Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Canticle Composed While Listening to Fireworks in Dublin on Hallowe'en Night

With sincerest apologies to Anni-Frid, Benny, Björn and Angetha. You know, it's hard not to notice that not only would the great Swedish nation not put up with this sort of hooliganism, they wouldn't even have the population who'd do it in the first place. Sigh, and double sigh.

Can you hear the bums Fernando?
I remember long ago when people still had rights
In evening's twilight Fernando
You could read or watch the telly or do anything you choose
You didn't need to board the windows
Or hide behind the curtains with your head down at your shoes

Say good luck to that Fernando
Those days are history, and now scobies call the shots
How simple must you be Fernando?
When the best way to spend your time is playing with a cracker
Can't they just live and let live
Or is it in their stars to always act the knacker?

There was something in the air tonight
It has to be the cor-dite Fernando
It was coming with a flash and bang
A pikey boomerang Fernando
Do you ever think we'll catch a break?
Well, I don't know,
I hope they blow themselves to Hell
And their mates as well

There was something in the air tonight
It has to be the cor-dite Fernando
It was coming with a flash and bang
A pikey boomerang Fernando
Do you ever think we'll catch a break?
Well, I don't know,
I hope they blow themselves to Hell
And their mates as well

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Monday, October 29, 2007

The Books Crux - Who Will Love My Babies?

Spéirbhean a bhí ann. Spéirbhean a gcuirfeadh fonn ar Easpag cic a thabairt dá fhuinneog gloine dhaiteHaunting the bookstores is one of the things that An Spailpín Fánach particularly enjoys doing. Even when I don’t buy any, I like looking at the books on the shelves and tables, seeing them there, and enjoying that peculiar atmosphere that exists only in bookstores. That atmosphere is heightened in second-hand bookstores, as I remarked in this space earlier, when mourning the passing of Greene’s of Clare St, and the second-hand stores always carry the additional promise of buried treasure, the book that everybody has forgotten but you.

I discovered just such a cache on Saturday, on a visit to the Secret Book and Record Store on Dublin’s Wicklow Street, a few doors down from Tower Records. You go down a long corridor to get to the Secret Store itself, and then you burst into the light, into a large retail space. In the middle are the display tables, with the special offers, while the books are categorised in a more orderly fashion on the shelves on the wall. And last Saturday, on the table nearest the door, I saw them.

Three piles, with maybe twenty or so books per pile, of books by such pulp greats as Edgar Wallace and Peter Cheney. What made them so wonderful – Wallace hasn’t aged well and I had never heard of Peter Cheney – was that they were all Pan books from the forties and fifties, with those marvellous Pan covers, with the cartoon drawings of terrified dames, tough guys with gatts and square-jawed heroes with cigarettes hanging from their lips, felt hats pulled down hard over one eye and bottles of mule-kicker rye whiskey just sticking up out of the suit jacket pocket.

And then I realised that there was only one way for all these books to have come on the market so suddenly – someone has swapped the easy-chair and the reading lamp for wings and the sheet music of the Choir Invisible. They’ve crossed over the bar and their books have been left behind, with no-one to care for them anymore. The books are in beautiful condition too, especially considering they’re so old. The shop owner even remarked on it, saying that most books of that genre get creased and hammered and kicked around, whereas these were loved and cherished. Anne Fadiman wrote in her wonderful Ex Libris that the one area where men show genuine tenderness is over their books – whoever collected these Edgar Wallaces loved them the way courtly swains love their maidens fair.

And now the lover is gone, and the maidens must make their own way in the world. I hope it’ll go easy on them, not least as I had a presentiment of my own deeply treasured collection ending up in a similar circumstance on a similar table. My friend An Tomaltach and I were taking porter in McDaid’s of Harry Street only a few days earlier, and our conversation turned to the issue of books, and how hard it is to keep them.

Although I have yet to ask him, I would hazard a fair guess that An Tomaltach would agree with me that the library of Lord Peter Wimsey, the gentleman sleuth, is pretty much the ideal for the conscientious bibliophile. Dorothy L Sayers tells us of the library that “its scheme was black and primrose; its walls were lined with rare editions, and its chairs and Chesterfield sofa suggested the embrace of the houris. In one corner stood a black baby-grand, a wood fire leaped on a wide old-fashioned hearth, and the Sèrves vases on the chimney piece were filled with ruddy and gold chrysanthemums.” Nice. Miserably, it’s hard to bang a library like that into a two-up two-down in a former corpo estate in the capital of the Irish nation, and it can only exist as an ideal, rather than an attainable goal. An Spailpín Fánach is up to his rapidly receding hairline in books, and he’s trying to summon the god of geometricians to figure a way to get the lot shelved without flooding me out of house and home.

Eventually, of course, it will come to either selling or donating some of the books, or buying a bigger gaff. The bigger gaff is the option of choice, but one which may be looked at askance by our friends in the banks, subjecting us to a smorgasbord of easy credit this time last year, tightening the belt as the hangman tightens the noose this year. But I hope and pray that the weather changes before I have to serve eviction orders on any of my books, and they end up in a pile similar to that one in the Secret Book and Record Store. This is difficult to understand for my friends who have no hoarding instinct or who, bizarrely, actually give their books away after reading them. A number of years ago I caught a friend with One Hundred Years of Solitude in a box destined for a charity shop; An Spailpín Fánach is now the proud owner of two copies of same magisterial novel.

But this Mother Goose complex is an instinct which I will have control, until such time as your faithful narrator buys his tropical island paradise and builds his bookshelves from palm trees. As such, your faithful narrator has been taking it easy in his book shopping this weekend. Only the Dorothy L Sayers’ from which I got that marvellous library description. And Ingrid Black’s first book. And two highly regarded movie books that, bizarrely, were on sale in Chapters, and therefore irresistible. And a jackpot collection of the old Irish Press columns of Seán Ó Ruadháin, my fellow Mayoman – a terrible crank in many ways but my God, beautiful Irish. But that’s it, definitely, until Christmas at the very earliest.

Except for when Duggan’s book finally comes out, of course...

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Sponsor Mark Lenahan for MS Ireland in the Marathon!

Mark Lenahan - one half Arkle, one half Cyberdyne Systems Model 101Anyone that really wants to do something charitable this weekend ought to ignore that fatuous and self-serving telethon and sponsor An Spailpín Fánach’s friend Mark Lenahan instead. Mark is running the Dublin City Marathon on Monday to raise a few pound for the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Ireland.

This is Mark here on the left. Shrewder readers will notice that’s not a pint of Lucozade Isotonic Sport there in Mark’s fist, so running the marathon won’t quite be a walk in the park for the poor dumb eejit. Wouldn’t surprise me if it offed him completely, to be honest with ya. But, to borrow a line or two of that old Waterboys song, An Spailpín surrenders, Mark won’t. While An Spailpín sits on his arse and mutters, Mark gets up off his arse and does things, like pushing his – no offense now Mark – plainly feeble and puny body over twenty-six miles of punishing road course to turn a buck or two for MS Ireland. And he won’t get some sweet little thang from South Dublin like Laura Woods making the glad eye at him afterwards on the telly – a week in the oxygen tent seems a much more likely bet. But still, off he goes, pounding out the miles because he thinks it worth it.

He’s a better man that you or I. Sponsor him a few pound – Diageo won’t miss it for the weekend. And if you see a pale, wan and bespectacled Ballinaman listing badly in the final few miles, when not even the beautiful-beyond-words Georgian buildings of this capital city can cheer him, do your best by Mark by shouting out encouraging words, like “open source software development!” or “way to configure that DNS!” or “Richard Dawkins is God! Or would be if I were a faith-sufferer, which I’m, er, not!” Somehow, he will hear, and it will help. Donate now.

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

How They Could Really Raise Money for the Telethon

Do people in general feel nauseous towards this awful Telethon, or is it just your curmudgeonly correspondent, his pestilency An Spailpín Fánach? The rumble has been building for weeks, and now it’s only the habitual alcoholism of the Irish public, that happy refuge that has saved us so often in the past, that can keep the nation’s sanity on a even keel tomorrow evening. As kryptonite is to Superman, so the Telethon is to the right-thinking man or woman. Five minutes will bring you weeping and gibbering to your knees, while anything over half an hour could certainly kill. The doctors can fight at the autopsy over the diagnosis of what offed you in the end, boredom or disgust, but you’ll be clearing your throat with the Choir Invisible by that stage. And it’ll be a blessed bloody relief, after listening to God knows what kind of sanctimonious patronising pap out of Tubridy and his ilk.

I hear a voice at the back – you sir, you with the fashionably long high-maintenance hair. What’s that you say? It’s for charidee? Why am I am having a go if it’s all for charidee?

Well, because saying something is for charity isn’t a license to do what you want. All that is just old blather. It’s cheap programming for the weekend that lets RTÉ’s outrageously over-paid presenters feel good about themselves giving alms to the poor for a day.

A quick read of the sixth chapter of the Gospel of St Matthew is instructive in this regard: When thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men.

Sounding trumpets? Hypocrites in the street? You’d imagine that the former tax collector had actually sat through an RTÉ Telethon, and was still shaking as he sat at his desk to compose. Perhaps a vision - an apocalypse that made John's look like an episode of Little House on the Prairie.

For sinners who don't truck with the Bible, perhaps a story about another great leader of men is instructive in this case. Francis Albert Sinatra is a great hero of An Spailpín Fánach, and Francis, famously, cared little for the media. The great love of Frank’s life was Ava Gardner and, although their marriage was short, Frank and Ava always loved each other even though they couldn’t live with each other. Human beings are complex creatures.

Twelve years after their separation, Frank was in Italy filming Von Ryan’s Express, and Ava came over to visit. This made the paparazzi very excited, but they could never get a good shot of Frank and Ava together. So the lensmen pooled their resources and offered Frank $16,000 for a picture of himself and Ava, together.

Frank came back with a counter-offer; double the money, $32,000, if he could break an arm or a leg of one of them.

Imagine their shocked little faces. Good old Frank.

And in the spirit of the Hoboken Canary, An Spailpín Fánach humbly suggests that our Telethon heroes, doing it all for charidee and coming on, everybody, simply auction the following the delights to an eager nation if they really want to make a few pound:

  1. Doing It for Duxie: Half an hour in a handball alley with Ryan Tubridy and a hurl. You have the hurl.

  2. Sign o’ the Times: Liveline presenter Joe Duffy walking the mean streets of Tallaght-fornia with a placard, reading “Maybe if you took a FÁS course instead of a forearm’s fill of heroin you wouldn’t have these problems.”

  3. Hannibal Lyster: The Sunday Game presenter is locked up in a high-security bughouse somewhere in Maryland, USA, and left there to hell.

  4. That’s Life, Bouys: Pint-sized pottymouths Podge and Rodge have their mouths washed out with soap and are forced to read Molière in his original French.

  5. Ryan Line or Soap on a Rope?: Enormously fat radio presenter Gerry Ryan is boiled down for soap to be used on the missions.

That'd soften a few coughs, by Japers. C'mon everybody!

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Shopping for Groceries with An Spailpín Fánach

But supervillains want reward without labor! To make things come easy. It's wrong! Without labor there can be no payment and vice versa! The country cannot progress! Workers are the tools that shape America!While feeling peckish after another long day at the office, your Spailpín Fánach stopped off in his local convenience store on his way home. Outside, there was an indigent gentlemen who has that raspy voice that is the ne plus ultra of the true knight of the streets. He set a certain tone.

I entered the store, collected my item, and approached the register.

“One forty-eight,” said the young man behind the counter.

I said nothing, and handed over the two Euro bit. I saved my sally until I was pocketing my fifty-two cent of change, being both faultlessly polite and a big fan of that moment in every single episode of Columbo when your man would think he’d gotten away with shiving the wife and dumping the remains in the Pacific, only for Columbo to stop on his way out the door and say “you know, there’s just one thing that’s been bothering me...”

“Thank you very much,” I said to the shopkeeper on receipt of my fifty-two cent. “There’s just one thing that’s been bothering me. When you get a chance, you might update your prices on the display.”

“Eh?” says you man. God love him, he was too young to remember Columbo – he couldn’t hear the thunder of hooves building in the distance, nor see the distant clouds blackening in the Eastern sky.

“Yes,” I continued, placid as Saint Sebastian as the arrows thudded home. “You see, your display says one forty-one, but you’ve just charged me one forty-eight. I wouldn’t like the next person in here to make the same mistake I’ve just made.”

“I give you your money back,” says the shopkeeper, reaching for the precious seven cent.

“Oh?” said An Spailpín Fánach, the acrid smell of burning martyr filling the room. “Are you sure it’s alright?”

“Oh yes,” said the shopkeeper. “I have to get around to updating those prices anyway.”

I like to think he’s updating those prices now, while I’m writing this to remind us all that the Roman was pretty much on the money when he said caveat emptor. A bean counter of An Spailpín’s warm acquaintance tells me that one discovers in counting beans for a few different convenience shops around the town that the behind-the-counter banditry is of Olympic standard. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.

What was I buying? Cream-crackers, of course – when in Rome darlings, when in Rome. Sigh.

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Time to Accept the Obvious - England are the Best Team at the Rugby World Cup

Half a league, half a league, half a league onward
Once the penny finally drops, it’s obvious. We’ve spent the past month searching for the best team of the World Cup and they’ve been under our noses all the time.

New Zealand, crying bitter tears at home, are still the best team in the world, just as they always are. The All-Blacks haven’t adjusted to the existence of the World Cup yet, but year by year, now as then, the Silver Fern remains the gold standard. Argentina were brave and heroic, and have a potential genius at stand-off half in Juan-Martin Hernandez, but they were ultimately limited. South Africa are much the stronger team on paper, compared to England, and possess a game-winner in Brian Habana to whose brilliance England cannot hold a tallow candle, but the fact is that since South Africa boxed England’s ears for them in Paris on September 14th, every game for England has been an elimination game for them, and still they march relentlessly on. After a while, it’s not really a co-incidence anymore.

Alex Wyllie is showing poor grace in condemning the English style of play, not least as it’s exactly the style of play that forged the All-Blacks legend. Besides, it’s not as if England are breaking any laws of the game. Consult the rules, and ascertain how many extra points you get for aesthetic impression. None, I think you’ll find. The great characteristics of this England team are their resounding honesty and impeccable bravery. These men do not pretend they are hurt and dive in penalty boxes – rugby is not Steven Gerrard’s game. Instead, they scrum down and maul and ruck with impossible resolution and heroic heart. When the gunsmoke clears and the cannons no longer roar, watch for the white shirts marching grimly on, led by Corry, Shaw and Moody. Martin Corry, who has written such wry columns on the violence of breakdown play in modern professional rugby in the Guardian, is the epitome of the doughty yeoman who conquered at Corunna, Quebec and Cawnpore. He is not for turning.

England, above any team at the tournament, are forged by the events of the tournament; specifically, by the humiliation meted out to them in the Stade de France one month ago, when they were the only team at the tournament to be held scoreless. Once you hit rock bottom you can curl up and die, or you can realise that things can only get better. That’s the exactly the choice England made, to claw their way back up the ladder, rung by painful rung, that team of crocks, cripples and has-beens who don’t know what it is to get beaten.

The Tan burned Cork and hanged Kevin Barry, but he remains, in Kipling’s words, a first-class fighting man. What the Light Brigade looked down on at Balaclava is what England have faced in every game since that mauling under the hooves the Boks, and now they face it again. The monstrous strength of Os du Randt. The best second rows in the world, Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha, the man named for a truck. The shattering and explosive play Schalk Berger, the all-round excellence of Fourie du Preez at scrum-half. And a back three against whom England cannot compare in Habana, Pieterson and Montgomery. Impossible for England to win, so they do only what they can, and what they’ve been doing for this entire World Cup – when Alain Rolland blows his whistle tomorrow night England will lower lance and sabre and charge the guns, just like they do. Theirs not to reason why.

Neil Francis’ condemnation of England’s play in this World Cup on Setanta last weekend was shameful. That he can’t see the pride infusing that team, their refusal to be cowed, is an indictment of the man and he should be deeply ashamed. Pierre Bosquet famously quipped that the Light Brigade’s charge at Balaclava was “magnificent, but not war”; England may not be rugby as Neil Francis’ understands it, but for him to deny the magnificence of the stand they’ve made at this World Cup does Francis no credit at all.

England are only ever one Brian Habana interception away from doom tomorrow – if South Africa score tries, England will be hard pressed to catch them. But if England can impose themselves on South Africa and are still in the game with twenty minutes to go England will win it. An Spailpín has no doubt about that. The ice that runs through Jonny Wilkinson’s veins will grow even colder as he relentlessly directs his men on, rewarding his pack with field position, territory and ultimately points on the board, the sweetest reward of all. Jonny Wilkinson, who looked to have paid for his World Cup medal in 2003 with the rest of his career, has come back from the professional rugby grave to stand on the brink of personally directing England to the first ever back to back World Cups – if you don’t find that awesome and thrilling you should stick to the horror of Tubridy Tonight on Saturday, because you really don’t know what you’re watching. Ask Keith Wood. He sees it too.

If tomorrow evening is a bridge too far for England, it’s hard to deny South Africa the title either. They are a fine and talented team, and Jake White has had to withstand a lot of interference just to keep the show on the road. But for your Spailpín Fánach, England are the story of this World Cup, as they’ve clawed their way back from humiliation on nothing but sheer guts and pride alone. I’m sorry, Tom Barry. Accept my apologies, Dan Breen. Patrick Sarsfield, what can I tell you? I know Cromwell had you poisoned Eoghan Roe, and Oliver Plunkett’s severed head sits in a jar in St Peter’s, Drogheda, as a grim reminder of eight hundred long and dark years, but England are the best team at this World Cup and will win the final, just five days short of St Crispian’s Day. God and Blessed Oliver forgive me.

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Monday, October 15, 2007

The Podge and Rodge Generation

The Podge and Rodge Show returns to our screens tonight. 400,000 people watch Podge and Rodge every week, which is phenomenal. Podge and Rodge are us. We recognise ourselves in them.

And is An Spailpín Fánach so very distant from his country and culture that I find something deeply, deeply wrong with that?

A Scare at Bedtime, the original incarnation of the O’Leprosy brothers, was inspired. It was the ideal format for the puppets, because it was on late at night, in its correct place. It also contains one of your correspondent’s favorite dialogue moments in contemporary Irish drama, not an overpopulated field.

It’s coming up to Christmas, and Podge discovers Rodge writing something. Podge asks Rodge what he’s writing.

Rodge: “It’s me Satan list.”
Podge: “Don’t you mean your Santa list?”
Rodge: “No – I was writing to him for ages and never got nothin’. I said I’d give the quare fella a go.”

Perfect. And the scare stories themselves, invariably featuring dirty work that is punished in a dreadfully apposite way, were inspired. Consider the case of the Tractor of Doom, featuring the Dublin ponce son of Old Man Toolin, who inherits the farm and attempts to plough the land, against the advice the locals who know it to have been druids’ land. He is returned to the soil under his own ploughshares, and it was good enough for him, the ponce. From Dublin.

Marvellous vignettes of Irish rural life, like visiting Ballymagash of Hall’s Pictorial Weekly fame after living solely on a diet of stale bottled stout and rancid chicken for about a week – you’d be seeing all sorts of quare apparitions.

And that was grand in its place. What bothers An Spailpín Fánach is that the boys weren’t kept in their place, and brought out into the mainstream instead, which is no place for that sort of schtick.

A friend of An Spailpín likes to refer to his swear switch. Like your correspondent himself, and like most of your corr's peculiar circle of friends, both male and female, this man swears all the time. But he is aware that sort of carry-on is upsetting to some people, such as his mother, or his boss, or his bank manager, or lots of other people, so when he’s in inappropriate company he switches off the swear switch. It’s like remembering to put the handbrake on in the car or lifting the toilet seat – simple common sense and courtesy for others.

What bothers An Spailpín Fánach is not only that Podge and Rodge don’t have a swear switch, but the nation doesn’t seem to mind that they don’t have a swear switch. We are all meant to join in laughter, delighted that we are no longer under the repressive hand of Eamon DeValera.

But Dev is dead thirty-two years now, and the society that formed him dead for even longer than that. What we have instead is Trevor Sargeant throwing the rattle from the pram a few months ago about not being invited onto the Podge and Rodge show. Trevor Sargeant, of the Green Party, supposedly the most righteous political party we have, thinks it’s of paramount importance to appear on a chat show where the chief lines of interrogation concern whether or not one ever had relations with one’s pets or inquires as to the regularity or otherwise of one’s bowels. James Connolly was shot in a chair for this?

Lucy Kennedy, Debbie McGee to Podge and Rodge’s Paul Daniels, is one of the supposed upcoming stars of RTÉ for playing straight-woman to this stuff. Maybe An Spailpín has been hanging around the convent for too long, but most ladies of An Spailpín’s acquaintance wouldn’t tolerate this conversation even in the limited exposure of a Saturday night out, to say nothing of broadcasting it into the nation’s homes at tax-payers expense. Is Lucy Kennedy that fond of the spotlight, or is, as a fiery redhead once told him many years ago, your faithful chronicler of contemporary Irish life hopelessly, irredeemably quaint?

Former gubernatorial candidate for the state of Texas Richard “Kinky” Friedman once wrote that there is a time to live and a time to die and time to stop listening to the Byrds. Maybe it’s time to start giving Podge and Rodge the wide steer, and tackle an apple and a good book instead.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Get in the Ring, Dessie!

Cuirígí coisc air!Mr Dessie Farrell, self-styled chief executive of the self-styled Gaelic Players Association, has been doing the media circuit again lately. Dessie has been droning on about a final smackdown between the GAA and the GPA over players’ “rights.”

To which An Spailpín Fánach says: Bring it on, Dessie. It’s never been entirely clear just whom the GPA represents, and that leaves cynics wondering that maybe they just represent themselves. A glance at laughably named Facts and Figures section of the GPA website is instructive: President, DJ Carey; Chairman, Dónal Óg Cusack; Secretary, Kieran McGeeney. It reads rather like the roll-call of the Justice League of America, don’t you think? President, Superman; Chairman, Batman; Secretary, Wonder Woman, and so on.

The current bee in Dessie’s bonnet concerns certain grants that the government has made available to all inter-county players for the great contribution they make to public life in this great and wonderful little green nation of ours. The sordid details of handing out the actual gelt the Government is leaving to the peons, of course. It’s infra dig for the Government to get it’s hands dirty, you know. You know yourselves the chances of the average civil servant being able to do it.

The GAA itself can’t administer these grants, as that would be tantamount to paying for play, in complete contraction with the organisation’s beliefs. And this is where Dessie sees his chance – he wants the GPA to act as the intermediary, or bagman, to distribute the loot.

The GAA is damned if they’ll let him get away with this, and they’re right. Bad and all as paying players for playing, paying Dessie and the boys to pay players for playing is just plain stupid.

Dessie is currently doing the media rounds throwing shapes because the media lack either the will or the knowledge to call his bluff. To wit, there never will be a players’ strike called by the GPA because that would be the same as turkeys voting for Christmas, and Dessie doesn’t fancy giving it all away just yet. Besides, even if the media haven't done their sums, I'm sure Dessie has - a grant of €5 million, as reported in the Irish Times link above, distributed among 150,000 GPA members, works out at €33.33 each before tax, and about seventeen clams or so after it (as the GPA would never encourage tax evasion). Hardly enough to throw away an inter-county career on.

What will happen if all the GPA members in the country decline selection for their counties? Nothing. Their county boards will find someone else to wear the shirts, and the county will be represented just as before, on those countless other occasions when players declined selection. The striking GPA member will then be in considerable negative equity with his team manager, for whom any sign of doubtful commitment is almost always a reason for the chop. You say county teams can’t go without their star players? It’s October – they can all tick along just fine until May at the least. And An Spailpín Fánach gets the feeling that no-one is going to give up their Championship summer just so Dessie Farrell can ponce around like some sort of Séamus Guevara. In the meantime, Dessie Farrell is just taking advantage of a dim and docile media to try and Uriah Heep some positive PR for himself and his organisation.

I would suggest that the next time Dessie appears on any media outlet the interrogator asks him a few questions that An Spailpín Fánach – always an eager student of the human condition – is quite anxious to know.

  1. Who pays Dessie Farrell’s wages as CEO of the GPA?

  2. Who pays the rent on the GPA offices at 132 Lower Drumcondra Street, Dublin 9?

  3. If the GPA owns the premises, how did they fund the purchase?

  4. Who pays the rest of the wages for the full-time staff of the GPA, to say nothing of the three new positions currently advertised?

  5. If they GPA is so awash in money, does that not invalidate their central thesis, that the players haven’t a pot to piss in?

Time to call these jokers’ bluff. They make me tired.

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Monday, October 08, 2007

All-Blacks Bite the Dust - Who Weeps Not for Baldr?

Richie McCaw ag sileadh na ndeorThe cheap sniggering that’s accompanied the spectacular crashing to Earth of the best team at the Rugby World Cup™ has been unedifying, and the one bum note in what’s otherwise been a spectacular weekend for the game of rugby football. We are a nation that allows its head coach to make an eejit of himself bigging up Triple Crowns when the real action is elsewhere, and have been celebrating a game we lost (v Australia in 1991) for sixteen years and counting. Can you imagine the reaction here if Ireland had been on the business end of referee Wayne Barnes’ zanier decisions?

But that’s rugby. The New Zealanders like to big up their team, but your close-attention-paying correspondent doesn’t hear much whinging out of them. Chris Jack was interviewed on Newstalk last night, before the Scotch game. He sounded like a man at his own funeral, but never once did he whinge or whine. To do so would have been the work of a “sook,” and the All-Blacks were never that. They have been able to dish it out, but now they’re taking it, and taking it like men. It’s hard not to feel that the tournament is poorer without them.

Not least as Saturday night’s quarter-final would have made such a thrilling final, if the tournament had gone according to plan. Just what exactly happened is harder to figure, as three narratives are already developing. The first is that the Blacks got done. The second is that they choked. The third is that the French were able to strike back at the Blacks by playing the champagne rugby for which their nation is far-famed and of which is rightly proud.

The incredible potency of the ball-in-hand approach is George Hook’s analysis, a man lately much given to discussing potency, according to the worrying ads An Spailpín Fánach has seen in the gentlemen’s rest rooms of the bars of Ireland. On this occasion, however, George must be on stronger tack than the little blue pills. Surely, as Brendan Gallagher points out in the Telegraph this morning, the reason that the French were still in it was because Bernard Laporte, who’s been derided as a fool since his appointment as head coach of France, played a tactical game at the start and kept the All-Blacks frustrated for the first hour. To go toe to toe with them was to invite doom. Instead, the French waited for their opportunity, and struck hard when they got the chance. Richie McCaw mentioned the same thing in his post match press conference, and he ought to know.

Judgement on the referee is up to the individual. These things happen in rugby and the game is such that referees’ interpretations will always have an influence stronger than the ideal. In the 1980s, games were won and lost according to how the old lineout was refereed. Now, it’s all about reffing the breakdown. The bottom line is that the ball just isn’t round, and it’s going to bounce funny from time to time. C’est la guerre, la vie et la rugby. The choking is something your philosophically inclined correspondent hopes to look at more fully before the tournament is over - or else just after it. Watch this space.

New Zealand's demise was not the only shock of the quarter-finals. For the first time ever your correspondent, who has shed tears for Parnell and always thinks well of the Fenian dead, was cheering England for all he was worth on Saturday as they screwed Australia to the sticking-post. Australia was always more a league than a union nation, and their inability to scrummage correctly is proof again of that. Fare thee well to them.

South Africa are the team that are coming out of this tournament the best, as momentum builds and builds behind Die Bokke. New Zealand’s experience shows how vulnerable you become without hard matches, but too many hard matches will leave you physically smashed to ribbons – not many Frenchmen will be able to sit up today after putting in tackle after tackle on Saturday; in fact, Imanol Harinordoquy probably lacks sufficient strength to shave off that disgraceful moustache of his. Die Bokke got a thorough going-over from Fiji, and the Argentineans will have a good close look at them as well, but South Africa will not have that just-spent-the-night-in-a-cement-mixer feeling that the winners of France v England must endure. An Spailpín hopes it's France - cheering for England is something An Spailpín can't do every week, and besides, my little flutter on France is still alive. Où est la vie, l'espoir, mes petits!

Finally, An Spailpín is sorry to write off the Argentineans, who have thrilled so many in this World Cup, not least with the firefly genius of their stand-off half, peerless Juan-Martín Hernández. But the law of diminishing returns was looming over the Argentina as they huffed and puffed against a severely limited Scotland, and that law will be fully enforced by South Africa on Sunday night I’m afraid, when it looks very much like a case of buenos noches, Buenos Aires, and thanks for the memories.

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