Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Flaky Narrative Snow Good for Doctor Who Christmas Special

Imagine if you cooked Christmas dinner and remembered everything except the gobbler. You had ham, you had stuffing, you had roast spuds, mashed spuds, carrots, peas, gravy, cranberry sauce, the works - but you forgot the actual turkey himself, the sun around which all else revolves.

This is what happened Steven Moffat in The Snowmen, this year’s Christmas episode of Doctor Who. He had a new title sequence, a new Tardis, a new companion, as fine a scenery-chewer as is known to humanity to play the villain – but what he didn’t have was a story to pull it all together. Doctor Who is a kids’ show – it needs a narrative. Leave the other stuff to Pirandello.

It can’t be easy to write Doctor Who. The show’s fiftieth anniversary looms in eleven months from now and there is a huge population who want to see something spectacular to mark the occasion. They may be the sort of human plankton who have no lives and are in front of their laptops when they should be partaking of festive cheer, but they are people too and are capable of weeping. More to be pitied than censured, really.

Perhaps the pressure of that anniversary is getting to Steven Moffat, the man in charge of Doctor Who (now gloriously titled the “Whopremo”). He will surely want to do better than the twentieth anniversary show, which really wasn’t that good. He is also distracted by Sherlock, which is as good a show as exists on TV currently.

But for whatever reason, Moffat dropped the ball tonight with the Christmas episode. Did anybody really understand it? You correspondent didn’t and, like the Reverend Mother in Midnight’s Children, An Spailpín is not stupid, having read several books.

It’s also worth questioning the point of hiring as fine a scenery-chewer as is known to humanity and not writing lines for him to gorge on. Michael Gambon was eye-rollingly superb in Moffat’s first Christmas episode, a Christmas Carol, but Richard E Grant was wasted in The Snowmen. He got one peach of a line near the start but spent the rest of the show pretty much sucking a lemon and having to pretend he liked it.

As for Clara, the new companion, she was there and then she wasn’t. Jenna Louise-Coleman has now played the new companion as a computer-savant, a barmaid and a governess. The Doctor himself generally waits for a regeneration to make a personality change but Clara/Oswin seems to go through them in the time it takes to hard-boil an egg.

It would be nice if the powers that be were to let her aye be aye and her nay be nay. Miss Coleman is as cute as a button but she may have to keep notes written on the back of one of her dainty little hands to remember if she’s the same person after lunch as she was at elevenses.

Perhaps Moffat is just trying too hard?  The presence of those anonymous bloggers in bedrooms terrorize both young and old, but sometimes maybe you’re better to just have the Doctor let one companion go, grab the next by the hand and run down a corridor somewhere. This is Doctor Who, after all. There’s a formula that’s worked for fifty years. There’s no need to re-write it as six characters in search of an alien.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Sporting Year: Review and Preview

It is a bittersweet thing indeed that the sporting year of 2012 ends on the death of Páidí Ó Sé. “Legend” is the most overused word in sports, but Páidí Ó Sé transcended the narrow bounds of that cliché long ago.

Where other men are legends, Páidí was an icon; others on that great Kerry of the 1970s were more admired and it’s possible Eoin “The Bomber” Liston was more loved, but nobody represented parish and people, the DNA of the GAA itself, better or more proudly than Páidí Ó Sé.

His bar in Ventry is a GAA grotto. The greatest cynic of that particularly Kerry cuteness that Tom Humphries identified as “the Republic of Yerra” could not help but be swept away by the aura of the place, the rich sense of the history tucked up against the Atlantic, where so much of the world’s history and culture was once stored, many hundreds of years ago.

Páidí Ó Sé’s life was short but few lives have been so full. Suaimhneas síoraí ar a anam Gaelach uasal.

In this year’s iteration of the football championship that Páidí Ó Sé graced for so long, Mayo lost; they always lose.

In hurling, the crown tottered on Kilkenny’s head as the All-Ireland final turned into its third and final act, but Henry Shefflin did nothing less than impose the majesty of his talent on the game. Shefflin moved to centre-half forward to dominate the game and rescue Kilkenny in their hour of greatest need of this decade they have dominated. Galway had no answer in the replay and Kilkenny continue at the very top of the tree.

Donegal were the best team in the football Championship of course. If you wish to see a team as being a symbiosis of coaching, talent and tactics, seldom can the three strands have combined as well as they did for Donegal this year. Donegal swept through the Championship as a burning flame, and nobody ever really made them sweat. It was a year of sheer dominance by Donegal from start to finish, like a racehorse winning the Derby from wire to wire.

Keith Duggan wrote a stirring call to arms for Donegal in the Irish Times in the week after the final, suggesting that they had it in them to dominate football for years to come. And it’s possible, but my goodness it’s a big ask. Only two teams have retained the title in the past twenty-two years, and the intensity of Donegal this year will surely be hard to replicate in 2013 – not least after a winter of celebration.

The current All-Ireland odds have Donegal as joint favourites with Kerry. This is a little surprising as Kerry are meant to be rebuilding, but then anytime the Championship seems wide open it’s the Usual Suspect that generally collects it.

Jim Gavin’s new model Dublin could be worth a bet at a best price 5/1 while it’s hard to know quite what to make of Cork in Championship terms. The Rebels are undoubted League specialists with their three League titles in a row and that can never be taken away from them. The League is the second most important inter-county competition after all.

Mayo are the last of the top five contenders at best price 12/1, shorter than they generally start seasons. After a semi-final in James Horan’s first year and a final in his second, there are only two places for Horan to go in his third year, and all Mayo prays it’ll be the good place rather than the alternative.

Mayo’s series of All-Ireland failures mean that the Championship for them is now a seventy-minute one, that doesn’t start until half-three on the third Sunday in September. Everything else is just a super-long League. It’s neither fair nor just, but that’s how it is.

Rugby has the excitement of a Lions tour next summer, which always adds a frisson for the home nations in the Championship. It’s hard to know how Ireland will do; the golden generation is now dead and gone and there is evidence for a reasonable campaign in the Six Nations and for an abject disaster. As ever, the first game sets the tone and Ireland’s campaign begins in Cardiff, where the Welsh are reeling from the effects of a disappointing summer and a particularly wretched autumn. We’ll wait and see.

2012 was an Olympic year of course, with Katie Taylor’s victory (and Seán Bán Breathnach’s marvellous commentary) the highlight for Ireland. Good for Katie but it’s fair to say, now that the dust has died down, that people got carried away hailing her as the greatest Irish sportswoman ever. This blog coughs discreetly, and suggests that honour remains with Sonia O’Sullivan.

In soccer, 2012 will be remembered as the year when the plucky Irish lost their major Championship innocence. After the drama of Saipan, the glory of America, the incredible, nation-building summers of 1990 and 1988, Ireland’s dream lasted just three minutes, until Mario Mandžukić headed home the goal that exposed Ireland as a busted flush.

The dream lasted as long as it takes to boil an egg. Ireland were humiliated and Giovanni Trapattoni’s reputation left in tatters in a series of nightmare matches. The best reaction was Liam Brady’s during the Spanish game, when the great man remarked that the majority of the Irish team had never played against the likes of the Spanish. They were as baffled by them as a Sunday league pub side would be.

And in the meantime, the supporters sang on. There was some vicious reaction back home to the singing, but in truth, what else could they do? There were people in Mayo jersies out drinking pints after the All-Ireland. Life goes on, and there’s always next year to dream anew.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Another Kick in the Head for Connacht Rugby

In what way is the ERC’s cavalier attitude to smaller rugby nations different from the IRFU’S cavalier attitude to its smallest province? On the face of it, they seem birds of a feather.

For those who haven’t been paying attention, a recap. The ERC is the organisation that runs the Heineken Cup. France and England have the richest clubs and they don’t think they’re getting a fair shake in the competition because they have to qualify from their own quite competitive domestic leagues whereas teams from Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Italy do not. The French and English clubs are petitioning the ERC to rejig the Heineken Cup qualification rules so that participation is based on merit, rather than geography.

The Irish Times’ rugby correspondent Gerry Thornley can be relied on for a regular one thousand words of scandalised outrage that money should talk in these circumstances. He, like the majority of the Irish rugby establishment, is utterly horrified at the prospect of any of the advantages three of the Irish provinces have traditionally enjoyed in the Heineken Cup being diluted by one whit, jot, or iota.

And in the green corner: the IRFU is the organisation that runs Irish rugby. Leinster, Munster and Ulster are the provinces with traditionally strong rugby traditions in Ireland, and they always get a fair shake in domestic Irish rugby because any time Connacht ever shows any vague chance of improving someone comes along and poaches their players.

Connacht screams long and loud when this happens, at which time the rugby establishment puts on its best hurt face and says: sorry little buddy. We think you’re doing great here in the bog but, you know, money talks. Of course you can have players. You just can’t have any ones that are any good.

How Connacht rugby gets a following at all is beyond your current correspondent. Sisyphus has a better chance of getting that boulder to the top of the hill than Connacht ever has of being a presence in European rugby.

Leinster, Ulster and Munster all know that there’s only so much food to go around. They could diet for a few years themselves in other to better the nation as a whole, or they could say what we have, we hold. Pull up the drawbridge, and let nature take its course.

They should be careful what they wish for. While the IRFU’s lack of vision is crushing Connacht now, it may crush all of Irish rugby in the end. It is a fact that the Irish provinces can’t survive as independent financial entities. They are dependent on the IRFU and the IRFU should extract a quid pro quo for that dependency by imposing quotas on the specialist positions so the national team will never be short of props or out-halves. How can they look out for Connacht when they barely have the wit to look out for themselves?

This season has been Connacht rugby in a nutshell. The season began with Dan Parks debut at outhalf for Connacht. Dan Parks, an Australian who won an astonishing 67 caps for Scotland. Not so much a has-been as a never-was. It was like Galway United had signed Emile Heskey, and expected to wire it up to Barcelona the next time they were at the Noukamp.

And then, by God, Parks, the clapped out old rust-bucket, found a vein of form. Nobody was going to mistake Dan Parks for Dan Carter, but Connacht played him to his strengths – the boot, the boot and nothing but the boot – and got some victories on the board, none more impressive than the win over Biarritz in Galway last Friday. Connacht looked like they were finally going somewhere.

But while Parks made the headlines, second row Mike McCarthy was the star of the team. So much so that he played for Ireland in the autumn internationals and looked completely at home on the greatest stage. For Connacht, the future looked bright.

So it fits the pattern, then, that McCarthy has already packed his bags and will be gone by the summer. To Leinster, of all places. And the more Connacht howl the more the usual suspects shrug their shoulders and say whaddya gonna do? That’s business. McCarthy is only following the money. It’s a professional game, after all.

The ERC know it’s a professional game too. They’ll do the math of the big clubs and the little clubs and the big countries and little countries and give the IRFU in the end exactly what the IRFU are giving to Connacht. The shaft. It will be a bad for Irish rugby but with their scandalous treatment of Connacht, it’s very hard to say the IRFU won’t deserve it.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Has the Irish Electorate Given Up on Governance?

Nate Silver’s triumph of the number-cruncher's art in the US Presidential election last month makes everyone interested in politics look on polls with a more gimlet eye, but even the great Silver himself would wear out the keys on his calculator trying to parse what’s going to happen in Ireland come the next election. The prospect of a look at one of the Minister for Health’s famous logarithms would be a source of delight to any statistician of course, but the rest would be pretty much bedlam, everywhere Silver looked.

The Sunday Business Post released a poll yesterday that saw Fine Gael support crumble, Fianna Fáil continue their slow (but inexorable) rise, and support flock to the Independents. There has been speculation that the fall in Fine Gael support arises from the horrors of the Savita Halappanavar case, but that doesn’t quite fit the case.

Like the rest of the parties, Fine Gael are split on the issue of abortion. The extent of the split depends on just what legislation is proposed, and it seems a leap to say that the fall in Fine Gael support is because of Fine Gael’s position on abortion. They don’t have a position – that’s the point. Some of them shilly, some of them shally, but there is no one Fine Gael position on the issue. We have to look further to find out why Fine Gael have lost support.

One extraordinary thing about the poll, and about the current Dáil, is strength of support of the Independents. It’s extraordinary for this reason – a vote for an Independent in the current situation is a vote for something other than governance.

Which means that when a voter votes for an Independent, she is not voting for a government. She has prioritized something else above governance. What that something is depends on the individual candidate. Is there a commonality at all between Shane Ross, Mattie McGrath and Mick Wallace? It’s hard to see it.

The Independents currently in the Dáil may be understood as loosely left, but that doesn’t sum up them all. You couldn’t accuse Mr Michael Lowry, Independent TD for Tipperary North, of being anti-business, for instance. So even though we group Independents together for convenience, what defines them is what they’re not rather than what they are. As a collective, they’re all over the spectrum.

But what is interesting is that the Independent voter has decided that governance is secondary, and that’s significant and worrying. All politics is local, as Tip O’Neill liked to remark, but the question now arises if Irish politics crossed a Rubicon where voters have given up on the idea of governance entirely?

We heard a lot before the election about how Ireland had lost her sovereignty because of the bank bailout. Did the voters believe it? Is that the evidence of the current Dáil and, on the evidence of current polling, the next?

Has the Irish nation now given up completely on the idea of an independent Irish parliament that legislates for an independent Irish nation? Pat Rabbitte was eager to tell Claire Byrne on Saturday that the Government must absolutely do what the Troika tells them. Is the nation taking the Minister at his word, and deciding that, if they can’t have a government, maybe they can have someone to kick up a fuss when their local hospital is closed or when the rats overrun the local school? Does the nation settle for a TD who will fight for the parish, and isn’t that fussed about who’s Taoiseach because who’s Taoiseach doesn’t really matter at all?

If this week’s budget passes – and the many leaks that have occurred suggest that the Government is determined to test the water, just in case – Ireland will have completed 85% of the Austerity Program. It’s stung and will sting for some time yet, but there haven’t been any Morgan Kelly style riots in the streets. Ireland has taken her medicine.

So the question then is will Ireland return to electing governments once the Troika have moved on and normality is restored, or is faith in the system broken forever? Or, even more worrying, what if the whole thing has all been a cod?

Just how sovereign was Ireland, really? How much can a country with few indigenous resources and that is heavily reliant on foreign investment – the majority of which is still from the former colonial ruler, ninety years after independence – ever be truly “free”?

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Great Day to be Middling as the Referendum Scrapes Home

The Children’s Referendum has been passed by a majority of the minority who turned out to vote. Good luck to it, but it’s hard not be deeply cynical about what all this amounts to in real terms, if anything at all.

The sovereign people are being castigated – again – by the commentariat for a low-turn out in the referendum. But it’s not hard to understand the low turnout at all. Vincent Browne castigated the referendum as "mainly a stunt" in the Irish Times but, reluctantly, decided to go with a Yes vote. Did most people find the thing equally watery, and therefore decided to pass on it? It seems the most likely scenario.

The Government should be grateful – voting No in cases of doubt is a more civic-minded strategy than abstaining. Your correspondent went one step further than Browne and voted No, and is sorry more didn’t. The Irish political establishment badly needs a slap into reality, and this was a chance to deliver that slap.

An idea developed in Irish public life that Ireland must have a Children’s Referendum. Over twenty years, this gained the status of Received Wisdom. A parallel understanding of what that Children’s Referendum would specifically be about did not evolve with this Received Wisdom, so people filled in the blanks as suited their own agendas at a particular time. It was all very high on ideals and light on specifics.

This is problematic because Ireland’s is a protective, rather than an aspirational, constitution (a distinction you can read more about here). This means that a lot of blather about protecting children and children’s rights is never going to be more than blather. Proposals must be specific and able to withstand legal challenge. Vague generalities just don’t cut it.

At first, it looked like Children’s Minister Frances Fitzgerald had steered an expert path through extremely choppy seas. For years, the commentariat looked forward to the Children’s Referendum as another Ypres or Passchendale in the culture war as DeValera’s Ireland crumbles and Fintan O’Toole’s Ireland is being built. But when the wording was finally announced there was: silence. Absolute and deafening.

There was no credible opposition to the Children’s Referendum. None. The Catholic Church gave the wording its blessing and all the parties in the Dáil called and campaigned for a Yes vote. Fitzgerald had a potential political triumph on her hands. How could a landslide not be inevitable?

And yet it wasn’t. The more people looked at the referendum campaign the more they struggled to find what it was the thing actually did. The referendum would “protect children’s rights,” we were told. But protect how? Which children? Which rights? In what way would the abuses of the past forty years not have happened if this amendment were in the constitution originally? It was all maddeningly unspecific.

There was the “small step” argument, that the passing of this referendum would unlock a door that would lead to a torrent of legislation that would safeguard children in danger and build a brighter future for all. But everybody knows that the country has no money. The country can’t provide current services, without signing up for a raft of new ones.

The one specific in the referendum campaign had to do with adoption. If the referendum had been called the Adoption Referendum would it have attracted a bigger turnout and a stronger majority? Even though the No side, such as it was, concentrated their arguments on the notion of the family, the reality is that the family has undergone profound redefinition since the sovereign people passed the Irish constitution seventy-five years ago.

All a citizen need do is pass an unhappy hour at Abbey or Jervis Luas stops in heart of the nation’s capital city and he or she will need no further convincing that there are children in this state whose parents are no more capable of raising them than they are of raising the dead.

But no. A small victory on adoption was beneath the government’s aspiration. They wanted to promote full duck Children’s Rights Referendum and were then astonished when people saw past the red-haired little girls and weeping little boys to a whole heap of nothing.

So whether the referendum was passed or shot down really didn’t matter. Nothing will change. The whole thing was an exercise in the tokenism that Irish public life specializes in.

The reward for the political parties now is that Labour can return to their core voters and say look, we have delivered on a bedrock principle, while the rest of the parties sigh a sigh of relief that this damnable thing is finally done with and nobody will wreck their heads about it for a generation at least.

Next up on the reform agenda is the Constitutional Convention, where the pressing issue on which Ireland holds her breath is whether the Presidential term of office should be reduced to five years or remain at the current seven. One feels the foundations of the state tremble at the thought of change, real change, change we can believe in.

We are where we are. At the airport, leaping on planes to get the hell away from this madness.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Dath an Dobhróin Tuillte ag Foireann Rugbaí na hÉireann

Baineann blás speisialta le gach séasúr rugbaí a chríochnaíonn le camchuairt na Leon. Cé go bhfuil roinnt athraithe i gcúrsaí rugbaí ó thús an ré gairmiúla, maireann roinnt chomh maith, más fhéidir linn macalla a bhaint ó Tennyson.

Tá na Barbaraigh cailte go deo, faoi ghlás na stáire agus an dea-chuimhneamh, ach tá na Leoin linn fós, an céim is áirde i rugbaí idirnáisiúnta 'sna hOileáin Bhriotanacha. 'Sé dea-thaispeántas in aghaidh na Leon a thugann loinnir ar saothar imreoirí na Nua-Shéalainne agus na hAfraice Theasa, agus an rud ceannann céanna do na Leoin in aghaidh na tíortha móra rugbaí ar thaobh eile an domhain.

'Sé an geansaí dearg sin atá i smaoineamh Brian O'Driscoll anois, agus an deireadh ag teacht chuige go tapaidh anois. D'éirigh leis an Craobh Sé Náisiún a bhuaigh i 2009 nuair a bhí daoine cinnte go raibh a sheans cailte aige. Anois, tá sé ag súil go n-éireoidh leis ar a cheathrú chamchuairt Leon agus dea-chríoch a chur ar a shaothar rugbaí - más fhéidir leis áit a fháil ar an eitleán sa gcéad áit, ar ndóigh.

Tá ré órga na nGael thart anois. Níor bhuadar chomh minic nó chomh mór mar ba chóir dóibh, ach is faoiseamh gur bhuadar an Craobh sin i 2009 ag an deireadh. Bheadh aiféala orthu go lá deireadh an tsaoil murab éirigh leo riamh aon chraobh a bhuaigh agus na dea-imreoirí a bhí acu le deich bliain.

Tá Declan Kidney faoi bhrú anois mar cóitseálaí na foirne ach, mura bhfuil na h-imreoirí aige, cad eile ab fhéidir le cóitseálaí eile a dheánamh, cé gurb Mick O'Dwyer nó Jose Mourinho féin é? Baineann ceist mhór an seachtain seo, ceist Michael Bent, go mór le seo. Tá ceithre fhoireann ag an IRFU ag imirt ins an gCorn Heineken agus an Sráith Rabo-Direct, agus na h-imreoirí go léir fostaithe ag an IRFU. Cé mhead frapa Gaelacha atá ag imirt leis na ceithre fhoireann sin?

B'fhearr nach mbuafadh foireann na hÉireann cluiche arís riamh in ionad an geansaí a dhíol ar an margadh idirnáisiúnta, ach is dócha gurb soineanta an tuairim sin ins an ré gairmiúla seo. Ach ní fhéadair an lucht a chur ar an gcóitseálaí amháin nuair atá an rogha chomh bheag leis go bhfuil air Michael Bent a fháil ón Nua-Shéalainn.

Freisin, tá daoine ar an tuairim gur chóir rugbaí níos corraithí a imirt, mar a n-imríonn na cúigí le déanaí. Agus tá sé sin ceart go leor, ach deántar dearmad i gcónaí an tionchar atá ag imreoirí ghallda leis na cúigí. An mbuafadh na cúigí na Coirn a bhuadar seachas Brad Thorne, nó Trevor Halstead? Bhí imreoirí na ré órga Éireannaigh ann ar ndóigh, ach cad é an difríocht idir na buanna atá agus na "moral victories" a bhíodh?

Beidh na cúigí féin faoi bhrú má n-éiríonn leis an ERC an droch-íde a thugann an IRFU do Chonnachta a thabairt d'fhoirne na tíortha Ceilteacha. Nárbh bhlásta an íoróin é, más mar sin a thitfidh an scéal amach?

Agus oíche fada dorcha ag teacht chuig rugbaí na hÉireann, is rí gan ríocht é Brian O'Driscoll anois, agus a shéasúr deireanach roimhe. Ba bhrea le gach croí dá n-éireodh leis dul leis na Leoin, agus go mbeadh deireadh deas ag a saothar rugbaí, saothar níos fearr ná aon cheann a bhfeicfear in Éirinn leis na blianta fada.

Ní fhéidir le Declan Kidney smaoineamh ar a chaptaen, nó cad a tharlóidh thar lár sa tSamhradh. Taispeánann a mhéid feara ghortaithe an seachtain seo chomh beag atá an rogha leis agus, comh dona atá an scéal anois, tá an t-ádh le Kidney nach bhfuil an scéal níos measa arís.

Pé scéal é; beidh ré Kidney féin thart freisin tar éis an shéasúir seo, nó níos luaithe. Caithfear rud éigin a dhéanamh nó a bheith le feiceáil a dhéanamh, agus is é ceann Kidney atá is feiliúnaí don mbloc.

'Sé todhchaí na Gaeil os ár gcomhair amach anois ná go mbeidh siad níos giorra don spúnóg adhmaid ná don gCraobh. Tá saibhreas dóchreite ag Sasana agus ag an bhFrainc, agus tá an Bhreatain Bheag fillte ina cumhacht arís, chomh láidir is mar a bhí na draoithe bheaga riamh.

Agus ag bun na sraithe, na Gaeil, na hAlbanaigh agus na hIodalaigh, ag iarraidh an spúnóg a sheachaint agus lá mór a fheiceáil in aghaidh na Breataine Bige, Shasana nó na Fraince gach deich bliain nó mar sin. Ba ghlórmhar iad na laethanta órga ach beidh an sean-nós linn arís, agus le fada.

Ní de thimpiste go mbeidh foireann na hÉireann gleasta i ndubh in aghaidh Die Bokke Dé Sathairn. Is dath an dobhróin é, an caoineadh ar an ré atá thart agus an ré atá seo chugainn.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Sherlock Holmes Condemned to Learning, Growing and Hugging in Elementary

Mr Sherlock Holmes, the world’s first and only consulting detective, faces a peril far greater than any other he has faced in a long and distinguished career. Professor Moriarty, Irene Adler and even the giant rat of Sumatra itself are as Curly, Larry and Moe compared to the rack of fire on which the Columbia Broadcasting System and their nefarious allies in Great Britain, Sky Living, seem determined to roast the ne plus ultra of fictional detectives in their new series Elementary.

At first, the danger seemed slight. There is no real problem with modernizing Holmes – he is an archetype, a man for all seasons. The classic Basil Rathbone movies of the 1940s were moved to modern times, when Holmes moved from the Victorian peasoupers to the Churchillian beaches and landing grounds to face down the Nazi menace.

Bringing Holmes to 21st Century London is one of the many reasons why the current BBC Sherlock is the triumph that it is. The character remains constant though the times may change.

The move to New York and the sex change of honest Doctor Watson in Elementary are also permissible. The writers have to do something to make it different. The biggest danger, in the early stages, seemed to be the tin ear of writers who over-egged the English pudding.

Holmes refers to the tube, rather than the subway. He refers to the baseball team as the Metropolitans of New York, rather than the New York Mets. That’s because he’s English, you see.

However, once the game’s afoot, Holmes speaks fluent American. “I need you to send this to the lab,” says Holmes to a flatfoot. Only Americans consider the subjective “I need” as an imperative. How has Holmes picked this up but can’t call the subway the subway?

But sloppy writing is a flesh wound compared to the evisceration that the writers seem determined to inflict on the misfortunate, unsuspecting Holmes. Part of the backstory of Elementary is that Holmes is a recovering addict; Watson is a doctor hired to keep an around-the-clock eye on him. Fair enough.

What is not fair enough is the burgeoning plot development that Holmes will flower as a fully-rounded human being under Doctor Joan Watson’s loving ministrations. In the second episode, the sensitive viewer is appalled to discover that Holmes has taken something from his AA meetings, and is now a “better person” as a result.

Watson complements Holmes on the “progress” he’s making as a person, and this isn’t even the worst of it. As Watson retires to her boudoir, we see Holmes staring at his childhood violin that Watson found earlier. As Watson lies in bed, she hears the first plaintive scrapes and smiles at the thought of Sherlock Holmes getting back in touch with his soul and becoming a more rounded person. That we are spared stock imagery of flowers blossoming can only be the grace of a merciful God.

It’s not hard to plot the coming years. Love rears its ugly head and, by Season 5, Elementary has become the Brady Bunch as Holmes and Watson’s brood perform precocious feats of deduction to the delight of their parents and the agonized rictus horror of anyone with any taste whatsoever.

They could even have a Christmas special. The grandparents can meet for the first time since the wedding – Holmes's parents are played by Joanna Lumley and the guy who played Lord John Marbury in the West Wing, while Mr and Mrs Watson are George Takei and Barbara Bloody Streisand.

The eldest and most precocious of the children, Chet Holmes, deduces that Uncle Mycroft is running a covert op between the CIA and MI6, and hilarity ensues. Ricky Gervais will be cast against type as Mycroft – to keep things edgy, you know. Challenging assumptions.

Sherlock Holmes – learning, hugging and growing. What George Constanza expertly dodged for so long is to be the grim fate of the world’s first consulting detective. How he must long for the sweet release of the Reichenbach Falls.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

By the Numbers - the Hurling All-Stars

Three hundred and fifty of the six hundred and thirty All-Stars awarded over the forty-two years of the institution have gone to the Big Three counties. Kilkenny have 163, Cork 103 and Tipperary have 82. Galway’s six for this year sees them bring their total to 79 all-time, three short of Tipperary but well clear of the rest of the field.

Offaly and Limerick, joined forever in the memory by the incredible 1994 final, are joined on the All-Star roll of honour too. The Faithful and the Shannonsiders have 44 each. Clare have 42, Wexford 30, Waterford – the only county in double digits on the list who haven’t won an All-Ireland since the All-Stars began – have 29 and then list falls away to Antrim and Dublin with five each and Down and Westmeath with one each.

Down’s sole winner was Gerard McGrattan, who lined out at right half-forward on the 1992 team, the year he made his inter-county debut. Down won Ulster that year and gave a good account of themselves against Cork in semi-final. Westmeath’s sole All-Star was David Kilcoyne, who lined out at right corner-forward on the 1986 All-Star team. David was one of five Kilcoynes to wear the maroon and white in the 1980s.

Looking at the graph of All-Stars over the years for Kilkenny, Cork, Tipperary and Galway, we can see that All-Stars come in spurts. Kilkenny have led always but it’s only in the Cody era that they’ve really torn away from the chasing pack.

Part of the reason behind that the separation can be put down to Cork’s decline. Cork have won two All-Stars since their most recent strike. There may be something in that. There may not.

It’s interesting also to note that Tipperary were not forgotten during the famine that lasted from 1971 to 1987 – the kept winning the odd All-Star here and there. Bobby Ryan and Tommy Butler won one each during the famine, Francis Loughnane, Pat McLoughney and Tadhg O’Connor won two and Nicky English won three in a row before Richie Stakelum made his famous declaration of Premiership über alles in Killarney in the magical summer of 1987.

The All-Star era also saw the rise of Galway after they were released from Munster. They are now neck and neck with Tipperary in the All-Star Roll of Honour, twinned around each other like some sort of perpetual Keady Affair.

Comparing hurling with football, it’s interesting to note that spread of awards around the counties is much the same in hurling as in football – a ratio of 6:3:6 between the All-Ireland winners, the All-Ireland runners-up and the rest. This is despite the fact that that only thirteen counties have won hurling All-Stars, while 27 football counties have been so honoured. So, even though Kerry dominate the football All-Stars just as Kilkenny dominate the Kerry, it’s easier to win an odd award in football than in hurling.

Of the 630 football All-Stars, 236 have won just one All-Star. There are just 151 once-off hurling All-Star winners – all the others are multiple winners. In hurling, once you’re in, you’re in.

As regards the years themselves, the worst years for the winners were 1971 and 1979, when Tipperary and Kilkenny got only four each. 1983, 2000 and 2008 were the best years, when Kilkenny scooped nine each time. 2000 and 2008 were also the worst years for the runners-up, with only one gong to bring home after getting stomped in the final.

The best years for the runners-up were 1973 and this year, when the runners-up seven and six All-Stars outstripped the winners’ tally of five. Limerick got six All-Stars as runners-up in 1994 too, but it’s highly unlikely that made them feel any better. All Mayo wept in silent empathy and brotherhood with the Shannonsiders in 1994 and 1996, having known what it was to fall short ourselves. Still though; there’s always next year.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

By the Numbers - the Gaelic Football All-Stars

Donegal’s haul of eight All-Stars puts Donegal 2012 joint second on the list for the most dominating performance of All-Ireland football champions at the All-Stars. Of course, the All-Stars aren’t quite the most accurately calibrated metric in a country that is generally adverse to precision, but come on. The winter is almost here and we need to make the most of what’s left of the summer’s fun before the frost covers the green isle once more.

Besides; questionable though the process behind the All-Stars might be, they are very much part of what we are. Or at least, the poster is.

They don’t seem to make them any more, but once the All-Star poster was an essential feature of any self-respecting Irish bar, and it is a reasonable rule of thumb to posit that the older the poster, the sweeter the poster. There’s a fine selection the GAA museum, with those distinctive black borders and the mugshots of men’s men. Reader, treat yourself sometime.

Looking at the 630 awards over 42 years, we discover that the typical All-Star team breaks down at an average of six All-Ireland winners, three runners-up and six of the rest. The football of the year, which began 1995, is generally from the champions too – Peter Canavan in 1995, Steven McDonnell in 2003 and Bernard Brogan in 2010 are the exceptions.

The biggest haul of All-Stars for All-Ireland champions is nine, which happened twice. Those years were 1977 and 1981, the bookend years of Kerry’s four-in-a-row. This year’s Donegal join Tyrone in 2005 with their eight awards – 2005 saw only three counties, Tyrone, Kerry and Armagh, honoured at the All-Stars, the lowest number ever. So much for the back door shining a light on the little guy.

The lowest haul of All-Stars for the champions is four, which has happened four times. Offaly won four in 1971, the first year of the All-Stars, when a highest-ever ten counties were honoured. Dublin got only 4 All-Stars in 1983, when they boxed their way past Galway in a notoriously ill-tempered game.

Down, astonishingly, got only four All-Stars in 1991 while Meath, whom Down defeated in the final, got six. This is the only time the losers have got more All-Stars than the champions.

There have been three years when the All-Stars divided equally between the champions and the losing finalists – 1971, that great year when all men stood equal saw the champions, Offaly, and the runners-up, Galway, got four each. 1996 and 2010 saw five each to the winners and losers of those years.

The most honoured of the runners-up were Meath in 1991, which was also the year of their famous marathon encounter against Dublin in the Leinster Championship. Three Dubs from that remarkable series had to decide between beef or salmon in the Burlington that year – Keith Barr, Tommy “Tom” Carr and Mick “Michael” Deegan.

Mayo have four All-Stars this year, which is above the average for All-Ireland runners-up. There has never been a year when no runner-up was nominated but there have been two years when just one runner-up got an All-Star and nine years when they got just two. There is nothing like getting tonked on the fourth Sunday in September to make footballers look bad before the gentlemen of the press.

There have been seven years when the All-Stars who didn’t play in the All-Ireland made up more than half the All-Star team. The biggest assembly of these was in 1983, of course. Ten players from seven different counties were awarded that year. Down and Offaly got two each, even though neither won their provinces. Jack O’Shea, who was captain of Kerry in 1983, got one as well, almost certainly on the strength of his sheer Jacko-icity.

Nine All-Stars came from outside the final in 1997 and 2007. The 1997 Leinster Champions Offaly got only one All-Star, corner-back Cathal Daly, as did Ulster Champions Cavan, whose great midfielder Dermot Cabe was slotted in at wing-forward.

Each province knows what it is to be left without a representative on the All-Star team, but only Connacht has had that dubious honour more than once. Seven times, in fact – 1975, 1982, 1988, 2005 and three years in a row, between 2007 and 2009. Sligo’s Charlie Harrison broke the duck in 2010.

Just four counties have won over half of the 630 awards over 42 years – Kerry have 127, Dublin have 86, Cork have 64 and Meath have 49. Tyrone is the leading Ulster county on 40 while Galway heads the list for Connacht with 37. There are seven counties, including London and New York, who have yet to win any All-Stars at all, with Limerick and Longford perhaps the hardest done by out of those seven in recent years.