Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Looking Back on Mayo v Tyrone in the Mayo News

An Spailpín Fánach is flattered to be in the Mayo News again this week, reminiscing on the last two Championship encounters between Mayo and Tyrone prior to the game this coming Saturday.

I remember the 2004 game vividly of course, but I had to access the Irish Times archive to go back to 1989. What I do remember is that summer though, the TV in Hanley's window that showed a tape of the game over and over again for the month prior to the All-Ireland, and the whole town of Ballina draped in green and red. For anyone that's feeling nostalgic, Wendy here should bring you back nicely. Roll on Saturday.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , ,

Monday, July 28, 2008

Why So Serious? The Dark Knight, the Joker and the Comic Book Movie

An Cleasaí - cén fáth dáiríre, a mhic?SPOILERS ahoy. You have been warned.

No cultural event in the West this year will have as much impact as The Dark Knight, this summer’s blockbuster Batman movie. And what An Spailpín Fánach is pondering this morning is whether or not that’s a good or a bad thing.

The Dark Knight is certainly the most enjoyable movie of the summer, if not the year. It is unlikely to win any Oscars, but then the best movies seldom do. What it does guarantee is over two hours of high-octane incandescent thrills, the kind of thrills you can only get at the movies. When the final credits roll it’s hard not to feel worn out by the movie, by the kinetic energy of the thing, and by the weight of its different storylines.

Everything you read about Heath Ledger’s performance as The Joker is true too. It’s clear now that Ledger was under-estimated in life, but if a legacy is worth anything in the Hereafter, Ledger will always be remembered for his Joker as a crowning achievement. This is a Joker as you’ve never seen him before, or as you’ve never seen a comic book villain before.

There is no mwaugh-hah-hah laughing or moustache twirling from Ledger's Joker; unlike Nicholson, there is no hint of winking at the camera, and saying “don’t worry, it’s me all the time! See you at the Laker game!” With his fidgeting and twitching, the mouldy makeup and strange sibilant lisping voice, reminiscent of no-one so much as Sylvester J Pussycat of the Looney Tunes fame, Ledger takes the Joker from high camp to that odd guy sitting next to you on the bus last Tuesday, that kept talking to himself and smelt kind of funny. You wonder what sort of home he was going back to, and what he did when he got there.

The fact that the Joker is an out and out loon is the key to The Dark Knight, but also its undoing. The movie is eager to draw parallels between the Joker’s attacks on Gotham City and the Al Qaeda attacks of September 11 on New York – note how often the Joker is referred to as a terrorist in the movie – but the parallel is not the same. Osama Bin Laden might be mad, but he’s not crazy. The Joker is distant from society, but Bin Laden simply comes from a different society, one at odds with the US. If the US is looking for an explanation of what happened in New York seven years ago, they’ll have to search further than The Dark Knight.

Is director Christopher Nolan trying to invest the movie with more meaning than the story can hold? Nolan is English, and it is a fundemental rule of British film criticism that Hollywood blockbusters are infra dig, that Derek Jarman’s Blue will always be a better Saturday night at the movies than the latest Spielberg. And they wonder why the industry is collapsing.

One of the more depresssing moments in recent western culture was when the 9/11 report was published in comic book form. It meant that the US Government recognised that there is a significant tranche of US society that can only understand the real world when it’s explained to them through the biff! bang! kapow! of the comic book world. Because the comic book has become so mainstream, the comic books themselves and the comic book movies that are based on them are trying to support themes and issues that are far more complex than the genre can hold.

The Tim Burton Batman movie of 1989 portrayed the Joker as just another mobster who’s had an accident that’s lead to a murderous psychosis. But now, in the post 9/11 world, when America feels herself at bay from threats overseas, the Joker is the avatar for all that unseen and inexplicable danger. And that’s too much for a comic book character to hold. For instance: If the Joker is such a nut, why do people take orders from him?

The question exists in the movie itself. When Harvey Dent and Sal Maroni are having their little chat in the final act of the movie, and Maroni asks Dent why he’s not going after the Joker, Dent says “the Joker’s a mad dog! I want the men that let the mad dog loose!”

Up to a point, Lord Copper. If the boys that let the Joker off the leash are the boys that are really pulling the strings, why does everything else in the movie point to the Joker as the fons et origo of all evil in Gotham City? While the Joker himself might want to see everything burn, as Sir Michael Caine’s butler points out, most people don’t see it that way. Most people are in it for the money. Especially those people in the criminal henchmen community.

Comic book movies, like the opera, do not do subtle. The opera has the saving grace of the music, of course, which exists beyond – if not above - the rational plane, but the super hero movie has no such respite. The tortured super hero of The Dark Knight and of Superman Returns two years ago do not represent the age; the fact of people looking to comic book characters to find an answer to real world problems is the real story of the age, and one of the more troubling aspects of the culture as the century approach its teens.

The Dark Knight is the movie of the summer and the year so far, and it would be remiss not to note how well the great American city of Chicago looks as Gotham – Midwestern mud in your eye to the hated New Yorkers. But to say that it represents a brave new world in the comic book movie genre is something we’ll be hearing less of as the years go by. That leap has already been made eight years ago, when the first X-Men went on general release.

The miserable third instalment of the franchise has sullied the first film’s legacy, but that first X-Men’s themes of what it’s like to be an outsider in society are perhaps more lasting than anything to be gained from The Dark Knight. Enjoy it for Heath Ledger’s Joker, but if you’re looking for anything else then I’m afraid the joke’s on you.

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Missing Persons in Montrose - Send for the I-Team!

Pat Kenny chilling in the sunshine o Gorse Hill yesterday. Or close enoughThe high incidence of missing persons in the vicinity of Donnybrook, Dublin 4, is becoming of grave concern to that keen advocate of value for money, An Spailpín Fánach.

Ryan Tubridy is not presenting the Ryan Tubridy Show on the radio, even though we, the taxpayers, are paying him €346,667 per annum to do just that. Dave Fanning is presenting it instead.

The €849,139 Pat Kenny pulls down per annum isn’t enough to keep him away from the beach with his bucket and spade in these lazy, hazy days of summer. Myles Dungan is covering for him there. Ronan Collins is having his disks spun by Lorcan Murray. Joe Duffy is enjoying spending his €367,804 on his holidays while the misfortunate Damien O’Reilly has to listen to the cranks giving out about skies that are too blue or rain that’s too wet on Liveline in his stead.

Marian Finucane is paid €455,190 a year to present two two-hour shows a week, which doesn’t explain while Rachel English is currently doing it for her instead.

These figures are from 2006, so it’s possible that the RTÉ stars mentioned are actually pulling down more than this. It can be tricky to squeeze the full facts from RTÉ in the matter.

RTÉ justifies the huge wedge they sign over on the basis that the station can’t do without the top flight presenters, but it very clearly can. It’s doing so right now. The likes of Tubridy and Kenny will be on their hols until September, a good six weeks, considerably longer than the average working stiff gets. Factor in the full week at Christmas, a week at Easter and other bank holidays and you begin to realise that these jokers are taking the pish in a big way.

Is there anyone that RTÉ can send to get them to mend their ways, and maybe put down a few more days, just to take the bad look off it, like? Is there any sort of Justice League to be formed that will make these people earn their money?

Well, funnily enough, there is, and the recruits are already on the RTÉ payroll themselves.

Prior to this year, the role of the TV license inspector was a little understood one. Now, thanks to the revolutionary series of ads on the telly and radio, we realise that one of Elliot Ness’ Untouchables of gangster-era Chicago would only be in the ha’penny place with an RTÉ TV licence inspector.

The RTÉ TV license inspector is no ordinary chicken. He needs the infinite patience and interrogation technique of spymaster George Smiley to find out from the office staff desperately trying to keep schtum just exactly to whom the licence for the kitchen portable must be made out. He needs the bravery of Bulldog Drummond, heedless of danger in the lair of evil Carl Peterson. And as for sheer brain wattage – well, even Sherlock Holmes himself would spit his briar pipe and concede he’d met the better man when the polyglot license inspector meets some recidivists and addresses each in his own native tongue – cleverly calling the bluff of the Jamaican by pointing out that English is the lingua franca of that Caribbean paradise, the moment that elevates this vignette to the sublime. Like Yogi, the TV license inspector is clearly no ordinary bear.

A platoon of Hercules Poirots would be swept before these supermen as dust before the broom, but their talents are wasted collecting a license fee that is wasted if presenters don’t present. Therefore, An Spailpín implores Minister for Energy, Communications and Natural Resources, Mr Eamon Ryan, TD, to enact legislation that will allow an A-Team – or I-Team, if you like - of crack TV-license inspectors to be recruited and trained into becoming TV and Radio Presenter Inspectors. From their secret base upstairs in Kiely’s they will then move all over the globe, feeling collars of peripatetic presenters from Bangkok to Bundoran, clapping them in irons and bringing them back alive.

The Irish nation demands and deserves Joe Duffy back in studio four at a quarter to two every weekday, the ball and chain around his dainty ankle, and a TV license inspector in the corner keeping an eye on him, just in case. Joe will sing for his supper then, by jingo.

Technorati Tags: , , , ,

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Football Debate in the County Mayo

The AcademyAn Spailpín is flattered to be once more in the pages of the Mayo News this week, the paper offering the best sports coverage in the county Mayo. And aren’t their pictures from the Connacht Final just marvellous? You have to hand it to them.

As the discussion rages and we tear over the evidence of the defeat to Galway, your sentimental Spailpín couldn’t help letting his mind drift back to four years ago come Friday, when a few of the boys were whooping it up in Eddie Gaughan’s saloon. We were discussing Mayo’s victory earlier that Sunday in Castlebar against Roscommon, whose sad decline had already begun at that stage.

It was a poor enough game, and memorable really only for a final minute pitch invasion that caused then selector George Golden to run out onto the pitch (at a much faster clip than you’d think a man that wintered as well as Georgie could manage, I might add) in fear that the match would be abandoned. In a practical effort to clear the pitch, Georgie set about boxing every head within swinging distance, a performance that put Horatius at the Bridge in the ha’penny place.

So it was a mellow gathering in Gaughan’s that night, as the summer stretched before us. Our thoughts turned to the vagaries of management, and how John Maughan had returned to lead his people once more to the Promised Land. Or at least, it was mellow at the start.

“It just goes to show you,” said An Sionnach Seang to the assembled company. “Maughan is the best manager we ever had.”

“He lost them on the line!” spat An Bata Damhsa.

“What are you on about?” queried An Sionnach.

“1997!” wailed An Bata, for whom the hurt was still real. “Maughan changed four lines to make one substitution! Madness – the softest All-Ireland ever! Johnno is the only man for that job – will he no’ come back again?”

“Johnno?” An tUbh Breac looked up from the stool in the corner. “Johnno is a traitor. No man did more damage to Mayo football than John O’Mahony. Galway were dead and gone and they’ve two All-Irelands now! And it’s all Johnno’s fault!”

An Bata Damhsa wasn’t taking that one lying down.

“Sure what else could he do when his own didn’t want him?” countered An Bata. “Didn’t the Board run him out of the county?”

“Don’t make me sick,” said an tUbh, seldom a man to back down. “He did nothing in his final two years in Mayo except lose to Galway and lose to Roscommon. No-one can compare to John Maughan’s achievements. Least of all Johnno.”

“Well I don’t know what you’re all talking about,” said An Tuiseal Tabharthach, coming back in from a refreshing smoke and scope up and down O’Rahilly Street. “You haven’t even mentioned the best manager we’ve had in over thirty years yet.”

“Who?” chorused we all.

“Pat Holmes,” said An Tuiseal, pulling on his pint of special.

“Pat Holmes!” Consternation in Gaughan’s.

“Yeah, Pat Holmes,” said An Tuiseal, wiping his mouth with that implement a thoughtful God gave him for that very purpose, the back of his hand. “Wasn’t Pat Holmes manager of the only Mayo senior team to win a national title in thirty years, the League in 2001?”

“Ah for Jesus’ sake a Thuisil!” said An Sionnach, getting more Rua by the minute. “For the love of God – Pat Holmes! Pat Holmes!” added An Bata, making common cause with his enemy of two minutes’ before. An Spailpín Fánach thought he spied an tUbh Breac coming dangerously to the boil, and decided it was time to step in. I slurped some strengthening stout, rose unsteadily, and addressed the congregation.

“Boys – isn’t this the story of Mayo football all over? We’ve just had a great win in the Connacht Final over an ancient and feared enemy, and here we are getting stuck into each other six hours later! For God’s sake, can we not enjoy it while it’s here?”

So we sat down to toast Mayo, with the long summer whose twists and turns, the high of the win over Tyrone and the miserable low of Bradygate, were still full and fertile before us. But that argument developed after Mayo won the Nestor Cup, their first Nestor Cup in five barren years as I recall. You can imagine how many wigs are on the green at home this week after Mayo lost one.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Monday, July 14, 2008

Mayo Remain Defiant After Galway's Sammon Leap

An Seoigeach Gan SmalGalway 2-12
Mayo 1-14

One of the great feats of gaiscíocht, or acts of heroism, of the mythical Irish warriors was the salmon leap. The warrior had to be able to leap an opponent’s shield in order to hack off the opponent’s head from above, what modern marketing consultants would consider thinking outside the envelope.

Galway are doing some Sammon leaping themselves this year, as crowned by their Connacht Championship on Sunday. Manager Liam Sammon is in his first year in charge and does not enjoy the media profile of his Mayo opposite number, but that doesn’t make him the lesser man. In this age of special assistant to the isotonic water carrier, the craggy featured Sammon is refreshingly old school. He seems to believe in finding the best fifteen players in the county, showing them the jersey, throwing them a football and telling them to let rip. Works pretty good so far.

It’s fashionable to preface any comments about Galway’s potential with the remark by dismissing their All-Ireland winning prospects. If Galway aren’t All-Ireland contenders, then may I beg my masters’ pardon and ask who are? Lethal forwards, a midfield that can only get stronger when Joe Bergin returns, tigerish backs in Burke, Blake, Fitzgerald and Hanley, Bradshaw and Conroy bringing the bloom and beauty of youth and the ageless, iconic Padraic Joyce, a winner since his Hogan Cup days with Jarlath’s, invested by Sammon with the power to loose and to bind from the pivotal 11 position – what’s not to like?

As for Mayo, once the bitterness of a one point defeat dies away and the acrid taste is washed away by a week’s consoling porter, things will not appear as bleak as they may seem now. Galway are nearer Sam, certainly, but the Championship is more about cats on hot tins roofs than the one county that can be champion – the real purpose for most counties in the Championship, as with the tabby on the slates, is to survive for as long as you can.

Mayo finished the game stronger than they started, and are still in the Championship. They were still in the Championship last year after defeat to Galway, but that happened earlier in the year and they did not leave Salthill stronger after the seventy minutes. By contrast, there is much to build on this time out, especially in contrast to the desolation of last year.

Firstly, there is the return to form of Alan Dillon. Dillon has been played all year at centre-half forward and clearly hated it. Back on wing, he was popping them over happily, and the return of Pat Harte frees Dillon up to do just that. An Spailpín has full confidence in Ronan McGarrity and Tom Parsons in midfield, and once any team has a foothold in midfield it’s a contender.

Either side of midfield remains an issue. There’s nothing new there. Aidan Higgins was magnificent when he came on, because he set about doing what should be first on every defender’s list – making his man’s life a misery. The story was that Matthew Clancy did not emerge in the second half due to an ankle injury, but An Spailpín can’t stop himself from suspecting that Sammon didn’t want to lose Clancy to a second yellow, as Higgins’ playful banter was really getting on the moptop’s nerves.

An Spailpín would like to see Liam O’Malley’s return to the colours also, for the same reason. He has a gift for being a pain in the ass. The third man who impressed when he came on was Billy Padden. There is so much criticism directed at Padden it surprises An Spailpín why he bothers sometimes, but he’ll always have something to deliver for the Green and Red. An Spailpín would play him at full-forward or full-back, somewhere where he can get busy, get on the ball and make things happen. He’s that kind of a fella.

Leaving the ground, An Spailpín was asked by a friend from the great town of Ballaghaderreen if I was going to “have another go at the Ballagh man.” I thought it unfair, not least as I didn’t have a go at the Ballagh man first time out. We might as well clear the air on this issue.

John O’Mahony remains the only man for the Mayo manager’s job. Full stop. He’s certainly made mistakes, and clearly made them yesterday, but we all make mistakes in life. It’s how we respond to those mistakes that defines us. Yesterday, when Mayo were being cut open in the first half, Johnno make the switches and Mayo were unlucky in some ways not to pull it out of the fire. Now Johnno has a fortnight or three weeks to pick through the debris, and arise from the ashes. What though the field be lost? All is not lost; Mayo are one win away from being in the same position as Galway in the All-Ireland series. Mayo can’t match Galway for talent, but the race is not always to the swift, thank God.

What O’Mahony and Mayo do have to do, however, is to maximise their resources to deliver the best efforts they can. One of the reasons that An Spailpín believes Johnno the best man for the job is because he’s the only man for the job. There is no other contender with the same credentials. Not one. There is no point in replacing a man unless you have one better to take his place, as Sammon has proved by building his team around the aging Padraic Joyce, because there’s no-one in Galway that can match him. The biggest mistake Johnno made so far was in letting men go when he was not able to replace them, thereby leaving himself some hostages to fortune as remarked in this space previously, but in life it’s never too late to deal with mistakes and make amends. Mayo have three weeks to rise again – the green and red still flies proud over the sweeping fields of heather as Reek Sunday approaches.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Path to Nestor Runs Through Midfield: Connacht Final 2008

An Spailpín Fánach is flattered once more to be in the pages of the Mayo News, the paper with the best sports coverage in Mayo, as the Connacht Final looms.

I’m writing about the rivalry between Galway and Mayo, and how surprisingly gentle it is. It’s played for keeps of course, and there have been some crunching hits going in (last year’s hit on Ciarán McDonald springing instantly to mind), but it certainly has never descended into anything particularly ugly. Some handbags between Gary Fahy and either Ray Dempsey or John Casey before the throw-in in Tuam eleven years ago is about the only belting that particularly comes to mind, but then Ray was always something of a mischievous sprite, please him. Please God he’ll fill the minors from the same bottle.

Football will more than likely be the winner this weekend too, with the match being decided by three factors: midfield domination, the ability to score goals, and the ability to stop goals.

It looks like advantage Mayo in midfield, not only because Tom Parsons has that marvellous to-the-manner-born air about him, but because Pat Harte is likely to wear 11. This means that if the moving rocks of Coleman and Cullinane threaten Parsons and McGarrity just as the moving rocks of the Hellespont threatened Jason and the Argonauts, then Pat Harte can be the man that comes to their rescue. Classicists will recall it was a dove that showed the way to Jason; An Spailpín is hoping that Pat can take after a doughtier class of a bird – Lizzie Borden, perhaps.

Harte’s presence at eleven may ease some of the pressure that seems to have been burdening Alan Dillon in recent years, and restore him to the wing, where he’s played his best football for Mayo. That, certainly, would be the earnest hope of the county. Ahead of them again, the management have picked the same full-forward line at every opportunity and if midfield can claim possession it’s up to them to convert that into scores. Now, now is the hour.

Not least as Galway are so incandescent with talent at the other end. Galway stand or fall on the strength of their forwards and if they slip the leash they will punish you. Cormac Bane scored two highlight reel goals against Mayo last year, and he’s been struggling to make the team this year. That says something.

Padraic Joyce is rejuvenated since he’s moved out to eleven, a man in whom all football should glory. Sad is the heart that didn’t lift to see the great man signing autographs for the faithful after the Leitrim game, smiling with the kids. Joyce without the ball is just another helpless spectator, of course, but with it, he is the destroyer of worlds. A classic in prospect.

FOCAL SCOIR: On the eve of such a sporting treat, it's good to keep perspective and remember those who might have more on their mind than who'll win the midfield breaks. As such, spare a thought on Saturday for Marie Carolan of Glencastle, who's not having a good time right now and whose uncle, Michael Carolan, will be hitting the road on Saturday in the Addidas Five Mile Race in the Phoenix Park, Dublin. You can see details on how to stump up here. Best of luck to them all.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,