Monday, December 28, 2015

The Year in Sports

Dublin’s All-Ireland title, their third in five years, makes a strong case for Dublin’s status as Gaelic football’s team of the decade. Not least as there could still be more titles to come.

This is not to say that they are invincible. And if anyone wants to quibble with Dublin’s achievement he or she could point out to the poor quality of opposition Dublin have met in finals – Mayo in 2013, and Kerry’s extraordinary collapse. There is also the continuing embarrassment of Leinster football, an embarrassment that looks set to continue with a bizarre venue having been chosen for Dublin’s first Championship away game since Biddy Mulligan was a slip of a girl.

But these are pointless cavils. Dublin are the best team in the country because they have the best players. And those best players don’t look like they’re going anywhere just yet.

Who can challenge them? The stark division between haves and have-nots continues, as mortal counties are crushed between the twin rocks of the back-door system and that most exclusive club that is Division 1 of the National Football League.

Kieran Shannon of the Examiner has made the point this year that addressing the League structure would be far more helpful than codding ourselves that the Championship will – or can – be changed. The Croke Park grandees have paid this not one blind bit of heed, and seem determined to bring back the unloved B Championship. Sigh.

Of the potential challengers, Tyrone may have overtaken Donegal in the pecking order, but otherwise it’s as-you-were for the Big Four. The people of Mayo will wonder if Stephen Rochford is the long-awaited Messiah but the reality is that the team is now manager-independent, really. Unpleasant though it was, the putsch of the previous management team shows that this Mayo panel is now complete in every way.

Everything you read in the papers about Mayo being short a forward or being too loose at the back or not knowing what to with Aidan O’Shea is just paper-talk. Only some truly poxy luck has kept Mayo from winning an All-Ireland since the revival of the 1990s, and luck has to change sometime.

Christy O’Connor had a typically excellent piece in the Indo a few days about the Kilkenny Hurling Imperium, and how it continues even though the playing standard is not what it was. The kings will be kings until someone rises to challenge them, but who that someone might be is anybody’s case.

Your correspondent is a great fan of the Banner County but, although far from a hurling expert, I will eat every single hat I own if Clare win the All-Ireland. Although hailed in the media as a triumph, the inclusion of Dónal Óg Cusack in the Clare back-room team is a sure-fire recipe for disaster. Neither Dónal Óg nor Davy Fitz are noted for their ability to get along with regular people. How in God’s Holy Name they are meant to get on with each other is a Sixth Glorious Mystery. It’ll all end in tears before the hay is saved.

Speaking of tears, it is a generally odious thing to say I told you so, but this is the still the Season of Goodwill so I will chance my arm. This is from last year’s sports review piece in this space:

Reader, Ireland have never won a World Cup playoff game in the seven times the competition has been held, including two years, 1999 and 2007, when Ireland couldn’t even get out of their group. The Irish rugby public should think about crawling before thinking about walking.

And lo, it did come to pass. It was speculated here before the event that the Rugby World Cup would be a crashing bore, something that did not go down well with the public at the time. It wasn’t a crashing bore, but anyone who’s paying attention and is brave enough to be honest with him or herself can see that the game is changing massively, both in the way it’s played and the way it’s organised. The question, then, is whether the change is evolution or devolution.

Rugby has generally been the best of all sports in adjusting its rules to remain true to the spirit of the game as teams seek every edge, but it’s behind the times now. There are too many games decided by penalties at the breakdown which, when it comes to great sporting spectacles, make for rather Hobbesian viewing.

A sign of that evolution – or devolution – was in an offhand comment from Brian O’Driscoll while holding a mic for BT Sports during the recent Ulster v Toulouse game at Kingspan Ravenhill. O’Driscoll has a keen eye and praised Vincent Clerc for taking up a particular defensive position at one stage in the game, and that’s great. But nobody every paid in to watch Simon Geoghegan defend, or David Campese or, God save us, Doctor Sir AJF O’Reilly. If rugby isn’t about running with ball in hand it’s about nothing. Dangerous times for the ancient and glorious game.

Rugby has ruled the roost as the Nation’s Choice for the past number of years because people like winning. Martin O’Neill’s achievement in getting Ireland to the European Qualifiers may challenge rugby’s dominance. It was funny to note all the soccer journalists second-guess O’Neill all they way until the team actually qualified, by which time the u-turn was made in a cacophony of screeching brakes and stench of burning rubber.

As it was with the players, not least the much reviled Glen Whelan. It is worth closing, then, by noting that not everyone was derelict in his or her duty by Whelan when nobody was singing because nobody was winning. The great Keith Duggan wrote a marvellous piece in the Irish Times about Whelan, his role for Ireland and the nature of the professional soccer player back last June. Treat yourself friends, and check it out.

Monday, December 14, 2015

What the Climate Summit Was Really About

The demise of journalistic standards is one of the unexpected consequences of this connected age, a point made very well by both Laura Slattery of the Irish Times and Anne Applebaum of the Washington Post only last week. But not even the perfidious internet can be blamed for the weak reporting of the Conference on Climate Change that ended on Saturday.

The major news media of the world hailed the thing as a complete success. What is not being reported are the serious scientists who say the thing was a fake.

Front and centre of these is Professor James Hansen of Colombia University, who has spoken about the danger of climate change since 1988. The Guardian interviewed him about the Paris conference, and he’s not impressed. “It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises. As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will be continued to be burned.”

So why have we been hearing about it all week? Just what exactly is going on?

A Climate Change Primer
The industrial revolution saw man’s relationship to the environment change. The new industries and industrial processes altered the balance of nature, to the extent that the planet could no longer adapt to or dispose of the waste produced by man. Two hundred years later, that waste has damaged the ozone layer that surrounds the atmosphere of the earth. The ozone layer protects the planet from deadly radiation that exists in space. The more it’s damaged, the more of that deadly radiation gets through. And that would be bad.

But ... Why Don’t We Just Stop What We’re Doing and Do Something Else?
This is where the bad reporting comes in. Civilisation isn’t just about science. It’s also about politics and economics. It’s chic for certain writers in the west to write about these things in terms of evil corporations sucking the life-blood of Mother Earth because that fits in with a popular culture narrative. But the truth is, as ever, more complex.

What’s Really Going On
The Global Carbon Report has some excellent infographics on the current state of play as regards carbon-based pollution, the big beast of all pollutants. Take a look at this chart, taken from one of their infographics:

The west is rich because the industrial revolution was a western phenomenon. Now, the rest of the world, especially China and India, want to be rich too. You get rich by increasing industrial production, and the cheapest way to fuel that industrialization is by using coal, oil and gas.
The world isn’t run by scientists. The world is run by politicians and economists. The Climate Change Summit wasn’t about science. Science was coincidental to the real discussion, which is about who gets to run the world.

The infographic shows quite clearly that the major polluters of the present day are the major Asian economies. The West wants those Asian economies to stop using coal, oil and gas to fuel industry, because we’ve already used too much of those.

And who exactly is this we, asks the East, folding its arms and tapping its foot. You used it, not us. Now it’s our turn and if you don’t like it, well boo sucks to you.

All the climate summits, from Kyoto on down, have been about this standoff between the West, whose wealth was powered by fossil fuels, and the East, who want to catch up and are not impressed when they get to the head to the queue to see the Yanks pull down the shutters and say, sorry, the beer’s all gone – would you like a 7-Up instead?

This side of things isn’t reported by western media, for all manner of reasons. The decline of media standards, the general dumbing down of the population, the knee-jerk tendency of current media to check their privilege, and all the rest of it. But as regards the writing of history, these summits are about the West and the rest of the world butting heads to see who gets to run the world.

But … What About the Planet?
The planet will be fine. Right now, there’s too much money tied up in fossil fuels (and this isn’t Mr Monopoly rolling in a bath of fivers here – think of all the pension funds of ordinary people that have shares in Exxon Mobil and Texaco and the rest) to invest properly in alternative fuel research. But that doesn’t mean research isn’t going on.

That doesn’t mean that there isn’t some scientist in a lab somewhere working on how to make nuclear fusion work, which would eliminate fossil fuel reliance at a stroke. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t groups of scientists working on better batteries, because the hardest thing about electricity is effective storage. This work is going on all the time. Science has got the memo about fossil fuels, and is on the case. Rest easy, world, and try to take what you read in the papers with a pinch of salt.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Dublin Bonfires

I saw the most extraordinary procession earlier today. It seemed like a ragbag army of the wretched, not a million miles away from the sort of scenes we’re seeing in Eastern Europe with the migrant issue. The dispossessed and forgotten, dragging their meager possessions behind them, marching towards what they hope will be a new life.

A closer inspection reveals that, rather than migrants or medieval pillagers, these are the children of the city, getting set for their single favourite thing of the year, the Hallowe’en bonfire.

The skirmish parties consist of two or three boys in groups. One of each group is dragging a wooden palette on the road behind him. Bear in mind that the roads are essentially closed to traffic while these troops march by – the rules of the road do not apply to them.

Behind the skirmish parties, as it inevitably must, comes the heavy artillery. In this case, it’s some sort of trolley piled high with palettes, while the striplings dance attendance around it. This is the centerpiece of the action, the motherlode of the Ceremony of Fire that is to come.

And bringing up the rear, then, were bicycled outriders, for once too pre-occupied to do wheelies, each signaling to the others where the army had marched on ahead.

The entire army is almost entirely made up of schoolboys, none of whom is old enough to shave. There was one girl, a George among the Julians and Dicks. Perhaps more of the fairer sex will come out after dark, once the ceremony has begun.

The boys are nearly all dressed in tracksuits, certainly the ubiquitous grey (off-white?) tracksuit bottoms, but some are wearing labourers’s gloves. More are wearing yellow or orange high-viz vests.

The high-viz vests are initially a mystery until you remember that these are only children. They’re wearing high-viz vests because they’re playing at being grown-ups. Grown-ups wear high-viz vests, therefore the children shall wear high-viz vests, and wear labouring gloves to show that they’re hard.

It’s all very winsome, until you remember that tonight they will build a bonfire that’s three or four times bigger than themselves, light it and then lose all control of what happens next.

The thing could topple over and burn them. The wind could rise, blow a piece of the bonfire where it’s not supposed to be and set part of the city ablaze. They have no idea of the consequences and, being children, can’t have an idea. How could they? They’re too young to understand. Childhood is about Now. Consequences live in a land beyond the edge of that innocent world.

The children’s parents, however, should be a little more aware of consequences. They should reflect deeply about how they’re raising their kids, just as society should think deeply about the annual toleration extended to Hallowe’en bonfires. It’ll be too late when something – or someone – is burned to the ground.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Reform the League, not the Championship

Whisht, a minute now, would ye whisht!
Conversations about remaking the Championship are as boring as ones about the gap between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres in rugby, and about equally pointless. This hasn’t put an end to them, of course. John Fogarty reported in yesterday's Examiner that there are eighteen – 18! – proposals to remake the Championship on their way to Central Council this very winter.

Here are some facts on which all concerned should reflect. The Championship will always be unequal for as long as only Mayomen can play for Mayo, Galwaymen for Galway, and so on. If that rule ever changes, whatever comes after will not be the Championship, or the GAA, any more. It will be something else, and the one cogent and successful expression of nationalism and patriotism since the 1916 Rising will be lost with all the others.

The inequality of the Championship used to be compensated by the fact it was a knockout competition. A lesser county may have no hope of an All-Ireland but it could certainly deny an All-Ireland to its bigshot neighbour. There was a certain joy in that – the Germans do not have a freehold on schadenfreude, after all. There’s nothing about schadenfreude you can’t tell a nation of begrudgers.

Beating your neighbour will always count for more than beating someone drawn out of a hat, whose county-people you don’t know, with whom you didn’t go to school or college, don’t meet at work, and all the rest of it. There can only be one winner every year, but the Championship was comprised of so many smaller Championships, between Laois and Offaly, between Galway and Mayo, between Derry and Tyrone.

That small compensation of softening a few bigshots’ coughs is denied the lesser counties by the back-door system. The story that the back door was there to favour small counties was only ever a lie. Laws, as a friend of the blog likes to remark, were never made for the poor.

However. The problem of inequality among counties was addressed in what your correspondent can only describe as a flash of genius from Kieran Shannon in an Examiner column of a few weeks ago. Shannon's simple proposal should be the Number One item on the bill for central council deliberations instead of the Champions-League knit-one, purl-two around the house and mind the dresser alternatives being proposed.

There are many reasons for the gap between haves and have-nots, most of them down to tradition, but the problem has become worse in recent years. It’s become worse because best teams play each other every spring in the National League, each honing their skills against the others. Other counties don’t get a look in at that highest level of football and then, when they do run into it in the Championship, they get destroyed without ever knowing what hit them.

James Horan, who has proved excellent in his second life as a pundit, remarked on Newstalk during the summer about how much he and Mayo learned from every single Division 1 game that they played. It is unfair that Mayo and others should have access to so much tutoring and other counties should not. Which is where Kieran Shannon’s plan comes in.

Shannon’s simple suggestion is that the League return to the 1A and 1B format. The current Division 1 and 2 can populate Divisions 1A and 1B, with the teams that finished first, third, fifth and seventh in Divisions 1 and 2 going into 1A and those who finished second, fourth, sixth and eighth going to 1B, and the same procedure used for filling 2A and 2B from Divisions 3 and 4.

The point here is that while the Championship structure is set in stone, the League is always open to reconstitution. So, instead of trying to change what you can’t, people concerned with inequality in the Championship should concern themselves with what they can change – the League.

There would be some kinks to iron out over who was promoted or relegated, and about maintaining the balance between the A and B sections of the divisions, but these are small details. The former Division 1 teams now only get half the benefit they used to get from their League games, while the Division 2 teams get to test themselves against the big guns and learn a thing or two before it’s time to load the live ammunition in summer.

People have entrenched views on the Championship while the League, once a competition of prestige, is now a red-haired stepchild to be kicked around the place. A simple change would benefit everybody, and there would be no thumps or spilled pints during the debate. Please note, Central Council.

Monday, October 12, 2015

32 Things - Insider Gossip v Public Service Journalism

RTÉ are currently running an online series called 32 Things Paddy Wants to Know about the upcoming general election. This series is a precise illustration of the failure of Irish political journalism to inform the electorate about how the country is run.

The first of the 32 things Paddy wants to know is who’ll get elected in Cork South Central. This isn’t politics. This is gossip. Personalities are trivial. Policies are important.

The second of the 32 things is who’ll get elected in Tipperary. Again, gossip.

The third and fourth of the 32 things are how Labour and Renua will get on. This is a who’ll bigger, the Beatles or the Stones?-type story. Gossip.

The fifth of the 32 things is how women candidates will get on. It's an ideological topic, but there's no real substance there. The quotas have given the argument a false perspective, so you end up with a cat-fight report from Dún Laoghaire Fianna Fáil. Gossip.

Sixth and seventh are how Fine Gael and Sinn Féin will get on. See third and fourth.

The eighth is who’ll get the chop when Mayo reduces from five seats to four. Gossip, gossip, gossip.

That’s not public service journalism. That’s water-cooler conversation in the Dublin 2 Beltway. Fascinating for Insiders, not worth two balls of roasted snow to Joe or Jane Citizen. Here’s what Paddy and Patricia really want to know.

  1. At the time of the crash, we were told that Ireland was sold into bondage for the next thirty years. Now the economy is growing at six per cent per annum. So – what happened to the projected 30 years of living off hot gravel? Has an economic miracle occurred? Or has nobody really known what was going on since August 2008 they’ve spent the past seven years bluffing for their lives and thanking God and Frau Merkel?
  2. Six per cent growth per annum. Two per cent is ideal, isn’t it? Two point something, maybe? If the economy is growing at six per cent, doesn’t that mean it’s overheating? If it’s overheating, shouldn’t the government be trying to cool it down, rather than heat it up some more?
  3. Or has the government embraced Charlie McCreevy’s belief that if you have it you should spend it?
  4. Doesn’t that run against the advice of JM Keynes, who had the idea of a salting away the silver for a rainy day as a bedrock of his macro-economic policy? Weren’t we hearing about Keynes all during the crash?
  5. Or when they hear “Keynes,” are Roy and Robbie the only men that come to the government’s mind?
  6. I see those lads who terrorized that family in Tipperary had seventy previous convictions between them. How many previous convictions do you need until the Guards start to think you might be worth keeping an eye on?
  7. If you run up twelve points on your driver’s license you’re taken off the road. How can you have multiple previous convictions and still be running around?
  8. A guy with eleven previous convictions, for public order, robbery and assault, got a suspended sentence for beating the head off a girl on a bus recently. He was also recommended to do a course in anger management issues. Any idea where a citizen could do an anger management course after reading that court report?
  9. Speaking of our learned friends, does anyone remember that cutting legal fees was something the Troika stressed over and over again during the time here? How’s that coming along?
  10. Any plans to set up an Irish-Water-esque quango to get that show in the road?
  11. Yeah. Poor example, I know, I know.
  12. Remember when Enda promised a quango cull?
  13. Or the report card for Ministers?
  14. Whose report card are you looking forward to the most?
  15. Alan “AK-47” Kelly?
  16. Phil “Big Phil” Hogan?
  17. Doctor James “Bottler” Reilly?
  18. Heather “A Rebel I came, I’m still the same” Humphries?
  19. Jan O’Sullivan, who’s so helpless she doesn’t even have a nickname?
  20. Alan Shatter, who had the poor Attorney General plagued ringing her at all hours of the day and the night about the nicer points of torts, malfeasances and likewise legalease?
  21. He might even have asked her about fees now and again, of course. Just to break the tension and have a laugh, like.
  22. Speaking of reports, how long it’s been since Moriarty Tribunal Report came out?
  23. Four years? Four-and-a-half?
  24. And that’s resulted in – what, exactly?
  25. And Labour are all fine with that, I suppose? Them oul’ ethics aren’t bothering them? Martyrs for the ethics, Labour. Labour used to be worse bothered with the ethics than great-aunt Maggie with the lumbago. The ethics must have cleared up after Labour got into government. Poor Maggie is still crippled, of course. 
  26. And how are things looking in the North? Not too great?
  27. After all these years, wouldn’t it be something if Ireland were to be finally united by politicians on both sides realising that there are enough cookies in the cookie-jar for all the boys, Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter?
  28. And are we all sure there’ll be enough room in Longford for all those Syrians along with everyone else?
  29. No Minister, I couldn’t name three streets in Longford either. Although I suppose Pearse and O’Connell are always good guesses.
  30. Did you see where the Phoenix reckoned the next Presidential election will be between Michael D, Miriam O’Callaghan and Enda? The Lord save us.
  31. Come here, Do you still have that brother beyond in Cricklewood Broadway?
  32. Do you think he could put me up for a week or two until I find a job and a place to stay? I’ve had my fill of this nightmare country.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Mayo's Civil War

Civil wars can never be won. They can only be ended. The sooner they are ended, the less damage they do. All sides in the current Mayo GAA dispute should come to terms with this fact as quickly as they can.

The very fact a civil war has broken out is appalling; for positions to become entrenched and a long campaign to break out would catapult the county out of the lofty company it’s become so accustomed to keeping, and back to the days of being on the business end of a twenty-point whipping from Cork or a one-point massacre at the hands of Leitrim.

All minds must now concentrate on finding a solution. It is a bizarre thing to say, but the rights and wrongs of the thing don’t really matter now. The dispute must be ended as quickly as possible. And the quickest end to the dispute would be for the current management to resign and for James Horan to return for one more swing on the merry-go-round.

If Mayo win their fourth All-Ireland title in 2016, well and good. But while Horan and the team are trying to do that, the County Board should be spending its time properly planning the succession. If Mayo don’t win the All-Ireland, the team as we’ve known it over the past five years is shattered, and someone totally new is going to have start from Square One again.

But at least the County Board will have a year to make their plans for that contingency. What they can’t do, under any circumstances, is let the current situation fester, unresolved.

There is a meeting tonight. Some speculate it’ll be like the Donnybrook Fairs of the 18th Century, and that’s possible. God knows there’s enough resentment being built up, and no small amount of tub-thumbing instead of reasoned calm. But if ever there were a day to leave egos outside the room it’s today.

Mayo have been so close to Sam in recent years they can nearly smell the silver polish. Everybody knows that. Football people in Mayo all know the pall that hangs over the county of being the eternal bridesmaids on the third Sunday. Once that hoodoo is broken, football is liberated in Mayo and a tradition can be built to rival any county’s.

But what people are allowing themselves to forget is that a team is as delicate a creature as a thoroughbred racehorse, and just as easily spooked. John O’Mahony liked to quip that the opportunity of a lifetime only lasts as long as the lifetime of the opportunity. Cillian O’Connor and Aidan O’Shea are young men, but they have a lot of miles on the clock. Kevin McLoughlin has played in fifty of Mayo’s last fifty-one games, between League and Championship. That’s a rate of attrition that can’t last.

Nobody knows this more than the players. And so they seem to have decided that if die they must, they will die with their boots on. It’s not the done thing to wash dirty linen in public, but in a county whose bottle and appetite for battle has often being questioned down the year, the current team are standing up to be counted, and they have to be respected for that.

I wish the delegates well tonight. I know that theirs is no easy task, and I do not envy them it. And while tempers run high, the delegates should remember this: if Saipan happened tomorrow, Mick McCarthy and Roy Keane would be able to settle their differences inside half an hour. Thirteen years on, each understands the other’s position in a way that they didn’t during that time. The pity of it is that it’s thirteen years too late.

Roy Keane and Mick McCarthy have the rest of their lives to think of what might have been. I don’t wish that on the current Mayo senior panel, the current management, past management or anyone involved in the dispute.

Civil wars can’t be won. They can only be ended, and they have to be ended as quickly as possible. Mayo, God help us.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Rugby World Cup Will Be a Crashing Bore

The Rugby World Cup is the Mona Lisa of rugby union. We all pretend to love it but deep down, we all know it’s not really worth the queue.

Former Wales, New Zealand and British Lions coach Graham Henry wrote a watery preview in the Observer on Sunday in which he posited that a team with ambitions to win the Rugby World Cup must have a world-class fly-half. Graham Henry’s own World Cup was won with a fourth-choice choice fly-half, a man so out of the reckoning that at the start of the tournament Stephen Donald was half-a-world away, fishing.

Dan Carter has been acclaimed as the best fly-half in world rugby for over a decade. And his godlike boots were filled by Mr Nobody? Maybe you could win a soccer world cup with some midfield dynamo from Sligo Rovers filling in for Leo Messi, but it’s very hard to imagine it.

The 2011 Final was a poor game, and a fitting conclusion for a poor tournament throughout. France should have beaten New Zealand in the final. The French themselves should have lost to 14-man Wales in the semi-final, and the Welsh should have carved up by Ireland, who had won their group for the first time in World Cup history.

That World Cup will live in infamy as the tournament that saw the debut of the choke tackle. Historically, tackling in rugby was about hitting someone hard and knocking him down. Les Kiss, defensive coach for Ireland, realised that a law change to help adjust to the professional era meant that, instead of having to knock players over, it is now much more to your advantage to hold them up instead.

The law of Unintended Consequences took over. Running into space is now a schoolboy error in modern rugby. When you have the ball you find the biggest clump of opposition players you can find and head right for them, knowing that your own team are right behind you to support you in the inevitable wrestling match that follows. And then you do that for eighty minutes and pretend you’re playing the same game as Serge Blanco and Barry John and Tony O’Reilly.

Rugby, to its credit, has been good at policing its laws. It’s considerably more aware than some other codes that laws have to be constantly policed, to ensure the game is still true to its original ethos and not twisted out of shape by devious and squirrelly coaches. Unfortunately, both the realisation that the choke tackle is killing the game and that there may be a drugs issue – imagine a sport where a sixteen stone man can pick up another sixteen stone man and hurl him about like he was an empty dustbin having a steroid issue! The idea! – have arisen too close to the World Cup for it to be saved.

This means that, not only will we get the pointless empty-rubber games of the group stages, where the ten nations that compete at the elite level use forty games to lose two of their number, but we’ll also get a whole lot of sterile rugby to achieve even that rudimentary level of crop-thinning.

Not only that, but the organisers have managed to make the most tremendous balls of the seedings, that sees only two nations emerge from England, Australia and Wales, while Scotland and Argentina have been handed Wonka-esque golden tickets to the playoffs. They’ll go the same way as Augustus Gloop once they get there, of course, but still. It’s hard not to feel sorry for whichever of the the Pool A seeds that draws the short straw and has to watch that destruction at home.

The World Cup will be won by the team that makes the least mistakes. England are the sensible bet, as they’re on a softer side of the draw if they win their group. Funnily enough, Ireland could go on a run if they can beat France and win their pool. That would have been a big “if” once, but France are in the doldrums like they haven’t been since before the Second World War.

A quarter-final against Argentina awaits the winner of Pool D, and the winner of that faces, theoretically, a semi-final against England. Neither England nor Twickenham would have any fears for the Irish (the way New Zealand might, for instance) and you can expect the hype to hit record levels should that matchup come off.

The hype will be forced, though. Rugby is played in Intel-esque clean rooms anymore, with all spontaneity or improvisation or joy strictly forbidden. Recycle, recycle, recycle, kick the penalty, recycle, recycle, recycle, kick the penalty. We’ll cheer if Ireland win, but we’ll have to pretend we like it.

Foot rushes, props lumbering towards the line with the Enemy hanging off them, Simon Geoghegan or Brian O’Driscoll flashing through the gap – all these are things of the past. Recycle, recycle, recycle, kick the penalty. Repeat ad nauseam. Fare well, glory. Hail to thee, assembly line. Let’s form an orderly queue, everybody. Greatness awaits.

FOCAL SCOIR: This is the 1,000th published post on this blog over 12 years. I don't post as often as I used to, real life having caught up with me, but still. It's a kind of an achievement, nonetheless.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Mayo Post-Mortem #64 - Defending Without Due Care and Attention

The attending physicians at post-mortems #61, #62 and #63 were in a position to debate whether or not the patient could have been saved. What if Michael Murphy’s goal hadn’t been scored, or Mayo had ever got closer to three points against Donegal? What if Cillian’s shoulder hadn’t been a problem all year? What if Rob Hennelly’s seventieth-minute free had floated over instead of floating wide?

For the current post-mortem, there is unanimity among clinicians. If you’re four points up you then have to go five points up and continue to tighten the screw. Shipping three goals is the diametric opposite of what is required. This year, the terminal event was clear. There is no arguing it.

This year’s is the sixty-fourth post-mortem report to be written in the history of Mayo’s dream-that-will-never-die. The dream-that-will-never-die is a bit of media mythologizing, of course – for many of the sixty-four years since Mayo last won the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship, winning just one game in the summertime would have been a cause for celebration. The recent history of Mayo is one of unprecedented success – with, to tweak a phrase from Raymond Chandler, just that one tarantula on the angel cake.

Coming into this Championship, Dublin, Kerry, Donegal and Mayo were the so-called Big Four. Within this Big Four, there is a Big Three – Kerry, Dublin and Donegal have all been sufficiently good enough to win an All-Ireland. Mayo have not. Whether this is bad luck or poor judgement or a hundred other things doesn’t matter. The Roll of Honour only records who won. There are no footnotes or asterisked seasons.

And that won’t change this year. Mayo will return to the fray having found yet another way to lose, and that will increase the pressure of them even more. You may say that isn’t fair, and you would be right. But reader – what on God’s green earth has “fair” got to do with anything? Winning isn’t about being fair. It’s about winning. Anything else is a detail.

The goalposts keep shifting for Mayo. For years the knock was that Mayo had no forwards. Half-way through the Horan era and the emergence of Cillian O’Connor, the knock was that Mayo had no defence. That Mayo’s big problem was Horan’s tactical stubbornness and his team’s Achilles’ heel of conceding soft goals.

This year, Mayo conceded three goals on Saturday against Dublin, and two in the drawn game. None against Donegal, two against Sligo and two against Galway. It’s hard to see this as an improvement.

The deployment of Barry Moran as sweeper looked like a brave new dawn against Donegal, and was hailed as such. Now, that new dawn seems less clear.

Moran’s selection as sweeper seemed a bold and courageous decision at the time. The subsequent selections in the games against Dublin were less so. Watching the game on Saturday, it was extremely difficult to figure out who was marking whom in the Mayo defence. The current substitution policy has not always been easy to understand.

Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly had trouble bedding in having taken over from James Horan, but they clearly have the team playing for them now. Whether or not they can push on and win an All-Ireland remains the question.

Roscommon’s imminent appointment of Kevin McStay as their new manager, over whom Pat and Noel were appointed in such unfortunate circumstances, will add spice to any meetings between the teams next year – and Roscommon are a Division 1 team now as well.

Is it fair to put such a spotlight on Pat and Noel? No, it’s not. But again, fair has nothing to do with it. The pressure will continue to mount on everyone associated with Mayo football until Sam is brought home or Mayo go into decline, as Meath, Mayo’s tormentors of the 90s, have. There is no law that says that Mayo will always turn out. They didn’t in the 1970s. The team have to make the most of their window while its open.

Talk of this being the current Mayo team’s last gasp is nonsense. While some players will retire from the panel, the core group are in their footballing primes. It’s not like they’re going to go stop playing football for the summer and go off playing cricket instead. They are footballers. This is what they do.

And the Mayo people will support them, because this is what we do. A new generation has been indoctrinated into football by the current team. Whether they will grow up to the same Mayo God Help Us tradition as your correspondent’s own generation or a new, winning one will be decided in the coming years.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Mayo Pass a Difficult Test

It is the lot of the Mayo supporter to walk with ghosts. Ghosts of past players he or she has seen, memories of past achievements and disappointments, echoes of what-ifs and maybes. Mayo went into Saturday’s All-Ireland quarter-final against Donegal with a lot of questions to answer. Some were obvious, like the goal-leakage identified by Malachy Clerkin in the Irish Times on Saturday. Some were a little more taboo; not spoken of, but certainly on people’s minds, shoulder-to-shoulder with all those ghosts.

It is to their eternal credit that the Mayo team and management answered all questions asked of them on Saturday, and more. Had the last of the four All-Ireland quarter-finals been an exam, Mayo would have graduated summa cum laude.

Top of the class were the new management team of Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly. The challenges they had to overcome were many. Firstly, they had very big boots to fill. Secondly, the strange circumstances of their appointment meant that a lot of goodwill was lost at the start. Thirdly, the League campaign did nothing to ease the constantly frayed nerves of the Mayo support.

And fourthly, perhaps most importantly, the last time the Mayo County Board appointed a manager to give a team that one final push to bring Sam home, the appointee dismantled the team instead, put together a ragbag army similar to General Humbert’s, and suffered the same fate – cut down in Longford, beyond mourning or pity. The thought of the same fate happening the current group of players was distressing in the extreme.

Neither Pat nor Noel is a media creature. James Horan’s frequent media appearances have added to his reputation as a sharp analyst of contemporary football, while Jim McGuinness’s guru status is inviolable at this stage.

There isn’t quite the same bang off Pat and Noel, and the helplessless of the Mayo display against Dublin did nothing to dispel that impression. Post-Connacht final talk of a “secret plan” to shut down the greatest player in Ireland currently, Michael Murphy, sounded like people whistling past the graveyard to try to control their terror.

And then, on a dark Saturday evening in Croke Park, Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly rolled a gigantic wooden horse called Barry Moran out between Mayo’s full- and half-back lines and seventy minutes later, Mayo were not only back at the big table, but they were consuming all around them, roaring for more, more, more at the tops of their voices.

For Mayo, Saturday was a story of redemption. Barry Moran, so often cursed by injury, has now played on every line bar the goals. The man has a heart the size of a farm in Meath and to see him work was a joy.

As was the return of Ger Cafferkey. Cafferkey was a permanent selection in the Horan era, and seemed to be taking more of the blame than he deserved for events against Kerry last year. On Saturday he reminded everyone that there is no real substitute for class.

And when we speak of class, what can we tell of Tom Parsons? Missing from Championship football for four years, who knows what sort of grafting that man had to do to tame his natural talent and focus it to the purpose of the group?

Whatever he’s done, it’s paid off in silver dollars. The Mayo heart can only fill with joy at the thought of these proud men and the leadership and character they’re showing, summer after summer, setback after setback.

Was it a perfect display? Of course not. Some of the substitutions were puzzling. Cillian O’Connor was unusually inaccurate with the dead balls. There is always something unnatural about a Gaelic football team sitting a lead rather than racking up scores. But these are small cavils in what was a great display against a very, very fine team. Donegal were leggy and by no means at full-throttle but they still had it in them to bury Mayo. Victory over this Donegal team is no mean feat.

And now, the Dubs. All Mayo is suffused with delicious anticipation of another pop at the metropolitans, not least as previous clashes between the counties have had such edges. The matchups are as stars in the sky, as each management team tries to anticipate and out-general the other. There has never been a bad time to be a Mayo man or woman but right now, for those with an interest in football the summer wine is very sweet indeed.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Piketty is Wrong About German War Debt

Colette Browne quotes economist Thomas Piketty in her column in today's Irish Independent as saying that Germany had sixty per cent of its war debt written off after the Second World War. This is not true.

It's not true for this reason: there wasn't a Germany after the Second World War to pay any debts. Germany was gone, and there were two states, East and West Germany, in its place.

Britain, France and the USA were in charge of West Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was in charge of East Germany. The NATO powers quickly began to cut West Germany a break, as they had made a deal with the devil in the form of Josef Stalin to win the war in the first place, and now needed a strong Germany to protect Western Europe from the Soviets.

No such luck for the East Germans, which the Soviets already had in their mitts. Anne Applebaum has written an excellent book about rise of the Iron Curtain in the first ten years after the end of the war. From that we learn that the Soviets carried off everything in the occupied territories that wasn't nailed down, and would have continued to do so if Stalin hadn't kicked the bucket in 1953. East Germany remained a slave state, of course, but the Soviets went easy on populating the concentration camps left behind by the Nazis with people who didn't toe the state line.

Germany paid for her sins after the war, and now Germany is the main reason why there hasn't been a European war since – the longest period of European history without a war since Alaric and the Visgoths sacked Rome fifteen hundred years ago.

Beware, beware the celebrity economist. There's always a bottle of snake-oil that needs selling.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Val Doonican, and the Fight for Irish Freedom

Val Doonican did at least as much for Anglo-Irish relations as the Queen’s visit, that spurious rugby game in Croke Park, or the existence in material reality of Roy Maurice Keane, Junior. That fact is not widely known in this country, for different reasons, but it should be. Val Doonican is a hero, in his way, and should be celebrated as such.

Not even Val Doonican’s most ardent admirer could deny that the man was born square. Val Doonican was never cool. The jumpers, the rocking chairs, the songs – Delaney’s Donkey, Paddy McGinty’s Goat – no. There is no hipster willing to carry the charade through to that extent. But, in the long and troubled history of two islands in the North Atlantic, Val Doonican provided a bridge when it was needed.

We know there was huge emigration from Ireland to Britain during the war and after. We sing songs about it all the time. But what was that experience like, really? What was it like for someone who had grown up on the side of a mountain to find him or herself living in a terraced house in Blackburn, Lancashire?

There was a marvellous story in the Bullaí Máirtín collection called Peadaí Gaelach Eile, about a man about to go to London to make his fortune but who finds out just how much of a fish out of water he’s going to be before he even leaves home.

It was hard on that generation. They never liked to speak of it themselves, because it was humiliating for them. The current generation doesn’t like to think of it, because they seem to have trouble conceiving of people who are not themselves.

It’s interesting as well that the literature of those who built up and tore England down after the Second World War seems stronger in Irish than in English. Where are the English language equivalents of the navvying memoirs of Domhnall Mac Amhlaigh or Maidhc Dainín Ó Sé?

Nobody wanted to go on the record about how hard it was to come from rural poverty to a major industrial city. And nobody wants to think about the Irish being considered in England the way the Romanians are considered here. Dirty, stinking, going around in gangs, leaving their rubbish lying around, speaking gibberish, not to be trusted.

And then, in the mid-sixties, one of those dirty, stinking Irish people got himself a variety TV show on prime time with the BBC. He wasn’t dirty. He was very well turned out, always with his hair cut and clean and nice sweater on him. He sang comic songs with a twinkle in his eye.

And maybe, after watching the Val Doonican Show on TV, maybe some Englishman heard his Irish neighbours the next day and detected that trace of Doonican in them. Maybe the way they spoke wasn’t gibberish; maybe it was actually a lot like that chap on the television. I wonder could any of them sing songs as well?

What was Val Doonican worth to the Irish community in Britain in the ‘seventies, when the bombs were going off in Birmingham and Guilford and in the car park of the Houses of Parliament themselves? How reassuring was it for the ordinary British person to hear of Delaney’s Donkey winning the half-mile race after the newscaster had just told them that the IRA had just admitted responsibility for the bombing of another bar, resulting in five killed and seven maimed?

Yes, Val Doonican wasn’t very cool. No, Delaney’s Donkey isn’t quite Carrickfergus. But Val Doonican was, by all accounts, a very lovely man who asked for little from life and brought happiness and security to millions and millions. Very, very few of us will get to say that we we are brought to account on the Last Day. Suaimhneas síoraí na bhFlaithis dó.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Priorities in the Health Service

July 1, 2015
HSE management 'clearly incapable', say Portlaoise parents
Families who lost children told to 'go away and have more children', health committee hears
The HSE refused to advertise a helpline for patients on the night of the Prime Time programme, as requested by Patient Focus, because it didn't believe it would attract many calls, Cathriona Molloy of the patient organisation told the committee. The organisation was forced to use its own phone number for a helpline, which attracted hundreds of calls in the days after the programme, she said.

July 1, 2015
Hiqa to review Tusla over concern for at-risk children
Records obtained by The Irish Times earlier this year showed thousands of reports of abuse, neglect and welfare concerns over children at risk were waiting to be allocated a social worker. An internal report presented to the board of Tusla said backlogs were so acute in some areas that hundreds of extra staff are needed to bring numbers back to 'manageable' levels.

June 22, 2015
HSE orders review into nine maternity cases
The HSE has recommended a full review into nine maternity cases at three separate hospitals. A team examined 23 cases from the Midland Regional Hospital in Portlaoise, three from the Midland Regional Hospital in Mullingar and two from the University Maternity Hospital in Limerick between 1985 and 2013. It found that nine cases should be subjected to a full systems analysis review.

June 15, 2015
'Cloak of secrecy' around abuse of intellectually disabled
Fine Gael's Fergus O'Dowd made the claim after the Irish Examiner revealed 21 HSE workers have been sacked or suspended for alleged sexual, physical, and financial abuse of residents at care facilities for adults with severe intellectual disabilities since January 2014. Details published on Saturday show that, over the past 18 months, HSE management has been aware of serious incidents at seven such facilities.

June 12, 2015
What the hospital scandals teach us about management
HR policies are such that managers will tell you they are powerless to deal with people who ought to be sanctioned even for quite serious reasons.
It can take six months to replace a nurse through the shared HR services centre in Manorhamilton.
There is no effective performance management system for managers. Management structures are in a state of constant flux; many managers don't have the delegated authority they need to do their job; and some support functions are too centralised.
Compared to the HSE, the hospitality industry in Ireland has a better system for the training and cultural formation of hotel managers, sending them to the best hotels around the world on a carefully structured development programme. The results speak for themselves.

March 5, 2015
HSE 'Gave Contracts to Former Staff' Without Tender
The claims are understood to mostly centre around cases where contracts were awarded to companies led by former HSE staff, or where ex-HSE workers are now on the payroll. They include cases where the HSE has paid former staff members for spaces in care homes, without first investigating whether better deals could be found elsewhere. Committee chairman John McGuinness says some former HSE staff members have made huge money from unadvertised contracts.

These are just some of the reasons that the HSE has been in the news lately. And what is the Government doing about all this? Why, it's providing free healthcare for children less than six years old WHO AREN'T EVEN SICK IN THE FIRST PLACE. This isn't just an inefficient use of resources. This is immoral in every way and I don't know one politician who's had the stones to come out and say that, for fear they'd lose votes in leafy suburbs or roasted by a "Mums Outraged .." headline in the Indo or the Daily Mail.

Banana Republic. Will anything ever change in this godforsaken country?

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Can the Seanad Save Free Speech?

RTÉ and the Irish Times are both before the Courts this morning to see if they are allowed to broadcast and/or print speeches made in the houses of the Oireachtas. It’s an awful situation for a democracy to find itself in, but crisis can often lead to opportunity. And the very peculiar current crisis does present the Seanad with the opportunity to be what its advocates claim it is – relevant to the proper governance of the State.

You remember the Seanad – it’s the theoretical upper house of the bicameral Oireachtas, a growling, snarling watchdog that keeps the Government of the day on their toes. Or so, at least, its proponents would have you believe during the referendum on the continued existence of the Seanad, which the sovereign people choose to retain in a referendum held on the 4th of October, 2013.

Since then, the Seanad has done nothing – zip, zero, the null set, nada, nothing – to show itself worthy of the nation’s faith. Senators who were passionate and vocal contributors to the save-the-Seanad debate haven’t been heard from since, and the chamber looks like what it’s been long-perceived to be, a sanatorium for recovering politicians who didn’t quite make it to the lower chamber.

However. God never closes one door but He opens another, as the old people used to say, and circumstances have given the Seanad the chance to be heard.

If the current court order to redact details of the injunction issued on an RTÉ report into the relationship with businessman Denis O’Brien is upheld, the Seanad won’t have to do anything. There will be a fully-fledged constitutional crisis then, and God only knows how it’ll resolve.

If, however, the courts do not uphold the decision to injunct RTÉ and redact the details of the judgement, then An Taoiseach can roll into the Dáil – one week from now, because the Oireachtas is enjoying a well-deserved break currently – and proclaim what he has always known in his heart, that Ireland is the best little country in the world in which to do free speech. Any further questions will be brushed away, and dissent will be mashed into the carpet by the Government’s massive and well-whipped majority.

Which is why the Seanad must do what the Dáil cannot, and take a stand for freedom of speech. The Government want this thing to go away very, very dearly as, once it starts to unravel properly, goodness only knows where the breadcrumb trail might lead.

Ironically, in the light of previous relationships, the Labour Party may be more eager to see the issue go away than Fine Gael. The marriage referendum and Bench-marking II will go down well with the two wings that make that Labour Party and, after four hard years and the predicted giveaway budget will make the hat-trick. Labour don’t want to see their gifts to the Labour core support blown away in a political storm.

Which is why the nation must look to the Seanad to safeguard its rights. There is nothing that can be done in the Dáil, because of the Government’s steamroller majority. But the Government’s majority in the Seanad is nominal, if it exists at all. That gives the Senators some elbow room.

The powers of the Seanad are quite limited, but there is one shot in its locker. Article 27.1 of the Constitution states that “A majority of the members of Seanad Éireann and not less than one-third of the members of Dáil Éireann may by a joint petition addressed to the President by them under this Article request the President to decline to sign and promulgate as a law any Bill to which this article applies on the ground that the Bill contains a proposal of such national importance that the will of the people thereon ought to be ascertained.”

There is a bill due next week proposing that nobody may own more than twenty per cent of the media. Which sounds great, except that the law is not retrospective. If anybody already owns more than twenty per cent of the media, he or she can keep it.

That’s not good enough. Between the findings of the Moriarty Tribunal, the Siteserv controversy and the current attempt to muzzle the democratically elected representatives of the people, it’s time to have a look at the precise relationship between the Government and #REDACTED.

Can the upper house stand for the public good when the lower house either can’t or won’t? Will a majority of members of the Seanad vote to send this press ownership Bill to the President, and let the cards fall as they will after that?

Such a move still needs the backing of one third of Dáil deputies, which is fifty-five of them. The Government has 101 votes, which leaves sixty-four left over. They can surely scrounge fifty-five votes from those sixty-four if the upper house raises the flag of Liberty.

Eighteen months ago the Seanad told that sovereign people that it was relevant in the democratic processes of the state. Now it has a chance to prove it. History awaits.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Won't Anybody Think of Kieran Donaghy?

The last fancy eats he'll see for a while.
The Gaelic Players’ Association, or GPA, like to make a big song and dance about the suffering of the inter-county player, and the great efforts that the GPA make to help those forced to wear that crown of thorns, that overladen creel, that 21st Century hairshirt that is the county jersey.

As far as the GPA are concerned, the county player, like lovely Cheryl Fernandez-Versini, is worth it.

“County players are separately [separate, that is, to the club players who make up 98% of the GAA’s playing population, and should be glad of the seat at the back of the bus, the scuts – ASF] supported through a Development Programme in specific recognition of their commercial importance and significance to the GAA in three main areas - the sale of sponsorship deals, broadcast rights and gate receipts.” says the GPA’s FAQ page.

What your correspondent can’t get through his cabbage head is why, for all their rhetoric about elite tier players and commercial significance, one of the most elite of Gaelic football’s elite tier players is currently on the brink of penury and ruin while the GPA seems to be doing nothing – nothing! – to support him.

The Indian Summer of Kieran Donaghy was one of the stories of last year’s Championship, and the single most important factor in Kerry’s winning of their 37th All-Ireland. Donaghy has been named captain of Kerry this year and what is his thanks? He’s out of a job. That’s his thanks.

The Irish Independent reported last week that Donaghy has quit a fine job in the bank in the heat of the worst recession in Europe since the 1930s because of his football commitments. What’s the man expected to live on? Air? And him with a young family to support as well. It’s a disgrace, that’s what it is. It’s a scandal.

Where are the thousand GPA swords leaping from their scabbards to protest this injustice? Why isn’t Dónal Óg Cusack doing a piece to VT for RTÉ Prime Time, followed quickly by Minister for Sport, Transport and Tourism Pascal Donohoe being asked “but Minister – what about the children?” by Miriam O’Callaghan over and over again?

It’s a long time between now and 2016, when Donaghy will be able to work again. It’s a long time to be without a steady income. The steadfast Gaels of Erin endured rapine, famine and oppression for eight hundred years before our Gaelic culture, handed down to us by Almighty God, was able to take its place among the cultures of the earth, and were glad to do it. Are we now to stand idly by while one of our greatest current exponents of Gaelic football, that jewel of Gaelic culture and sportsmanship and athleticism, starves on the side of the road?

Can we bear the thought of Kieran Donaghy, a hero and role model to the youth of Ireland, living from hand to mouth for an entire year, never knowing where his next hot meal is coming from? Is he to spend the next twelve months using one teabag for four mugs of tea, watering down the breakfast milk and – horror of horrors! – economizing further by ating rice instead of spuds with his dinner? I should bloody hope not.

This column knows where our duty lies. This column calls on all Gaels to rally to the cause. Footballers, hurlers, handballers, Scór tin-whistlers and even whoever exactly it is that claims to play rounders are to get out now and start collecting non-perishable goods, clothing, fuel and other necessities of survival and common human dignity. Parcels are to be made up and shipped to Kieran Donaghy, c/o Fitzgerald Stadium, Killarney, Co Kerry.

Blankets would be good too – with the way the summer is shaping up already, the poor man might be glad of them. And when winter comes around, maybe someone can stick a knife in that damned Bóthar goat and send the carcass down to Donaghy. He can ate the thing himself and then try to flog the skin to a bodhrán-maker to get the price of a bowl of hot soup or something. Star will need all the help he can get in the long, cold winter.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Bias and the National Broadcaster

At first glance, the front page story in Saturday’s Irish Independent was a delicious revelation that, for all their bien-pensant rhetoric, the Irish Labour Party are just as venal as the next party when it comes to the dirty of game of politics.

The Indo reported that there had been a spat between Fine Gael and Labour over who would represent the Government advocating a Yes vote on the Prime Time debate tomorrow night. RTÉ wanted Leo Varadkar, the first Minister in the history of the state to come out as a gay man, but there was an agreement already in place between Fine Gael and Labour that it would be two Fine Gael, one Labour over the course of three RTÉ debates. Fine Gael had already used up their quota with Frances Fitzgerald and Simon Coveney, so Alex White was going on Prime Time and that was bloody that.

Great story. Not front page news, of course, but front page news hasn’t been what it was in the Indo since Vinnie Doyle retired. And then suddenly you might stop and wonder: what is it to RTÉ who represents any particular side anyway?

The story quotes an RTÉ source as saying "Our job was to get the best people for both sides, and one would have thought that Leo was the best person on the Government side for the last debate.”

But is it really RTÉ’s job to get the best people for both sides?

A referendum debate isn’t like a run-of-the-mill news or current affairs program. The national broadcaster’s job during a referendum or election campaign is to provide a public forum for debate. It is not the national broadcaster’s job to vet the debaters as regards their suitability to speak or represent a point of view. The national broadcaster’s only job is to measure speaking times for fairness and ask as unbalanced a set of questions as can be reasonably expected.

There is no national broadcaster in the USA, but the prospect of a commercial broadcaster stepping in to advise a political party on whom it should or shouldn’t use in a particular TV debate is ludicrous.

If, during the 2008 US Presidential Election, the Republicans wanted Sarah Palin to debate against former President Bill Clinton, can you imagine someone at one of the networks saying “our job was to get the best people for both sides, and one would have thought former Governor of California Arnold Schwartzenegger the best candidate to represent the Republican side?”

It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it? That’s not really the way it works.

To bring the story back home, suppose the No side decided on a second-time lucky strategy and put Gaelic footballer Ger Brennan forward as their representative for the Prime Time debate.

Would RTÉ turn to the No side and say, “look, Ger was a very underestimated center-half back in his prime but for a debate like this, you really need to send a heavy hitter like Breda O’Brien, David Quinn or Rónán Mullen to the plate”? Or would RTÉ just say “You’re sending Ger Brennan? Well, alrighty then,” and then text their friends to stock up on popcorn?

It’s not like RTÉ’s record in these debates is particularly strong. That the RTÉ Frontline debate cost Seán Gallagher the Presidency is as sure as little green apples. The only question is if that was due to incompetency or something more sinister.

In a sighting of that rare bird, investigative journalism, Jody Corcoran joined some dots about who’s pals with whom among the players on the night of that Frontline debate three years ago, and drew up a very interesting pattern. That piece was published three years ago, in March of 2012. Nothing changed as result of his investigation, of course. Nothing ever does.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

What's Another Year, Mayo?

For all the good-natured teasing other counties like to indulge in when it comes to the County Mayo, it is only fair to acknowledge that there’s a strong line of realistic fatalism that runs through Mayo people’s devotion to and enthusiastic promotion of the county team.

This was at its most noticeable at the first of the Mayo GAA Blog meetups in Bowe’s of Fleet Street, Dublin 2, the night before Mayo lost to Kerry in the All-Ireland semi-final of 2011. Nobody in that bar thought that Mayo had a prayer the following day, and they were fine with that. After getting sliced up in Sligo and Longford the year before, Mayo people were content to be still alive in August.

Which is why, perhaps, the county isn’t tearing itself apart as the Championship looms (“looming,” of course, is a relative concept; the Championship proper started a fortnight ago when Galway played New York, while Mayo won’t make their debut until another month from now, by which time Galway will have played two Championship games. But there it is). The people of Mayo have drank deep and well during the Horan years. If 2015 is to be a down year, then so be it. Country people can relate to the notion of seasons.

Now that the pressure has come on Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly, the two men tasked with not only living up to Horan’s standards but taking the team that one step further, the prospect of a down year has not been as apocalyptic as we thought it might be.

The team has a puncher’s chance against anyone, of course. Any team with Aidan O’Shea and Cillian O’Connor among its ranks will always have a puncher’s chance against anybody. But the people of Mayo have seen enough of thoroughbred football in recent times to know that the team isn’t quite that this year.

It can’t be repeated too often that winning a fourth All-Ireland only requires Mayo to be one point or more better than anyone else that year, as opposed to having to measure themselves against some sort of eternal Platonic metric of football greatness. And if, as has been noted, the contenders aren’t quite battering down the door this year, that still doesn’t mean that Mayo 2015 will be good enough. Besides; the evidence of history is that whenever a “soft” Sam has been there to be won, it’s Kerry who weren’t too proud to stoop and pick it up for the collection.

People will remember a similar foreboding before the trip to Salthill two years ago next week, when Mayo battered Galway as that proud county have seldom been battered before. But this year feels different, somehow.

Cillian O’Connor was present in 2013, for starters. Evan Regan, the long-heralded Sorcerer’s Apprentice, continues to be blighted by injury and these two men’s absence leaves the Mayo attack looking like men taking bows and arrows to a gunfight.

Would a loss in Connacht, either in Salthill or later, be the end of the world? Not necessarily. There are those who believe a time in the shadows of the Qualifiers, bursting forth to glorious life in Croke Park at harvest time, could be the ideal route for Mayo. The Qualifier Odyssey would give the group a badly-needed opportunity to gel and pull themselves together.

But here’s the rub. It’s not like these men are strangers. It’s not like they’ve just met. Whatever is keeping Mayo from performing at the level of which they’re capable, it’s not because they’ve just met each other.

And so we have it. Short of a miracle, the 1951 team have one more year to wait, at least. As for Mayo, if they don’t win the All-Ireland this year, the powers-that-be have to decide if an All-Ireland is still in the current group – the majority of whom are in their prime, of course – or if the bus has left the station. If there is an All-Ireland in this group, it won’t keep. It’s up to the Board then to decide what went wrong this year and what can be done to put it right. Before it’s too late.