Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Reflections on the Revolution in Croker

Glacann Seán Ó Flannagáin Corrán Mhig Uidhir - is fada an lá uainnIt is now forty-eight or seventy-two hours ago since I first saw Mayo, then 9/4 underdogs, beat Dublin in Croke Park, and surely never lighted on this orb, which they hardly seemed to touch, a more delightful vision. I saw them just above the horizon, decorating and cheering the elevated sphere they just began to move in, glittering like the morning-star, full of life, and splendour, and joy. Let’s hope it works out better for Mayo in three weeks than it did for Marie Antoinette, eh?

An Spailpín Fánach remarked to a friend of his yesterday that this crack about the greatest game in the history of humanity will ring more than a little bit hollow if Mayo take the pipe against Kerry. She said no, that beating Dublin made the year worthwhile, because Dublin are Dublin. We shan’t be buying that one just yet, I think. Dublin are one of thirty-two counties. No better, no worse. We’ve had to listen to other theories all summer (hang your head, Vincent Hogan!), and that one’s been put to bed. But the summer belongs to whoever takes home Sam – if it’s Mayo, then the win over Dublin becomes a thrilling preview of the glory to come; if it’s Kerry then the game on Sunday is a footnote.

Someone else remarked to An Spailpín that this was too negative an attitude. Yesterday’s win should be enjoyed for what it was, in and of itself, he argued, like Galway’s thrilling win over Kilkenny in the hurling last year. And that’s true as far as it goes, but the pursuit of Sam hangs over all of County Mayo like the grail quest of the Arthurian knights. No matter how many dragons you slay along the way, you have to take home the cup. It’s been too long now.

And the analysis has been over the top. Whatever passes for shame among hackery settled on the press box at six o’clock yesterday and the result was paeans to Mayo across all media on Monday morning. Paper doesn’t refuse ink. These people that are stunned by Mayo coming back from seven points down don’t seem to remember Mayo coming back from six down against Galway in 2004, and or four down with about twenty minutes to go this summer. Pat Spillane was bigging up the amount of All-Ireland winners on the Mayo team, between Crossmolina, Ballina and the Under-21s. Well it wasn’t during this past week those medals were won Pateen, when you were advising punters to put their houses on Dublin to win. So the honest men of Mayo might be better off channelling the spirit of Dr Johnson’s famous letter when they’re listening to some Lord Chesterfields on the telly.

The game itself has been analysed all over at the this stage, and there’s not much An Spailpín has to add. It is interesting to note, however, the influence of Kevin O’Neill and David Brady, two men who had been hurled from the light in the past, but for whom the green and red remains all. Those two, and Ciarán McDonald, Jimmy Nallen and David Heaney, Mayo’s Chief of Men, know that there is very little sand left in the glass now for them, and are making a stand the likes of which has seldom been made in the county Mayo before. This was clear from watching the Sunday Game, when Mickey Moran came out to urge his team back from the Hill, only for Brady and Heaney to shake their heads and say no; there will be no more backing down in the County Mayo. An Spailpín still thinks about Brady being dropped in 2004, and still shakes his sad old head at the memory.

The All-Ireland Final might not be “the Dublin Kerry final that the public demands,” but please God the Mayo boys will try and keep it kicked out to them. Please God also that in this Donaghy era they don’t forget keep an eye on C Cooper also. Alan Brogan did to Keith Higgins on Sunday what the blowtorch does to the ice-cream cone, and if Cooper gets the same leeway, Mayo are dead men walking. Higgins’ roasting was an interesting test of management actually – was the management’s persistence with Higgins, who had been in All-Star contention before Sunday, a mark of faith or an act of reckless folly for which Mayo could have paid dearly in the end? It doesn’t matter now of course, but watching Brogan dip his shoulders, spin Higgins like a top and then thunder towards goal was a terrifying sight on Sunday. Brogan will get an All-Star this year, and deserve it.

Ciarán Whelan will not. It would be nice to hope that somebody spiked Whelan’s lucozade sport – Whelo’s beverage of choice if the city billboards are to be believed – before the game, resulting in his shocking and cowardly attack on Ronan McGarrity, but it would also be naïve. This is the same Whelo who boxed Nigel Crawford right in the face on the throw-in of the Dublin Meath game last year, and who punched a Westmeath man the year before. If Whelo doesn’t cool his jets and quick, he’ll be spending most of his time about half a mile directly East of Croker, rattling his tin cup against the bars for company.

And now, the Final to anticipate. Mayo are 3/1 with Paddy Power, which is about right. When Kerry used travel home by train, they used to set off sirens once they crossed the border into the Kingdom, one for every All-Ireland won. You take on that tradition at your extreme peril. But for all the to-ing and fro-ing, An Spailpín believes the game comes down to one particular battle, which is the confrontation between Ciarán McDonald and his marker. If the Kerryman – O’Mahony, maybe? One of the Ó Sés? – can bottle up McDonald à la Geezer McGeeney or Galway’s Paul Clancy, Mayo are in trouble. If not, then who knows? Anybody with a good line on tickets, drop me a line, eh?

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Friday, August 25, 2006

Let Them Eat Cake - Dublin Media Disgrace Themselves

Shane 'Cake' Curran - vox clamantis in desertoLike a famous seafaring man, An Spailpín Fánach has stood what he can stand and he can’t stand no more. It was Tommy Carr that finally bate Banagher, and An Spailpín was caught in the aftershock.

Liam McHale (how old the big man looks! Time, you subtle thief of youth!) and Tommy Carr were the guest analysts on Setanta’s GAA show last night. McHale was being reasonable and even handed. Tommy Carr, however, has seen the Light. Like stout Cortez gazing at the pacific, Tommy has never seen glory to compare with this year’s Dublin football team. All opposition will fall before their mighty sword. The rest of the country can only look on their works, and despair.

And, in fact, the rest of the country can’t even do that. As far as Thomas is concerned, this is a strictly Dublin occasion, and the rest of the country can go whistle. Thomas was asked by presenter Mal Keaveney what Tommy thought of Leitrim people – Leitrim! – being allowed into Croke Park when They were playing. Tommy didn’t like it wan bit. “How many people would you get at a Leitrim league game?” sniffed Tommy.

For An Spailpín, to remove his shoe and prepare to hurl it at the telly was the work of an instant. Happily, your correspondent remembered that if he did that there’d be no more Buffy, and thus I re-shod. Still fuming, An Spailpín went for a drive to calm down.

While driving, I was tuned into Sportstalk on Newstalk 106, the Dublin station that has won the national license. Newstalk is over-rated; not the least of their faults is their lax attitude to swearing on radio. It sounds juvenile and unprofessional. Anyway, it plays a part in our story. Churchgoers, brace yourselves.

When I tuned in to Newstalk, the Sportstalk presenter, Eoin McDevitt, read out a text message from a Louth listener, who opined that he couldn’t wait until Newstalk went national, as then he wouldn’t have to listen to “all this Dublin shite.”

McDevitt, in that affected tone that seems the house style on that show, remarked haughtily that Dublin is the national capital in a tone of voice that will have chilled the souls of listeners who may have expected Newstalk to broaden their reach in October; it seems more likely that Ireland will simply be treated to diluted Dublin fabulousness instead, judging from Mr McDevitt’s tone and remarks. An Spailpín’s knuckles were whitening around the steering wheel at this point. Then, the coup de grace.

Roddy Collins was on the line, talk about FAI soccer. What did Roddy think of that text message?

“That fella can’t have been a GAA man,” said Roddy. An Spailpín, ever safety-conscious, parked up and put on the hazards. This could get nasty. Roddy spoke on.

“If it wasn’t for de Dubs, who else would fill Croke Park?” asked Roddy, warming to his theme. Selah! cried the Dublin media whored. Jesus wept, cried An Spailpín Fánach.

It will be a cold, cold day in the fiery pit of Hell before An Spailpín Fánach takes instruction from Roddy Collins on what a GAA man is or ain’t. But it’s clearly plain that the national media do not have a rashers, do not have the first clue how the Association is set up and what makes it tick.

The GAA does not need Dublin. Dublin – the city and community, insofar as it can be said to exist – need the GAA more desperately than they can possibly imagine, and they are going precisely the wrong way about it. The GAA is built from the bottom up, not the top down. 60,000 or 160,000 drunks in Croke Park, not knowing if they were watching Bryan Cullen and the Dubs or Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones, will not make one whit of difference. That’s not how it works.

Tommy Carr made a lousy crack about Leitrim league attendance. Tommy chose to ignore – and was shamefully not called to account by presenter Mal Keaveney – how odd it is that Dublin should get more than 40,000 tickets for Sunday’s game by some sort of divine right when Dublin play their own league fixtures in a stadium that only holds 12,000, if that, and not a peep from them about the injustice of that to the remaining 28,000 and more who are suffering so badly this week. The most charitable deduction An Spailpín Fánach can make is that Tommy spent too much time while manager of Roscommon trying to keep up with the hectic pace and high standard of drinking in his squad, and all that booze has burned out such brains as Tommy was originally granted by God. Nothing else is feasible.

The low water mark of this shameful week, media-wise, was Park Live on RTÉ 2. An Spailpín Fánach does not watch Park Live as a rule, as his digestion is delicate and his aesthetic acute, but your faithful quillsman is assured that this show was sickening beyond belief. Most astonishing of all was the show’s decision to interview those prominent GAA men Gordon D’Arcy and Eric Miller about their great love of the Dublin football team. In a word: why? Surely not because Shane Horgan’s brother is a colleague of Park Live presenter Ger Gilroy in his day job at Newstalk 106 (yes – the Dublin media is v. incestuous indeed), and maybe they could all go on the batter together after the show? On the far side of the Liffey, of course.

And in all this, one light in the darkness. The former Roscommon goalkeeper Shane “Cake” Curran was a guest on the show, brought on with Charlie Redmond. Cake’s presence was odd, as, being a former Roscommon keeper, he wouldn’t be the biggest Mayo fan in the world. Perhaps they brought him on to talk about the Roscommon minors? No; of course not. How silly of me. Perhaps they brought him on because, really, who can tell one bogger from another?

Cake sensed that fair play was not being done. This is a unique occasion in Croke Park on Sunday, with three Connacht teams playing on the one day, and the only team the media are concentrating on is Dublin, Dublin, Dublin. Cake was only on the show as a token bogger. Time for the mouse to roar.

Charles Redmond was being interviewed by Ger Gilroy, Gilroy trying to pin Charles down on exactly what level of luminescence would be achieved by those brilliant boys in blue on Sunday. Charles reached deep into the cliché box, and started firing them out. They’ll need to be up for this one Ger. Take nothing for granted. If they don’t play for the full seventy minutes they’ll lose. Make no mistake about it, this is a good Mayo team.

“That’s funny,” says Cake. “Charlie was telling me in the green room that Mayo would be doing well to score eight points on Sunday.”

Collapse of stout party, as a Connacht flag fluttered once, briefly, and then was gone. Cake can kiss his chances of supplanting Paul Curran or Kevin McStay on that nice soft couch on the Sunday Game after that shocking display of ingratitude and free thinking, but no matter. Surely this Rossie will go to Heaven. Thanks for that, Cake. It meant a lot in depressing week for Irish sports journalism.

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Thursday, August 24, 2006


One of the shock! horror! pictures from this morning's Irish IndependentThe only really surprising thing about this morning’s Shock! Horror! Open Air Drug Dealing in Dublin! headline in the Irish Independent is that someone decided it was news. The fact that the city is rife with drug addicts who live very public lives is one of the first things that strikes you about the city – anyone who lives in, or regularly visits, the city who is unaware of this can only be living in the most pristine of ivory towers, or else has achieved a level of denial that is Olympian in its extent.

The Independent story quotes Labour Party TD Joe Costello as saying that the boardwalk was once a novelty for people to walk along when they visited Dublin. They would have wanted to be quick, those visitors – that boardwalk along the Liffey became a junkie playground as soon as the carpenters had driven the last nail home. What else could it be? Junkies get first dibs on all public space in the city, and why wouldn’t they? It’s not like they have anywhere else to go. They’re not likely to go down to the Fitzwilliam Lawn Tennis Club for a Pimm’s and a Robinson’s Barley Water, are they? So they hang out in the open air, living the life, while Joe or Jane Citizen takes one look and decides not to eat his or her Panini down by the Liffeyside, even though the sun is beating down from the Heavens. Not today, thank you.

There is a peculiar situation of double-think going on in Dublin public life as regards the junkie scourge which is troubling, not least as the problem can only get worse. It’s not like they’ll just go away, you know. But the bodies public and politic do not engage in debate about who these people are, what is our relationship to them, their relationship to us, and how are we all to interact for the greater good? Instead, you hear offhand references in private conversation to “scumbags,” a charming phrase, while the body public reads pious articles in the Irish Times about inequality and the like. The way we then deal with this inequality is to publicly fund a poverty industry, drawn from the middle classes to make the middle classes feel better about themselves, who write papers that compete with Irish Times editorials for piety and give the worker bees of the poverty industry a certain Rabelaisian appeal when they are at dinner parties in Foxrock, Blackrock and environs. The rest of the dinner party are people who never saw a petition they didn’t sign protesting about the War in Iraq or That Monster Bush, but run away screaming if they’re asked to deal with problems closer to home, other than buying new house alarms and better quality steak to feed the guard dogs.

The worst part is that running away screaming often looks like the only sensible option to a problem that seems utterly hopeless. Labour Party TD Joe Costello flapped his lips further in the Independent to call for “a dedicated garda squad to patrol and deter such activity” (Independent). Patrol and deter such activity? Is that the same as sweeping such activity under the mat?

A spokesman for Dublin City Council says it has a community officer to patrol the areas and report such activity [drug dealing, drug taking, I presume] to the gardaí. An Spailpín Fánach doesn’t know who this community officer is, but he’d better be a harder case than Roy Keane himself if he’s going tangling with that bunch on his lonesome.

If the body public wanted to do anything, other than sound liberal and socially concerned while discussing the issue in the lobby of the IFI after watching the latest offering from Bulgarian cinema, they could realise that the way to solve the heroin problem in Dublin involves either a carrot or a stick, or a subtly judged combination of both. The carrot involves investment of millions and millions of Euro to clear up the Dublin ghettoes, to make the best of it for the adults and to involve the State in massive involvement in the lives of the young people in these drug infested areas to ensure they don’t make the same mistakes of previous generations.

There are two problems with this. The first is the competence of the public service to administer such a massive project. For instance, there is a backlog of 430,000 people, just under half a million, people in the state driving around on provisional licenses according to this morning’s Irish Times. Think about how simple a thing it is to administer a driving test, think about what a balls we’re making of it, and then think about what would be involved in reforming the ghettoes. Then tear hair out in great fistfuls. Repeat.

The second problem, of course, is money. If you put a child in care because Ma and Pa are blissed out, loaded, you need about three social workers to look after that one child. Three eight hour shifts a day, seven days a week. Elementary mathematics tells us that the spend on manpower alone will be considerable, meaning the only way to raise enough funds for the entire job is to hammer the taxpayer for dosh, and lots of it. If the typical Irish politician is too chicken to stand up to vested interests in Dublin Airport and the like, how much do you think he fancies going door to door to tell people they’re going to pay another 20% tax for the next twenty years so the state can babysit some junkies and “scumbags”? Not much, is An Spailpín Fánach’s guess.

Anybody fancy the stick, if the carrot is too expensive? Crucifixions in the housing estates, a policy of decimation for school classes that don’t achieve a B2 average, stocks, public floggings, hangings, and the like? Good fun to talk about looking out the window of the Horseshoe Bar in the Shelbourne at some poor dumb bastard begging on Stephen’s Green, but rather embarrassing when Helmut and Hilda come over from Frankfurt on that house exchange.

So what to do? Why, one hurumphs into one’s Independent, shakes the paper, mutters “something out to be done for these poor people” or “lock ‘em up and throw away the key!” according to political persuasion, and then moves on to the sports page, to see just what Roy Keane is up to at Sunderland. What else do you think will happen?

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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Homage to Catalonia

So, although the anarachists and communists both sided with the democratically elected government - while not in favour of democracy per se themselves, of course- it was only the anarchists....An Spailpín Fánach has been catching up with his Orwell, reading Homage to Catalonia over the weekend. The book is Orwell’s famous account of the Spanish Civil War, which started seventy years and one month ago. The Spanish Civil War has long been considered one of the defining moments of the 20th Century, but it’s relevance is now quickly disappearing into history now – the most surprising thing about reading Homage to Catalonia now is just how much it’s dated.

Orwell, like many others, went to Spain to fight for the working man. But who is the working man today? The lumpen mass of proletariat that had nothing to lose but their chains now no longer exist as a demographic, having been wiped out by progress in technology and automation – history has passed them by, and they are no more relevant to society today than high-born aristocrats, their exact opposite numbers when a bitter Karl Marx was writing Das Capital in the middle of the nineteenth century. We now have a new social model where terms like bourgeoisie and proletariat no longer apply, and nobody has come up with suitably descriptive replacements. We don’t know our own society any more, and the Politically Correct Police are strident in their opposition to anyone being labelled as anything at any time. That could be because the PC Peelers rather liked the Marxist classifications of course. Who knows?

Orwell remains a delight to read, however. Orwell’s prose is always Spartan, direct and to the point, and his description of the wretched (a pet Orwell term, “wretched,” as are “vile” and “beastly”) life of the militiaman in the Spanish Civil War is suitably evocative. You don’t need to read much beyond Orwell’s remark that war smells of excrement and rotting food to know that the Spanish Civil War wasn’t much crack. The political digressions are remarkable – even as he wrote them, Orwell advised his readers to skip them if they found politics heavy going. Seventy years on, their subtle distinctions between the different factions of the Left in 1930s Spain make the medieval scholastic disputes seem straight-forward. It’s mind-boggling that a man as clever as Orwell could ever have signed up for this hopelessly misguided school of politics that believed that human nature could be changed so radically.

It’s not all bleak, however. Orwell can be quite droll in a very deadpan sort of way, and the continuing craving for cigarettes, and lots of them, even while rats are crawling over him in the night or the lead is flying about his ears, always raises a smile. I can only hope in whatever other-worldly Workers’ Paradise Orwell’s shade now resides, he doesn’t have to go outside for a smoke. That would be beastly in the extreme.

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Friday, August 18, 2006

"Gas" on Mars

Come on, Thunderchild!CNN is reporting "scientists" as saying that the gases currently escaping the surface of Mars are annual events of the Martian springtime, as homely in their Red way as leaves on our Earth trees coming into bud. And it's not the cruel and inhuman (human! ha! humanity! double ha!) miltary junta that has ruled Mars with a mailed fist for the past two hundred years launching their death-dealing missles against the Earth at all. Oh no, they wouldn't do such a thing, the little green bastards! Oh, the Earth is run by fools, such fools! Where's Dr Zarkhov when you need him?

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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

How Do You Solve a Problem Like McDonald?

XIJohn Maughan’s is the latest voice to join this strange cacophony clamouring for Ciarán McDonald to play on the inside line for County Mayo. Joe Brolly and Colm O’Rourke, the Podge and Rodge of football analysis (and let’s hope neither Joe nor Colm go shilling for the TV license like the precocious puppets – and I thought they were rebels! Bah!), were apparently making the point on the telly at half-time last Sunday that inside was the only spot for McDonald, that he was wasted out the field. Now Maughan has added his two cents, saying that Mayo need goals and Ciarán is the boy to get them.

Is An Spailpín Fánach the only man to think they’re talking through their hats?

Maughan is possibly being a little mischievous in his comments. When Maughan managed Crossmolina and in his second coming as Mayo manager, he put Ciarán McDonald at centre-half forward and left him there, so it’s likely that his comments are more a cut at the two boys who took his bloody job, and you can never blame any man for that. Nobody loves a carpet-bagger. Brolly and O’Rourke are harder to figure, and the only conclusion that An Spailpín Fánach can come up with is that neither Brolly nor O’Rourke really thinks that much about it. They come up with the usual soft chat that’s now more or less de riguer for the GAA media, as mentioned in this place before, and certainly don’t appear to bother their backsides sitting up looking at tapes, or phoning contacts in different counties, to scratch beneath the surface and find out what’s really going on – you know, like journalists are supposed to do.

An Spailpín Fánach couldn’t play football for nuts when he was of an age and hasn’t got any better now he’s old and fat, but God help me, I love the land where I was born and I try very hard to understand what I’m looking at when I go to a football game, because football is Mayo and Mayo is football. Here’s what I can figure out. Maybe I’m talking through my hat, but this makes logical sense to me. If I’m jumping the shark and completely off-base, maybe some wiser head might drop me a mail.

Ciarán McDonald is the most accurate foot passer we have in Mayo, if not Ireland. Because it is axiomatic in football that the ball should do the work, the intelligent, accurate pass is the best option a team has to open a defence and create scores. Therefore, to be a successful team, you need a centre-half forward who can collect possession gained at midfield through either high-fielding and collecting the breaks, and use that possession to feed the rest of the forward unit. McDonald is clearly the best player in Mayo to fulfil that role. If he is not, who is?

Much of the criticism of McDonald centres on his tendency to drift deeper and deeper during the course of a game. This is not a good thing of course, but would it not be more correct if we were to look at the issue from a different angle, and wonder why the cursed ball coming out from the backs is so damned slow? Because if it wasn’t, McDonald wouldn’t have to keep going back to look for the damn thing. It’s called football – Mickey Moran ought to let them kick it once and while, instead of this perpetual slobbering with handpassing that would sicken a goat.

As for the man to score goals, isn’t it odd that the management, which includes the massive intellectual force of John Morrison, you know, didn’t think of looking for a few sharp-shooters during the league, which is, of course, what the league is there for? It’s getting a little close to the bone now to be wondering when a goal-scorer will pop up. Unless I’m mistaken, Mayo’s leading goal-scorer in the league would have been either Ger Brady or Billy Joe Padden, both of whom are getting stick at the minute, proving, of course, that some people are never happy. Personally, An Spailpín would vote for An tIolar Breá Iorrais to go on the edge of the square, for the simple reason that I can’t think of anyone else on the team that tries as hard as Billy Joe. But the poor man has been shuttled about in so many different places in the last two years he mustn’t know if he’s going for a haircut or decapitation on any given Sunday.

As for McDonald himself, he’s the best player Mayo have, and the best Mayo have had for some time. Brolly and O’Rourke must share a lot of the blame for the misconceptions about McDonald over the years, with their hateful and lazy characterisation of him and Conor Mortimer as “Swedish maids” in 2004. The two experts (An expert is the boy that doesn’t have to back up his opinions with money, as Chuck Noll once dryly observed), who are paid good shillings for the job that they do, never bothered to look beyond the bleached blond hair, which is lazy in the extreme. There is no other word for it. Conor Mortimer and Ciarán McDonald are as different, personality-wise, as chalk and cheese, but Brolly / O'Rourke analysis didn't go beyond the haircuts. Is this the Sunday Game, or What Not to Wear with Trinny and Susannah? For God's sake. If either expert had bothered to do his homework he would have quickly found out the differences between the two men; instead, we’re left with the caricature. Brolly and O’Rourke ought to be ashamed of themselves.

The other reason people object to McDonald is because they feel he’s too damned big for his britches, and want to see his cough softened. It’s not that terribly noble a thought, of course, but it’s very true to human nature. Well, not all footballers are created equal, whatever the politically correct priesthood would tell you, and when a manager discovers an incandescent talent like McDonald he builds the team around him, and doesn’t try to break a butterfly on a wheel.

Even the most rigorous of team men, the managers who are all system, system, system, know that there is such a thing as talent, and that you have to make exceptions for talent. Consider Jack Charlton, who famously left David O’Leary out in the cold as an example of his rigid rule. The same Charlton made exception after exception for Paul McGrath, for the simple reason that Charlton quickly realised that, for all the reputation O’Leary had, Charlton could do without O’Leary but he could not do without McGrath, because McGrath was playing at a different level.

Man management. Talent management. You don’t pick it up from books in the self-help section in Eason’s about Tao. But all County Mayo is hoping and praying that the current management have enough of it to let Ciarán McDonald give full expression to his talent, and that’s the only way they’ll have a shot at winning the All-Ireland. We’ll miss him when he’s gone, you know.

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Monday, August 14, 2006

Grá Átha Cliath

Tá do Spailpín Fánach i bhfad ró-thinn tar éis oíche fada beora aréir chun Béarla a scríobh inniu, ach tá buille bachaille (nó buille speile, b'fhéídir, agus spailpín i gceist) ag fanach agam ar Uinseann Ó hÓgáin tar éís an slíocht seafóideach seo a scríobh sé ar maidin. Agus shíleas go rabhas tinn sular léigheas é - ó hó hó!

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Thursday, August 10, 2006

Reading Johnno: Deconstructing the Sultan of Spin

An bainisteoir ina dheoraíOne of the many fine passages in Flann O'Brien's masterful novel The Third Policemen concerns the narrator’s attempts to retain his sanity while Policeman McCruiskeen is showing the narrator his inventions, each more fantastic and reality-bending than the next. The narrator desperately focuses his mind on the mundane, such a whistling tunes, mentally reciting poetry and wishing he was coiling stout rope on a boat in the South China Seas, anything but to be here watching this madness, in order to keep his mind from becoming unhinged by the remarkable things before his eyes.

One gets a very similar feeling reading John O’Mahony in the papers, or seeing him being interviewed on the television.

Johnno has mastered the art of the media interview. Whereas current Mayo manager Mickey Moran either runs and hides from the media, or else just turns up to have a good whine (“Galway were very rough”, “club games have my life’s work ruined”, “why is everybody writing us off”, “John Morrison invented in the internet,” and so on and on and on), Johnno, our Manager-in-Exile, keeps talking all the time. But clever Johnno has mastered a very special art – at the knee of some swami high on a barren mountain top no doubt, like that whiskery buck that was in Kill Bill II - of saying less and less the more he talks. The misfortunate reporter only realises when he or she gets back to the office and reviews the tape that Johnno spent twenty minutes saying nothing at all. If not even less than that.

Mastery of what the military spooks call Black Ops, and what the GAA man calls being cute enough, or way ahead of you, is one of Johnno’s many gifts. Which is what makes Johnno’s column this week in the Western People so odd, and what makes an Spailpín sit back and wonder: What the Hell is Johnno up to now?

On the face of it, Johnno abandon's all previous fence-sitting to lay his cards in plain sight on the table. Johnno reckons that Mayo simply have to turn up on Sunday, and brush the Laois threat casually away from their regal presence. McGarrity and Pat Harte will bottle up Clancy and Quiggers handy enough, the Mayo backs will incarcerate the Laois dangermen of Sheehan and Munnelly to the degree that they be as twin Napoleons, exiled on Elba away from the reigns of power, while a fusillade of long balls launched from half-way and further back will rain down on the Laois goal, manna from the Heavens on which Conor Mort will feast, and be full sated.

An Spailpín Fánach doesn’t see it that way. And he’s willing to bet his Doctor Martens’ boots that neither does Johnno.

As An Spailpín sees it, Johnno is doing a little bit of spinning here. Johnno reckons the long ball is the way to go, and the long ball paid rich dividends indeed during his first few years with Galway. What is not the way to go is this short hand-passing out of defence – in the unusually direct words of the great man himself, “it would be suicide to try and carry the ball from one end of the field to the other with five yard passes.”

Suicide, no less. But short hand-passing out of defence is exactly what we will see from Mayo on Sunday, and the only long balls that will be whizzing about little C-Mort’s head will be those launched by Ciarán McDonald’s infamous and talented cos ciotóige, as ever. Everything else is more than likely going to be pass the parcel, as that’s the Mickey Moran way.

This does not mean that Johnno is tugging Mickey’s chain, of course. All he’s doing is pointing out how easy it will be on Sunday for Mayo to beat Laois by playing a long ball game. If Mayo do not play this way, and end up being beaten by Laois, no-one will be more surprised than Johnno himself. Sure wouldn’t any eejit know those five yard passes are a disaster, and all the more so with Laois there for the taking?

Which means that when you deconstruct the narritive, as the academics delight in saying, this article from Manager-in-Exile is really saying: I haven’t gone away, you know.

If I was Enda Kenny, I’d be sweating. The last thing any boss wants to do is recruit a man who’s smarter than himself. That doesn’t leave poor Enda with much of a pick but that, of course, is another day’s work. Dia is Muire linn, Maigh Eo.

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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Cad a Dhéanamid Feasta Gan Muire?

Banríon Neimhe, Máthair Dé, ach gan áit fágtha uirthí i bpeil Mhaigh EoTá roinnt maith scríofa ar fhir gortaithe Mhaigh Eo, agus scríobhfar níos mó céanna, sílim. Ach tá duine amháin a bhfanadh leis an gContae seamróige is fraoich go síorí atá an ruaig curtha uirthi anois, agus bhur Spailpín Fánach ag insint sibhse, ní mhaith an rud é, agus ní mbainfidh aon mhaitheas leis.

Le linn peile Mhaigh Eo, bhí "Dia is Muire Linn" againne mar mana, taobh thíos círín an Chontae. Tá círín nua againne anois, agus mana nua fréisin, "Críost linn," ach tá Duine caillte againn ar an mbealach. Agus é Maigh Eo ceann de na trí áit amháin ar tháinig Muire gan Smal ar chuairt tar éis a linnse féin ar an domhan eadóchasach seo, nach breá an rud é anois go bhfuil doirse an chontae dúnta ina h-aghaidh, mar a bhíodh doirse Beithile dúnta Di ar oíche stáriul amháin? Tháinig Banríon Neimhe ar stábla ar an gCéad Nollaig sin; ba chóir an t-ádh a bheith uirthi má thiteann Sí ar ticéad ar Chnog a Shé Déag Dé Domhnaigh seo chugainn.

Tá dealbh mhór in ómós an Mhaighean Mhuire i lár Chrois Uí Mhaoilína. Ba mhaith leis an gComhairle Chontae Í a bhogadh, chun gluaiseacht an bhaile a dhéanamh níos easca, ach bhí fios maith ag daoine Chrois gurbh Í an bhean chéanna a thóg an baile slán ón nGorta Mór, agus tá an dhealbh ann fós, agus beidh, go dtí go dtiteann ár dtír bhocht ins an bhfarraige ar dheireadh.

Níl an múinín chéanna ag Bord CLG Mhaigh Eo i mBanríon an Bealtaine, de réir cosúlachta. Tá sí scríosta amach mar chuid den seanscéal, cosuil leis an doras ar oscailt i rith an oíche agus an fáilte ar chách, rudaí sean-nósach nach gcoimeadann go maith le hÉirinn an "Celtic Tiger."

Beidh fios maith againne nuair atá gá againn Uirthí agus nach bhfuil Sí ann. Nárbh breá an rud é, agus na foirne ar chomhscór agus dá nóiméad fagtha sa cluiche, gascíoch mór Mhaigh Eo curtha cráite ar an dtalamh - an Brádach, b'fhéidir, nó Liam Séosaimh Mac Pháidín, an tIolar Breá Iorrais, nó - Dia idir linn agus an tolc! - Ciarán Mac Domhnaill, Mac an Bhaoil é féin - más fhéidir le roghnóirí Mhaigh Eo féachaint síos an líne agus insint ar Mháthair Dé "déan reidh duit féin chun dul isteach, a Naofacht - tá sé ortsa an lá a thabhairt slán"?

Ar aghaidh Léi i lár na páirce, agus an pocléim thuas sa spéir. Thíos Léi arís, sealbh na liathróide Aici, an ghualainn - crua, ach cothrom - ar fear Laoise, agus ar aghaidh Léi ar bealach an Chnoic. Scréadail an slua, a scíorta togtha suas ag Banríon Síochána, Ise ag rith ar chosnochta thar an líne caoga méadar, an líne daichead - féiceann Sí suas, ligtear an liathróíd síos, an cic árd, árd, árd - agus thar an trasnán! Corrón Sam Mig Uidhir ag filleadh ar áis ar an gContae Maigh Eo, agus buíochas mór ar an Maighdean Muire!

Ach ní thárlóidh. Is foinse náire Í anois, tá na pictiúrí beannaithe togtha síos ón mballa i ngach teach, agus tá Banríon na nGrást imithe mar pátrún peile Mhaigh Eo. Nach bhfuil ar ndóthan mallachtaí ar an gContae sula seo, gan tróid a dhéanamh leis an bhFlaitheas?

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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Mayo v Laois - a Hop Ball Game

The sun also RossesOne of the great platitudes in Gaelic Games is to say that there is only a hop ball between the competing teams. In the case of the upcoming semi-final between Laois and Offaly – a replay of the 1936 All-Ireland Final – it is certain fact. Both punters and investors will look at the 6/1 quoted by Paddy Power on the draw, and reach for the wallet in a reflex action – pausing only to lick the lips, of course.

Cast your eye where you will, it’s hard to see anything between the teams. It looks like a fairly even contest at midfield between the Ballina Stephenite alliance of Mayo, Ronan McGarrity and Pat Harte, and the Terrible Twins of Laois’ Timahoe, Padraig Clancy and this young man recently returned from Australia, Mr Quigley. He certainly looked a footballer against Offaly, but those two Stephenites aren’t too bad either, and all of the county Mayo will be lifted when news seeps out that another Stephenite is back in training and hoping to bring new resonance to the phrase “impact sub.” Indeed, An Casúr Ó Brádaigh, as he’s known in the Ballina Gaeltacht, could very well be making a claim for a starting spot, leaving Paddy Harte to join a forward unit that’s looked a little anaemic so far.

The Mayo forwards would be fine were it not for issues of personnel, position and tactics. Professor Morrison’s infamous “nut” formation is now beginning to assume the same albatross proportions as Brian McDonald’s car pushing training sessions, and the county would be deeply grateful if the forwards were let play Gaelic Football as understood from Dickeen Fitzgerald on down, and leaving the Freud and Jung two-man inside line stuff for some other day. In November, ideally. This means, of course, freeing Ciarán McDonald from confinement in the corner, and letting him at the cockpit controls of centre-forward. Disappointing news then for Ger Brady but as the days have lengthened so Ger Brady’s influence has waned, to the extent that it might be better to leave him on the bench, and see what those charging runs from deep might be like were he introduced with fifteen minutes to go and all to play for.

Conor Mortimer needs company on the inside line also and, while Michael Conroy might be the romantic option, Kevin O’Neill might be the more realistic. Trevor Mortimer is denied Mayo through injury so the hope would be that the Knockmore exile’s greater experience and nous, to say nothing of an appetite that must be whetted as sharp as the Count of Monte Cristo’s, and for much the same reasons, to outweigh O’Neill’s lack of pace.

The Laois forwards are one of the class attacks of the modern game, as has been stated in this place before, with Ross Munnelly a glorious throwback to the days when wing forwards shot and scored from under the stands, and not scrubbed in the dirt for ball like the wing forwards of another code. That said, it is hard to see Munnelly getting much change out of David Heaney so perhaps the fangs of the tenacious Mayo defence will reduce the Laois attack to Mayo’s level of mineral deficiency, and level up that particular encounter.

Thus leaving us to wonder where that hop ball will come from that will decide all. Goals have been an issue for Mayo for a number of years. They were an issue for Kerry this year, but Kerry seem to have got around that since, the hoors. Wouldn’t it be marvellous to see Billy Joe streak forward and crash one home like Eoin Brosnan has been doing lately for the Kingdom? Could that make the difference?

Or could the difference be on the sideline? We are aware, through Mickey Moran’s references, that the fecund brain of John Morrison teems with 200 solutions to any given problem, but we are also aware that Mick O’Dwyer has so many All-Ireland medals that he uses one to mark his golfball once he reaches the putting green. O’Dwyer’s record as a manager is beyond parallel, as none other than Páidí Ó Sé once memorably remarked. Advantage Laois, but fate may yet dictate that O’Dwyer’s influence may be limited, if he is banished to the stands for pitch incursions in prior games. A harsh punishment for one of the true greats of Gaelic football, but one that could be the hop ball that bounces Mayo’s way.

Whoever wins this quarter-final (whenever it is won – that 6/1 looks better and better) will be a worthy winner. Laois have been a adornment to the game in this cynical age, and Mayo – well dammit, Mayo were always stylish footballers, and it’s good to have them around. But style counts for little when the ball hops – at that stage, it’s pretty much at the discretion of the Fates.

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Friday, August 04, 2006

Superman Returns

Krrrryptonite! Mwaugh-haw-haw!From its opening shot, as a cascading camera surfing John Williams' 1978 Superman March follows Kal-El's flight through space from Krypton back to Earth, Superman Returns is a truly gorgeous film to watch. Director Bryan Singer, cinematographer Thomas Sigel and everybody involved in the art design deserve the highest praise for the look of the movie, and for the sheer visual style of thing, from Clark Kent's better tailoring to Lex Luthor's overpowering tailoring, from Superman's new, quite balletic landing technique to the almost chiaroscuro effect of Lex Luthor's ugly new continent, you may safely say that you have seldom seen a movie look quiet as well as Superman Returns. The lessons of Tim Burton's Batman, Sam Rami's Spider-Man, and Singer's own X-Men pictures have been learned, and learned well.

Miserably, the lessons of Joseph's Campbell's Hero with a 1,000 Faces have been learned less well. It's a book as over-rated as it is hideously written but Singer and his team could have done with a glimpse at the Cliff Notes version to find out more about the nature of the hero, because Superman himself is very difficult case for treatment.

In some ways, of course, Superman is a man past his time. You can still see traces of how dated the whole idea is, in that ridiculous rig-out in which Bryan Singer dresses Jimmy Olsen, just as Richard Donner dressed his Jimmy Olsen before him. The fact that Lois still works for a newspaper - in this day and age, she'd be a CNN gal. And is Clark Kent the last man in America to still wear a trilby hat to work?

The notion of a man of steel, faster than a speeding bullet, is a little passé in our popular culture now. Superman is just there, while Spider, Bat and X-Men seem to have that much more going on under the hood. While Peter Parker and Bruce Wayne are struggling with duty and responsibility, Superman is off making sure that kids are eating their broccoli and reminding them, in the immortal words of Springfield's Mayor Wilkins, "there's nothing uncool about healthy teeth and bones."

Superman is, in a word, boring. He can't be otherwise. He is super, and that is his alpha and omega. If Campbell is right, and all heroes are picaresque by definition, what is the nature of Superman's journey? If it's Tuesday, it must be preventing the train crash, Wednesdays are explosions at the nuclear plant. The nearest to conflict that Superman comes is whether or not he should take a serious pop at snapping Lois Lane's garters (and doesn't Richard White have a rough one here with the Joseph the Joiner role?), but of course, he declines. Like a super man would.

In the absence of substance at its centre (and isn't it fascinating how Brandon Routh's Clark looks real while his Superman seems so wooden, while with Christopher Reeve it was the other way around?), Singer at least realises that he's got to plug the gap by making the peripherals as interesting as he can, and he gets extremely lucky with Kevin Spacey as his Lex Luthor. Spacey was a bit player before he won an Oscar in Singer's The Usual Suspects - take a peek at his role in Outbreak to see how that man suffered to make some screen time - and in Superman Returns, Spacey is outstanding as Lex Luthor, hamming it up like he was entered in the Pork Butchers' Championship of the World. Spacey's Luthor is just as OTT as Jack Nicholson's Batman, but underneath his flash (and outrageously tailored) exterior, Spacey gives us a glimpse at the hex of Lex, and it's not too pretty. Think of the scene when Superman confronts Lex on the new continent, and wince.

The rest of the cast are fine, for what they're worth. Kate Bosworth's Lois isn't as sassy as Margot Kidder's - although they both share the same terrible spelling - while Teri Hatcher's Lois on TV was in a different genre, really, and defies comparison in that sense. Lois Lane isn't an easy role of course - what is she but a plot device to be imperilled and then rescued? - but Bosworth does give her Lois a dimension as a woman who had a man run out on her without ever telling her why. There are very few ladies who care for that sort of thing, and it's hard to blame them. Bravo, Kate, but shame on Lois for not getting her kid a haircut. That kid will grow up funny if she doesn't watch it, you know.

An Spailpín enjoyed Superman Returns, but ultimately left the theatre disappointed. There's just not enough there for a substantial night-time feed of cinematic candy. And who-ever has to write the sequel is really going to have his or her work cut out - if Superman Returns is about Superman and Lois coming to an understanding about his sudden exit five years ago, what little conflict the Man of Steel has is now resolved. Where do we go from here? Maybe he'll renounce broccoli, and start talking up beer and chips instead. It's time someone did.

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