Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Fools' Gold? The Sporting Year in Review and Preview

I am the monarch of the sea...Here is Eddie O’Sullivan. Here is the Triple Crown trophy. See Eddie. See the trophy. See Eddie make a right gom of himself parading around Twickenham last St Patrick’s Day with the (newly minted, by the way – don’t think JPR or those boys every saw a goose dish the like of it) trophy, the second Triple Crown won by Ireland in the past three years. France and Wales have both won Grand Slams in those same three years but here’s Eddie O’Sullivan going around like the guy that broke the bank at Monte Carlo. Who’s zooming who, as that old song went?

An Spailpín cannot deny that the years have made him bitter and the gargle’s dimmed his brain, but really – are the Irish sporting public the victims of one of the greatest snow jobs in sports history? Eddie O’Sullivan is coaching a team that is favourite to win the Six Nations Championship for the first time in over twenty years and he himself is current favourite to coach the Lions in South Africa in 2009 but O’Sullivan himself, egomanic and all as he appears to be, is aware that he will have to clear many’s the hurdle between now and then.

Starting on February in Cardiff, of course. The collective mental collapse of the Welsh team this year, as so sadly epitomised by that rambling TV performance of Gareth Thomas' in the autumn of 2005, is like nothing An Spailpín can remember or has read about, and perhaps its most devastating legacy is how badly it tainted Wales’ tremendous achievement in winning their first Grand Slam since 1978 earlier that spring. What a thrilling performance it was, and how begrudged it has been by those who couldn’t tear themselves away from the propagandists of the bully beef school of modern rugby. When an artist with the ball in hand can no longer set a stadium on fire it’s time to give up on Webb Ellis’ game, and the 2005 Welsh reminded us all of just how devastating a talented backline that’s given freedom to run can be.

Of course, we in Ireland have our own backline too, which we are constantly reminded is the best in the world. Hmm. In fact, the Irish team, made as it is more or less in toto from the Leinster backs and the Munster forwards, should be more than the sum of its parts, just as lunatic soup is considerably stronger than its ingredients of porter and cider. But just as An Spailpín implores his readership never, ever to drink that foul concoction, so too does he implore the greatest of caution in placing faith in the Irish backline, which, at time of typing, is looking likely to be: Murphy; Horgan, D’Arcy, O’Driscoll, Trimble; O’Gara, Stringer. In the event of an injury from 15-11, Dempsey goes in at 15 and Murphy or Horgan are moved as appropriate. In the event of an injury to O’Gara, O’Sullivan phones in the forfeit, in the interest of national humiliation not being televised live if we can help it.

Each man of that seven is talented of course, in his own way, but it’s far from a classically talented line, in the way that each man has his little quirks, to say that least. Horgan must be as slow a winger as exists in the professional game, for instance. Murphy’s defence has been worrying at times, while Jim Glennon, TD, made the interesting point on the radio recently that one of the reasons the Leinster pack doesn’t get the mushing that always seems in store for it is because Leinster play with four flankers – the two boys attached to the scrum, and O’Driscoll and D’Arcy beside them. O’Driscoll is as good as we’ve seen, but the totality of the backline – if that’s an intelligible phrase – is a little more brittle than our own media would perhaps lead us to believe.

How brittle, exactly, we may find out in Cardiff, as the Welsh appear to have put psychosis behind them and, after so many barren years, kicked new life into their infamous out-half factory. James Hook, the Ospreys’ fly-half who came on for Stephen Jones in the autumn international against Australia, was a revelation and will surely start at 12 behind Stephen Jones against Ireland. Henson goes back to fifteen, Thomas and Shane Williams on the wings, the best scrum-half in the world flicking it out to them – what’s not to like?

Where Ireland should edge it is in the pack, of course, with Denis Leamy the find of the year and Paul O’Connell now one of the truly great figures in world rugby. However, Ireland have no depth at all, and if, God forbid, injury should strike, big, big gaps will appear, gaps that will be ripped open by Welshmen full of hwyl and the thrilling sight and sound of Katherine Jenkins singing Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau.

The Irish could be arriving in Croke Park with their tails between their legs yet, which would be a pity. It’s very hard not to feel conflicted still about this development – one benefit, of the few, will be that the greatest of all international anthems, La Marseillaise, will ring out across the hallowed turf, but everything else that happens – well, it’s been some time since An Spailpín has looked forward to an international rugby match as little. I suppose we should count ourselves lucky Victor Laszlo isn't there to lead the Garda Band, or else we'd be in for a right chasing.

As for the game that Croke Park was built for, it’ll be another fascinating year, thanks be to God. Administrators bend over backwards to make things difficult and disciplinary issues still plague the game but the Gaelic football championship speaks to the Irish soul as no other event, and for that we must be grateful.

Of course, while it may be part of us, that does not mean that we are very good at pinning down what exactly is that we’ve just witnessed, with Championship 2006 being a case in point. The Championship was won when Kerry beat Armagh in the quarter-final, of course. This is clear looking back. It is to Mayo’s lasting shame, and something that An Spailpín hopes John O’Mahony has noticed, that Kerrymen are completely correct when they remarked that their one year of hunger, after the loss to Tyrone in 2005, proved a greater motivation for Kerry than Mayo’s half-century and counting was to Mayo. Something to mull over there.

The rest of what the Kerrymen have been saying is all soft-chat, disinformation and black ops, of course. They’re fierce cute that way down in the Kingdom you know. For instance, their long and loud whinging – out of the sides of their mouths – about unfair northern tactics in recent years prevented the correct analysis of their win over Armagh, which is that the Kingdom out-puked the Orchard County. Kerry hit harder and wanted it more in 2006, just as it was the other way around in the second half of 2002.

Of course, Armagh and Tyrone did themselves no favours either by yapping all the time about systems and training and preparation and the south being twenty years behind in terms of progress and then wondering why their players didn’t get any praise. It’s because you spend all your time jawing about systems and training and preparation chaps. Slow learners, to quote a former Armagh player of a long yester year. And it was unfair, because it led to a lot of bitterness that was unnecessary and it denied stellar players like Steven McDonnell, Clarke, McGeeney et al to maybe get the recognition their tremendous skills deserved.

But standards in GAA journalism is a fight for another day. Now, in the bleak midwinter, when Gaels assemble over hot whiskey and cold black porter, all counties will hope again. Nowhere does hope bloom brighter – although that cagey tribe would be loathe indeed to admit it – than in Roscommon where, after over a decade of misery, the minors won the All-Ireland in a thriller and Kiltoom claimed Roscommon’s first club title in fifteen years. Even now, in his lonesome Dublin exile, An Spailpín can hear the Siren Song of the Ross:

Sligo, Leitrim, going through the motions;
Galway, Mayo, filling up with notions.
We’re staying off the porter, we’re reading books and bowlin',
We’re don’t go out at night, not even Frankie Dolan.
The Ross will see Sam shining bright
In Jimmy Murray’s Bar on Monday night.

Yes. Well. We’ll have to wait and see on that one, won’t we? If you hold a gun to your correspondent’s head and ask him who will lift Sam, there can be only one answer – the County Mayo of course, not least because after all the trauma of the past three years you might as well pull the trigger if Mayo don’t win it – you’d be doing your miserable Spailpín a favour. It’ll be good gas to see how the Mayo – Galway game falls in relation to the date of the general election. If Johnno has to face the polls after Mayo ship a walloping, not only will he not get elected, he’ll be doing damn well to save his deposit, in the unprofessional opinion of An Spailpín Fánach. But if Mayo do get a result – well, it’s game on, isn’t it?

At this stage your faithful correspondent must confess that all judgement is gone when it comes to football. Even to think about it is agony, having come so far. But, in the event of something terrible happening, and Mayo somehow not winning the thing, here’s a tip for anyone out there that likes a bit of a punt: all this myth about a big three is past tense. It’s hype. Yesterday’s news. It ain’t so. Sam is there for those who dare, and if you want a value for money punt on the All-Ireland football 2007, go with – God forgive me – Cork. Billy might be a hard man to love, but he knows what he’s at, and he’s not far away now. Remember where you heard it first. Happy New Year.

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Adventures in the Motor Trade

An Spailpín Fánach has been enjoying an adventure with the motor trade, five days from Christmas and the season of good will. It’s been both instructive and enlightening, exactly what we want from all our adventures.

The situation is this – my lovely ten year old Corolla was broken into and ruined during the summer, as the miscreants attempted to drive the poor old yoke away and ended up simply destroying the steering instead. The criminals remain at large to this day … but An Spailpín had to go off and buy a new motor, the old Corolla now being reduced to scrap.

I bought an 02 Ford Focus – good, reliable car. An Spailpín is not bothered about motors as such, he just likes it when they start in the morning, and asks for little more. The garage give me €1500 against the ruin of a once-proud Corolla, and I was happy enough with the deal.

The first time I smelt anything vaguely resembling rodent about the deal was when the tax office rang and told me that, because I had bought the car on July 29th, the full tax for July had to be paid. An Spailpín reflected it would not have killed the garage to have tipped me off on this point – they’d know less, you know – but I let it pass, as my Lord and my God admonishes me to do.

However, as the seasons changed, I noticed that the car was suffering from windshield condensation more than somewhat, and this was causing me distress, to say nothing of piles of bunched up newspapers in the cabin from sopping the thing out. Your correspondent put this down to bad luck, and shed a further tear for his lovely Corolla. However, when I put my hand under the passenger seat looking for a map the other day and found it as wet as the Bog of Allen, I realised that this was serious. Therefore, I made an appointment with the garage where I bought the thing 144 days ago, and left her in this morning.

When I left in the keys, the lady behind the counter hit me with the bad news that I had a three month warranty on the car, not the year long warranty that An Spailpín was so convinced he had that he did not bring the purchase documents with him. This was a disappointment to me, and I shall be checking the documents v carefully when I return to Spailpín HQ this evening. But the car was there, it still had to be fixed, and I let them away.

The garage rang me again at half-nine. They told me that they didn’t know how long it would take to figure out how this leak is occurring. It could take one hour, it could take three hours. However, the charge per hour is seventy-five Euro, and was sir willing to stump up?

No, I told them. Sir is not.

If I had wrapped the damn thing around a tree and a team of men with welding gear were going Oscar Goldman on the vehicle, then maybe, but €75 remains steep even in that case. Seventy-five sovs for some buck with his hands his pockets to look in the window ever now and again to see if she’s fogging up? I think not. I told the garage that I would call up this afternoon, take the motor out of their way and get someone else to fix it.

The garage rang back at half-eleven. Turns out somebody in there rang Ford HQ just for pig-iron, and Ford HQ told them to stick a plate over the pollen filter and Bob’s your uncle. This took ninety minutes’ work – however, the garage, in its unlimited munificence, would only charge me the half-hour. Is that agreeable to sir?

“Why, that’s wonderful. I’ll be up this evening to collect it. Thank you so much,” replied a sadder and wiser Spailpín Fánach.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Moriarity the Mystery Cat

A woejus bastard, by all accountsAn Spailpín Fánach has been having a bad day. Perhaps this would explain my confusion at the publication today of the Moriarty Tribunal Report, or, to give it its full title – big breath – the “Report of the Tribunal of Inquiry into Payments to Politicians and Related Matters Part I.” The Part I is significant, as we shall discover.

There has been a big media brouhaha over this publication – Charlie Bird, RTÉ’s Chief News Correspondent, was on Morning Ireland this morning, breathlessly telling the nation what to expect from the Tribunal report – or at least, that part of the nation that a, doesn’t know full well already and b, still gives a toss. Charlie Bird fascinates An Spailpín, you know – how many other journalists need a ghost writer to write their “auto” biography? His own life story, and he can’t tell it? I don’t know. But back to the other Charlie.

It seems clear that the Moriarty Tribunal has identified our late Taoiseach as a bastard, a bollocks and a son of a bitch. Fair enough. As the good book says, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Paul to the Romans, 3:23, you know). But there was one name that An Spailpín heard on a report this morning that’s been puzzling him all day, so I thought I’d throw it up here and see if anyone salutes.


Why isn’t anybody talking about Lowry?

Former Fine Gael TD and party fundraiser extraordinaire Michael Lowry is the reason that we have the Tribunals in the first place. If it weren’t for Lowry’s gross incompetence in the stroke department, not only would Charlie have got the State funeral he got anyway, but there might even have been human sacrifice thrown in as well, with maybe the whole thing turning into a riotous bacchanal just this side of a Mel Gibson picture. But instead Charlie was caught in the undertow in the Lowry mess and now the coffin dancers are limbering up once again for a jig and a reel.

Which is another part of what’s bothering your faithful correspondent. It’s the Part I of this report that I mentioned earlier – why is Haughey Part I, and not Lowry?

Now, the obvious answer is that it’s because Haughey is by far the bigger of the fish – he did the State some service, whereas Lowry did it none at all. But the thing is, the Tribunal has been dealing with Lowry and Lowry-related issues for far longer than it has Haughey. Also, Lowry was in there first. In fact, it’s been some years since Lowry was before his honour so you’d think the typing could have Ben Dunne (oh God, I’m good) by now. But it’s not. Instead we get the usual stuff about Haughey that the world and his wife knows already and that doesn’t matter a tu’penny damn to anyone’s life. And if anybody thinks all this chat does make a difference, maybe he or she can drop me a line and explain it, as I’m damned if I can see.

The only reasons that I can figure out for giving Charlie another couple of welts in the guts and kicking the Lowry thing even further into touch is because either a, Lowry is still alive and might remember where a few bodies are buried yet, b, Fine Gael is in such a heap that the spotlight is taken off them out of sheer pity for the wretched of the earth or c, both of the above. But that’s all I can figure. If anybody reading this thinks that Irish political graft and corruption is over now that Charlie Haughey is six feet under, drop me an email – I have a little parcel of land you might be interested in buying.

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Friday, December 15, 2006

Law and Order? More Like Laurel and Hardy

What a terrible week it’s been in Ireland. Murder is now a common or garden occurrence, with €10,000 reported as the price of an assassination.

Earlier this week, your faithful correspondent was thinking of calling for Internment. An Spailpín is always intrigued, when reading in the papers that such and such a person was “known to the Gardaí,” especially when they can list off as worrying a list of offences/accusations has have been associated with Martin Hyland, who was shot dead in his bed in Finglas on Tuesday. Mr Hyland “was known to every detective in the city,” reported the Irish Times on Wednesday. Mr Hyland “had an impressive property portfolio and was more involved in gun crime and top-end drug dealing than any other living criminal of his generation.”

And every time he reads something like that, a voice goes off in An Spailpín Fánach’s hopelessly innocent little head that says “well, if he was known to be such a gangster, why in God’s name wasn’t he in prison?”

So An Spailpín thought of using this platform to call for a return to internment, that all these pookies be rounded up and camped out in the Curragh, as in the dear old days of the 1930s, 50s and 70s, and see if that would settle their hash. Happily, An Spailpín has been a little too busy for writing lately, and this has now saved my blushes. Because it is now clear to An Spailpín that this will never happen.

It’s the Pádraig Nally case that’s made it clear. Nothing to do with the case itself, but to do with one detail of the case, which is this: the late John “Frog” Ward, aged forty-two, had approximately eighty previous convictions over 38 court appearances.

Eighty previous convictions. Think about that for a minute.

That means that, presuming the convictions dated from when Mr Ward turned 18, Mr Ward broke the law on average 5.71 times a year, every year, for fourteen years. Those are facts – he was convicted in open court. These aren’t accusations or bias or anything else – the court records are there. And yet, with eighty previous convictions, he was still running around loose until he met his end.

And that then begs the question – just how many convictions to you need to have before the courts decide that the penny isn’t dropping for you, that you are a persistent offender, and that it’s time to lock you up for good? 100? 150? 200?

This puts An Spailpín’s internment theory into its proper perspective. There is no point in locking people up on the presumption that they have no regard for the law when we have people whose thirty-eight court appearances and eighty previous convictions prove beyond all doubt that they have no respect for the law, and yet are still free to roam where they will.

It’s a joke, and we’re kidding ourselves. God help us all in this banana republic, ten days from Christmas.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Monday, December 11, 2006

An Unfortunate Realisation

Number 53, who rows well, and livesAn Spailpín Fánach got his new 2007 Office Diary today. Black bound covers, A5, one day per page, lovely. And as I was enthusiastically filling in the significant dates around which my working life of next year will revolve, I suddenly wondered: was Ben Hur half as happy anytime they gave him a new oar? Oh God oh God oh God....

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Genius in Our Midst - Time to Acknowledge Super Mario

Guth an phobailAn Spailpín Fánach was disappointed to read a rather sniffy profile of Mario Rosenstock, eminence grise behind the Gift Grub comedy sketches on the Ian Dempsey Breakfast Show on Today FM. For An Spailpín’s dollar, Rosenstock is the most inspired and reliable comedian we have produced in Ireland for quite some time, and deserves to be acknowledged as such.

This acknowledgement will be some time coming from the Phoenix. As well as a biographical profile of Rosenstock - that sounded dreadfully familiar to one written by Stephen Price in the Sunday Times Culture Section a week or two ago - the Phoenix sniffed at Rosenstock for “lack of bite” and a vulgar need to try and turn a few bob from the gig.

To condemn a comedian for lack of bite, by which is meant a lack of a political viewpoint, seems rather beside the point to An Spailpín’s old grey head. Surely it’s the same as chastising Francis Fukuyama was not writing more zingers in his copy? I would like to think that if some comedian did possess the sort of political insight that is apparently currently desirable in a comedian, he or she would hang up their microphone, put away the Peter Cook DVDs and maybe run for election, so the nation could benefit. Wouldn’t it benefit them that much better than trying to do funny voices in the early morning rush hour?

Not that there isn’t more to Rosenstock than the funny voices, although his gift for mimicry is quite stunning, just as the late Dermot Morgan’s was. Anyone that thinks that writing a Bertie Ahern parody version of Lily Allen’s LDN, as Rosenstock has recently done, ought to take out their pencil and paper and send their efforts to me via email, and we’ll see how easy it is then.

It’s not just that Rosenstock is supremely gifted; it’s that he’s supremely gifted five days a week, just like any other working slob. This is not enough for the Phoenix, which turns up a haughty snout at the notion that “Rosenstock has shown himself to be all too willing to flog his routine on the corporate circuit.”

The ads in this week’s Phoenix, reading from the back: Audi A4 limited edition, Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Day Sale, Michel Lynch: The Bordeaux Collection, a chartered surveyor, a private stockbroker, Halton Kelly Independent Property Services, Goodbody Stockbrokers – not a lot there for Jem Casey, the Workman’s Friend, to rhapsodise, I think. Pot, kettle; kettle, pot.

As with Dermot Morgan and Scrap Saturday, we will only miss Rosenstock when he is gone. Just how far back the chasing pack are can be seen by a visit to The Panel, RTÉ’s worse than appalling answer to Have I Got News for You. But please, don’t watch too long, or else you will surely lose all will to live and hope for the future. Rosenstock is operating at a completely different level, and he should be acknowledged as such.

An Spailpín’s own favourite comic? Why, Tommy Cooper, of course. Different class.

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

How Very Embarrassing

As anyone that has flown recently knows, things have become very strict as regards what you can or can’t carry onto a plane, and what you can or can’t do once you’re on the plane itself. And this can lead to unfortunate situations such as occurred yesterday on American Airlines flight 1053 from Washington to Fort Worth, TX.

The flight had to make an emergency stop at Nashville, about half-way through its intended journey, because somebody on the plane got the smell of matches burning in the cabin. Concerned that a hijack or similar attack was imminent, nobody was taking any chances and down the plane came, where the FBI were waiting.

And there Mulder and Scully got to the heart of the matter. It turns out that one of the passengers had a big feed of curry, and peas, and porter, and beans, and every gassy stuff of which you can possibly conceive before getting on the plane. Once in the cabin, the inevitable happened – the poor think starting breaking wind the way that Steven Segal used to break heads in those fabulous old movies.

As we all know, botty burps come in two distinct varieties, so dissimilar that they make the Bactrian and dromedary camels seem as identical twins. The first is the loud but harmless – it’s frightfully embarrassing, of course, to sit there making a noise like someone has stuffed a bass tuba up one’s jacksie, but worse things happen at sea. In fact, if everyone enters into the fun of the thing, one can have a very jolly competition to see who can rip the loudest.

Unfortunately, just as Superman must face his evil opposite from the Bizzaro world, so the jolly, prrapppt! fart has its own evil doppelganger, known only by the acronym SBD – Silent But Deadly. Where the loud fart leaps into the spotlight, the SBD hisses quietly into the world. And hiss it must, for it will not find a welcome. The Silent-But-Deadly, you see, has travelled all the way through the intestine from the pit of the stomach itself, picking up the various odours along the way, until hissing sibilantly into the mortal realm. But once you get the appalling, who opened the sewer stench, you’ll know that someone has been chuffing on the sly, and is producing SBDs by the cubic metre.

Which is exactly what happened this poor woman on American Airlines flight 1053. Fearing the social ostracisation that would inevitably follow her discovery as the releaser of the SBDs into the limited cabin space, she took the only recourse she could – she lit match after match, desperately hoping to burn up the methane that scientists are convinced are the active ingredient in SBDs.

What she forgot, alas, is that is no longer as safe to fly as it was, and her embarrassment lead to the forced landing, and came within an inch of being responsible for a considerable spell in choky. In the end, though, the Feds thought about all the beer and tacos that’s gone over the red river with themselves and, while banned from American Airlines for about a thousand years, the anonymous passenger retains her freedom, liberty and, to some extent, her dignity. Spare a moment to think of her tonight as the pints are drawing.

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Friday, December 01, 2006

Baby, It's Cold Outside

December 1st, 2006. How very distressing. Still, let's make the best of it and enjoy "Baby, It's Cold Outside," as sung by the Prince and Princess of Wales. Marvellous.

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