Monday, April 30, 2012

Cork Worthy Winners of the National Football League

Cork are half-way through their campaign to equal Mayo’s seventy-year-old record of six National Football League titles in a row. If yesterday’s third title in three years is anything to go by, they will do it.

It matters little to the victors of course, but yesterday’s game made for poor spectacle. It quickly became apparent that familiarity has bred contempt between Cork and Mayo and a lot of nasty, mean-spirited fouls littered play. Referee Maurice Deegan had a chance to cut it out when the centre-backs, Cork’s Graham Canty and Mayo’s Dónal Vaughan, treated themselves to a punch-up early in the second half. Sending both men off, for striking or attempting to strike, is the response demanded by the rules, and would have served as a warning against further bad behaviour. Not even a card.

Ger Loughnane, one of the greatest Gaels, used to tell his players that they couldn’t rely on the referee for protection. They had to protect themselves. This is a lesson better learned by Cork than by Mayo. James Horan’s Mayo is showing an admirable bit of snarl in games, but when Cork upped the physical ante Mayo had no answer and were well beaten, really, in the end.

And by what was clearly the better side. Joe Brolly and Pat Spillane believe that Cork won because they had the better forwards, and certainly the Cork forwards did better than Mayo, racking up some very tasty scores. Fintan Goold had a much better day against Mayo than he did during the All-Ireland quarter-final, and Daniel Goulding’s final point was a treat to see.

However, An Spailpín would contend that the soul of the current Cork team is in their half-back line of Noel O’Leary, Graham Canty (formerly John Miskella) and Paudie Kissane. They give Cork a presence and a personality. To beat Cork, you must conquer that line. You must endure more than they endure and inflict more than they inflict.

Mayo were able to do it in the summer, but not yesterday in Croke Park. Cork didn’t see Mayo coming last summer, and they were riven by injury. None of those factors applied yesterday.

A school of thought holds that, because yesterday was for a “national title” and the quarter-final was for nothing, Cork have avenged that summer defeat with interest. Probably not, is An Spailpín’s view but that’s up to the Corkonians themselves to decide and more power to them.

From a Mayo point of view, it’s disappointing to lose another final in Croke Park. Of course it is. But it’s been a great League campaign, not least as the team looked like being on their way to Division II around Easter. But even in the ahses of ultimate defeat. there’s much to be happy with about the campaign.

The defense is settled and solid. The Mayo half-back line doesn’t match Cork’s for presence, but it’s by golly getting there. The first-choice defence is now nailed down.

Aidan O’Shea will anchor the Mayo midfield for the next ten years, but who to pair him with this summer remains a vexed question. Barry Moran has never quite captured his club form, and the returned Pat Harte is looking more and more like a contender.

Up front, the half-backs pick themselves at this stage, but the inside line remains a trickier matter. Mayo haven’t had a nailed-on full-forward since John Casey – Alan Freeman looked to the manner born for two years, but his star seems on the descent now, which is a pity.

Freeman was unlucky last year because, while Andy Moran could play at 11 or 14, Freeman didn’t swap in and out as easily. Cillian O’Connor will start for Mayo in every game, but wearing what shirt is the question. Plenty of food for thought for James Horan and the faithful until Mayo face either London or Leitrim in eight weeks’ time.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Step Away from the Soap - It's the Only Way to Afford a Water Meter

People don’t understand the Government, you know. Poor Michael Noonan makes a perfectly innocent remark about how water meters are good for us and the next thing you know he’s hauled over the coals in the Daily Mail like he’s a Jedward who’s been caught night-clubbing with some scrubber from TOWIE.

Poor Michael Noonan is, fundamentally, the misunderstood parent. His stern demeanour is only for our good. When the Government takes us down to the woodshed and whales us within an inch our lives, for not paying the household charge, say, we cannot see that it’s only for our good.

And it’s not just because of the tears in our eyes either – we just can’t seem to understand simple economics, or that every blow rained down by the Government hurts them much, much more than it hurts us. Sure we’ve broken bones, but haven’t they splinters from breaking the hurl? And splinters are really sore.

As it happens, An Spailpín fully endorses the Government’s plan to introduce water meters. It’s only fair that we have to pay for what we use. What should your correspondent subsidises some letter-writer to the Irish Times in squandering water by pouring it on his begonias or washing his Mercedes? Pay for what you use; it’s the Austerity Way.

This way, each citizen can pay his or her own part in #positiveireland’s path to recovery. We can all do our bit. We can stop washing for a start – sure what are baths anyway, only the decadent luxury of some foreign Jezebel, like herself up in the picture? Sure aren’t we fine as we are?

A college friend of the blog read a lot of Chompsky back in the day. He figured out that washing – prevalent in the Western World – was simply dull-witted submission to a power structure implemented and controlled by multinational corporations such as Unilever and the like. We only showered ever day because we saw it on television, and what were those television shows only imperialist American propaganda? When you think about it, you quickly realise that the American climate is much warmer than the Irish. Therefore, Yanks sweat more, and have to shower more often. In Ireland we sweat less. Any Irish person will be grand with a splash every second week or so. Less in winter.

This is the sort of positive thinking that will set Ireland back on her feet. Sure, it’ll be stuffy on the buses for a while and soap will replace skag as the contraband of choice on the streets of the capital but the nation has to realise that we’re living beyond our means. Ireland, Inc, has bills to pay.

You’ve probably heard about the banks already but there are lot of other bills and they all add up. Consider the Government Advisors. Their pay was originally capped at €92k but now it’s up to €120k, or thereabouts. Remember when the Cabinet went up to Áras an Uachtaráin to collect their seals of office in a minibus instead of the fleet of Mercs preferred by their profligate predecessors? See, it was an Advisor that thought that up.

Your ordinary hammerhead civil servant would never think of a good one like that, even if he took off his shoes and socks, the better for counting. Sure a man that can think of that is well worth a pay rise that’s greater than the average industrial wage. You have to pay what people are worth.

And what’s the average industrial wage anyway? Sure isn’t thirty grand only a pittance? The Thomas J O’Connell Branch put a motion before the Labour Party Conference last weekend suggesting that “no public service pension should exceed the average industrial wage.” And you know, they meant well. But there’s no great tradition of radical revolutionary socialism in Mayo, where the Thomas J O’Connell branch is located, and the craythurs didn’t understand the sheer human suffering that the proper, Sandymount, Labour Party must fight every day. So there’s a commitment to a cap of sixty grand in the Program of Government, and maybe that’ll happen once they pass this fiscal referendum and euthanize the Seanad. Maybe.

In the meantime, the little people must do their bit to ensure that the country can get back to being “the best little country in the world to do business.” So put down that bar of soap, and forget about that bath ‘til Mayday. Sure in this current cold weather we’re hardly sweating at all.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Mayo Learn a Valuable Lesson Against Kerry

Mayo learned a valuable lesson when they beat Kerry in the National Football League semi-final yesterday, a lesson that’s important not just to the team, but to the entire culture of Mayo football itself. The lesson is this: you don’t have to be especially good to win. You only have to be good enough.

There’s a thing in Mayo, sometimes spoken but generally under the surface, that it’s not enough to win. You have to win in the Mayo style. You have to look good. It is the equivalent of being starving and then turning up your nose at bread because there’s no jam on it.

And that mentality – that you’re either perfect or your nothing – has cursed football analysis in Mayo since John O’Mahony’s breakthrough team in 1989. This is the most successful era of Mayo football since the 1950s, but the failure to bring home an All-Ireland has, unfairly and illogically, damned all the other great things that have happened.

In Mayo, it’s not a case of the glass being half-full or half-empty. It’s a case of the glass being either full of the creamiest, sweetest porter imaginable, or dry as a bone, containing nothing but a final notice bill for the Household Charge.

Yesterday’s win over Kerry was the diametric opposite of this peculiar psychosis. Mayo’s win over Kerry had nothing to do with style. It had to do with an ability to dog out a result, and to gratefully accept lucky breaks when they broke.

There were some outstanding performances from Mayo yesterday. Colm Boyle, obviously. The much-maligned Ger Cafferkey. Higgins, of course. The Mort. And the ramshackle midfield, which was missing Mayo’s best player of the new generation. Previous Mayo teams would have thrown their hats at it when Aiden O’Shea wasn’t there – if you’re not going be magnificent, what’s the point in trying? Let’s just roll over.

But this is different. When the midfield began to burn diesel, Mayo kept on going, ignoring the black smoke belching between the 45 metre lines. The penny had dropped; Mayo knew that, even though they were struggling, they were always in the game. That Kerry would make mistakes, as we all make mistakes, and those mistakes would give Mayo a chance. And that’s exactly what happened.

Two hundred years ago, when Napoleon Bonaparte and Arthur Wellesley, the First Duke of Wellington, fought across Europe, Wellington noted that they two men were fundamentally as strategists. Napoleon was a magnificent battlefield commander – Wellington compared his campaigns to a “splendid set of harness,” while his own were more like ropes. However, once one part of Napoleon’s harness broke, everything else fell with it. All Wellington had to do was tie a knot in his rope and carry on. Less pretty, but considerably more practical in the long run.

James Horan and his management team spent a lot of time trying knots from when Aiden O’Shea got injured during the week, and then they had to do further mending on the hoof as the game progressed. This is the great lesson of yesterday, even though it’s so early in the year. Mayo realised that it’s all right not to be perfect. That you can be less than perfect, and still win.

Mayo got off to a good start for the second week in a row, only to find themselves in the same old hole after fifty minutes, with Kerry moving up through the gears and edging away. Mayo fought hard to come back and force the extra time, only again to see Kerry easing in front like the thoroughbreds they still are. And still Mayo spat on their hands, and got back to work. They knotted the rope and carried on.

Even if Bryan Sheehan’s 45 had gone over in the final minute – and it was high folly on Kerry’s part to go hunting for a goal at the end instead of taking the point and the replay – today would still have been a good day for Mayo. The team and the Mayo public learned the valuable lesson that games are always winnable.

You don’t need to play like gods to win football games. The bar isn’t that high. You only have to be a little better than the other fellas. Roll on Cork.

Friday, April 06, 2012

So. Farewell Then, Barney McKenna

There's a case to be made that Barney McKenna was the champion drinker of the Dubliners. Drink killed Ciarán Bourke, it made Ronnie Drew leave the group for five years, and it killed Luke Kelly.

But McKenna outlived them all and, although his death was sudden, he was spared his comrades’ mortal suffering. Yesterday, the day before Good Friday, he nodded off to sleep in his own chair in his own kitchen, and never woke up again. Would that we all are afforded such a luxury.

Kieran Hanrahan said yesterday that it was McKenna’s virtuosity that made the banjo popular as a traditional instrument in Irish music. It was not considered a “proper” instrument before that.

The banjo’s great virtue is also its great vice – it’s loud. You can hear a banjo at the back of the pub, above the roaring and the gulping. But when you’re that loud, it’s hard to be particularly tender. Steve Martin, no bad man on the banjo himself, once remarked that you can never play a sad song on the banjo, because it always comes out happy.

He never heard Barney McKenna play Ar Éirinn Ní Neosainn Cé hÍ.

I saw the Dubliners, once. It was in the Gaiety, ten years ago, when all the surviving members assembled to do their thing. They were old men then, and there was a strong sense of nostalgia in the hall, but there was also the odd crackle, the odd taste of what it might have been like to hear them in their roaring boy prime. That would have been something.

The band always liked to make a fuss over Barney McKenna, and his virtuosity. McKenna addressed this that night in the Gaiety – before playing his solos he said that he knew he had a reputation or drink and nights out, but he wanted to make clear, to anyone listening in the audience, that he didn’t become a virtuoso in the pub. He learned to play at home, by practicing, practicing, practicing. He would view a title like “champion drinker of the Dubliners” with a jaundiced eye.

Barney McKenna was a hero of Irish music, and his loss grieves our battered nation. He was first and last a Dubliner of course, in every sense of the word, but we should also remember his short but stunning TV series with Tony MacMahon, The Green Linnet. The two men toured Europe in a small green Citreon Fourgonette van in the summer of 1979, echoing the footsteps of the wild geese of the 18th Century. It wasn’t an easy trip, and neither man spoke to the other for twenty-five years after it.

Happily, the made up in 2006, each man being big enough to admit his own fault. Life is short and brittle. Only the art survives.

Here are Mac Mahon and McKenna playing My Love is in America, somewhere in Germany, on The Green Linnet TV series in that warm European summer of 1979. Go dtuga Dia suaimhneas síoraí ar anam usual Barney McKenna, ceoltóir, ealaíontóir, Bleá Cliach. Rinne sé a chuid ar son na hÉireann.