Friday, June 29, 2007

Jack O'Connor and His Mysterious Legacy

The attitude of Mr Jack O’Connor, former manager of the Kerry football team, and Professor Henry Jones, father of Indy, the heroic archaeologist, seem at odds with regard to the worth or otherwise of the written word. Currently, Jack is backtracking furiously on recently published extracts from his about to be published autobiography, relying as heavily on the “misquoted” line as his teams did on the grandeur and might of Daragh Ó Sé in the middle of the pitch. How exactly one can be misquoted in one’s own autobiography remains a mystery.

Professor Henry Jones is a horse of a different colour. You will remember when the venerable Professor, as portrayed by Sean Connery in the motion picture, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, was being mistreated so badly by the evil Colonel Vogel in that schloss somewhere on a mountain in Austria. Colonel Vogel wants to know what the Professor’s diary would tell the Professor that it would not tell the Nazis. The Professor takes a few shots, to show he’s hard, and then spits out that the diary “tellsh me that gooshe-shtepping moronsh like yourshelf should trying reading booksh inshtead of burning them.”

Take that, kraut! Pow! Sigh. If only we had someone to answer Jack as bravely.

The GAA is ill-served by its histories. There has been a traditional distrust of putting words on paper to record great men, deeds and movements – how odd it was that Val Dorgan felt he had to ask Christy Ring’s brother, after the death of Christy himself, for the family’s permission before even thinking of writing the only biography we have of the greatest hurler who ever lived. Jack Lynch said in his noble graveside oration that Ring’s story would be told as long as hurling is played, which will be forever. Well, not if the story isn’t written down Jack. Nobody will be able to remember it. Who would know anything of the death of the Republic and the rise of Octavian if Cicero hadn’t been such a scribbler?

Your correspondent has been daring to hope lately that the relative torrent of new GAA books would help tear down the old “tell them nothin’!” edifice. That when people saw how marvellously Denis Walsh chronicled hurling in the 90s in his definitive Hurling: The Revolution Years they’d be more willing to go on the record with what they thought and felt about the things they’d done and seen.

Sadly, like the man who believed Cork bet and the hay saved, it seems your correspondent hoped too soon. Jack O’Connor won two All-Irelands in three years; it’d be interesting to see what he thinks about the events of those three years – the rise of the Gooch, Moynihan and the Ó Sés in their pomp, the Ulster revolution, even if he felt any little stir of pity for those poor helpless eejits from my own part of the world. Instead, the extracts in the Irish Times last Saturday were worrying, as it seems like the book would only be an exercise in point-scoring and cough-softening by a man that holds grudges with a steely grip. Now, in the light of yesterday’s interview on Radio Kerry, as reported by Colm Keys in this morning’s Irish Independent, it isn’t even that much.

What are we to believe? When future generations come to sit in judgement on the O’Connor era in football, where and to whom can they look for the truth?

Not this book, it seems. If Jack O’Connor isn’t willing to stand behind what’s in his book then it seems optimistic on his part to expect people to buy it. What is possibly more distressing is the notion that the book isn’t what books should be, a testament to history for the generations to come, but a grubby exercise in cashing-in on O’Connor’s part. That in this greedy generation, he’s breasting up to Dessie Farrell and the boys of the GPA in the where’s mine, boss? queue for lucre.

John Milton wrote in 1637 that rewards were only to be judged by the pure eyes and perfect witness of all-judging Jove – An Spailpín knows this because he read it in a book, and he’s pretty dang sure that Milton, contrarian that he was, didn’t go on telly the week after Lycidas was published to say it was all hype, need the few shillings, you know yourself. I hope whatever scores Jack O’Connor has to settle he has settled by the publication of this book. It’s hard to see anything else coming of it. Such a pity.

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Friday, June 22, 2007

Hurling's Culture Clash

We have seen two sides of the modern hurling world this week. One of them reflects the game in all its honour, pride and glory, dating back to the time of the Tuatha de Danann, if not before. The other does not.

This morning the Irish Examiner publishes a statement from three Cork hurlers, Dónal Óg Cusack, Diarmuid Ó Súilleabháin and Seán Óg Ó hAilpín, apologising for their parts in the fracas against Clare and having a good cut at their detractors while they're at it.

The reporter, Michael Moynihan, told the nation on Morning Ireland this morning that the apology was the big thing, but of course it's not. A qualified apology is not an apology at all. The big thing is three players' response to the controversy that has ensued, and they see the blame for the controversy as being down to three factors.

1. Anti-Cork media bias.
2. Anti-GPA media bias.
3. Anti Frank Murphy (secretary of the Cork County Board) media bias.

Let's look at it one by one. Anti-Cork media bias. Ger Canning, RTÉ's number one GAA commentator, is from Cork. Seán Moran, GAA correspondent of the Irish Times, is from Cork. Denis Walsh of the Sunday Times, and writer of the marvellous Hurling: The Revolution Years, is from Cork. I'm pretty damn sure that nobody in the Examiner has any anti-Cork bias. That dog won't hunt.

Anti-GPA media bias is harder to quantify. Your faithful correspondent would contend that if the media were to stop giving the GPA as much time as they get, Dessie and boys would be run out of town on a rail as befits them, but that's just An Spailpín's opinion. The GPA gets plenty of positive press, more than they deserve. They ought to dry their eyes at that one.

It's the anti-Frank Murphy crack that has got An Spailpín talking about hurling, to be, pardon me, frank about the matter. Normally, not being from a hurling power, I take Bob's advice and don't criticise what I can't understand. But the vision of Dónal Óg, Diarmuid and Seán Óg with their eyes brimming with tears at the very thought of seeing Frank Murphy getting a belt of the Fourth Estate's crozier has An Spailpín on his heels. And the reason is this - no-one outside Cork GAA circles knew Frank Murphy from Frank Sinatra until this same bunch of whiny Cork hurlers went on strike a few years, telling the nation what an utter bollix Frank Murphy was. You can read Denis Walsh's book, mentioned above, if you don't believe me. And then they turn around years later and say hey! What are you doing picking on Frank? Pull the other one lads.

And from what seems like across the universe, we had that marvellous photo in the Independent during the week, currently adorning this very blog entry, of Richie Bennis and Babs Keating with their arms around each other after that epic replay between Limerick and Tipperary. It shows everything that's great about the GAA, especially the respect for opposition and respect for the game above all that has made the Association great over the years. You can say what you like about Babs Keating, and he has more than one detractor, but you can't deny that the only thing that might equal Babs' love of hurling is his love of the Premier County. As for Richie Bennis, no-one every took up managing the Limerick hurlers because it's easy work and good crack.

Without men like Bennis and Keating the GAA would be lost long ago. I hope that the three Cork hurlers have time to think about those two men, and the thousands of their ilk, flowers born to blush unseen, but without whom the GAA would long ago have been lost, and wonder what their values really are. Enjoy the game on Sunday everybody.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Appalling Vista in Store for Croker on Saturday?

As the hype machine rolls on for Round 2 of Dublin v Meath this weekend at Croker, your faithful correspondent thinks it only fair to alert Gaels of what can happen when people get carried away. Last night, the ceremonial first pitch for the Major League baseball game between the home town Los Angeles Dodgers and the visiting New York Mets was thrown in by Los Angeles' newest resident, Posh Spice. Now, if they thought they'd get away with it, what odds on Lyster and the boys having Mrs B flown in to Dublin to thrown in the ball between Mark Ward and Whelo? Even money moving in to odds-on, I'm afraid. God help us all.

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Dubliners Perform the Octopus Jig

Holy God. Live in Stockholm, 1973. They were some bucks on the session. An mbeidh a leithéid arís ann? Mo léan, ach ní dóigh liom go mbeidh.

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Friday, June 01, 2007

Set Phasers for Slaps - It's Dublin v Meath!

Stitch that, Gladstone!An Spailpín Fánach is normally loath to shine further spotlights on Dublin football games, as they seem quite sufficiently spotlit in conventional media, but I must confess I am looking forward to this weekend’s joust between and Meath and Dublin hugely.

There’s going to be so much in the game, not least as Meath are on the rise one more, while Dublin are very much there to be had. Shane Ryan was outstanding for Dublin in midfield all last year, so Pillar Caffrey has, quite naturally, moved him out of there to fill in for the injured Jason Sherlock at centre-forward. Good old Pillar. With tactical acumen like that, let’s thank God he’s a guard and not in army, eh? The wheezing Ciarán Whelan remains at midfield – don’t Dublin ever drop that fella? Even Mayo drop Brady you know.

The loss of Brian Farrell is a big loss for Meath of course, but they’re in luck as they have parliamentarian Graham Geraghty to put in there instead. Unaccustomed as Geraghty is to this signal honour, and desirous of no personal glory, he has heard his people’s cry and is prepared to serve. Your Spailpín suspects there’s life in the old dog yet, and his wily old head might be a bit much for a gasúr playing fullback on his Championship debut.

Of course, all these things are incidental to the main point of Sunday, which is how the referee, Mr Jimmy McKee of Armagh, will react once the slaps start. There is considerable pressure on the unfortunate referee at the best of times; this is doubled in high profile games involving Dublin, as the Powers that Be like to see Dublin in Croker when there’s no rugger or soccer alternative, but the antics of Clare and Cork last Sunday in Thurles mean that the pressure is now tripled on the unfortunate Mr McKee, torn as he will be by injunctions to let the game flow while also being sternly told that we don’t want the childer frightened as they were in Thurles by “joults,” “dunts,” and other scurrilous acts.

An Spailpín Fánach can only hope that Mr McKee has a notebook the size of the Bible with him. This one is going to feature timber, and plenty of it. Your correspondent still can’t get over the same fixture two years ago when Whelo punched Meath’s Nigel Crawford at the throw-in and only got a yellow card for it. So what is Mr McKee, Fear na Feadóige, to do on Sunday if Whelo once more mistakes Crawford for Mr George Foreman? Of if, Heaven forbid, Crawford’s memory is as good as An Spailpín Fánach’s and he has his eye on the point of Whelo’s impressive chin from the parade on? Crash, bang and wallop, methinks.

Luke Dempsey – rightly – had a cut at RTÉ’s Colm O’Rourke during the week for O’Rourke complaining about games that lacked “passion” and “commitment,” which Dempsey took as synonymous with “timber” and “slaps.” Dempsey had a point of course – you could line up the top philosophers of the ages, from Aristotle and Plato to Thomas Aquinas and Martin Heidigger, and not one of them would be able to tell you what exactly fellas like O’Rourke mean when they draw a distinction between dirty and “manly” play.

An Spailpín Fánach is unsure of what Mr McKee’s philosophical background is, but if Martin Heidigger would be sweating trying to figure out when a punch was actually only a “joult” there isn’t much hope for a civilian. Both these teams are steeped in a hard man culture that stretches back for four or five football generations. When Kevin Heffernan took over as Dublin manager in the 1970s he realised that Dublin were getting pushed around by the country teams, and he put a stop to that. Ten years later, O’Rourke’s own generation of Meathmen realized that they were getting pushed around by Dubs and they had to put a stop to that. And so it escalates until now you have players who don’t know that hitting someone a dirty puck when they’re not looking isn’t the same as being brave, or tough, or hard. And you’ll get that in spades on Sunday.

An Spailpín hopes that it’ll be a good game on Sunday, but he’s far from convinced. It’s my opinion that the first digs will go in early, the referee will bottle it because it’s such a high profile game, and the teams will take their que from that. Investors, prepare for a bull market in bandages by half-five on Sunday. And then we’ll have more fun next week listening to Des Cahill on the radio tsk-tsk-tsk-ing indeterminably, and more old blather all around. The Championship – you have to love it.

FOCAL SCOIR: What sort of hammerheads are running The Sunday Game? We all know that you can get stiffed on any particular weekend and end up with a less than appealing game, but to waste the nation’s time by forcing us to endure Waterford v Kerry is perverse at best. Kerry people will tell you straight out that they don’t give a toss about the game, and I’m not even sure anyone in Waterford even knows it’s on. Why put the nation through it? Not least as the Louth-Wicklow saga is getting so fascinating – why not show that instead? It’s not like they won’t have cameras at the ground, after all. And as for any old blather about equal exposure for the humbler counties, pull the other one Jack, it’s got bells on. When RTÉ show Roscommon v Sligo live on June 17th, as part of their commitment to sharing the limelight, you can all come round to my house and watch me eat my hat. But until then, I say RTÉ are fools for showing Kerry v Waterford when they could show Louth v Wicklow III instead.

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