Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The Austin Burglar

What a very unusual build-up there's been to this Mayo-Cavan game. For a game that leads to another day out in Croker in the (please God) hot summer sun, the reaction and rumblings at home have been muted. There is no real sense of anticipation, only a vague tingling of dread. Dread of losing, dread of what exactly Kerry would do to County Mayo in ten days' time were Mayo to be so careless as to beat Cavan.

John Maughan, normally a man that can seldom resist the footlights, has gone to ground, leaving just Georgie Golden as his representative on Earth. The only word that seems to be coming out of the camp is that "Marty McNicholas is going well in training"; only thing is, we've heard that about Marty Mac since Pat Holmes first brought him on board. Marty, Maloney, Andy Moran - these fellas are always flying in training. No news there.

The really interesting thing about this game, at the remove of Wednesday evening, is whether or not Austin O'Malley will pull on the green and red when it matters. Austin was one of the stars of the 2004 league campaign, but he only got two runs out in Championship afterwards - the dying minutes of the Connacht Final, and the dying minutes of the second replay against Fermanagh, the All-Ireland semi-final. He did not get the call on the fourth Sunday, and, while he spent a hot ten or fifteen minutes running up and down the sideline in this year's Connacht Final, he did not cross the white line.

Why not is the chin-scratcher for all Mayo fans. Austin was popping them over for fun in the league in 2004, not least in that miraclous and joyous game against Dublin in Castlebar when he scored seven, from frees and from play, from right and from left. That's not bad. He did well down in Cork as well, but as the ground got harder the word began to seep out that Austin was a bit of mudlark. That Austin had very little by the way of jet engines, and would be found out on the hard veld of high summer. Or else Somebody Important didn't like the cut of Austin's jib.

Whatever the reason, Austin was sparingly sprung during last year's Championship, and never had a chance of a start. So why he's starting now is the three-pipe problem, as Mayo's championship, and John Maughan's reign as Mayo manager, both hang by the same thread.

If Austin starts, why is he starting? Has the Mayo Brains Trust spotted something at last? If he was "going well in training" we surely would have been told - by Georgie, inevitably. So could it be that Maughan has decided bugger it, I've nothing to lose? I'll spring Austin and my critics will have one less stick with which to beat me?

The last named is An Spailpín Fánach's best guess. It's the final shout in the Last Chance Saloon, and Maughan is sending for a saviour from the Wild West - or, to be more precise, Louisburgh. The only thing that's causing An Spailpin Fanach concern is that Austin is meant to be filling in the same role as saviour as BJP, An tIolar Breá Iorrais, was meant to be doing in the Connacht Final, and see how badly that went.

Not that an tIolar should be blamed, of course. Billy did as he was told, and if his ball providers couldn't find him with the ball, he could hardly be expected to whittle one out of the goalposts. The thing is, if the ball coming in wasn't coming in to BJP, who's to say it'll come sailing in to AOM? Besides, wasn't Austin playing at wing-forward on that marvellous day in Castlebar, where a man has some space to turn and shoot? Surely there's a world of difference between playing on the wing and playing as that forward with his back to the goal?

If Austin is given the 14 shirt, does that mean that an tIolar should have his wings clipped? Is there an single intelligence behind all this, or is the current Mayo setup like something from a Pirandello play, with Fifteen Footballers in Search of a Manager?

Radio Johnno will be fascinating tonight at ten o'clock. Hopefully. It depends on the Great Man's mood, of course. Sometimes you get ball-hopping, having-a-cut Johnno, but other times you get butter-wouldn't-melt-in-his-mouth Johnno, who is a touch on the dull side. And is there any chance of giving Heaney a run at midfield? His interview in this week's Mayo News, where he admitted lapses of concentration in a position that he acknowledged can badly punish such lapses, make for another nervous trip to Da Hyde. Will Austin save the day and, if he does, will he start again against Ciarraí in a week's time?

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Biff! Bang! Pow! Violence and the GAA

It is with a weary and bloodshot eye that An Spailpín Fánach has been observing the mild eddies of outrage in the media after the slapathon that was the Ulster Final. Same old, same old, I'm afraid. Peter Canavan will get his sending off rescended, Stephen O'Neill already has had his rescended, and there's a fortunate meeting of the Games Disciplinary Committee tomorrow night when they boys can hang a certain Mayo footballer out to dry as an example of the organisation's committment to stamping (boom! boom!) out violent play. And then it's on with the motley, as per usual.

God help any mother's son that has to referee a game of football anymore. The rules, as currently written, have been ignored for at least the past fifty years, if not longer. The famously quoted one, about striking or attempting to strike being a sending off offence, is about as relevant as that Cromwellian law that's still on the statues by the banks of the Corrib, where it remains the case in law that neither "an O nor a Mac shall strut nor swagger" through the streets of Galway city. And you thought the Rossport 5 had it tough.

Striking and "sorting out" have been a part of the game for so long now that to try and stop them would involve inventing a completely different code, alien to what we've been looking at since we were kids. The problem is that while biffing and putting oneself about evolved into the actual play, the written rules were never changed to keep up with this aspect of football's evolution, if indeed football in 1884 was as innocent as Michael Cusack and my Lord Bishop Croke would have us believe.

It's the Irish solution to an Irish problem, and when the game was strictly amateur this didn't matter so much. These things happen, it's a game for the players, yada yada yada. But Gaelic Football, for better or worse, is Big Time now, where you have men training every hour God sent them and all manner of dieticians and sports psychologists and whatever class of a lug you call those bucks who earn their wages by figuring out that armbands are what win All-Irelands. That's too great an investment in money and time to be messed about with.

The other problem with games going Big Time is that fellas are slightly more inclined to give the rules a bit of a short trip under the carpet. You take as much slack as you can get. For instance, when a player thumps the ball carrier in the kidneys, an offense of the sending-off-for-striking variety as outlines in the Laws, the player simply pleads that he was simply attempting to play the ball, and hit the kidney by accident. There is no law covering that player who's lack of skill is such that he never strikes the ball but somehow always connects with a kidney.

The GAA tried to legislate for this persistent fouling at the start of the year with the Sin Bin that was used in the league, but turned chicken once the moaning started. A pity; it was a noble experiment, and, if persisted with, it may have stopped the appalling vista of this year's All-Ireland Final being decided by the referee.

The referee in an game of football has his work cut out for him as what he has to do is enforce rules that don't exist. If you ever had the social dilemma of asking someone how much they'd like in their tea and for them to reply "I'd like just enough, neither too much nor too little," you know exactly the dilemma that faces any Knight of the Whistle at a quarter past three on the fourth Sunday of September.

What would be interesting of course, would be if a GAA dream could come true and Da Dubs were in the All-Ireland Final. It certainly be interesting if the penny hadn't dropped for who-ever is reffing that final that there is one team that has learned the hardy wee mon lesson, and that's our friends in Sky and Navy Blue. Did anybody notice how the two Dublin defenders in the Leinster Final that were minding Laois' dangermen, Ross Munnelly and Billy Sheehan, were both yellow-carded before half-time? Was that a co-incidence, do you think?

Not only was your faithfully chronicler astonished at how well Ross Munnelly played in a losing cause in the Leinster Final, An Spailpín Fánach was rather surprised he was able to walk off the pitch at all. And that's what this question about violence in football boils down too, the GAA's ideal of what they want their typical footballer to look like. According to the rulebook he's Ross Munnelly, but in reality, the most imprtant player in Gaelic Football today, player of the year, is Francie Bellew. Biff! Bang! Pow!

Monday, July 25, 2005

Michael McDowell and the Vision Thing

Constantin Gurdgiev of Trinity College was a guest on the Business Show on Today FM yesterday morning, and made a remark in passing about vision and Irish politics. Gurdgiev said that there was only one politician in Ireland who was really bothered with the concept of vision, who believed what he believed and asked the people to either back him or not based on that vision. This is in contradiction to the prevailing wind in world politics, where one invents oneself by focus-group, or the traditional way in Irish politics, which was generally a choice between feathering one's one nest, bringing bread and circuses to one's rural constituents, lamenting the Fourth Green Field from the safety of the Free State and being an economic incompetent - 0r any combination of the above.

And that's what makes the Vision Thing so unusual. For someone to say I have looked up the matter and I believe that such a way is the way to go. Vote for me on this basis, not on any other. And, in what may seem like a bizarre choice to someone whose only information about Ireland and Irish politics is gleaned from our remarkably unreflective media, Dr Gurdgiev's choice for this politican of vision, this Moral Leader, is current Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell.

An edited version of McDowell's address to the McGill Summer School in Glenties last week was published in yesterday's Sunday Business Post, and it was this speech that inspired Gurdgiev's remark. McDowell has been so demonised by the media that it's hard not judge him as a man rather than an ogre, so why not take a peek at his McGill address in the SBP, and ask yourself - is McDowell really so terribly wrong in his analysis?

Friday, July 22, 2005

Ivan Neill - Imithe Go dTí an tSíoraíocht

Cailleadh Ivan Neill, iareagarthóir spóirt ar an Western People, an nuachtáin áitiúil i dtuaisceart Mhaigh Eo, an Déardaoin seo caite. De gnáth, deirtear nach mbeidh a leithid arís ann tar éis sochraid duine éigin, ach is léar nach mbeidh leithid an Néilligh againne arís - tá oiléan na hÉireann ró-athraithe ón chéad lá a thóg an Néilleach suas a pheann, chun cluichí an Chumainn Lúchleais Ghaeil a insint dá phobal.

Tar éis sochraid scríobhnóra nó iriséora, is minic a ndeirtear gurb sárscríobhnóir é an fear a chailleadh, go mbíodh an pheann mar claíomh na fírinne ina lámh aige, go mbeadh áilleacht a stíl scríobhnóireachta mar lasadh coinnle ar oíche dhubh dhorcha. Ní féidir siúd a rá tar éis an Néilleach - ní bhacadh sé le stíl phróis ghalánta, nó le stíl Mheiricéanach cosuil le Grantland Rice no Red Smith. Ba iriseoir den seanscoil é an Néilleach - scríobhadh sé cad a tharla ins an chluiche, agus ba chuma leis faoi cibé rud eile. Dá mbeadh cluiche maith ag Séamus Ó Murchú ó Bhaile an Chíl Bhig, seacht gcúilín bainte amach aige, sé chinn ón imirt, insódh an Néilleach go raibh, agus dá mbeadh cluiche maith ag Tomás Ó Ceallaigh ag imirt mar cúl báire ar son Baile na hEaglaise Mhór, insódh an Néílleach go raibh. Tar éis tuairsc an Néilligh léite agat, ní bheadh radharc nua agat ar fheallsúnacht an tsaoil nó ar chúrsa pólaitiúla faoi láthair, ach bheadh fíos agat gur imríodh cluiche Gaelach ar an Domhnaigh, agus gur rinne gach aon fear acu ag na h-imreoirí a dhícheall ar son a gceantar agus a muintir.

Níl an stíl sín, an stíl gnáthúil, míghalántach, ró-fhaiseanta sa lá atá inniu ann. Inniu, cuirtear gach cic liathróide faoi crinnmhiondealú, agus i ndeireadh na dála bíonn fíos ag an lucht tacaíochta go léir go fir iad na himreoirí peile, agus go ndeanann botúin, cosuil le gach mac mhathair againne. Ní raibh spéis ag an Néilleach ar sin; ba bhreá leis go raibh cluichí á imirt, agus bhíodh gach rud eile tar éis an scéal dó.

Feictear seo i saothar an Néilleach ag deireadh a shaol, agus eisean éirithe as eagorthóireacht spóirt an Western. Bhíodh sé ag scríobh fós ar cluichí ach, in ionad na cluichí mhóra Mhaigh Eo mar a scríobhadh, cuireadh an Néilleach tuairisceacha isteach ar cluichí scoile. Ní cluichí galanta péacadha cluichí scoile - imrítear i rith an Geimhridh iad, ins an dorchadas, ins an fearthainn, ins an fuacht. Ach ba chuma leis an Néilleach - bhí fíos aige gurb iad na cluichí seo ina théann gach gluin nua peileadóirí faoi bláth, agus ba bhréa do iad a fheicéal i lúchair na cluichí ar leathaobh an Ardáin Móir. Ní bheidh leithid an Néilligh arís ann. Ar dhéis Dé go raibh a anam uasal, agus go mbainea sé sult agus spraoí ó gach liathróid buailte i bpáirceanna an Phárthais.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Greim Daingean ar an nDingle

Léann An Spailpín Fánach ins an Irish Independent ar maidin nach dtaitníonn le chuid phobail An Dhaingin ainm an baile a athrú ón leagan Béarla, "Dingle," ar ais go dtí an leagan ceart Gaeilge, "An Daingean," nó, "An Daingean Uí Chuis."

Tá faitíos ar na daoine seo go gcaillfidh an baile gnó na gcuairteoirí a fhilleann chuig an nDaingean, agus go rachaidh na cuairteoirí a fhilleadh chucu thuas chuig an Chontae Mhaigh Eo, b'fheidir, agus go mbeidh na cuairteoirí sin á chrú ag siopadóirí agus lucht gnó Mhaigh Eo in ionad lucht gnó an Dhaingin. Tá faitíos orthu go ndéanfadh na cuairteoirí a théadh chuig an nDaingean dearmad orthu nuair a fheicfidís "An Daingean" in ionad "Dingle" ar a léarscáileanna, agus fillfidís thuas go Luimnigh nó, níos measa, thíos go Corcaigh.

Mar sín, cuirfear faoin votáil é, aimn an baile a leagan as Gaeilge nó as Béarla ar fhograí, léarscáileanna agus mar sin de. Agus tá sé sin ceart go leor - is daonlathaí é An Spailpín, agus tagann sé le toil na daoine. Ach is saigheas feallsúnóir é An Spailpín freisin, agus dar leis, ba cheart leis an rialtas rud tabhachtach amháin a cheangáil suas leis an votáil seo.

Tugann An Spailpín faoi deara go bhfuil An Daingean i Gaeltacht Chorca Dhuibhne, agus mar sin, tá roinnt deontais ag teacht ó airgead cánach an rialtas go dtí an Daingean chun an teanga a choimead beo i mbéal na daoine. Mura dtaitníonn leo ainm a áit dhuchais a leagan as Gaeilge, is léar nach dtaitníonn leo bheith ina gcónaí i gceantar Gaeltachta ach an oiread. Mar sin, is ceart don rialtas stop a chur ar an abhann airgid atá ag teacht leo, agus é chur in áiteanna eile - na daoine a thug cabhair le Microsoft Windows XP a chur i nGaeilge, nó daoine eile a dhéanann sársaothar ar son an teanga nach bhfagann pioc tada as. Beifear í bhfad níos ceart ná í a chur chuig pobal míbhuíoch an "Dingle."

Monday, July 18, 2005

Glenn McGrath Bowls a Few Snorters Before the Ashes

Anyone with any feeling at all for the great game of cricket has to be licking his or her lips in anticipation of another Ashes series. If England win the toss and choose to bat first, when they arrive in the middle at eleven o'clock in Lord's this Thursday and the opening batsman takes his guard to face the first ball of the Ashes 2005, the man storming in will be Glenn McGrath, looking for his 500th Test wicket.

McGrath, as well as being a tremendously talented cricketer, is also a master of the subtle art of psychological warfare. Have a read of the interview with him in this morning's Guardian and whet your appetite for the battle ahead.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Puke Quiddich

The mountains of hype in the papers and on the news this week about the release of the new Harry Potter book reminded An Spailpín Fánach of something he'd written in early September 2003, just after Kerry and Tyrone spent an All-Ireland semi-final lamping the tar out of each other. I was wondering how well such violence from those beyond the law would translate into another code. Here we go again:

It was another beautiful September Monday at Scoil na bhFaithnemhuic. The butter coloured sun shone its beatific rays all over the old grounds, from the ivy-clad gates, through the ancient halls of the main building onto the bike shed at the back, where Muggeridge minor was busy working on an extra-circular spell to make the girls' scrunchies disappear. He knew that once he could eliminate the scrunchie, the pinafore, blouse and scanties could not be far behind. Taking a deep breath, Muggeridge minor returned to his awesome work.

Unaware of Muggeridge minor's magnum opus, games mistress Letitia Dunbar-Harrison strode out to the playing field, her broomsticks under her arm. Last year the proud old school had got to the Provincial B Final at Quiddich and she had high hopes for her charges this year. It was so nice to see the young people getting out and playing sports away from those musty old books - it always gave Miss Dunbar such a special feeling of reward to see her charges grow as people, not just wizards.

Miss Dunbar distributed the broomsticks and chose captains for a loosen-up game of Quiddich, to run the rust from her charges. After a brief argument over who'd be left with one stout young man on their team was resolved by sharing the burden over the halves, Miss Dunbar strode to the middle, and threw up the ball.

What she was to witness was to stay with her the rest of her life. Young Parry Hotter accelerated onto the pill, snaffled it and turned his stick goalwards, only to be karoomed into the ditch by a burly young man recently arrived in the school. Poor Parry was catapulted into some hawthorns that skirted the playing field, and it was some time before he got his breath back. He leaped back on his broomstick, and flew up to where battle was thickest.

Unfortunately, battle was the operative word that day in the skies. Any time a child got the ball the opposition surrounded him. One would firmly box his ears; another would grab his broomstick and run it back and forth between its pilot's legs - so disconcerting for boys at that age - until the child submitted. The defensive players would mass and attack the player in position like the monkeys in the Wizard of Oz, swooping down, whooping and crying, until eventually all that could be seen was something of a cross between a low flying cumulus and an asthmatic in a lime pit.

This was not the ancient game that Miss Dunbar knew and loved. She gave a shrill blast on her whistle.

"Children!" she cried. "Come down here this instant!"

The children flew down and dismounted. Some where shamefaced, some wore clothes that had been torn to ribbons in the battle, some were crying and some were aching, just aching, for that damned Baden-Baden to come near me one more time and by Jesus, I'll let him know he was in a fight. The children assembled around Miss Dunbar.

"Children! What is the meaning of this?" demanded Miss Dunbar. "This is not the game that I have been teaching you for the past five years, and it certainly not the game that your fathers and their fathers' fathers fought and died for you to play! What is the meaning of this?"

There was silence. And then a small, reedy voice piped up.

"Please Miss," said Parry Hotter, "it's all to do with that Irish game."

"Shut up! Shut it, ya wee tout!" roared Máirtín Mac Aonghusa, his face red and his eyes glaring. "Tell them nothing!"

Brave Parry carried on, the words coming in a tide now. "Please Miss, it's all to do with that Irish game that was on telly yesterday. It was meant to be a great game with the best forwards in the country going at it and may the best man win but instead it was all frees and pulling and dragging and spitting and men behind the ball and force of numbers and Pat Spillane said it was puke football on The Sunday Game and maybe it was and maybe it wasn't but Tyrone won it in the end and isn't winning all that counts?"

"Do you mean to tell me Parry Hotter," said Miss Dunbar, her words icy, "that some bunch of Nordies aren't content with ruining their own game but with ruining ours as well?"

"Please Miss, it wasn't just the Nordies," said Parry. "Kerry were at it as well. Uncle Eugene says so."

"Parry Hotter!" said Miss Dunbar. "How dare you say that about the Kingdom! Don't you know that they have the finest footballers in Ireland? Everybody stands back to admire their Gaelic athleticism, and then sends them home from Dublin every third September with Sam at the back of the train?"

"But Miss," said Parry, aware that he was challenging authority but equally aware that truth conquers all, "Uncle Eugene says that Kerry haven't been right since Meath spanked them in 2001 and Armagh emasculated them last year in the second half. Uncle Eugene says that the first thing any Kerry back did when a Tyrone man came near him was give him a big hug and hang onto him, the way Uncle Dudley said I was to do with a lady if I was married to her or if she was very, very drunk. Uncle Eugene says that they were at it all day, even Séamus Moynihan."

"Enough!" cried Miss Dunbar. "I can't believe that such a thing would be done by anyone wearing Green and Gold. Wash your mouth out with soap this instant!"

"But it was, it was, it was!" cried Parry, oblivious to all caution now. "There were over seventy frees in the game, that's more than one a minute, it wasn't like a game of football at all, it was like rugby league with all the players bucking and bouncing on the ground the way Uncle Dudley..."

"Stop! I've had enough of your nonsense! My ears hurt! My faith is shattered," cried Miss Dunbar, slumping to the ground. The players gathered around her. Some thought of giving her a good shoeing, but remembered that this technically was a stop in play, making shoeing unnecessary. Miss Dunbar looked up at the children through dishevelled hair. The children thought of the shoeing once more, but stopped when she spoke again.

"More than seventy frees, you tell me? Why didn't the ref send anyone off?"

"Please Miss," said Parry - how Miss Dunbar was getting sick of that reedy voice and those dopey bloody glasses - "if the ref sent anyone off then whomever got the man sent off would have been whining for the next month that the ref didn't let the game flow and was being pernickety but when he didn't send anyone off they're all saying that he lost control of the game and he's only a bollix."

"Well, that's not a nice a position to be in," said Miss Dunbar. "Maybe if the GAA made up their goddamn minds on what's a foul and what's not a foul and not listen to half the amount of ráiméis that the ref should have done this or shouldn't have done that we'd be spared nonsense like yesterday. Every other goddamn game on Planet Earth has a set of rules they can stick too - how hard is it for the GAA to do that? You can't have your cake and eat it. Slow Learners of the Earth Unite, wha'?"

Miss Dunbar pulled herself to her feet. "You know," she said, "all this soft chat about Gaelic football has given me a fierce lip for porter. What say I follow another great GAA tradition and introduce you all to the joys of underage drinking? Smear some blackberries on your chins now like good like boys so no-one will know you're under-age and we'll all head down to Pat Joe McGinty's there at the cross - are you on for that?"

"Yes, Miss," chorused the children happily.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Dear John

Pluais na bPúcaí,
Lios Lom na Lúbaireacht,
Contae Maigh Eo.
11ú Iúil, 2005.

Dear John,

I see there's not even any quote from you in today's Times or Indo after that Salthill disaster yesterday. I can't say I blame you - I didn't feel too much like post-match analysis myself, and I couldn't even get out of Dublin to get to the game. Didn't look too great though, and I'd say it was even worse if you had the lads watching it on the telly on the bus while you were trying to get out of Galway.

That post-match analysis is a funny thing John. Papers aren't interested in what really happened you know. They are to an extent, but generally they're interested in keeping the show on the road. Product is all. You remember the Maurice Fitz coronation after the '97 All-Ireland? The papers had been waiting to write that since Maurice first laced an inter-county boot, and the story of the day, Mayo blowing up, was the B feature.

Of course, the story at home that year was your changing of four lines for one substitute. I think you're still pissed at that criticism John, you know - I remember you mentioning it in an interview last year and I remember thinking, my God, he's still pissed, seven years on.

You have to let it go John. On another day, you would have been a hero. The ball hops in sports. That's the way of it.

Of course, it was a hopping ball that did you most of all, wasn't it? 1996 was your year, it really was. Mayo went from the old Division 3 of the National Football League to a Connacht title, a six point win over Kerry in the semi-final, and then they were all over Meath in the final. All over them. That winter, when it was all over, people were coming out with this old shite about Meath never being bet, they were always going to come back, yada, yada yada. Sure that's all me arse John. Meath came back against Down in 1991 and didn't catch 'em, did they? Coyle poxed it with that kick. Bouncing over the bar? You wouldn't see it in a kids' game. Do you remember they had Coyle on Breaking Ball on the telly trying to get him to do it again? Never got near it. Pox. Pure pox.

As for the replay, it's hard to win when you get your best man sent off. The Meath boys aren't buying that, but we know it's true. Poor Pat McEneaney knows it true too. Here's one you don't read in the papers - McEneaney spent the night after that All-Ireland in the bar at Jury's Hotel at Custom House saying My God, what have I done? I fucked it up. The papers don't print that, of course, and they shouldn't - reffing is about as thankless a task as there is - but we know that's the difference between zeros and heros. All this other chat, where you try to coach flair and happenstance out of games - well, they're not games anymore, are they? That's life - good things happen to even the best families.

You know that prayer you see in some houses John, maybe just to one side of the Sacred Heart Lamp? "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference?" It's something I think about a lot, when to fight, when to let go. I have to sit in traffic a lot getting home to the West John - serenity is badly wanted on that job.

I suppose it's something you think about a lot too. What I was saying earlier about you mentioning changing the four lines that time - not much serenity there. I remember you being quoted on as saying that while winter training was a bit of a balls, it's far better than being back in the house watching Coronation Street. But John, do you ever wonder if this is all there is, if the law of diminishing returns kicks in after a while? F. Scott Fitzgerald reckoned there were no second acts in American lives. I wonder are there second acts in Gaelic Football?

Micko and Johnno - can I mention Johnno? Doubt if he's your favourite dude at the minute - have won here and there, but they haven't carried grails, the way a Mayo All-Ireland is a grail to you, and to any Mayoman. The only one that has is Kevin Heffernan, and then, if you can put twelve Dubs beating fourteen Galwaymen down as the original gameplan, well, I'm not that likely to believe you. Besides, the only reason you hear so much about Heffo is because he's a Dub. We'll be hearing a lot of that this week, God help us.

A manager can't win the frigging games John. Only the players can do that. All the manager can do is show them is his vision, hope they follow that, and hope that God smiles on them. But after a while John, the vision begins to fade, and you get the feeling the boys have heard it before. Things have been on the slide since 1996 John, really. There'll be a lot of boys at home twisting ropes for you, but then it was always like that. It's just a pity.

People that are talking about worst-evers are talking through their hats. These are the greatest days for Mayo football since the 1950s. How could they not be? Two club All-Irelands, heaps of Connacht titles, a National League - better than the boys of 1969-'81 got, which was precisely nothing. Nada. Not a sausage. Joe McGrath eviscerated the great Harry Keegan for 2-5 in the Connacht final of 1979, and Mayo still lost by eight points. That's worst ever territory, right there.

You came when things were pretty low John - Division 3, another hiding in Tuam, losing to Leitrim the year before, losing by twenty to Cork the year before that, the mutiny the year before that again, Derek Duggan putting the knife to Johnno in 1991 - those were rocky days. And here are Mayo now, at the national table. Yesterday was a bad day John, but there have been good days. There have. The only thing is, as with any man, you're only remembered for your last game, your last season. You put Mayo back on the map in the mid-nineties John, and we've been there since, but right now there's not a lot else you can do.

Your old buddy Peter Ford had Galway up for the game yesterday John, and Mayo weren't. Our poor fellas looked like sheep in a heap, who didn't know where to go or what to do. It's the manager's job to tell them what to do and that they can do it, and that wasn't forthcoming. Bradygate didn't do you any favours last year, and this year you're like a man running scared, always worried about being second-guessed. Let it go John. Let the Board give Johnno the finger again, like they're only dying to, and let them put in McStay if that's what they want. Let some other fecker have the sleepless nights. You've done you bit. Take over Castlebar, and see if you can get them back to the heights. The Mitchells will have young Moran for the next ten or fifteen years to build a team around, you can have a piece of it, and maybe get some thanks at last. Go on your own terms John - one of the reasons the lads on the Board have been there as long as they have is that they've always been able to find a scapegoat, and this year it's going to be you. Don't let them throw you to the wolves - we've had too many good days for that.

Take care John. It's been magical.

Is mise, le meas,

An Spailpín Fánach.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Why Galway Can Win the All-Ireland

When the RTÉ coverage of the Connacht Final started at two o'clock, Joe Brolly and Colm O'Rourke were not physically holding their noses at the prospect of the Connacht Final from their outside broadcast unit in Cork, but they might as well have been. It was clear that the Stadler and Waldorf of RTÉ's "match analysis team" found the very idea of the Connacht Final a little below the salt, a little bit the child of a lesser God.

Well, screw 'em. Galway have as good a chance as anyone left in it to rise Sam in September, and better than most. Because they come from the West, they will not be rated, and that will be their greatest strength. It will be a simple case of history repeating.

It's fashionable for the Dublin media to sneer at we hicks having a pop at the Dublin media, but one vignette makes it clear just how seriously those inside the Pale take those outside. As Mayo's doom was being writ large by the moving maroon finger, RTÉ commentator Darragh Maloney kept harping on about how John Maughan has never lost a Provincial Final as manager. Maybe you can mail An Spailpín Fánach if I'm wrong, but didn't Maughan lose the Connacht Final against Galway in Salthill in 2003? Two years ago and Darragh's research didn't go back that far? Not the most dazzling of research performances, Dazza.

When you're set in the Dublin media you get in the habit of spelling Westerner as g-o-b-s-h-i-t-e. It's that simple. Because you're from the West, you are inferior. Because the Connacht Final in the Pearse Stadium frying pan was poor, Colm and Joe have written off Galway's chances. Last year's Munster Final was every bit as bad between Kerry and Limerick, but I don't remember the chaps having a pop at football in Kerry. And just as well, as it turned out.

The other thing that doesn't come up on the Pale pundits' radar is that Galway are not a Connacht team once they escape Connacht. Games in Connacht can sink to the lowest common denominator, local rivalries being what they are, but once they see the green acres of Croker, Galway become men inspired. It suits them, in a way the big time doesn't suit Mayo or Roscommon. Mayo or Roscommon are always tipping the cap, while Galway walk the walk and talk the talk.

Galway have operated a poor mouth strategy all during this campaign, begging not to be hit with the child in their arms - or the children at 2, 3, 8, 9 and 13 in their arms, to be specific. Well, the children became men under the Salthill sun, and now the world stands at their feet.

Punditry doesn't register that, of course. Joe Brolly remarked that when it took Galway two games to get past Roscommon in the Connacht Final of 1998, the Derry boys were laughing at Galway, thinking that Derry were in a for a stroll in Croker. They were mistaken, as they would have known had they rewound the tape to May of '98, when Mayo and Galway played one of the greatest games of the 'nineties. But, because it was played in Connacht, it didn't make the national richter scale.

Screw 'em. This isn't the first poor Connacht Final Galway have won - they beat Mayo in Castlebar in 1987 by eight points to seven, and they beat Mayo in Tuam in 1995 in a game that wasn't as awful but was nowhere near good. And what happened? The team of '95, in Croker for the first time in eight years, an unheard off slump for Galway, wired it up to Peter Canavan and Tyrone, while the 1987 team, still bearing the scars of the 1983 All-Ireland Final, took Cork to a replay - the same Cork that are now held up as the last team to win back-to-back All-Irelands.

All good Galwegians will be only too delighted to hear their dismissal by O'Rourke and Brolly, as they know that results count more than chat. If you are a betting man or woman, direct your prayers to Galway getting Dublin in the quarter-final. There is no way our metropolitan friends will consider even the possibility of losing to fuggin' mulchies, and as such Galway will be an attractive price for the upset. And upset they will - they might not go all the way to September, but anyone who underestimates Galway does so at their very great peril.

Friday, July 08, 2005

The Star-Making Machinery Behind the Popular Song

If there's one thing that gets An Spailpín Fánach's goat, it's this nonsense heard from persons of a certain demographic, claiming that while popular music in the charts is all samey and ersatz, people like Coldplay and Travis are "real artists." These are the sort of people that hang on Tom Dunne's every word on his radio show, even though poor Tom could bore for Shell Petroleum (although not on the Mayo coast, thanks).

A pound of sausages, yesterdayEverybody involved in the music business is sold like a pound of sausages, and should be viewed as having as much artistic credibility as a pound of sausages until they've proven different. Frank Sinatra's manager hired the bobby-soxers that used to scream for Frank in the 'forties, paid them cash at the end of the show, and that basic principle hasn't changed any in the sixty years since. You can sell any damn thing you like as long as it's in the correct wrapper. The people who think that they are buying artistic credibility are buying the notion of artistic credibility, rather than artistic credibility itself. It operates on the same principle as the three card trick.

Anyone who's in any doubt about this should read Alexis Petridis, the excellent music critic of the Guardian, in today's paper. Petridis went off to see if he could be packaged and sold just like he was another Damien Rice (Damien Spice, if you like) and the answer was - yes, of course he can. Easy-peasy.

Alexis shows his fangs elsewhere in the paper when he savages poor little Charlotte Church's new album elsewhere in the paper. Ah well - that's showbusiness, toots.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

The Connacht Final: Nobody Knows Anything

McDonald: And for my next trick...NOBODY knows anything. William Goldman said it of Hollywood, and it's equally true of Gaelic football. Let's play you bet your life: what would you bet your life on happening - Mayo winning pulling up against Galway last year in Castlebar after spotting Galway a six point start in the first five minutes, or Colm Coyle pointing on the half-volley from seventy yards plus to save the Royal bacon in 1996? Nobody knows anything.

As the Connacht Final looms by the seaside nobody knows even less. Galway have been doing the béal bocht all year, but their keening has reached even more heart-rending heights following the announcement of the Galway team, which you can see here. If my sources are to be believed, the only reason Galway are fulfilling the fixture in the first place, instead of just conceding the walk-over and being done with it, is because they need the gate money after only twenty-seven people turned up at Pearse Stadium to see Mayo get another scutching from Kerry, this time in the Christy Ring Cup.

An Spailpín Fánach has seen enough Championship days come and go to beware the heron choker with the bifurcated tongue. It is a mistake to say that the Mayo are Galway's great rivals - Kerry are Galway's great rivals, for while Connacht may be the great Mayo stage, Galway operate at the National Level. Galway do not field teams of bums, and they do not produce teams of bums when they are managed by a Mayoman whose desire to stick it to a Mayo County Board who will never forgive him for his role in the mutiny of 1992 can only be biblical in proportions. Peter Ford was a tough hombre when he patrolled the square for Mayo, and he is likely cast Galway 2005 in his own image. Those who expect Galway to turn up to simply tickle Mayo's belly are mistaken, whatever other impression might be given by the constant grinding of teeth and rending of maroon garments currently going on amongst the Galway support.

The absence of both Joe Bergin and young Armstrong is surprising, of course. If Bergin is crocked then there's not a lot that can be done except to break the seal on Plan B and see where that takes you. Messers Coleman and Cullinnane did not look like barefoot boys buying shoes in their outings against Leitrim and at Under-21, so it's unlikely that they'll roll over and say uncle for the likely Mayo pairing of Ronan McGarrity and Shane Fitzmaurice. And Mayo's cup of delight will surely run over if, as predicted, Ford calls Kieran Comer from the isolation of the corner to the heat of crowded midfield battle. As Shane Fitzmaurice is a guard by profession, he'll be well able to direct traffic, and it'd be nice to know that there was one thing that he could be relied to do, other than fulfil a criterium that seems a sine qua non of current Mayo football philosophy, that the ideal footballer is first and foremost broad in the beam.

The Mayo team hasn't been announced, but it's reasonable to expect that there will be few changes from the outing in the Hyde. Dermot Geraghty will probably start ahead of the injured Keith Higgins, while Trevor Mortimer is likely to edge the misfortunate Stephen Carolan in the corner. Trevor came on like a ball of lightning against Roscommon - it was good to see after a lonesome day for him in Croke Park in September.

Ciarán McDonald's critics were muttering into their weak and milky tea after the game against Roscommon, complaining that McDonald didn't do this or didn't do that. He was too deep, he wasn't involved, we preferred his hair long. Let them away. There are some men who won't be happy even if McDonald did a Prospero, and set roaring war 'twixt the green (and red) sea and the azured vault. You're not going to get that in every game, and it's ridiculous to expect it. If McDonald can play a mortal's game at centre-half forward and maybe launch a lively one fizzing and spitting into his full-forwards every now and again, just for the howl, he'll have done a fine day's work, and be fit and rested for the greater battles ahead.

An Spailpín knows nothing about this child Hanley that Ford has cast into the flames on the edge of the square for Galway, other than some remarks on the GAA Posting Board that he's very young. But there was a hint on one post that Hanley and Billy Joe Padden have a bit of history, at what I presume is Siegerson level. Ford was a full-back himself - what does he see?

If he sees the reflection of himself, then Mayo are in trouble. Mayo have been looking for a full-forward ever since Jimmy Burke hung up the boots in 1989. Ray Dempsey and John Casey both performed well at times, but neither was able to claim the Green and Red 14 for his own. But Billy Joe didn't do a half-bad impersonation of a full-forward in the Hyde, so much so that it was a pity a few more heat-seekers weren't bombed up to where they could do the most damage.

If the child in swaddling clothes Hanley has a good game on Billy Joe then it could be time for Mayo to reach for Plan B, and John Maughan's Mayo are not noted for the calibre of their Plan Bs. Georgie Golden won't be turning into Irwin Rommel anytime soon. But if the royal blood that courses through young Padden's veins pays off and he lords it in front of goal, then it's hello, baby for the rest of the summer. Padden will become an tIolar Breá Iorrais, Mayo will have one more string to their lyre and the bandwagon will rumbling down the Salthill promenade by half-past four on Sunday evening.

Or else Galway's young men will come of age in a spectacular and simultaneous flowering of hope, talent and ambition, McGarrity will get the buffeting he got from the Rosseroos with bells on, the Guard Fitzmaurice will be exposed and John Maughan will be run out of town on rail while Peter Ford rings John O'Mahoney to sing selections from Annie Get Your Gun down the phone at him - specifically, Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better. Who can say? Nobody knows anything.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Charles Haughey

Their Dread Commander

John Milton foresaw the rise of Charles Haughey. What else is the demonic assembly before Satan in Book I of Milton's Paradise Lost if not a vision of a Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis in the 1980s?

Their dread Commander. He, above the rest
In shape and gesture proudly eminent,
Stood like a tower. His form had yet not lost
All her original brightness, nor appeared
Less than Archangel ruined, and the excess
Of glory obscured: as when the sun new-risen
Looks through the horizontal misty air
Shorn of his beams, or, from behind the moon,
In dim eclipse, disastrous twilight sheds
On half the nations, and with fear of change
Perplexes monarchs. Darkened so, yet shon
Above them all the Archangel: but his face
Deep scars of thunder had intrenched, and care
Sat on his faded cheek, but under brows
Of dauntless courage, and considerate pride
Waiting revenge.

Charlie standing like a tower might having jam on it a little, but the rest seems pretty much on the money to An Spailpín's sepia-tinted remembrance. Shape and gesture proudly eminent, original brightness, care on the faded cheek, but brows of dauntless courage and pride crying out for revenge? Doesn't sound much like Le Petit General from Limerick or Dr Fitzgerald, does it?

It's astonishing to remember just how much Haughey was hated, despised and reviled, at the time, and still is in some quarters. It would seem that hatred still so coruscates through Dessie O'Malley that the PD Paterfamilias was in the Sunday Independent recently claiming he didn't know that the recent documentary series was about Charlie Haughey at all. Well, he must have been the only one in the country that didn't know that Haughey was Miriam O'Callaghan's grand design, because it was fairly clear to everyone else.

Martin O'Donaghue told last week of some mythical Zorro who appeared on the plinth outside Leinster House to save Jim Gibbons by skilful used of the sabre, Gibbons being at that time on the business end of a kicking from Haugheyite apparatchiks. What characters were doing wandering around the Irish Parliament with swordsticks, and God knows what other concealed weapons, the former Minister for Arithmetic did not go on to elaborate. I guess it was the 'eighties, man.

It is further indicative of how much Haughey was hated by Dublin's chattering classes that a Certain Politician (God, isn't Irish libel law such a bastard?), damned for years over his central role in the infamous 1977 Fianna Fáil manifesto, has been feted as some sort of hero for trying to bribe another minister to switch sides during one of the heaves, whereas the delivering and accepting of bungs in other jurisdictions is generally frowned upon.

Haughey's story will be spun and respun until we're all speaking German and nicht scheißen about Irish politics anymore, but An Spailpín has a theory about Haughey, how he maintained, and still maintains, a fiercely loyal rearguard of admirers, through revelation after revelation. It is this: Haughey might have been a scamp, but he was no eejit. When he delivered his his farewell address to the Dáil as Taoiseach, he was correct in quoting Othello; Haughey had indeed done the state some service, and considerably more than his detractors ever did. One of the many fascinating nuggets that the Haughey mini-series has given us is what a bunch of muppets George Colley and Dessie O'Malley were as conspirators. Imagine them running the country if they couldn't even run a coup? The mind boggles.

It's hard to know what the Eagle of Kinsealy makes of all this, as he doubtless watches the final episode on telly tonight. However, as one deeply cynical yet strangely prescient FF-er told An Spailpín recently, who ever thought that Haughey would bury Doherty? Perhaps a few more of Haughey's enemies will meet their varied Waterloos before the great survivor himself must finally admit defeat and turn his face to Eternity?

What though the field be lost?
All is not lost-the unconquerable will,
And study of revenge, immortal hate,
And courage never to submit or yield:
And what is else not to be overcome.
That glory never shall his wrath or might
Extort from me.