your Bank of Ireland shares go down the Swanee River, but there is a certain weight on the heart.

It’s hard not to worry that the evening Sunday Game, the single most important TV program to the GAA fan, will end up being the Road to Croker II, a lot of soft old blather. Dara Ó Cinnéide or Setanta's Daire O'Brien would have been An Spailpín’s choice as Sunday Game presenter, but Cahill is popular in RTÉ, and popular counts.

There is an understanding abroad that Des Cahill is a GAA man, especially after his rescuing of the Late Late Show GAA special. An Spailpín couldn’t really say as I didn’t see the show, and would maintain that anyone who sat down to watch that show in the first place was naïve in the extreme, as it could only ever have been terrible.

Marty Whelan won Celebrity Bainisteoir I believe – should Marty host the Sunday Game? Celebrity Bainisteoir and the Late Late Show are mass appeal entertainment programs. They have nothing to do with sports journalism, which is where discussion of the Sunday Game should begin and end.

It would take a level of imagination that is not common in the Irish media to even attempt the change of perspective a real GAA show would require rather than the lazy platitudes we usually get. Gaelic games are not like other sports. It needs to be discussed in a different language.

There seems to be an opinion abroad that Cahill will “ask the hard questions.” People don’t always think through what they mean by that. The GAA is an amateur organisation with amateur players, who all have to go back to work on Monday. Trial by media and slow-motion replays do not suit the games or the Irish psyche.

Last year’s Galvin affair, which you would think cut and dried, was anything but. This is the problem the Sunday Game will always face. Is the appointment of Des Cahill an attempt to address that, or is it just RTÉ wheeling out their Doctor Doolittle?

Has GAA journalism has existed for over a hundred years without ever evolving its own voice? Not at all. Mick Dunne and Jim Carney were GAA men to the fingertips, but their particular style is seen as terribly passé in Donnybrook right now. Whereas Des is such a teddy bear, and even though he’s true blue Dubbalin man he worked in the country, you know. As far the Donnybrook panjandrums are concerned, Cahill is like the old lady in Airplane: “oh stewardess – I speak jive.”

Des Cahill can speak to the country bumpkins, and that gives him kudos in Donnybrook for this post. What also gives him kudos is that he has the gift of serving two masters – while his public persona is that of the man on the street, anyone paying attention to the way he chaired Sportscall will have noted that Des always took the side of authority. Telling Des about overcrowding in Tuam or Thurles was always likely to hear a recitation of the party line.

Presenting the Sunday Game will not be an easy job. Des Cahill has an extreme disadvantage in that his most obvious point of comparison is the RTÉ soccer panel, who are tremendous. But is not a fair comparison – soccer as commentated on Johnny Giles is a professional game played by millionaires. GAA men drive forklifts for Beamish and Crawford and farm fields of rushes. You cannot speak about GAA players who are playing for love in the same language you use to speak about divers, cheats, cowards and spivs who are pulling down hundreds of thousands of pounds per week.

There’s no law that says you have to hammer someone to be a legitimate journalist. And this is especially the case when you’re commentating on amateur players playing an amateur game.

Des Cahill will have to decide whom he would like to serve as presenter of the Sunday Game. Shall he serve the establishment, RTÉ, the players, his own comfort zone, or any combination of the above?

The evening Sunday Game is more important that the live afternoon show because GAA people are at matches during the live show. But they need – need – the half-nine show for analysis of their own game and the national state of things. And your deeply concerned correspondent often wonders if RTÉ actually understands this.

The single most important Sunday Game of the year is the one of the night of the All-Ireland finals. RTÉ seem utterly oblivious to this fact, and are ruining it currently by featuring reviews of the year, teams of the year, live links from the winning teams’ hotels and a lot of people pig drunk in different boozers in the winning counties. Who cares? This is Bláthnaid Ní Chofaigh stuff – it has nothing to do with sport.

Win or lose, the essential thing for the GAA fan coming back from the All-Ireland is to see the Sunday Game, meaning game footage and analysis. It’s essential. To see just how essential we can now take a trip through time and space, to the great town of Ballivor, Co Meath, on the night of the 28th of September, 1997.

If we visit one of the pubs therein, we will behold some sorrowful Mayomen in the green and red finery watching the Muiris Mac Gearailt All-Ireland on the Sunday Game to the amusement and pity of the locals. That was a long night twelve years ago, but to drive on and miss the Sunday Game would have been like ordering a pint and not finishing it. It. Just. Isn't. Done.

An Spailpín wishes Des Cahill all the best in his new role. His is a great responsibility and we need him to do well. Go n-éirí leis.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The Strange Death of the British Male

An Spailpín Fánach is fascinated by The Damned United, currently on general release, just as I was fascinated by the novel from whence the film sprang. Not because of what it says about Brian Clough or soccer or any of that, but because of what it says about the state of current British culture.

The Damned United is about the 44 days that Brian Clough spent as manager of Leeds United football club in 1974. It was a match made in Hell – Clough was the loudmouth manager of upstart Derby County, and a man who took a certain relish in goading his enemies. Enemy No 1 was Don Revie, manager of Leeds United in the 1960s and 70s and a man who was seen by some – but not all – observers as someone who mined a deep well of cynicism to get results.

Because Clough had made no secret of his distain for Leeds and their methods, his appointment as Revie’s successor was like making Joe Higgins head of the Central Bank. It didn’t last, and Clough was gone in 44 days. Clough then took over at Nottingham Forest and went on to make his name as one of English soccer’s greatest managers, and the Greatest Manager the English National Team Never Had.

Clough died some years ago from complications brought on by hard living, and in the book David Peace took that legend of the iconoclastic Clough as he’s understood and fondly remembered now and spun it back to what it might have been like when Clough was in charge at Leeds. The novel is described as faction, that terrible word that means it would be so lovely if things really were like this, so let’s just pretend that they were and not get bogged down in nasty old facts.

Johnny Giles, who successfully sued the publishers of the novel, and is allegedly considering going in with studs up before our learned friends concerning the movie as well, made the point on Newstalk’s Off the Ball recently that while the book is being sold as fiction it is being consumed as fact, and that’s what’s really bugging him. Giles has no objection to books being written and Revie being criticised by “football people,” but some guy just making stuff up strikes Giles as being deeply infra dig.

What’s really interesting, then, isn’t what the book or the movie tells us about the real Brian Clough but what the huge popularity of the book and movie tell us about the current state of British culture, its current fascination with the 1970s and its great, crying need for a hero as Brian Clough is portrayed in the book – telling one of the best teams in England on his first day in their dressing room that they should throw all their medals away because they were won by cheating, not bothering with reports on opposition teams and telling the boys to just go out and enjoy themselves.

Just going out and enjoying yourself is grand when you’re training the Sunday XI of the Dog and Duck, but it’s guaranteed disaster if you’re playing for keeps with the big boys. That the notion has appeal to the current British male says something about the appeal of the juvenile that is currently so high in the culture.

Brian Clough’s mother died while he was manager at Leeds. Peace makes a big deal of it in the book: “The end of anything good. The beginning of everything bad... No afterlife. No heaven. No hell. No God. Nothing - The end of anything good. The beginning of everything bad.”

Is that not a description of the current lost state of the British male? Lost in the world, not recognising it anymore or his place in it? Always seeking a return to childhood when heroes like Brian Clough were easily identified?

The iconic status of Detective Gene Hunt in the BBC’s Life on Mars TV show is another riff on the tendency current in the culture to glamorize the 1970s in England. This is very much a post hoc glamorisation of course – there was nothing too glamorous about recessions, deaths in the North, bombings in Birmingham and winters of discontent. But the 1970s are being presented as Shangri-la compared to now, when England has become one of the most politically correct places on the face of the Earth.

In Life on Mars, Sam Tyler represents the modern British male – caring, sensitive, aware of minority rights. Gene Hunt is the old style copper, who likes beer, mushy chips, football on the terraces and beating the Jesus out of suspects back in the police station. Current cultural conditioning has made Sam Tylers out of the British, but it was the Gene Hunts that took Quebec and held the Khyber Pass.

The Damned United and Life on Mars are evidence of the tremendous power of nostalgia. The 1970s were grim times in England any way you slice them, but the children of the seventies currently working in media and culture are hanging on to their childhoods as hard as ever they can. Because the alternative is the void - the end of anything good. The beginning of everything bad.

The US Secretary of State Dean Acheson said in 1962 that Britain “had lost an empire and has not yet found a role.” The Damned United and Life on Mars would suggest that not only has she not found a role, but she’s given up the search entirely. The end of anything good. The beginning of everything bad.

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,