Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Washed-Up Windies - Could It Happen Here?

Sir VA RichardsOne of the reasons given as to why the opening of Croke Park to rugby and soccer was a good and wise thing was that Gaelic Games were strong enough to survive anyway. Sure aren’t they part of what we are?, ran the argument – sure, if there was no hurling or football, how could there still be an Ireland?

Tom Humphries wrote a chilling Locker Room column four years ago about the decline of Welsh rugby and how it stands as a grim warning to what can happen to something that is “part of what we are,” which your correspondent was reminded of reading Tanya Aldred’s bittersweet elegy to the West Indian cricket team of the 1980s in the Guardian, a team that stands in contrast to the team currently touring England the way the Sears Tower of Chicago stands in contrast to a shotgun shack somewhere in the boonies.

Cricket was thought to be integral to the culture of the West Indies – the only thing keeping them together, in fact, as the West Indies is not a country as such, but a collection of countries that united in love of the common game on the islands, cricket. CLR James’ fascinating Beyond a Boundary discusses this interweaving of sport, politics and identity far better than your Spailpín Fánach could ever do, and its required reading for anyone that was ever captivated by calypso cricket and the thrilling play of heroes like Viv Richards, Richie Richardson, Patrick Patterson and the rest.

While Irish cricket lovers’ favourite team is generally the one that isn’t England, I think we’ve always had a special place in our hearts for the West Indies. They are like us in so many ways, in their fondness for porter and the crack and for our common heritage of looking at signs in shops on the bleak streets of England in the 1950s that read no blacks, no Irish, no dogs. I could still name that 1980s team, and still see them in my mind’s eye. I remember Malcolm Marshall, their peerless fast bowler, being interviewed after another devastating win in England. The BBC’s Tony Lewis asked Marshall what the win meant to him. Marshall said that he thought of all his fellow West Indians who were working in menial jobs in England and being looked down all day every day, who could hold their heads higher because the West Indies had won. Marshall knew what it was about alright.

And now that’s all over. The West Indies suffered the worst defeat in their Test history at Headlingly on Monday, skittled by an innings and 283 runs, while former heroes like Michael Holding could only look on, helpless and heartbroken, from the commentary box.

How did it happen? The same way everything happens – the cricket culture of the West Indies was not strong enough to survive the appeal of the global market. Young men in the West Indies now listen to hip-hop and watch soccer and basketball, where once their fathers listened to calypso and reggae, while living and breathing cricket.

The global market is making the same encroachments here, although I don’t think even the Jamaican authorities were so slow as to promote soccer and basketball by opening Sabina Park to the competition. And still the team is on its knees, and the culture is dying. I hope it doesn’t happen here. But I’m very worried all the same.

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Monday, May 28, 2007

That Rugby Documentary Scheduled for Tonight

You've probably seen the ads for that rugby documentary tonight. An Spailpín certainly has and, if I can't see it tonight, I'll certainly set the tape. But I have no faith in it. Your faithful narrator believes in the possibility of "revealing behind-the-scenes footage" about as much as he believes in the Easter Bunny. What is much more likely is that it'll be another snow job in A Certain Party's relentless and continuing campaign for the Lions' coaching job in '09 on the tour to South Africa. I expect that bandwagon to get a right joult in France in a few months' time, may God pity the nation. More of that anon. In the meantime, does anybody really expect Eddie O'Sullivan's prematch orations to come within an ass's roar of the inspirational exhortations of that true coaching spririt of the nation, the indefatigable, the undefeatable, the legendary Timmy Ryan?

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Friday, May 25, 2007

An Taoiseach's Early Morning Post-Election Address to the Nation

His Master's Voice
An Spailpín Fánach is both pleased and delighted to beat all conventional and online media in bringing you this, the first comments from An Taoiseach after yesterday's election. This morning, The Leader appeared at one of the bedroom windows in his controversial home on Griffith Avenue and addressed the people below in clear tenor voice, wavering slightly in the higher register but showing great command otherwise. When he finished, and the cheering of the crowds died down, he issued the usual apology to Lord Lloyd-Webber, but not to Sir Tim Rice. It is possible that An Taoiseach has recently read Sir Tim's autobiography, and is still sore at the waste of his precious time. Take it away, Taoiseach:

It won’t be Enda, it’s the labour exchange
For him and the rest of his crew
Getting notions of grandeur and pulling a string

They thought they had me
They thought I was past it, a footnote, a bum
Even though I’m still here all the time
I’ll be running the country again

Poor Enda is past tense, he’s got the mange
Him and his shirts of blue
I'll bet he's outpolled by Mick Ring

So I’ll choose Labour,
Lady Wicklow, Gilmore, Rabbitte and Co
We’ll see what they make
Of the benchmarking sorrow and woe

Don’t cry for me Dublin Central
The truth is I’m still the Taoiseach
The housing crisis
The marriage torment
I still survived
That attack from Vincent

And as for McDowell, and as for the PDs
I don’t think I’ll miss them at all
With their high moral tone and Avoca cookbooks

They are just bowsies
They are not quite the gentry they promised to be
So Labour, for now, will do
‘Til we win a majority again

Don’t cry for me Dublin Central
The truth is I’m still the Taoiseach
The housing crisis
The marriage torment
I still survived
That attack from Vincent

Have I said too much?
I think, Miriam, when you look at the issues that matter to you,
You find, in the totality of the situation,
That every word is poo

Don’t cry for me Dublin Central
The truth is I’m still the Taoiseach
The housing crisis
The marriage torment
I still survived
That attack from Vincent

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Days of Wind and Timber - Mayo Blown Away in Salthill

This piece is, I believe, in the print edition of this morning's Mayo News. Sadly, it doesn't seem to have made the cut for the web edition, but this is a small matter to one with the power to cut and to paste.

Galway 2-10
Mayo 0-09

THE SEANFHOCAL TELLS US “ní hé lá na gaoithe lá na scolb”; the windy day is not the day for thatching. The deeply saddened Mayo contingent coming home from Sunday’s defeat in Galway could be forgiven for reflecting that this particular windy day wasn’t so terribly great for Mayo football either.

It was a ill wind indeed for Mayo. WB Yeats asks “what need have you to mind / The monstrous crying of the wind?” in his lovely little lyric for Maud Gonne’s daughter, To a Child Dancing in the Wind. Neither a child nor a poet had any business out in Páirc an Phiarsaigh on Sunday, dancing or otherwise. Galway came at Mayo with the ferocity of fifteen heron-choking hurricanes, and Mayo were blown away by half-time. In fact, such was the, ahem, commitment in the exchanges that a worried parent would have been forgiven for giving a gasúr a tenner’s worth of loose change and sending him or her up to the amusement arcades for a hour’s Tetris; the football was strictly over-eighteens fare.

Mayo can have no complaints. They gave as good as they got in the handbag exchanges, but it’s hard to claim seaside robbery when only three players score and you finish seven points in arrears on the only register that matters, the scoreboard. Peter Ford – on the business end of disgraceful mutterings in Galway over his management prior to the game, for reasons that are unfathomable from this, beaten, remove – planned his ambush perfectly, and when the time came, Mayo fell head over heels into the trap. Cormac Bane’s two expertly finished and clinically dispatched goals in the first half-hour put Mayo on the ropes; when nothing happened when O’Mahony played his aces from the bench, David Brady and Ciarán McDonald, and when both Conor Mortimer and Pat Harte were desperately unlucky with goal chances early in the second half, it was just a question then of shipping the final punch and the tumble into the oblivion of the qualifiers.

On the bright side for the county Mayo, there are seven weeks until the qualifier match, which is an aeon in football terms. It’s like a whole new Championship, really, and any hangover that may exist from Sunday’s disappointment will be long gone. On the less bright side, one of the reasons John O’Mahony was able to resurrect Galway in 2001 and take them from a comprehensive whacking from Roscommon in Tuam to their ninth All-Ireland in a single unprecedented and still unrepeated summer was the good fortune of drawing Wicklow in the first round of the qualifiers. With the Division 4 teams losing in the Championship before Provincial Final level now condemned to the Tommy Murphy Cup, Johnno may not be as lucky next time out. Donegal or Armagh, anyone?

But no matter. We shall take the poet Kipling’s advice, looking at triumph and disaster and treating both impostors the same. We are Mayo, after all; it’s not like we’ve not been here before. If we in Mayo have learnt anything as a football people in the past eighteen years, since the first coming of Johnno brought us to our first All-Ireland final since 1951, it’s how to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves down, and start all over again.

There is, however, one small request that I would like to make, on behalf on the fans, like myself, who wouldn’t know that much about football really, but who are inclined to measure their lives in Championship summers. This is the second time in ten years that Galway have ended Mayo’s Championship before the schools have got their holidays, and both times have been under the stewardships of Mayo managers – Peter Ford this year, and Johnno himself in 1998. So the next time some Saoi or Wise One of Mayo football burns with the missionary spirit to bring the gospel outside the heather county, could he or she please be so good as to travel a bit further than Galway next time? Manchuria Mitchells could do with a good coach I’m sure, or Shangri-La Sarsfields, or Abu Dhabi Davitts. Anywhere, in fact, but Galway. They have forty-four Connacht titles and nine Sams, and they’re not finished yet. They don’t really need any more dig outs from us.

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Friday, May 18, 2007

A Game of Chess or Lannigan's Ball? Johnno Names the Team for Sunday

Johnno: Thinking all the timeJohn O’Mahony’s team selected to play Galway on Sunday has been met with arched eyebrows, pursed lips, and requests to pull the other one, Johnno, it’s got bells on. A good friend of your humble correspondent assured An Spailpín Fánach via text message last night that if Mayo lined out as selected, specifically with Billy Joe Padden at fullback and James Nallen at centre-half back, he, the texter, would leap off the pier at Blackrock in Upper Salthill, and into the cold, cold briny below.

Let this column assure friends and detractors, assenters and dissenters that there will be no need for this sort of thing. Billy Joe Padden has played at fullback before, and played very well there – he went in fullback against Monaghan in the League last year after David Heaney got sent off, and performed very well there. Heaney was suspended for the following game and your faithful narrator expected Billy Joe to slot in there for the foreseeable, but Liam O’Malley played there the next day and Heaney returned to the last line of defence once he came out of purdah.

People have been suggesting all sorts of switching and shifting in formation to go on before the throw-in, but An Spailpín isn’t quite so sure. Having named this team it would make as much sense to start it, as opposed to working on bluffs and double-bluffs until we get to the stage where the coaches exit and the discrete mathematicians and quantum physics theorists take over. A man stepping in and a man stepping out again is all very well at Lannigan's Ball, but it might get confusing in a game of Gaelic Football. Besides, if P Joyce decides to go strolling and Ja comes in to the square to rest his venerable bones, then Mayo’s full and centre-half backs are changed anyway. It’s best to stay calm in this regard.

For An Spailpín, the most interesting confrontations are at midfield, where Mayo’s Harte and Heaney face Galway’s Bergin and Coleman, and in the corners, with very interesting tussles coming up between Michael Meehan and Keith Higgins, Cormac Bane and Liam O’Malley, and, perhaps most crucially of all, Galway’s Damien Burke against Conor Mortimer. How these battle pan out will tell a lot on the day. Mayo’s bench is in theory the stronger, and you can expect a cheer in Salthill the likes of which haven’t been heard in that area since Planxty played the Hanger in 1972 if or when David Brady or Ciarán McDonald are stripped and ready to enter the fray. The downside is that if the old warriors are sent for Mayo may be in trouble – in the All-Ireland Finals in which David Brady was introduced as a sub, the moving finger had long ago done its terrible work. All Mayo would face the horrendous battle to the notoriously inaccessible Pearse Stadium with a little more ease were Brady full fit and starting, but it’s hard to have it every way.

Galway are a more free-scoring team than Mayo – if Mayo dominate midfield, this will negate that, but if Galway win the centre then it’s double jeopardy, as Mayo’s difficulties in front of goal increase exponentially. If any one of the Galway inside line catches fire and gives his man a trimming, Mayo are in trouble. If two of them light up, Johnno is as well to start looking at the map, as his next game won’t be in Castlebar no more. And if all three of those desperados catch fire, well, Michelle Mulherin might see Dáil Éireann yet. On the bright side, that’s a lot of if’s. Mayo by 2 is the vote.

FOCAL SCOIR: If you're finding all this Gaelic Football a bit much as the Championship moves up through the gears, try how the other half lives - a fasncinating story on ESPN about the Russian Professional Women's Basketball League. Incredible stuff.

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Deireadh Siopaleabhair Greene's

Scríobh Dorothy Parker uair amháin gurb fhuath lena cara agus a co-scríobhnóir ar an irisleabhar New Yorker sa 30í, Robert Benchley, dul isteach i siopaleabhar. Gach aon uair a chuaigh Benchley isteach, d'fheicfeadh sé na leabhair agus bhuailfeadh tonn mhór trua air nuair a smaoineodh sé ar na scríobhnóirí a scríobh na leabhair, iadsan láncinnte nuair a chríochníodar go raibh sárshaothar scríofa acu, agus eisean, Benchley, faoi lán-eolas nach mbacfaí faoi chuid is mó dá leabhair, agus go bhfanfaidís thuas ar na seilfeanna go deo na ndeor.

Tá a ghlanmhalairt toraidh ag siopaleabhar ar an Spailpín Fánach. Is é an leabhar agus an scríbhneoireacht an cumadh is tábhachtach sa stáir, níos tábhachtaí ná an roth nó an tine, mar thugann leabhar seans dúinn siúl i ndomhain nárbh fhéidir linn siuladh gan leabhar, domhain samhlaíochta agus domhain dáiríre, domhain fadó atá caillte le fada, domhain nár tháinig ar an tsaol fós agus, b'fhéidir, nach dtiocfaidh go deo. Tagann gliondar im' chroí agam agus mise isteach i siopa leabhar mar, nuair a bhreathnaím ar na seilfeanna lán le leabhair ar gach aon saghas nó sórt nó teanga, tugtar misneach dom gurb fhiú leis an duine tar éis an tsaoil; go mbímis ann, go raibh rudaí tábhachtach linn, chomh tábhachtach gur scríobhamar síos iad, ar eagla go gcaillfí an t-eolas, agus go bhfuil dream ann fós faoi láthair ag iarraidh an eolas céanna a choinneal beo ar son na glúine atá chugainn.

Faightear sin i ngach uile siopa leabhar, ach faightear blás eile i siopa a díolann leabhar athláimhe amháin. Mar ins na siopaí leabhair athláimhe faightear blás an ghrá, an ghrá a bhí ag léitheoirí ar a leabhair, agus an méid measa a bhí ag léitheoirí ar a leabhair. Agus mura bhfaightear blás an ghrá, tharlaíonn rud níos fearr arís: faightear leabhar dílleachta, nár fhuair grá nó ómós riamh, agus tá seans agatsa anois fíorbhaile a thabhairt do faoi deireadh.

Ag breathnú ar na seanchlúdaigh, feictear an difríocht ina ndíoladh leabhar ins na caogaidí, mar shampla, agus mar a ndíoltar sa lá atá inniu ann. Is breá liom na seanleabhar Pelican, craobh comhlachta Penguin a scríobhadh ar ábhair acadaimh. Cheannaigh mé ceann acu uair amháin, ar cheol classiceach, agus scríofa ar an gcúlchuldach narbh pléisiúr na colainne é an ceol, cosúil le folcadán te a thógáil nó píopa tabaic a chaitheamh.

Folcadán te nó píopa tabaic mar phléisiúr na colainne. Ba chrua an dréam iad na Sasanaigh tar éis an Cogadh, ar m'anam.

Bíonn áthas orm i gcónaí in aon siopa leabhar, go h-áirithe i siopa leabhar athláimhe, agus caoiním fúthu nuair a gcailltear iad. Scríobh mé ceanna seo faoin bpoll a tháinig sa shaol i gcathair na Gaillimhe nuair a dhúnadh Kenny's. Tá an siopa leabhar Dandelion Books imithe ó Sráid Aungier anseo i mBleá Cliath le fada anois, ach ba bheag nár bhrís mo chroí an seachtain seo nuair a bhfuair mé amach go bhfuil Greene's Bookstore chun dúnadh ar an cúigiú lá is fiche na míosa seo.

Tá suíomh idirlíon ag an síopa a insíonn scéal an siopa, agus is uasal, fada an scéal é. Oscailíodh an siopa i 1843 - in 1843, bhí Domhnall Ó Connaill ina chumhacht anseo in Éirinn, agus Victoria ar a séú bhliain mar Bhanríon na Breataine Móire. Rugadh an scríobhnóir Henry James, agus, ag deireadh na bliana, d'fhoilsigh Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol, an ghearrscéal na Nollaig is cailiúla sa domhan.

Nuair a dtéann duine isteach i nGreene's, tá sé cosúil le cuairt a thabhairt ar siopa eigin i scéalta Dickens - an Old Curiosity Shop féin, b'fhéidir. Tá gach aon bhalla sa siopa lán le seilfeanna leabhar, fiú amháin na ballaí staighre. Tá leabhar ar gach aon saghas ann, seanleabhar Laidine go dtí seafóid dá chuid Jaqueline Susann. Agus tá an seod seo le dúnadh anois. Díolfar na leabhar ar an idirlíon as seo amach, ach ní hé sin an rud céanna ar chur ar bith le dul isteach i siopa cosúil le Greene's. Bhí caoineadh mór ann nuair a dhúnadh Bewley's, ach cad ab fhéidir a cheannach i mBewley's ach borróga? Nuair atá do bhorróg ite agat, tá sí thart, ach beidh do leabhar agat le do linne, agus, má tá an t-adh leis, tar éis do bháis, beidh sé féin suite i siopa leabhar athláimhe éigin eile, ag fanacht ar an seans a dhraíocht a théaspaint ar duine nua.

Bail ó Dhia ort, a Ghréinigh, a sheanshiopa leabhar uasal - mo léan, ach táim cinnte agus lánchinnte nach mbeidh do leithéid arís ann.

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Monday, May 14, 2007

Of Sense Forlorn - Mayo's Quest Begins Again in Salthill

For John O’Mahony, picking his way through the thickets of An Taoiseach’s house purchase, as published by the Sunday Independent yesterday, is as child’s play compared to picking his team for the game against Galway in Salthill in six days’ time.

For instance, consider the number three jersey. A case could be made for it to be filled by any one of Liam O’Malley, James Kilcullen, David Heaney, Billy Joe Padden, James Nallen, David Brady or Uncle Tom Cobley if it comes to that. And that’s just one shirt of the fifteen. The only one who’s assured a place on a line is probably Conor Mortimer, and even then all it takes is one nocturnal trip to Super Mac’s on the Square for Conor to get on the wrong side of Johnno, and next thing you know there’s a Fine Gael motor car going over hill and down dale in Louisburgh blaring “Austy! Austy! Are you there Austy?” from the megaphones.

This is a very strange game from a Mayo perspective. There’s been a lot of old yak in the papers about Mayo’s fragile psyche and subtle psychological scarring and all this old chat. What happened in Croker last September amounts to a whole lot of nothing in Salthill in May, but if Mayo are to get September closure they will have to dispatch a lot of heavy hitters, such as our friends and neighbours who choke the heron for sport, on the way. That’s what comes of leaving All-Ireland titles behind you. If Mayo had given a good – or even a reasonable – account of themselves against Kerry in 2004 or 2006 it’d be something. They imploded instead, and now they find themselves in some strange sort of limbo until they return to that grand stage and exorcise their demons. Like Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, Mayo stand accursed, and will get no relief until they resolve what happened them in two Septembers of the last three.

Ah! well a-day! what evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.

So, even if Mayo do beat Galway on Sunday, it won’t really count, or at most, it’ll count for very little. Sunday’s is a game that Mayo can only lose. Winning is just one step closer to the only game that counts. If that sounds harsh, then that’s because it is. One of the reasons that winning All-Irelands is so great is because losing them is so wretched. The most telling quote from last year’s debacle was Jack O’Connor remarking that Kerry got more hunger from their one year without Sam than Mayo did from their fifty-five. And counting. That still smarts.

That’s the macro picture from a Mayo perspective, taking 2007 as a whole. On the micro level, taking the year one game at a time, Galway stand in Mayo’s way and it’s very damned hard to know what they will be like. Nobody was revealing very much in the phony war between the counties in the League semi-final, and we’re as wise about Galway now as we were then. The strangest thing coming down the wires from heron-choking central is how very unhappy they are with Peter Ford’s stewardship, which is baffling, to be honest.

We were wondering earlier about who’ll play fullback for the County Mayo. Whoever gets the nod might end up playing centre-half, if Pádraic Joyce goes rambling, as he did in the semi-final. It’s hard to know what Galway will do. If, as in the semi-final, Galway have Cormac Bane and Michael Meehan in the corners, then they have men inside that can bottle lightning and do Mayo profound damage if they light it up. The languid Bane looked stealthily, slyly dangerous against Mayo. Meehan has yet to cut loose in the Championship the way he has, on occasion, in the League, but the talent is there, simmering away. If Meehan can harness it, and if he gets a supply of ball coming into him, it’s hard to know how anyone can stop him.

Other than cutting off the supply at source, of course. Kevin Walsh continues to be missed in midfield as Galway chop and change, looking for a replacement. As things stand, any of the possible Mayo combinations of Davids Brady and Heaney, the timeless James Nallen, the industrious Pat Harte, Kilcullen or even Billy Joe should be able to stand their ground in the centre, unless Galway have dug up another Liam Sammon and Ford has him hidden under a blanket in some hayshed outside Tuam. If Mayo can get a grip at midfield, then it’s up to the forwards to keep the scoreboard ticking over, something that they’ve been struggling to do of late.

The low scoring returns of the forwards, Conor Mortimer excepted, is a source of growing concern. With the sort of form-line the forwards have been showing so far, they need someone in there who can give them an edge by the breath and depth of his passing vision. Regular visitors to this soapbox will know of whom I speak. Ciarán McDonald, like his Holiness the Pope, has been granted the keys to the kingdom; his is the power to loose and to bind. But Ciarán McDonald has hardly kicked ball since the All-Ireland, and he was half-crocked then. If Mayo are to beat Galway, the forwards need to step up.

If Mayo lose, it’s not, strangely speaking, the end of the world. Martin McHugh remarked to Paul Collins on Setanta recently that, because whoever loses on Sunday has seven weeks until the first round of the qualifiers, whoever loses has enough time to rebuild, and to treat the game in Salthill as just a once-off thing. Of course, things were much more thrilling back when the two sides met at this time of year on a hot day in Castlebar nine (nine! Can it be?) years ago, when it was still a real Championship and Mayo went spiralling out of it before the children had been given their summer holidays. What a cat summer that was.

If Mayo win, marvellous, and we look forward then to Leitrim or London on June 24th in the Connacht semi-final. If Mayo lose, darn, but it’s still back to training and focus shifting to the start of the qualifiers on July 7th, the difference of a fortnight. Whichever path Mayo tread, the demons stay with them:

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

Coleridge again. STC was from Devon himself, a pretty little town called Ottery St Mary, but the poet clearly knew what it meant to be a Mayoman. We can expect a week’s thrills and spills as the Candidate and the Boxer fight their phoney wars, and An Spailpín Fánach can do no better than recommend his fellow toiler in the fields of the Lord, Willie Joe at the Mayo GAA Blogspot, for all the latest. Willie Joe plucks all the latest news from ether the way his namesake used to pluck footballs from the azure vault of the skies, and I, for one, shall certainly be relying on him for the full skinny. Up Mayo.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Championship 2007

Kerryman Lifts Sam Shock!An Spailpín Fánach was very disappointed to read Eugene McGee’s Championship preview in Monday’s Independent. It was hard not to feel the great man had let himself down a little, in producing a somewhat splenetic article about how only a very limited pool of counties could entertain any hopes whatsoever of winning the football All-Ireland this year, and the rest would want to cop themselves on a bit.

The brutal reality about the All-Ireland football championship is that the vast majority of the 33 county units that take part have not got a snowball’s chance in hell of winning it,” thundered Eugene. “In the past 40 years just ELEVEN counties have taken Sam Maguire home.

The tone of the great Eugene’s remarks reminded your faithful quillsman of certain Dickensian ogres, like Mr Thomas Gradgrind of Hard Times or the monstrous Mr Edward Murdstone, stepfather to David Copperfield, who, were they canvassed on their opinions of the Championship, would doubtless remark that we are put on this earth for one purpose and one purpose only sir, and to sit in fields on lengthening summers evenings dreaming of impossible September glory is rank folly that can only lead to the shame, the debtor’s prison and a lonesome splash into the Thames on a dank November night. Pshaw!, and good day to you sir!

An Spailpín does not agree with Mr Thos. Gradgrind or Mr Ed. Murdstone. An Spailpín thinks that once we give up on our dreams we give up on our souls, and your Spailpín Fánach cannot sign off on that idea. The disgraceful introduction of the back door system, which protects the strong and exposes the weak, has made the road ahead rockier, and more fraught with danger, but the shining path is there to be seen still, and the right to dream of Sam arriving at your old or indeed current school is the birthright of every Gael. Not least in year like this one, when the shining stars of the modern era – Armagh, Tyrone and Kerry – are displaying feet of clay as the first Championship weekend looms.

Were An Spailpín a betting man, he would open an account with Ladbrokes (have you seen the acres and acres of GAA specials they have up there? Support them straightaway, as all GAA men and women should stick together) and take a piece of the action on a Kilkenny / Kerry double, just like last year. However, I would by no means fill my boots on the proposition, and believe - blessedly – that this coming Championship could be the best for years, one filled with heroic deeds and legends forged in the white heat of an Irish summer.

Kerry are the best team in the country, by right of history and the fact that they are reigning Champions. A certain poor mouthing is drifting up from the Kingdom, as their highnesses wonder what they will do without the retired Mike McCarthy and the immortal Séamus Moynihan, leaving a big gaping hole in the middle of their defence. An Spailpín counsels patience; a team with the three Ó Sés, Aidan O’Mahony, Paul Galvin and Cooper aren’t quite mugs you know. There will be beating on them, but the Championship will not be a coronation.

Not least if Kerry’s nearest neighbours to the South have anything to say about it. Cork are Kerry’s greatest rivals of course, and under the returned stewardship of Billy Morgan are always eager to put down the Kingdom. Armagh, Cork and Tyrone are the only counties that have beaten Kerry in the Championship in the past five years, you know. A Corkman was kind enough to take your correspondent aside one boozy night in Mulligan’s Bar, Poolbeg Street, Dublin 2, and explain why it is that Billy Morgan gets the most from Cork. It seems Billy hates Kerry more than he wishes to draw his next breath, and that provides quare motivation. The poet John Milton is not noted as a follower of Gaelic Games – he was a big Cromwell man himself, you know – but when Milton’s Satan thrashes about on a sea of burning fire in Hell in Book I of Paradise Lost, yakking about

“ …the unconquerable will,
And study of revenge, immortal hate,
And courage never to submit or yield

he could very easily be quoting Billy Morgan in the dressing rooms of Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Munster Final Day. Billy hates Kerry; Billy is short a scoring forward or two, but hate brings a man a long way, not least when the rest of the team is so big and strong. Write off the Rebels at your absolute peril.

In the other end of the country, the graph(oe – geddit?) of Donegal’s rise exists in contrast to the fall of Armagh and Tyrone. In theory. In reality, Ulster is such a bearpit that whoever, or what-ever, emerges from the faction fight will be a force to be reckoned with. To say nothing of how Mickey Harte might rebuild Tyrone yet, given breaks other than of bones, such as have blighted them for the past year or so.

In Leinster, it’s wide open. Meath are said to be at their lowest in twenty years but, as Monaghan recently found out to their cost, if you don’t put the stake through their hearts as quick as ever you can they can still beat you, just like they do. Louth are a team on a the bubble, Kildare are probably better now than they were under Micko (the same man was telling Eamon Dunphy at Easter about how Kildare ’98 were the best team in Ireland at the time. Isn’t he a holy terror?), Laois are banging on drums and, having learned from PJ McGrath’s mistake in 1982, your faithful correspondent will not write off the Biffo Nation until they’re safely dead and buried.

Finally, under Western skies, sap is rising in the Ros as hasn’t risen among the primroses in quite some time. Leitrim need a scalp after promising, promising, promising under the Old Man Dolan managership and as for Mayo and Galway – well, I think that’s so tricky we’ll leave it ‘til next week. One thing I am sure off – even if the teams I’ve just talked up do actually have the mark of Cain on them, and Kerry do go through the motions again in the summer, how infinitely better that than to settle for the game of crooks, con-men, cowards and spivs that our friends and neighbours across the Irish Sea have to settle for? Eugene ought to take a few Rennies for himself, and start licking his lips at the prospect of Down and Cavan this weekend. Sleeping giants they may be, but there are giants nonetheless, with ten All-Irelands between them and the rich weight of history and tradition that begins. Let the games commence; I can’t wait.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Spider-Man 3 is Muck

Fear an damháin alla in ísle brí - agus ní nach ionadh, má chonaic sé a phictiúr féin?Friends of your regular correspondent have been trying to break it to me gently. Spider Man 3 is “the weaker of the three films,” they tell me. It’s “not great.”

Up to a point, Lord Copper. Spider Man 3 is “not great” in the same way that living next door to a pig-slurry pit during a heat wave is “not great.” Spider Man 3 bites, and bites big time.

It is unlikely that Spider Man 3 is the worst movie that will be unleashed on an unsuspecting public this summer – anybody else suspect that Fantastic Four teaser trailer is the best bit of the whole movie by a country mile? Me too. Sigh – but what’s especially distressing about the movie is that its worth in artistic terms is in inverse proportion to its worth in monetary terms. In its opening weekend alone, Spider Man 3 grossed $150 million in the US and over $350 million overseas. That’s just fundamentally wrong.

Tell all your friends – if you must go to the movies, give Spider Man a skip. That’s not your Spidey sense tingling – it’s your retch reflex. It’s over-written, over-long and not over half soon enough. I have seldom seen people scurry for the exits more quickly once the credits began to roll, and who could blame them, after suffering the horrors of that terrible, terrible – I mean awful now – ending. How very, very disappointing.

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Baint an Fhómhair Beannaithe

Butch agus Sundance - go raibh an t-ádh leoThug do Spailpín Fánach an lá ar fad ag breathnú is ag smaoineamh ar na pictúirí stáiriúla ag teacht ó Stormont inniu, agus tá siad deacair dom a chreideamh fós. Tá an Dochtúir Ian Richard Kyle Paisley ina mór-namhaid liom agus le mo linne comh fada is a bhíos ar an bhfód ach anois, tá mo ghloinne líonta amach agam agus, tar éis na cúpla focal seo a scríobh, ólfaidh mé sláinte an dochtúra. Tá sé tuillte aige anois.

Tá clú agus caill - nó droch-chlú is droch-chaill - ar an ndochtúir Paisley as ucht a chumacht óráide. Scríobh Tim Pat Coogan ina leabhar "the Troubles" gurb fhéidir le cúpla daoine brath ar theas Ifrinn agus iadsan ag éisteacht ar an nDochtúir Paisley ar an bpuilpid ins na seascaidí. Ach níor labhair Paisley riamh comh h-uasal, nó comh dílis, nó comh chríonna, mar a labhair sé inniu.

Bhí tionchar mór ag an mBíobla ina labhairt, ar ndóigh. Luaigh sé na focail cáiliúl ón Leabhar Ecclesiastes, go bhfúil seasúr ag gach chuile ní faoin Neamh, seasúr scaoilte, seasúr dul le cheile. Bhí blás na h-óráide sean-nós Protastúnaigh ina fhocail deireanach, nuair a dúirt an dochtúir Paisley go raibh sé ag súil "go mbainfimid fómhar beannainthe." Tá an guí céanna ag an Spailpín Fánach, ó bhun mo chroíse. Go n-éirí leat agus libh, a shean-shaighdiúr, agus go mbainea tú agus pobal na Sé Chontae bhur bhFómhar tar éis na blianta brónach fada fola a bhí againne go léir ar ár n-oileán beag glas. Bail ó Dhia ar an obair.

Agus anois, tógfaidh mé mo bhraoinín. Cén sort? Bushmills, ar ndóigh.

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Friday, May 04, 2007

Ar Thóir an Airgid - Bertie Faoi Bhrú ag an mBrúnach

An crú ag teacht ar an tairne

Nárbh áit an comhdháil nuachta a bhí againne inné, agus Uinsinn de Brún ar thóir airgid Bertie Ahern mar a bhíodh sé ar thóir airgid Chathail Uí hEoghaigh fiche nó tríocha bhlian ó shin? Ba chuimhin le gach duine a bhí ann inné ar na laethanta sin agus mura chuimhin leo, chuir an Brúnach an sean-ré ina chuimhne arís nuair a rinne PJ Mara, bainisteoir comhdhála nuachta, iarracht béal an Bhrúnaigh a dhúnadh. Rud atá níos deacra ná mar a shílfeá.

Ach cá bhfuil tuiscint an phobail anois tar éis an chéad seachtain olltoghcháin seo? An bhfuil níos mó nó níos lú múinin againne i mBertie? Ar chaill sé rud éigin? Agus má chaill, ab fhéidir leis gach rud a chailleadh a thabairt arís, agus níos mó, ins na fiche lá atá faghta aige sa fheachtas fós?

Scríobh do scríobhnóir cúpla lá ó shin go bhfuil méain chumarsáide na hÉireann ar an taobh chlé, beag nó mór. Cuireadh ríomhphost chugam mar gheall ar sin, ag rá nach raibh an ceart agam. Táim ag smaoineamh ar an gceist fós, agus ar m'anam, níl fios agam cá bhfuil méain chumarsáide na hÉireann sa diabhal, nó an bhfuil fios acu féin.

Tóg cúrsaí inné, agus conas a chuireadh amach an scéal. Cad é an scéal a bhí ag na méain? Gur ionsaigh Uinsinn de Brún ar Bertie Ahern? Nach raibh an Taoiseach reidh don ceisteanna ar airgead an Taoisigh? Go ndearna feall ar an Áire Airgid nuair a d'athraigh Fianna Fáil a dtuairim ar an ndleacht stampála, agus an tÁire Airgid ag rá nach n-athróidh? Bhí na scéalta go léir seo ag méain áirithe agus ar chláracha áirithe le linn an lae inné, agus ag na páipéirí inniu, ach níor tháining éinne amach ag ceistiú an rud is mó atá i mbeal na daoine maidir le Ahern anois - an raibh, nó an bhfuil, an Taoiseach ag tógail airgid nach gcóir do a thógail?

Sin tús agus deireadh an scéil. Dá mbainfeadh scéal céanna le polaiteoir éigin i Shasana, mar shampla, beidh a rás rite sula an nuacht ag a ní a chlog. Ach anseo in Éirinn, níltear comh soléir sin. Ní thaitníonn linn, na Gaeil, bheith i gcomhréir lena gcéile. Shíltear nach gcóir d'éinne a chánacha a seachaint, ach má insíonn cara duinn faoin stróic breá a d'imir sé ar an mbaillitheoir cánach, an gcuirtear glaoch ar na Gardaí? Mar dhea - cuirtear glaoch ar an mbéar, agus óltar sláinte an fear glic go dtitim oíche.

An rógaire é Bertie Ahern, nó an fear glic é? Más rógaire é, cén fáth nach n-ionsaíonn an lucht freasúra air? Deireadh ar Phrime Time oíche Dé Máirt, agus an scéal ag druidim go mall amach ag an am, nár thaitníonn leo ionsaigh air mar d'éirigh Ahern cúig phointe sa phollanna an uair deireanach a n-ionsaíodh air maidir lena airgead, agus ní thaitneodh le Phat nó le Inda an tubáiste céanna a tharla arís.

Dar liom féin, tá feachas Fhianna Fáil i bhfad níos laige ná mar a bhí ag an uair chéanna cúig bhliain ó shin, agus tá sé dóchreite ar fad nach bhfuil siad reidh ar cheisteanna airgid an Taoisigh. Ag an am céanna, is fada an lá go rachaimid chuig na pollanna agus is fada trí seachtain i gcúrsaí polaitiúla. I gceann lá is deich, tugfaidh Bertie Ahern oráid i dTeach Westminister. Beidh an cruinniú is laidre é idir ceannairí Shasana agus Éireann ón lá a chuaigh Gráinne Uí Mháille suas an abhainn Thames chun caint leis an mBanríon Éilis, banríon le banríon. Má tá Ahern beo fós, cuirfear clú mór le Ahern as an oráid sin. Comh maith le sin, is fada iad trí seachtain ar ceannairí Fhine Gael Enda a choinnéal slán. Tá an Brúnach amach fós, agus tá blás fola aige anois. Tá roinnt spraoí fagtha sa fheachtas seo!

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Enormous National Monument of Major Significance Suddenly Discovered by Sheer Accident and Dumb Luck Yesterday

Asps! Very Dangerous - You Go FirstYour diligent diarist is having trouble figuring out just what exactly is going on at the Hill of Tara at the moment. Both the Irish Times and the Irish Independent report this morning that work on the motorway going through the Hill of Tara has been stopped due to the discovery of an important national monument in its path. To quote the Indo,

The large circular enclosure, about the size of three football fields, is clearly visible and was probably used for rituals in the Iron Age or Bronze Age.

So we know that it’s big, it’s hard to miss and it’s important enough to be classified as a “national monument.”

What An Spailpín Fánach can’t figure out is, if it’s the size of three football fields, clearly visible and a national monument, an historical hat-trick of assets if there ever were any, how in the name of the dear sweet Jesus has nobody spotted it before now, before profoundly expensive heavy earth-moving equipment and even more expensive Irish civil servants turned up just to hang around for at least another year?

Three football fields. Clearly visible. And they only spotted it yesterday? How clearly visible is that?

It’s not like the Italians decided to build a Roman version of Dublin’s hideous spire on O’Connell Street in the Piazza della Rotonda and had to slink back to the office, one day after turning the first sod to say it’s no can do, they turned up at the site and can you imagine their surprise when they only spotted the bloody Pantheon right bang in the middle of the piazza. Imagine their surprise. Five thousand tons of two thousand year old granite temple, and no-spotted it ‘til the JCBs had already been hired and the contracts signed.

It’s not that something stinks about this Tara motorway business. Everything stinks. Everything. And who’s on the case to sort it out? Well, it’s only Minister for the Environment Dick Roche, the man for whom democracy is the morning and evening star, as already discussed in this space. I’ll get me bloody coat.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

An Polaiteoir is Tabhachtaí in Éirinn in ár Linne

Is é Mícheál Mac Domhaill, Táiniste agus Áire Dlí agus Cirt, an t-aon duine polaitiúla is tabhachtaí len ár linne. Níos tabhachtaí ná Seán Ó Loinsigh nó Cathal Ó hEochaigh nó fiú amháin Gearóid Mac Gearailt féin.

Tá Mac Domhaill tabhachtach ar an dá uair - toisc go bhfuil sé ina cheannaire ar na PDs faoi láthair, tar éis ré fada ina chroí agus ina choinsias dóibh, agus toisc nach mball de Fhine Gael fós é. Chun dul chun cinn teacht ar na PDs, bhí ar Fhine Gael dul i meath, agus sin mar a tharla nuair a d'fhág Mícheál Mac Domhaill iad chun dul leis na PDs nuair a mbunadh na PDs ins na 80í.

Chuir Dessie O'Malley na PDs ar an bhfód don chéad uair, ach ba léir nach raibh taobh thiar sin ach an sean-throid idir é féin agus Cathal Ó hEochaigh. Nuair a d'éirigh Fianna Fáil ró-thé don Máilleach, bhí air imeacht agus a pháirtí féin a chur ar siúl. Ba iad na PDs an páirtí sin, ach bhí ar an bpáirtí teaspáint do na Gaeil nárbh é an searbhas amháin a bhí taobh thiar dóibh, ach go raibh radharc nua reabhlóideach acu ar chúrsaí polaitiúla an Stáit. Ba é Mac Domhaill a thug an inchreidteach sin dóibh.

Cloistear go minic agus cúrsaí polaitiúla á phlé nach bhfuil radharc ag éinne faoi láthair, go bhfuil na Teachtaí Dála go leir cosuil lena chéile, nárbh fhéidir dífríocht a fhéiceál eadarthu. Ní chóir é a rá faoi Mícheál Mac Domhaill - ar ndóigh, tá an-iomarca radhairc ag Mac Domhaill, ach is é an radharc mí-cheart dár leis an Scoil Eacnamaíochta Doheny & Nesbitts, mar a chuir John Waters ar lucht cainte na cathrach. Tá na méain chumarsáide go leir in Éirinn ar an taobh clé, beag nó mór - nuair a mbíonn siad ag cur amach nach bhfuil radharc i gcúrsaí polaitiúla na hÉireann, cialltar faoi sin ná nach bhfuil radharc chlé ann. 'Sé an locht atá acu ar Mac Domhaill nach nach bhfuil radharc aige, ach go bhfuil an radharc mícheart aige, toisc go bhfuil Mac Domhaill ar an taobh dheis, agus go daingean ar an taobh dheis.

Agus is é sin an radharc nua a thug Mac Domhaill don bpolaitíocht na hÉireann, agus is é an tús nua an radhairc dheis sin a mbeidh mar oidhreacht aige. Toisc gur pháirtí ar an taobh dheis é Fine Gael ó bhúnadh é, is gá dóibh i gcónaí na polasaithe sin a thréigeadh agus iad i gcothrom rialtais le Pairtí an Lucht Oibre, mar shampla. Ach nuair a d'fhág Mac Domhaill Fine Gael agus a chreidimh iontu caillte tar éis an rialtas túbaisteach sin faoi Gearóid Mac Gearailt ó 1982-'87, thóg sé culaidh Fine Gael leis. Thóg sé an creideamh gur chóir duais a thabairt ar obair mhaith, drochobair a phianadh agus airgead an Stáit, an t-airgead a chailleadh ins na Roinn Rialtais, a luachtadh.

Scríobh trachtairí polaitiúla cosuil le Mícheál D Ó hUiginn agus Fionntán Ó Tuathail le fada an lá gurbh é an fadhb is mó ag cúrsaí polaitiúla na hÉireann ná nach bhfuil glan-deighilt idir an lucht chlé agus an lucht dheis. Ní raibh an ceart acu; bhí an ceart ag John Kelly bocht, iar-Theachta Dála Fhine Gael, a dúirt ins na h-ochtóidí gur chóir do Fhine Gael dul i rialtas le Fianna Fáil agus gan bacadh leis An Lucht Oibre níos mó, ach fuair sé an buíochas a fhaigeann gach taingire, magadh agus droch-bhacadh. Ach, agus na blianta á chaitheamh agus Mac Domhaill ag teacht in airde leis na PDs, tháinig saghas athrú orthu. B'fhéidir leo seanchulaidh Fine Gael - meas ar an ndlí, meas ar an airgead - a chaitheamh iad féin, ina saoirse ó dhrochmheánchan an seanpháirtí - na léiní ghorma, an sean-cheangail idir iadsan agus an Lucht Oibre, agus rudaí mar sin. Agus anois, cúig bhliana déag tar éis bás John Kelly, tá a radharc féin i gcumhacht, agus Mícheál Mac Domhaill ann mar anam agus intinn seandreaim Fhine Gael, cé go bhfuil an pairtí féin ar bhealach eile.

Sin é an fáth, sílim, go bhfuil an méid fuath ag lucht Fhine Gael ar Mhac Domhaill faoi láthair. Féach ar an méid masla atá ag Sarah Carey, bean a'tí, nó la belle chatelaine, an domhain blagadóireachta na Gaeilge, ar Mhac Domhaill ina blag sárspéisiúl polaitiúla GUBU? Ach i ndáiríre, cé acu ab fhearr léi mar cheannaire Fine Gael, Mícheál Mac Domhaill nó Inda Ó Cionnaigh? Sin é an fáth gurbh é Mícheál Mac Domhaill an t-aon duine amháin is tabhachtaí i gcúrsaí polaitiúla na hÉireann in ár linne - toisc go bhfuil sé ag tacaíocht le Fianna Fáil agus - b'fhéidir níos tabhachtaí - nach bhfuil sé fós ag tacaíocht le Fine Gael, a bhaile nádúrtha sa seansaol.

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