Tuesday, April 30, 2019

All-Ireland Football Championship 2019 Preview

Dublin are odds-on favourites to win their fifth title in a row, an achievement that would make them the greatest GAA team of all time, football or hurling. They would be the only team to achieve that feat, and that therefore makes them the best. Of course it does.

Of course, they would not be a sensible investment. An odd-on price is never a sensible bet in multi-horse field, even if there are fewer horses running in the race than you might prefer.

Your correspondent is inclined to take League form with a pinch of salt, but what was interesting about Dublin in the League wasn’t so much the results as the sudden loss of appetite. Dublin in their pomp revelled in burying teams. This new, steady-as-she-goes approach ill-suits them. Seeing them like this is like calling into the local and seeing the local Champion Pintman not only drinking tay, but drinking it out of a cup and saucer. Has the world changed, or is he only doing the dog?

There is an opinion abroad that Dublin could get broadsided in Leinster. Delicious though this prospect would be, it’s impossible to make a case for any other Leinster team doing anything other than falling valiantly. In recent years, it’s only Westmeath that have really put it up to the Dubs, but they’ve never had the sort of playing resources that Meath or Kildare or even Offaly once enjoyed. The pick of the three wouldn’t keep it kicked out to Dublin now.

A shrewd eye should be kept on Kerry. There was much made of how immature Kerry looked against Mayo in the League final, but you can grow faster in football years than you can in actual years. Seán O’Shea will only be a few months older come the summer than he was in that League final, but he’ll be carrying scar tissue that will stand to him in bigger battles to come.

How long it takes him and others to toughen up will determine how quickly it takes Kerry to win their next All-Ireland. It is not impossible it may happen sooner than we would have thought when the final whistle blew in that League Final.

The hardest challenge to the Dublin imperium will come from the North, as usual. The Ulster Championship is easily the most competitive, and perhaps it’s because of this that a dumping into the qualifiers seems to knock Ulster teams less out of their stride than others.

The leading hounds of Ulster are Monaghan, Tyrone and Donegal. Monaghan had a stinker of a league, and did well not to get relegated in the end. This, after beating Dublin in the first game and being hailed by some critics as the second best team in Ireland.

The reason why Monaghan had such a poor League isn’t obvious. But it’s difficult to believe that so valiant a team as we’ve known Monaghan to be in recent years have just suddenly thrown in the towel. The suspicion here is that it would be unwise to dismiss the Farney challenge without further intelligence.

Donegal and Tyrone have been praised for their league performances, and praise has been grudgingly given to those counties in recent years. It’s interesting that the praise heaped on the counties is at odds with the rumours drifting from the camps, about players not happy about playing for their particular managers and other stories of internal strife and woe.

Try though I might, I can’t force myself to believe that Tyrone have found a Philosopher’s Stone to take them one further than last year’s All-Ireland Final loss where, in truth, they never really competed. You have the players or you don’t, and Tyrone, for all Mickey Harte’s in-game tactical ability, seem one or two players short.

Donegal are blessed with the best player in the country, Michael Murphy, and will always be a threat while that man can pull on a jersey and answer Tír Chonnail’s dread war cry. The more help he has the greater Donegal’s chance becomes.

Galway were the darlings of the League last year, only to again disappoint in Dublin in the summertime. That Galway reign as kings of Connacht is beyond dispute and, should they face Mayo in a Connacht semi-final as many expect, they will enjoy home advantage at the butt of the broad Atlantic, also known as Stáid an Phiarsaigh, Bóthar na Trá. Kevin Comer’s absence continues, which has to be a source of worry.

Again, the word on the wind is that Comer is one of these players who is more than just another member of the team – he is seen, subconsciously at least, as the avatar of the Galway football tradition, and as such he cannot be replaced.

For all that, Galway are spoiled with talent, and learning all the time. Last year there were rumours of difficulty in integrating the Corofin players into the county team. That was noted, and the two teams have been bonding since the start of the year. Almost violently so if rumours of a January challenge match are to be believed, but then, people do like to tell stories.

Your correspondent’s friends insist to him that being afraid of Galway is like being afraid of the dark – an immature, childish terror, not borne out by scientific evidence. Right. Tell that to me again when we’re stuck in traffic for two hours on the Grattan Road after Galway pox a seventy-eighth minute winner over Mayo and we’re all thinking things can’t get any worse, only to see great Cthulhu himself rise up out of Galway Bay, release an eldritch roar, and make a beeline for the Róisín Dubh, foul tentacles thrashing the sea into foam around him. I’ll remember to laugh.

You may notice that there is one contender that remains unnamed. The reality is that Mayo have bounced back so high from taking the road from Newbridge to Nowhere last year that any attempt at rational thought on the part of any Mayo man, woman or child in the matter of football is now quite out of the question.

In her beautiful sonnet, Love is Not All, poet Edna St Vincent Millay remarks that, in a difficult hour, she may be tempted to sell your love for peace, or the memory of this night for food. Your correspondent would sell a damn sight more than that to see Diarmuid O’Connor lift Sam in the Hogan Stand on the first of September, and is unable to sensibly contemplate even the notion of it without either fainting or going insane.

For that reason then, I predict that not only will Dublin not win five-in-a-row, they won’t even reach the final. The final will be a repeat of the 2000 final, a draw between Kerry and Galway, and I’m danged if I know who’ll win the replay.

If anybody’s in Castlebar on the night of September 2nd, by the way, I’ll either be in Byrne’s, McHale’s, or above in a tree somewhere, looing. Up Mayo.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Dealing with Today's Protest in Dublin

Dublin city centre is due to be thrown into chaos for God-knows how long from lunchtime this afternoon due to a protest organised by a group called “Extinction Rebellion Ireland,” and the authorities seem incapable of addressing the issue. Your faithful correspondent returns to his escritoire, then, to see what suggestions he can make to help.

A spokesman for Extinction Rebellion Ireland, a Doctor Ciarán O’Carroll, is quoted in this morning’s Irish Times as saying that they “have no choice” but to throttle traffic in the city-centre at the start of the only four-day bank-holiday in the year.

“We have tried marching, and lobbying, and signing petitions,” the doctor tells the Times. “Nothing has brought about the change that is needed. And no damage that we incur can compare to the criminal inaction of the Irish Government in the face of climate and ecological breakdown.”

It’s a funny thing that, what with this being the only choice left to them, and they having worn themselves out marching, and lobbying, and signing petitions, that so very few people have heard of Doctor O’Carroll and Extinction Rebellion Ireland before. It’s odd also that the Irish Times did not put this question to Doctor O’Carroll – if Extinction Rebellion Ireland have been doing all this marching, lobbying and petition, why is the only hearing of it now? Have they not heard of Twitter? Or even, God help us, the ‘gram?

As a scientist, your faithful correspondent has to admit that it's entirely possible that all this has been going without my noticing it. I struggle to keep up with pop culture - until very recently I thought Drake was a gentleman duck, for instance.

So, in the interest of giving Extinction Rebellion Ireland a fair shake, I looked them up in Google Trends. In Ireland over the past ninety days, Extinction Rebellion Ireland have been of more interest than "hemorrhoid ointment", but not as much interest as "soda bread recipe." Here's the chart:

But the politics of all this are for another day. Right now the city has to deal with the fact that an enormous public nuisance is going to be caused in the city centre this afternoon and the city has a duty to protect its citizens from that enormous public nuisance. Extinction Rebellion Ireland’s right to protest does not override every citizen’s right to travel across the city as she wishes.

What, then, is to be done? Slooshing the protesters off the bridge with water cannon is the first and obvious solution. A joyous idea, and one sure to be popular with the people slowly roasting in their cars, but unfortunately not practical.

Just as a tackler in rugby has a duty of care to the player he tackles in the air landing safely on the ground, so the moral water cannon operator has a duty of care to those whom he scrubs from the pavement. The protest will centre on O’Connell Bridge, and it’s impossible to guarantee against one of these wretches going into the Liffey and drowning for the cause. This would be a Pyrrhic victory indeed, and so we must think of Plan B.

Plan B is to simply arrest the bums and cart them off to the barracks. Unfortunately, the contemporaneous situation in London, where protestors are also vigilantly acting the bollocks, suggests that being arrested is exactly what the protestors want. Therefore, the city should use the water cannon and let Extinction Rebellion Ireland chance Anna Livia’s cold embrace before playing into their hands.

Happily, there is Plan C – or B+, if you’re feeling witty.

Plan B+ is to arrest the protestors as before, but rather than cart them off to the Bridewell or Pearse Street cop shop, they are simply taken to the Papal Cross in the Phoenix Park and released into the wild, to gambol with the deer or make their way back into the city as they please.

The Phoenix Park, as readers may be aware, is not small. No buses run by the Papal Cross and there is no way out except on foot. Those Extinction Rebellion Ireland members who wish to return to the fray are, of course, entirely free to do so, but if they do it, they will have to do it on foot. An hour’s forced march back to the bridge may take some of the pep from their step and make them wonder if there really isn’t one more petition that they could sign that could yet win the day.

And when the rebels get to O’Connell Bridge, if it is the case that the protest is still going on, it’s simple enough to scoop them all up as before and spin them out again. Of course, each trip goes a little further than before. A Phoenix Park veteran can be dropped off to that green area in Cappagh Road, in Finglas, near the National Orthopaedic Hospital. After Cappagh, you get a spin out to Mulhuddart, say. And so on, and on, and on.

We could even have some sport on it, with Paddy Power making book on any activist being able to make it back to Dublin from west of the Shannon before midnight. Or Boyle's - we're neither snobs nor monopolists, you know.

It has long been the case that Dublin’s citizens are expected to put up with having their lives and business interrupted at the whim of any jackass with a bee in his bonnet. Maybe it’s time the city stopped being played for a chump for once, and gave those people who look for trouble exactly what it is they seek.