Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Year in Sports

The businessmen who run Croke Park are not noted for their wit. A pity; should it be a thing that Dublin win a fourth All-Ireland title in a row, wouldn’t it be funny if the traditional post-match playing of Molly Malone were swapped for Linda Ronstadt’s rather super cover of the Everly Brothers’ classic When Will I Be Loved? It would seem to strike the correct note.

The apparent disdain in which the team is held isn’t easy to understand. Pilar Caffrey’s Dublin, with their notorious Blue Book, were difficult to love. But the Gilroy / Gavin generation are the real deal. They are legit in every way a GAA team can be legit, and yet still Ireland withholds its heart.

Part of this may be jealousy. It would be nice to think there’s more too it than that, but there probably isn’t. Would Kerry of the Golden Years be held in the same regard as they are had they not be rendered mortal by Offaly in 1982?

When Meath were in their dark pomp in the 1980s they were hated. Has time humanised them, or was it the loss to Down (not to take anything away from that fine Down team) in 1991 that had the same humanising effect on them as Offaly’s win had on Kerry?

Those greybeards who remember when snooker was a big deal may remember Steve Davis was never loved until he was past his prime; then he became the Grand Old Man of the Green Baize. Is Ireland waiting on Dublin to lose, to return to the mortal realm, before forgiving them for being so much better than the rest? And when is that to happen, exactly?

Reader, I’m damned if I know. Mayo are in pole position among the challengers for the crown, but the trauma of thinking about my own beloved county actually winning an All-Ireland and all that would imply would reduce your correspondent to writing with crayons on greaseproof paper behind high walls and under medical supervision, so let’s not go there just yet, while the season of brotherhood and goodwill is still with us.

The reality is that it is hard to make a case for anyone living with Dublin, to say nothing of beating them. Leinster is a wasteland and, no more than Mayo, Monaghan and Tyrone can only knock on the door for so long.

Kerry remain Kerry, of course, and the impact of the disgraceful Super 8s remains to be seen, but it’s very hard to imagine any team better suited to a Super 8 structure than the current Dublin setup. Tradition, legend, values – may I introduce you to the Almighty Dollar? God help us all.

When historians get around to recording and passing judgement on these changing times, will the publication of Jackie Tyrell’s book be seen as the most significant event of 2017 in hurling? We’ve waited for over a decade for an insight into Kilkenny in the Cody era. Now we have it, does it take from the achievements of that great team? At what stage is a title not worth winning? At what stage can you say a team has gone too far, and it becomes necessary to remind people that sport isn’t life and death; sport is what we concern ourselves with when we need a break from life and death. It’s something to think about.

As Gaelic Games slide further from shamatuerism to fully-blown professionalism, it’s interesting – and horrifying – to look at rugby, which has been professional for 22 years. What has survived, what has thrived, and what has gone by the wayside.

Who would have thought, for instance, that domestic French rugby would set the standard for the world game, and that this club standard would come at the expense of the French national team, once the personification of a way of looking at the world that is quintessentially French?

The current situation cannot last, but what will come in its place nobody knows. The fruits of the banal weekly brutality of the professional game is also a harvest that has yet to be gathered, and will not be nice when it is. Dónal Lenihan made this point very well in his very thoughtful and under-estimated autobiography, released last year.

The Lions Tour, once described by the late Frank Keating as a cross between a school tour and a medieval crusade, was one of those institutions marked for doom when the game went professional, but went from strength to strength instead. On the balance sheet, anyway; neither the heads nor the hearts of fans seem quite sure what to make of the Lions, just as they don’t quite know where club competitions, Six Nations Tournaments and World Cups fit in relative to each other. In the light of Seán O’Brien’s strident opinion of the second-most successful Lions tour of New Zealand in over 110 years, maybe even the players are struggling to keep up. Or it could be all those bumps to the head, of course.

Rugby fans in Ireland are at a particular disadvantage as Irish rugby journalists take the notion of fans-with-typewriters to new depths. What Martin O’Neill wouldn’t do for the coverage Joe Schmidt gets, even though Martin O’Neill has nothing like the talent available to Schmidt.

Certainly, Schmidt’s artisanal style of rugby has never got the abuse that O’Neill’s hearts-on-their-sleeves, lead-in-their-boots soccer team habitually get, even though Schmidt has a better selection. And that’s not even counting the chaps who make Michael Flatley of the Clan Flatley seem as Irish as the very Blarney Stone itself.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Current Political Situation

Whatever else is to befall the unhappy nation on this pivotal day in Irish politics, it has to be hoped that An Taoiseach has kept his receipt for the five million or so Euro he spent on a Strategic Communications Unit. If they hadn’t ballsed-up the Thursday messaging, the government would not be on the edge of a precipice today.

The minutiae of who read what email when doesn’t matter in terms of the government's survival. Fianna Fáil have been watching the government, and the government watching Fianna Fáil, since the budget. Both know the end of the confidence-and-supply agreement is close; neither wants to be left being reactive to the other when the thing goes wallop and it’s time to face the people.

The latest McCabe revelations resulted in Sinn Féin tabling a motion of no confidence in the Tánaiste on Thursday of last week. This left Fianna Fáil in a dilemma; if they went against the Sinn Féin motion and something else broke about the state’s disgraceful treatment of Sergeant McCabe, Fianna Fáil lose ground to Sinn Féin.

Fianna Fáil cannot lose (further) ground to Sinn Féin because Sinn Féin will get a boost from a new face on the posters and from the fact that Sinn Féin represents the greatest potential change in the election anyway. Every electorate dreams of the far-away fields.

Therefore, Fianna Fáil had no option but to declare their own motion of no confidence in the Tánaiste. They missed a trick badly in not pulling the plug during the final days of Enda Kenny, when the disgraceful story about the breathalyser-fixing by the Gardaí broke. That would have been perfect, because the issue was so clear-cut and easily understandable. Fianna Fáil could not lose another opportunity.

In the light of this, the sensible play on Fine Gael’s part would have been to either keep schtum or else jettison Frances Fitzgerald with the greatest dispatch. You may say this would have been grossly unfair on Mrs Fitzgerald; reader, what’s fair got to do with it? This is politics, the dirtiest game there is.

Alan Shatter lost his job on the basis of political expediency. The noted moralists of the Labour Party defenestrated the Taoiseach that brokered the first ceasefire in Northern Ireland in a fit of political pique. Charlie Haughey, to echo Jeremy Thorpe’s famous quip about Harold MacMillan’s night of the long knives, laid down his friend for his life in 1990. That’s politics.

However. Fine Gael did not take this sensible option. Instead, Fine Gael went on the offensive, with Eoghan Murphy, a man without whom Leo Varadkar would not now be Taoiseach, delivered a studs-up performance in defence of Frances Fitzgerald’s honour on Prime Time last Thursday that bet the farm on Fianna Fáil backing down.

This was an extraordinarily naïve decision. All politicians like wriggle room, but Irish politicians need it most of all. Fine Gael’s public doubling-down on the Tánaiste means that any concession to Fianna Fáil looks like a climbdown. Sinn Féin had already closed off Fianna Fáil on one flank; Fine Gael’s outrage that anybody should look crossways at their Tánaiste left Fianna Fáil with no option but to light the fuse.

As Sarah Bardon of the Irish Times pointed out yesterday on Twitter, the messaging from the government has softened considerably since Thursday:

And that’s all fine, but Fianna Fáil remain in a Grand-Old-Duke-of-York dilemma. All these things have to be understood in the context of the general election that will be fought early next year, if not before Christmas. How will Fianna Fáil’s argument of being responsible and putting the nation first stack up against Sinn Féin’s constant attack of Fianna Fáil being part of an elite that is willing to stoop to anything to keep itself in power, instead of doing the right thing in the name of that good man who was wronged, Maurice McCabe?

Politics is broad strokes. How do subtleties about changes to the Department of Justice work as broad strokes? Badly, is the answer. For Fianna Fáil, anything less than the Tánaiste’s head is a Sinn Féin win. In the light of this, Fine Gael’s only chance of limiting the damage would be for Frances Fitzgerald to do a Sidney Danton before marching bravely to the guillotine, and hope to be avenged in the election after Christmas. A cobbled-together compromise means an early Christmas for Sinn Féin HQ as their long march to power comes three to five seats nearer.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Mayo Post-Mortem #66: Open Verdict

Recordings of both Sky and RTÉ’s coverage of this year’s All-Ireland Football Final sit on my Virgin Media box, like the regions of dark matter in outer space that so fascinate the astrophysicists currently. I have no intention of watching them, but I can’t delete them either. A situation that is bizarrely appropriate for this particular Final, suddenly the hardest of all Mayo’s many All-Ireland Final losses to come to terms with.

One of sport’s eternal debates is whether it hurts more to get hammered into the turf or to lose by inches. It’s the sporting equivalent of whether it’s better to get punched in the face or the guts. Neither is great, really, but is possible to make a case that one is worse than the other?

There’s something different about this year’s Final though. It’s not a question of so near and yet so far for Mayo, the way 1996 was, say. It’s something different. But what exactly that difference is remains stubbornly hidden in the dark matter that exists beyond the stars, and in the tortured psyche of the Mayo football public.

Partly it’s got to do with the mixed records of the two competing teams. The narrative is that a hairsbreadth separates them. The reality is that Dublin always win, and Mayo always lose.

Dublin, we are told, are one of the best teams ever, if not the best team ever. Mayo can’t win an All-Ireland Final, despite appearing in them with almost monotonous regularity. Other teams have risen and fallen in the past twenty years – Mayo keep regenerating to be almost there, but just not quite. Just that little bit missing, every time.

Is there a lesson there? Are All-Ireland generations essentially destructive, like the economic cycle? Is it the case that every boom must be followed by a bust? And is that why Mayo have never fallen from Division 1, because they never boomed sufficiently to go bust?

It’s a theory. One of many, and not the strongest. The reality of Mayo’s perpetual losing of All-Ireland Finals is more likely to be prosaic than metaphysical. The fault is more likely to be in ourselves than in our stars.

It’s that logical impossibility that exists in the two states of Dublin and Mayo that makes processing the 2017 Final so difficult from a Mayo perspective. If Dublin are one of the greatest teams of all-time, then surely the only team that’s put them regularly under pressure is also somewhere in the pantheon of all-time greats. But entry to that pantheon necessitates possession of a title, and that’s something that Mayo have failed to achieve. Armagh won. Cork won. Donegal won. Mayo ... lost.

A narrative has been proposed whereby, even if they were never to win an All-Ireland, the current Mayo generation would be remembered as one of the all-time great teams. A visit to a Galway football Facebook page a week or two after the All-Ireland Final would quickly disabuse the innocent of that theory. No Celtic cross, no nothin’. Plenty of teams that have won All-Irelands are disparaged as having won “soft” ones. How soft is the one that is not won at all?

And so we come back to the circle that can’t be squared. We have, in the green-and-red corner, one of the all-time great teams that not only can’t achieve what all-time great teams achieve – win multiple All-Irelands – but can’t achieve what legitimate-and-deserving-champions but not all-time-great teams do, and manage to somehow fall over the line. Cork fell over the line. Armagh were damnably unlucky not to win a second All-Ireland, but the Geezer generation got their Celtic Crosses. For this Mayo generation – nada. And for some on the panel it’s already too late.

There’s a new ethos in Mayo whereby any criticism of the team – who owe us nothing – is socially unacceptable, if not worthy of pariah status in cases where repentance is neither swift, clear nor suitably remorseful. On the other hand, there are underground criticisms, most notably those of a mystery man called Jimmy, surreptitious videos of whom are being transmitted through that most pernicious of modern curses, social media.

Filming anyone on the sly is a low act but it’s clear that Jimmy is a legitimate and well-informed student of the game. You may not agree with everything he says – I, myself, do not – but I prefer him saying it so that at least there’s a discussion going on, so that we can get some sense of closure about what happened, why it always happens and what else can be done to stop it happening, rather than people expected to become some sort of Stepford wife-esque cheering section.

For instance: the long and lustrous autumn of Andy Moran’s career reflects brilliantly on a man who is loved within the county and genuinely liked by nearly every other county. But how badly does it reflect on the rest of the forwards in Mayo that the county is so reliant on a man who has many more football years behind him than before him?

The bravest thing Stephen Rochford did was play Aidan O’Shea at fullback against Kieran Donaghy, not least as it took serious guts to back an unorthodox opinion after his most famously unorthodox opinion, that it was worthwhile to drop a goalkeeper for an All-Ireland Final reply, having blown up in his face. Rochford deserves huge credit for that, and surely owns the dressing room now in a way that was less-than-obvious earlier.

However. Rochford’s record on bringing players through is not good to the point of being bad. One of Jim Gavin’s many strengths lies in his regenerating his team without outsiders ever being able to see the joins. Rochford is now in danger of having to replace players en masse and that is a risky business. It is seldom wise not to plan ahead.

These are just two of the challenges facing Mayo as the long quest continues into another empty winter. Up Mayo.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Mayo's Deliverance

Boyler takes an O'Neill's
Size 5 into custody
Colm Boyle – your correspondent’s pick for the next Garda Commissioner, if Clarkie doesn’t want it – was interviewed after the defeat of Kerry in the All-Ireland semi-final. Boyle was asked how Mayo were going to prepare for the All-Ireland Final. He seemed a little puzzled by the question – “just like we always do,” was Boyle's reply.

Some years ago, a great GAA man and friend of the blog remarked that Mayo’s best chance of winning their fourth All-Ireland was to go through a series of semi-final replays. So many replays, in fact, that they would have only one week to get ready for the final itself, and thus insulating themselves from the sort of anguish that seemed to descend on the county at these occasions.

There was a certain logic to that at the time, but events have moved on. When Mayo appeared in their first All-Ireland Final in 38 years in 1989 the county went bananas from the thrill of it all, and stayed bananas until that great team were felled once more by that terrible hoodoo that once lived at St Jarlath’s Park, Tuam some eight months later.

Those days are gone. There are children growing up in County Mayo currently for whom the road to Croker is as well travelled as the road to school. There is no novelty about Croker anymore. There is no novelty about winning in Croker anymore. For this iteration of the Mayo Senior Team, there really is only one last box to tick.

It was once the case that Mayo had two choices. Either consider the All-Ireland Final the Most Important Day Of Your Life, and seize up with nerves, or else consider it just another game, and then be stunned and run over by another team for whom it was, in fact, the most important day in their lives.

That doesn’t apply to Mayo 2017. Has there ever been a team as seasoned in the Big Time as Mayo who haven’t won an All-Ireland? Dublin are certainly a very great team, but Mayo aren’t quite chopped liver either. For this Mayo generation not to have won at least one All-Ireland already is astonishing. To think they will finish like Moses, within sight of the Promised Land but never crossing into it, is very difficult to believe.

It is right that Dublin are favourites on Sunday of course. But while Mayo haven’t beaten Dublin in quite some time, Mayo certainly have put it up to the navy-and-sky-blue machine over the years. What will it take to make the difference?

Dublin have two particular vulnerabilities. The first is, through no fault of their own, every game this summer has been a stroll in the park for them, with the exception of a gallant Carlow challenge. A team wiring it up to them will come as a shock, because you can’t think yourself up to a certain pitch of action. By the time you have to command your body to move up the gears to a challenge you weren't quite expecting, it may already be too late.

The other interesting thing is that Dublin’s greatest strength is their greatest weakness. All Dublin’s church is built on the rock of the Cluxton kickout. Every brick, every wall, every buttress. If that kickout can be disrupted, will the edifice stay together or will it all come crashing down?

Now these could all be thoughts in the air, of course. It may be that Tyrone were actually very good this year but that Dublin have evolved into a different football dimension. If so, it might get ugly for the green and red support as Dublin ascend further towards the summit of greatness and Mayo are yet again churned beneath their heels.

And then again, maybe Tyrone just didn’t have anything in the tank, and Dublin could be the ones shouting at each other around half-past four on Sunday, wondering what’s going on as a nightmare begins to take form into material reality before them. We’ll just have to wait and see. Up Mayo.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Aidan O'Shea, Fullback

Your correspondent is very confused by the response to Mayo playing Aidan O’Shea at fullback in the All-Ireland against Kerry on Sunday. This tweet from Matt Cooper is typical of the reaction:

“Disaster” is an interesting choice of words here. Any Mayo follower worth his or salt is able to list successive disasters and rate them out of ten going back to 1925 and the All-Ireland lost in a boardroom instead of on the pitch. Where does the playing Aidan O’Shea at fullback stand in this miserable pantheon?

Nowhere. Because it’s not like Mayo lost, is it? Mayo are still in the Championship. Mayo went into that game as 5/2 underdogs, and Matt Cooper is annoyed they didn’t beat Kerry out the gate? Extraordinary.

Malachy Clerkin of the Irish Times reckons 2-6 of Kerry’s 2-14 can be attributed to Donaghy. Maybe so, maybe not. It is, however, a fact that one single point is all Donaghy scored from play. Donaghy scored two goals in the All-Ireland Final of 2007 as Kerry whipped Cork 3-13 to 1-9, but the Cork fullback on that day went on to win an All-Star at fullback that same year.

So having Donaghy score two goals on you in the All-Ireland Final doesn’t cost you an All-Star but having him score one point on you is the reason Mayo didn’t beat Kerry on Sunday? Clear as mud, my Lord.

One of the reasons put forward for Mayo’s playing of Aidan O’Shea being a “disaster” is his incalculable loss out the field. And this doesn’t quite add up either.

Reader, how many previews of Sunday’s game hinged on Kerry’s terror at the havoc Aidan O’Shea was going to cause in among the Kerry backs? Contrast that not-very-high number with the number of times you’ve read about Mayo’s lack of forward quality.

It would seem that in the space of seventy minutes Mayo have gone from lacking a quality forward to having the damn things falling out of the trees – Andy Moran, Cillian O’Connor – the current top scorer in the Championship with 3-52 and counting, by the way – and now Aidan O’Shea, Destroyer of Worlds.

Remember all that stuff you read during the year about Aidan O’Shea being distracted by being on that Toughest Trade TV show, or playing basketball, or having selfies taken with children, or not looking up, or running with his head down and not letting it in? All in your imagination. Nobody ever thought, wrote or podcasted any such thing at all at all. In actual fact, the very sun itself rises from Aidan O’Shea’s not-at-all-fat-perfectly-athletic-in-fact bottom.

Are there questions that could be asked of the Mayo management? You betcha there are questions, but not one of them has anything to do with Aidan O’Shea playing fullback on Sunday. Not one. The very worst you could say about it is that the case is not proven, and if there are problems in the way Mayo set up it’ll take more than a straight swap between Aidan O’Shea and Donie Vaughan to solve them. Up Mayo.

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Ballad of Diarmuid Connolly

Jim Gavin Lambastes Pat Spillane and 'The Sunday Game.' Irish Times, June 25th, 2017.

The Ballad of Diarmuid Connolly

A great crowd had gathered, in Mercs and Land Rovers
The lawyers of Dublin would soon earn their fee
For inside in Central Council, a brave son of Dublin
Was tried for his summer before the C-C-C-C

Our gentle young Diarmuid, who plays hurling and football
Stood proud in the dock like a true Dublin man
While before him in judgement sat a big gang of culchies
Their minds already poisoned by Patrick Spillane

The legals and the eagles could do nothing for Dermo
Neither Clucko nor Fento nor the rest of our Champs
Now Dermot has nothing to do for the summer
But hang sponsored boots off the Five Lamps

God’s curse on you culchies, you cruel-hearted monsters,
Look what you’ve done to our football scene – oh!
But we’re not defeated, we’ll beat you in winter
Because our real hero is J Mourinho.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Mayo v Galway: The Lonesome Road to Salthill

Like one that on a lonesome road
Doth walk in fear and dread,
And having once turn'd round, walks on,
And turns no more his head;
Because he knows a frightful fiend
Doth close behind him tread.

The Mayo fan has no fear of frightful fiends. Why would he or she? What chills the Mayo soul in the lead-up to Mayo’s trip to face Galway in Salthill are entirely more rational and comprehensible than the slimy things in the slimy sea that so bothered the Ancient Mariner.

Billy Joe Padden, in a typically excellent preview of events in the Mayo News, outlined how Mayo can beat Galway. Billy would like to see a sweeper, ideally Kevin McLoughlin; he’d like Aidan O’Shea to start, ideally somewhere in the middle of the field; he’d like Andy Moran to finish the game, rather than start it, meaning Andy must come on as a sub, and above all Billy would like to see Mayo attack in numbers from the middle third.

Your correspondent sees the merit in every one of these arguments. My own personal contribution to Mayo’s Heroic Path to Immortality would be to play Aidan O’Shea at full-forward, rather than in midfield, but it’s not something I’d fall out with people over, least of all someone who knows so much more about these things than me, as Billy Joe does.

However. What does make me wonder just whether or not a frightful fiend doth close behind me tread is that we have seen no evidence at all of Mayo playing in the way Billy suggests all year, and there’s no reason to expect them to change their ways now.

There is a growing trend in GAA discussion that suggests anyone outside the team and its back-room team – henceforth referred to as “The Group” – has no business questioning any decisions made by The Group. Such questioning is, in fact, as near to treason as makes no difference.

Your correspondent takes an opposite view. Your correspondent thinks that the Mayo edifice – players, trainers, even the Board – have a duty to keep the fans reasonably informed of what’s going on with the county team. That does not seem unreasonable. It’s so reasonable, in fact, that Darragh Ó Sé made a case for it in yesterday’s Irish Times:

Supporters need to be led. They need to be given something to believe in. They need big players and big personalities showing them the way. Not giving them a reason to shrug their shoulders and decide that this is just how things are.

Where are the Mayo supporters being led right now? Your correspondent is more than eager to hear something, anything, from The Group in response to the following questions that have been rattling around my noggin:
  • Why has Kevin McLoughlin spent the entire league at corner-forward if he’s going to play sweeper in the Championship?
  • If McLoughin isn’t going to play sweeper, who is? Will Mayo play with a sweeper at all? And if not, why not?
  • Why start Andy Moran when you need him most in the final twenty minutes?
  • Why didn’t Robbie Hennelly start one home game in League? We all know David Clarke is the Number One choice but Robbie is still No 2 to a keeper who isn’t getting any younger and who has a history of knocks. Hennelly is going to catch Hell from the fans whenever he starts, so why not start him in the bleak midwinter and get it over with.
These aren’t the only questions that need asking, but they’ll do for now. If they’re not being asked aloud, people are certainly thinking them – by the time these things dawn on your correspondent they will have long ago dawned on better football people. And, like anything that’s supressed, the reaction will be greater the longer it has to stay underground.

If, God forbid, Galway should win in Salthill you can expect these questions to come bursting forth. You may say that’s unfair, but fair has nothing to do with it. The price of playing at the great height at which Mayo have played for the past six or seven years is that the fall is steeper.

And there is the awful truth that, for all the long and wonderful summers, Sam did not come home. Sam’s not coming home is more than a detail; Sam’s not coming home is why the depths of Mayo’s fear and trembling are so much greater than Galway because, even though Sam hasn’t been in Galway for sixteen years, that’s as the snapping of the fingers compared to sixty-six years, and counting.

Kildare never really came close to Galway in the Division 2 Final, but Kildare, with all due respect to them, weren’t really that great. Equally, Galway laid an egg the size of the Rock of Gibraltar in losing to Tipperary, something for which they did not get anywhere like the roasting a Mayo team would have got. Of if they did, they kept it quiet.

A seasoned Mayo team on the top of its game has nothing to fear from Galway. But a malfunctioning Mayo team, whose identity is slipping away for whatever reasons, will always walk in fear and dread. Let’s hope that walk to nowhere doesn’t start on Sunday. Up Mayo.

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Football Championship - A Pageant, Not a Product

The Championship: Philly seems to like it.

Positing the notion that a two-tier Championship is inevitable in Tuairisc earlier this month, the great Dara Ó Cinnéide wondered in passing how anyone could have the idea that the Championship could ever be a level playing field, with county demographics and traditions being what they are.

In light of this, it’s interesting to remember just why the back-door system was introduced in the first place. The original idea was that many teams were denied either the Championship itself or a good long summer run by the vagaries of chance, with the Cork footballers of the 1970s being the most frequently cited example. Had they not had the ill-luck to share Munster at the same time as the Kerry Golden Years team, who knows what could have happened?

And that’s why the back-door was introduced. Not to level the playing field for all, but in the hope that no more should a flower like that Cork team be born to blush unseen, and waste its sweetness on the desert air, as Mr Gray might have put it.

The back-door is with us sixteen years now, and the Law of Unintended Consequences has kicked in. The back-door Championship was introduced at a time that the economy was booming and the enforcement of the GAA’s amateur ethos grew increasingly token. So an initially-flawed idea – Cork were going to have face Kerry at some stage, after all – mutated into an even worse one and left us the mess we have today, where the GAA is having an existential crisis without properly realising it.

The whinging about the format of the Championship that (correctly) bothers Ó Cinnéide is based on the idea that the Championship is a sports entertainment product competing in a marketplace with other sports entertainment products like European Cup Rugby and the English Premier League. But it’s not. It’s something completely, uniquely different to that.

The things that make the Championship great cannot exist as part of a sports entertainment product. The Championship is written about as if the GAA exists to present a sports entertainment product. That is not why the GAA exists. The GAA exists to allow as many people as is practicable to play Gaelic Games as often as they wish. The inter-county Championship is a by-product of those thousands and thousands of games. The Championship is accident; the club games are essence.

This fundamental point is being lost in the hubbub as the GAA striates further between the haves and have-nots, and the separation will get even worse when the Super Eight series are introduced next year. The people running the GAA think the increased revenue will improve the Association. It will not. The increased money will destroy the Association by creating a professional division that will leave the ordinary club players behind. The ordinary club players and members who, after all, comprise the vast majority of the membership of the Association in the first place.

Under pressure of money, propaganda and carelessness the GAA is inching along a road where the needs of elite athletes will be prioritised over the needs of the thousands and thousands of fat bucks, slow bucks, clumsy bucks and hungover bucks who need and deserve the regular games that the GAA can provide them. The prioritisation should be the reverse.

Ewan McKenna, a man never afraid to speak truth to power, tweeted this after Tyrone walloped Derry yesterday:

But McKenna misses the point. The GAA isn’t about providing yet another dish to the armchair fan’s sporting feast. The moment its raison d’etre becomes the production of a sports entertainment product it’s all over for the Association.

McKenna will have his two-tiered Championship then. There may be two or three Dublin teams, two or three Ulster, two Connacht, two Munster, two Leinster. They won’t be counties though – they’ll be Lions, or Kestrels, or Wolfhounds instead.

There will be transfers and big money signings. The media will get proper media access, where players will dutifully remark that today’s performance was no surprise as everybody in the unit knew that if they executed their process everything would come right on the day. Hurling will go the way of having grammatical Irish in programmes – a fond yet distant memory.

Is the situation doomed, then? Is there anything that can be done?

Happily, the cause is not yet lost and there is something that can be done. Three things, in fact.

Firstly, close the back door. The Championship is a knockout competition like Wimbledon or World Championship Snooker. If you lose, you lose. Get over it.

Secondly, the GAA needs to remember it’s an amateur organisation, and that means bread-and-water diets for those who’ve been spending like sailors on shore leave. Either a budget cap or, better again, revenue-sharing as in the NFL of the United States. No more lawyering up to escape bans and most of all, proper and painful sanctions for those who would flout these laws.

Finally, it’s perfectly possible to accommodate those who want a more equal inter-county playing field by reconfiguring the League. Three divisions, home and away, promotion and relegation of course, maybe playoffs for the crack. The better players in each county get to test themselves against teams of the same level. The great Kieran Shannon of the Examiner has made the point many times that reworking the League will do more to address the uneven playing inter-county playing field than a hundred tweaks to the Championship.

The League can be run off between January and June, and then July-August-September are free for the pageantry of the Championship. Sports scientists and protein-shake aficionados will know that the best team is the one that does best in the League, while the Championship retains its ancient glory and stays true to the notion that a commoner may challenge a king, and that one crowded hour of glorious life is worth an age without a name.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Seán Fitzpatrick Trial Collapses - Irish Media Lets the Nation Down

To an institution, the Irish media made the wrong call yesterday. Everybody – Morning Ireland, all the papers, Newstalk and the rest – saw the Manchester bombing as the most important story of the day. It wasn’t. Not in Ireland.

The collapse of the Seán Fitzpatrick trial was the more important story from an Irish perspective, and the across-the-board failure to cover that properly is another erosion of the public’s faith in the institutions of the state – an erosion that can lead to the washing away of the state entirely if it’s not addressed.

Seán Fitzpatrick was the face of the Irish Economic Crash. He was chairman of Anglo-Irish Bank, the bank that lead the field in terms of funny business, and which had over-extended itself to such a degree that the Government felt it had no option but to guarantee all debts of all Irish banks in 2008.

For the past ten years, the feeling has existed that the crash was due to reckless banking practices and it seemed right and just that certain reckless bankers should pay for that. But the collapse of the Seán Fitzpatrick trial suggests that’s really not going to happen.

The reasons why the trial collapsed or whether or not the law that deals with white collar crime is fit for purpose are questions for another day. What I’m concerned with this is the media’s inability to realise the importance of this story concerning Seán Fitzpatrick and the collapse of his trial.

In trying to come to terms with how someone so very unsuited to the job is currently President of the United States of America in Monday’s New York Times, David Brooks had some fascinating things to say about the phenomenon of alienation. It was, after all, the alienated who voted for Trump – those traditional Democratic voters in Wisconsin whom Hillary Clinton could not be bothered canvassing, for instance.

Angry voters made a few things abundantly clear: that modern democratic capitalism is not working for them; that basic institutions like the family and communities are falling apart; that we have a college educated elite that has found ingenious ways to make everybody else feel invisible, that has managed to transfer wealth upward to itself, that crashes the hammer of political correctness down on anybody who does not have faculty lounge views.

Does that sound at all familiar?

Fianna Fáil suffered the most catastrophic election result in its history in 2011 as a result of the electorate’s anger at the crash and, despite a recovery in 2016, the party is still struggling to regain lost ground. The electorate, meanwhile, disenfranchised with the last government because of a Labour betrayal and a tone-deaf Fine Gael slogan, remains in hostile mood as it still struggles to understand if democracy works in this country.

That’s what makes the Seán Fitzpatrick trial so important. The nation was going to come to terms with what happened through that trial. The nation would have become more educated in how banks and the state interact, the system would be able to strengthen its regulatory powers, all sorts of good and healing things would happen.

Not only will those things not now happen, the establishment of the state – and remember always that the media is the Fourth Estate of the Establishment – doesn’t even seem to register the nature of the crisis.

People are quivering with anger over the collapse of the Seán Fitzpatrick trial. They turned on Morning Ireland yesterday morning to hear about it and all they heard about was Manchester. The papers were all Manchester, and that’s how it continued throughout the day.

Micheál Martin told the Dáil yesterday that the collapse of the trial was a damning indictment of the Office of Director of Corporate Enforcement, and the Taoiseach agreed with him. But what does that mean, really? What is the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement? Where is it? Who’s in charge of it? To whom does it answer?

We don’t know. The Office seems just another quango, that just exists for the sake of existing, without ever doing anything. The nearest we came to finding out what exactly the ODCE does was from RTÉ’s Orla O’Donnell’s frankly terrifying account of why the trial collapsed which gained no media traction, not even in the “National Broadcaster” itself.

If your correspondent were in charge, Ms O’Donnell’s story would the front page story on my newspaper, the first story on my radio show. Instead; silence and the shrugging of shoulders.

The media are enjoying the soap opera of the Fine Gael leadership race or else hand-wringing about when we’ll have a Labour Party progressives can believe in. In the meantime, the poor sods who get up and go to work and pay tax and send the kids to school and hope they’ll have some future look at all this and wonder: what’s going on, and why doesn’t someone do something about it?

In their alienation, the citizens of the US took a chance on Trump. In whom will the Irish place their trust when the time comes?

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Mayo Championship Preview 2017

One of the perpetual debates that take place where two or more Mayo football folk gather is the one that looks back at the different teams that reached the All-Ireland Final in recent years, and wonders if that particular team let one slip away or if they were blessed to get there in the first place.

1996, above any, is seen as one that slipped away while 2004 vies with 2006 as years where Mayo were lucky to get as far as they got is the general feeling in the county.

Your correspondent, however, is nothing if not a difficult man and would argue that the 2004 and 2006 teams are under-rated, and it is the fact of their failing so badly on the big day that causes them to be judged more harshly than they deserved.

For instance, the 2004 campaign started in Castlebar with Galway going 1-3 to 0-0 up in the first ten minutes, and friends of your correspondent at the game contemplated turning to Buddhism, leaving all possessions behind and wandering the world with a begging bowl, anything but to have to watch any more of this.

But Mayo came back, helped in no small part by the arrival of David Brady from the subs’ bench, and later that summer put the All-Ireland Champions, Tyrone to the sword, again inspired by David Brady. You may cavil that Tyrone were still mourning their fallen hero, the great Cormac McAnallan, and of course that’s possible. But equally we’ve heard narratives going the other way too, that after a tragedy there was no way such-and-such a team were to be denied. Again, it’s one of these things that is only knowable in hindsight, and never at the time.

All of which is a long way of coming around to ask the critical contemporary question: did Mayo deserve their place in the All-Ireland Final last year, or where they lucky to get there?

Last year’s final was the reverse of the usual Mayo paradigm where Mayo play beautifully during the Championship and then blow up like the volcanic island of Krakatoa in the final. Mayo played like a drain all through last summer, only to rip off the disguise and give Dublin the fright of their lives in the Final. There was one Mayo supporter who could feel the hot tears of pride welling in his eyes looking Mayo’s defiance against Dublin. I know, because I was that Mayo supporter.

And then they lost, again, and then came this year’s League.

This year’s League wasn’t great. Armagh’s Oisin McConville was fairly withering in his assessment of Mayo on the Second Captains podcast after Dublin disembowelled Mayo on a Saturday night in March, and it was hard to argue cogently against any of the points he made. Where have Mayo got better? Why should we believe that Mayo are ready to that extra yard that has eluded them for so long?

The return of Galway to football’s top table casts a considerable shadow over the Mayo summer. Hopefully the team’s mind is focussed solely on Sligo, whom Mayo face this coming Sunday, but every supporter is thinking of that journey into the claustrophobic confines of Pearse Stadium, Salthill, three weeks later.

This isn’t the first time Mayo have gone to Salthill nervous after a poor League. James Horan’s second year in charge was such a time, when Mayo responded by buttering Galway up and down the seaside. But that was then and this is now. Mayo were young and hungry then; they’re not that anymore.

Mayo’s visit to the back-door last year was their best-ever campaign in the wilderness, but the difference between the front and back-door Championships for a team with Mayo’s miles on the clock can’t be underestimated.

In the front door, Mayo’s experience stands to them. Everyone they play knows who they are, has been watching them on TV for the past six years. There’s nothing the opposition can do that Mayo haven’t seen and aren’t ready for. If Mayo play a team with less experience, that’s what the young team will see.

But if Mayo play a team with less experience in the Qualifiers, what are the young lads thinking? It depends on who knocked the other team out. If they lost to a Division 4 team and half the panel are already in the States, they’re cooked.

However; if they’re Kildare, say, and they lost to Dublin, what have they got to lose? Dublin were always going to win but win just two more games are they’re back in Croker in high summer, exactly where they want to be! Isn’t that what we want boys? Isn’t that what all those long winter nights were about? Now come on and put these losers out of their misery!

Or whatever. Getting to Croker is a big deal for the up-and-coming team in a way it can’t be for a veteran team like Mayo. To be still playing football in August is an achievement for nearly every team in Ireland. It doesn’t mean diddly in Mayo. Sam or the Void for Mayo. There is no in between, and that’s a hard mark to make.

You may say that the Qualifiers did Mayo no harm last but there’s one more year’s mileage on the clock and fellas have to be wondering. Some of the selections and tactics have left supporters scratching their heads. If the team are scratching their heads too, Mayo are not long for the summer.

The Championship is about momentum. If Mayo beat Galway in Salthill, Mayo have some momentum.  They will still have to find an identity, but the League form will be on the summer breeze and another golden road opens up before them.

If Mayo lose or, worse, get hammered in Salthill, their momentum is zero and any young team with ambition will see them only as prey when Mayo are taken out of the pot. So; another light-hearted and carefree Championship in store for the sweet county Mayo, the finest county in Ireland.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

2017 Football Championship Preview

To consider this year’s football Championship is to long for the open competition of the Big Four era four or five years ago. The truth of the 2017 Championship is that there is Dublin, and there is the rest.

The Champions reign far above anybody else in the firmament and no circumstance can be imagined in which any path to glory can bypass them.

Kerry’s recent win over Dublin in the National League Final suggests that Dublin’s great historical rival may be on the way back, but being on the way and having arrived are two different things.

Kerry are the aristocrats of football – how could they not be? – and that made the artisanal nature of their game against Dublin so strange. One does not expect to see royalty with the shirt off, down in a hole, digging, but that’s exactly what Kerry did to do something, anything, to keep up with Dublin.

And more luck to them. Kerry people love to talk about beautiful football but that’s just blather for the tourists on the jaunting cars around Killarney. Kerry know that the only beauty is in winning, and whether that winning is done with the rapier or the broadsword is very much a secondary detail.

If Kerry and Dublin win Munster and Leinster – and goodness, what a shock it would be if they didn’t – they are not due to meet until the final and such a final would be a game everybody in the country could look forward to. But the chances of Kerry putting another one over on Dublin are slim.

A rare sight in contemporary football was to be seen in the League Final as Dublin’s Cian O’Sullivan, emperor of the Dublin defence, was utterly unable to figure out just what was going on. Kerry had found a way to get past him and for once O’Sullivan had little impact on a game. But what will Kerry do the next time, now O’Sullivan and Dublin are forewarned?

Jim Gavin gets insufficient credit for his tactical nous – Dublin have so many players the idea exists that all a manager has to do is roll them a ball and let them get on with it. But Gavin proved his worth in the All-Ireland replay. Gavin made three tactical changes for the replay, all of which worked. His opposite number made only one, and that blew up in Stephen Rochford’s face. Game, set and match, Gavin.

While Kerry are not in Dublin’s league, is anyone else in Kerry’s? It’s a hard case to make. For a time, it looked like Mickey Harte was about to do what only Seán Boylan has done, and build All-Ireland teams from two different generations. Tyrone faced Kerry in the 2015 semi-final and it is a fact that the Kerrymen were scared of a Tyrone returned to their opening-years-of-the-century glory – you could sense the fear in the players before the game, and the sheer relief afterwards among the Kerry support.

But the new model Tyrone lack the score-taking ability of their forebears and you can’t win games of Gaelic football if you can’t take your scores.

Donegal are still a threat, but that threat is lessening. There are hints of trouble in the camp and, while Michael Murphy is the best pound-for-pound footballer in Ireland, we are reminded of the remarks of Doctor Henry “Indiana” Jones, Junior, to Marian Ravenwood in their desperate flight from Egypt aboard the good ship Batu Wind – it ain’t the years, honey, it’s the mileage.

Galway were impressive in their win over Kildare in the National League Division 2 Final. They have forwards with that little bit of cut about them, and the day when Galway were too posh to press in defence are long gone. It’s been a long, long time since anyone outside the top flight won the All-Ireland however, and it’s hard to see Galway doing it this year for that reason. Seasoning counts in modern football.

For those who enjoy a longshot bet, I would consider Monaghan at 40/1. Galway are a shorter price even though Monaghan are now veterans of Division 1 and Galway haven’t played in the top league in years – this is the benefit of being glamorous, which Monaghan never have been. But if Sam is to go further than Dublin – and it’d be a really big surprise if he does – Monaghan at 40/1 looks the value bet to me.

Mayo? Tomorrow, friends, tomorrow. What’s one more day in a sixty-six year wait?

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Education Policy and Teacher Conferences

An intelligent child participating in class, yesterday.

The second week of the Easter Holidays is conference season for the three main teachers’ unions. This year, the INTO meets in Belfast, the TUI assemble in Cork and the ASTI meet in Killarney of the lakes.

Your faithful correspondent’s crystal ball can predict the coverage of the difference conferences right now and save everybody a lot of gas. The biggest single topic will be money, of course. There will be stories about school divestment, all focusing on the urgency of the thing and none trying to figure out how two sides who want something to happen can’t make something happen.

And there will be earnest thought pieces about the need for greater emphasis on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects in both secondary and primary schools. STEM advocacy is so popular now that it wouldn’t surprise your correspondent if the only thing stopping some advocate form suggesting STEM subjects be taught in the womb is the fear of raising a hare in the matter of the Eighth Amendment, and we’ll get plenty of that in days to come, thank you very much.

All of these motions will be discussed by mostly earnest people who have an interest in their profession and are trying to make it better. But there is an elephant in the room that is seldom discussed, and that was only drawn to your correspondent’s attention over the weekend.

While browsing in the top floor of Hodges Figgis bookstore on Dublin’s Dawson Street, your faithful quillsman got talking to a maths teacher, who was in there because, he told me, he likes to stay on his game and ensure he has fresh questions with which to challenge his students.

We got talking about maths in general, and the nature of the subject. I half-expected a jeremiad against Project Maths, a recent initiative of the Department that is roundly despised by any maths teachers of my own acquaintance, but no. This man told me that the single biggest problem that he sees in his classes is that the poor standard of verbal reasoning among the children means that some of them struggle to understand the question itself, to say nothing of being able to answer the thing.

Stephen Leacock wrote a much-loved essay called A, B, and C: The Human Element in Mathematics, in which he speculated about the real lives of those mysterious characters who appear in maths questions – A can dig a hole at twice the speed of B, who himself digs holes at half the speed of C. If C digs three holes an hour, how long does it take A to dig five holes?

A glance at current Leaving Cert papers suggests that these sorts of problems are all over the shop, as part of making maths more “relevant.” But what it’s actually doing is making maths harder, because the child doesn’t have the skills to read the question. It seems nobody was paying attention to that one.

It’s very hard to get to the truth of these things. Teachers can feel a little paranoid about people always having a go at them, and journalists find divestment so much more box-office than dull educational theorizing. But if this anecdotal evidence is generally reflective of the current state of affairs, this is a time bomb that can fracture the state even further when it blows.

It seems the notion of the homework-less school is more and more in fashion at the present time. And that’s fine, for those who realise that, while one agrees with it at supper in Sandymount, one has been reading to Meadhbh and Conchobar since they were toddlers and making damn sure they were literate before they even got to school.

But what about the kids whose parents don’t read, and aren’t literary, or well-educated, or even educated at all? The State education system is meant to provide a safety net for them, so that they are given the one and only shot at escaping a poverty trap – education. But the State is failing badly in this remit and politicians who claim to represent the disadvantaged and marginalized in society are too busy making jackasses of themselves time and time again over water charges and other nonsense rather than trying to do something, anything, useful for once in their careers.

Class doesn’t matter. This isn’t the 19th century anymore. Education is what separates haves and have-nots now, and it is legitimate to wonder who is shouting for the have-nots when it comes to education. Not one damn person from what I can see.

Enjoy the teachers’ conferences. I am not looking forward to the 1,500 word think-piece in tomorrow’s Irish Times drawing a shrewd parallel between the divestment delay and the Tuam babies cover-up, but I am grateful that I would be able to read it if I wanted to. There isn’t a day that goes by that I’m not grateful for that ability, and my heart breaks for those who will never get the opportunity to learn as I learned. God help them.

FOCAL SCOIR: One hour and forty minutes, of course.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Irish Politics Summed Up in Seventy-Seven Words

"The hospital was proposed in 2002/2003. One of my daughters was going into secondary school at the time. At the same time, there was a hospital proposed in Perth. That daughter of mine went through secondary school, went through medical school, went through internship and, two years ago, went out to Perth to work in the hospital. By the time she was working in the hospital, not a block had yet been laid for the Irish hospital."

Gerald Flynn, speaking about the projected cost overrun for the National Children's Hospital on RTÉ Radio One's Late Debate last Thursday, February 23, 2017.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Tribes and Chieftains Are the Only Things That Count in Irish Politics

An article in yesterday’s Irish Times made a bold prediction about a change in direction of Irish politics:

Political leaders such as Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair, Jeremy Corbyn and Donald Trump not only redefined what their party stood for but redrew the lines of political competition in their countries.
A Leo Varadkar leadership of Fine Gael potentially presents a similar realignment of the Irish political system in a way that none of the other declared or potential candidates at this point appears to offer.

There is an elephant in the room here, tapping its foot impatiently.

The elephant is the fact that there is no evidence to suggest that leadership or ideology matters a hill of beans in an Irish general election. There are no general elections in Ireland; there are forty-something local elections, depending on the constituency count, with a government being formed as an afterthought to those individual local wars.

Two things matter in Irish elections – tribes and chieftains. Anything else is either a bell or a whistle.

Discussing the presence of Jim O’Callaghan and Stephen Donnelly on the current Fianna Fáil front bench, the author makes a point based on “my experience in the UK.” Experience in the UK is as much in Irish politics as experience on Mars, the Red Planet. Irish elections are utterly different from British elections.

The British House of Commons has 650 seats. There are four Independents among those 650 MPs, three of whom were elected on party tickets and either resigned or lost their party whips. The only Independent elected as an Independent in the 650 constituencies is Lady Sylvia Hermon, MP for South Down.

Dáil Éireann has 158 seats currently. Fourteen of those seats were won by Independent Candidates, possibly more depending on how exactly you count them (are the Independent Alliance or Independents 4 Change “Independent”?). This is a situation unthinkable in the British system, but it is par for the course in Ireland. Ireland has a completely different way of doing things. Completely different.

Those fourteen Independents got two hundred and fifty thousand votes in the last election. The Labour Party, worried about the “face on the poster,” changed leader after the 2014 local elections and ended up with 140,000 votes, slightly better than half that of the Independents, and with less than a third of the Independents’ seats.

So the crystal clear lesson here is that it doesn’t matter if it’s Leo Varadkar’s, Simon Coveney’s or JoJo the Dog-Faced Boy’s face on the poster. Irish elections are local elections for local people. Irish governments are formed by backroom deals on “issues” like Waterford Hospital, Stepaside Garda Station and flood barriers in Athlone, and have nothing on God’s green earth to do with “liberalism, globalism, equality of opportunity, enterprise and greater personal liberty and responsibility.”

And this is exactly the way the people like it. The system is set up to reward our lesser angels, and the current crises in the HSE, the Guards and the absence of any sort of contingency planning for Brexit is the result. The boys at home get sorted no matter what, and let the country take her chances with what’s left.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Due Process, and the Dogs in the Street

Whenever someone in authority in Ireland is under pressure for perceived wrong-doing, it is the done thing for whatever flack has been sent to RTÉ to defend him or her to insist that he or she is “entitled to due process, just like any other citizen.”

Where Aughrim is lost in so many of these things is that the interviewer invariably accepts this notion. But the interviewer should not. The interviewer should instruct the flack to hold it right there, and tell the flack that the creature in question isn’t entitled to “due process, like any other citizen,” because the creature in question isn’t any other citizen.

If the creature in question were any other citizen, we wouldn’t be talking about him or her on Morning Ireland or the Six-One News or whatever. We wouldn’t give a fiddle-dee-dee what was done, by who, to whom. It would be the very least of our concerns.

The reason we’re interested in the actions of public figures is because those public figures have a considerable impact on the life and well-being of the community as a whole, and because of this, public figures must be held to a higher account than private citizens. It’s a necessary stop against corruption, jobbery, cronyism and many other evils, and God knows such a notion never caught on around here at all, at all.

Reader, have you heard that “Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion?” It’s a two-thousand-year-old phrase that sums up the Romans’ attitude to people in public life. That not only must they themselves be models of probity, but those around them must be as well.

Contrast, this, then, with standards in Irish public life. For the past week, the media have been in a tailspin trying to chart who said what, to whom, and when, in regard to Garda whistleblowers and to what extent can we pin them on this. Because it’s only when pinned down that an Irish public figure will put his or her hands up and admit it’s a fair cop. Otherwise, the tradition is to say nothin’ and tough it out.

Those sagacious observers, the dogs in the street, couldn’t give an empty tin of Pedigree Chum who said what, to whom, and when. The doggies are convinced of the following facts:

  • Maurice McCabe was ballaragged scandalously, and he was not, is not, nor will he be alone in that.
  • The ballaragging didn’t happen by accident either. It’s not what you’d call an Act of God, like.
  • The doggies don’t care how much the Garda Commissioner knew or didn’t know about it.
  • The Mutt-ocracy do care that the current Garda Commissioner was brought in because of the scandal surrounding her predecessor and, rather than cleaning that up, she’s made it worse. Therefore, these debates about her stepping aside are pointless. She’s got to go. If she won’t resign, fire her and put someone else in charge, and keep firing people and appointing new ones until the screw-ups bloody stop.
  • Katherine Zappone made a career from talking about children’s rights. How ironic, then, after a children’s referendum and the setting-up of a Ministry for Children, that the only thing Tusla seem to have done is played a part in a scandalous smear campaign. Goodbye, Katherine. Thanks for nothing.
  • Frances Fitzgerald. What are you for, exactly, Frances? You’re for the door, that’s one thing we can settle straight away.
  • Enoch Powell, that Wolverhampton wanderer and former UUP MP for South Down, once remarked that all political lives end in failure. Penny for your thoughts, Taoiseach.

As for an election not solving anything, whatever about the doggies, your correspondent is willing to give it a try, just in case it does solve something. Maybe, after the clown cabinet of the past year and the horror-show currently unfolding in the United States, the parties might be in a mood to behave in a vaguely grown-up fashion this time and present their plans like adults speaking to adults, rather than the usual rhetoric of orderlies in a mental home telling those fellows who think they’re Martians that the flying saucer will be here tomorrow to take them all back home.

As for our, the electorate’s, part, let’s all try to stop believing in flying saucers and get real while there’s still a country left to save.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Ireland's Failure as a Sovereign State Summed Up in One Photograph

This is a photograph of Coombe Hospital, taken yesterday. You’ll notice two big signs – one on the building itself, and one to the left of the gate.

This is the sign on the wall:

And this is the sign beside the gate:

And what you then notice is that the genitive case of the Irish word for “university” is spelled correctly on one sign, and incorrectly on the other. For “ollscoile” to have been spelled incorrectly on both would have been bad. But for whoever is in the charge of these signs to have two different versions up and either not notice or, worse again, not care that those signs are not the same is symbolic of the way we do things in this country. Badly.

Irish is hard language to spell, for different reasons. It’s a broken language, that wasn’t able to develop its own written tradition due the invader’s attempts to stamp it out. And Irish would be hard to spell anyway, because it’s an inflected language. The spelling of words changes according to what a particular word is doing in a sentence.

However. The existence of the language is one of the strongest reasons for their being an Ireland independent of the United Kingdom in the first place, and the place of Irish as the first language of the state has never been seriously questioned.

In the light of this, for so glaring an error to exist so prominently in so historic a location says a lot about the state, its values, and how its governed. And none of it says is good.

Signage costs money. The wording on those signs should the same – how did they end up getting spelled differently? How did the signmaker not notice? How did the buyer not notice? And most of all, how is it that not one of all the employees going in and out of the place every single day never thought: hold on, those signs don’t match up. One of them must be wrong. Let’s do something about it.

The most likely thing, of course, is that someone has noticed, and the issue went up the line until it met that most important person in any branch of Irish government, Fear an Oighir. Fear an Oighir, or The Ice Man, isn’t the man who gets things done. He’s the very opposite, actually.

Fear an Oighir is that fellow at the end of the line in an escalating problem. He’s the man who can look at a problem, sniff, and decide that nobody around here needs to bother his or her arse with this old shite. Fear an Oighir then opens a special drawer in his desk that is in fact a space-time portal to a cold and bottomless pit, and into the vasty deep goes the issue, never to be seen or bothered about again.

This is what you see on the other side of the street, as you look across from the gate of Coombe Hospital:

A wasteland, in anyone’s language. Prime retail area in a less-than-worthless condition in a city with big problems to do with rent, housing and homelessness. But reader, Ireland is a state that can’t even spell a sign correctly – what chance have we of tacking urban renewal, or climate change, or the end of post-Cold War order?

We yak on about how much the language means to us. What do those signs tell any schoolchild who notices on his or her way to school in the morning? It tells him or her that they’ll never, ever learn how to spell Irish words correctly, but worse again, it tells him or her that it doesn’t really matter, because the whole thing is only a cod anyway. It’s just for show. Nobody’s meant to take it seriously.

Twenty-first Century Ireland faces huge problems requiring profound political skill, vision and no small amount of selfless patriotism on the part of the public in general. But we’re either too lazy or too stupid or too uncaring or too much of some other damn thing to even manage to put up a sign without humiliating ourselves and any aspirations we ever entertained, in harder times than these, for Ireland to finally take her place among the nations of the Earth.