Monday, April 26, 2010

Groundhog Day: Cork Hammer Mayo in Croke Park

Cork 1-17
Mayo 0-12

Groundhog Day in Croke Park for Mayo. All week we listened to this old palaver about a new team, not intimidated by Heaney and Nallen’s old bones in the dressing room, depressing reminder of past failures. This was new-look Mayo, looking to their youth, listening to the sports psychologists, making things happen and all the rest of it.

What did we get instead? We got a throwback to the mid-nineties. The last fifteen years have been a golden era of Mayo football, but all the great qualities of those Mayo teams, not least their great hearts, went right down the Swanee River yesterday in another horror show fully in keeping with the Bad Old Days of Mayo football.

Yesterday, Mayo delivered a display that was true to the county’s most heart-breaking traditions, a display that predates the memories of the majority of Mayo players in the current panel. Castlebar 1986. Castlebar 1987. Tuam 1990. Croke Park 1992. Croke Park 1993. Roscommon 1994. Tuam 1995. Here it all was again, just like we remembered it, better even than the new A-Team movie.

The stagefright. The crippling fear of losing that denies even the possibility of winning. The abdication of responsibility in the forward line. The bizarre decision-making, that saw Alan Dillon setting up Trevor Mortimer to shoot when any even causal observer of Mayo football in the past decade would prefer to see that possession travelling the other way around. Especially if your car was parked within the blasting rang.

The most bizarre thing about the display yesterday was the inertia of it. The game opened in silence, like the teams were playing in the garden of a nursing home and didn’t want to scare the old folks. It was quickly obvious that Mayo were having a Mayo – if you put the forward line into individual barrels and rolled them down the shale of Croagh Patrick they could not arrive in Murrisk more disorientated than they appeared against Cork yesterday.

Which made it even more upsetting that nothing was done. The Mayo News podcast told us last week about how the Mayo team, in dealing with their trauma after losing to Meath, were now under instructions from their sports psychologist to take responsibility and make things happen when they saw games running away from them. Instead, we reverted right back to twentieth-century Mayo, heads down while Corkmen cracked over points like they were in a training run.

As the game slipped away, this was a golden opportunity to see what Mayo were made of. A golden opportunity to unleash McGarrity, Harte, Kilcoyne, Barry Moran or Tom Cuniffe and say get out there son, and come back with your name on the jersey!

Didn’t happen. McGarrity came on at the half – for Ronaldson, astonishingly, thus reducing Mayo’s scoring threat even more – but by the time Kilcoyne, Harte and Barry Moran appeared the last post has been well and truly sounded, as the shadow of Ben Bulben looked suddenly ominous for the first weekend in June.

Sunday’s wasn’t the worst Mayo defeat ever – this is only the league, of course, and the bar is set pretty dang high for Mayo’s Worst Day Ever – but if the circle that Mayo are travelling in gets any tighter, they will soon be able to see their own tails wagging in the gloaming ahead of them.

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Mayo v Cork in the National Football League Final

There are two very good reasons to attend the League Finals this Sunday in Croke Park, between Down and Armagh in the Divison 2 Final and Mayo and Cork in Division 1.

There are the games themselves, of course. Armagh and Down is a classic border rivalry between teams that could make some noise in the Championship. Mayo and Cork is a game between two teams who, along with Dublin, could set up their own school of psychiatry to teach aspirant medical students about the many different ways of not being well in the head.

For instance, it is a trait peculiar to Mayo that only Mayo could find themselves togging out for a football game from which nothing good can happen.

If Mayo beat Cork on Sunday, it will be met by a huge heave of “so what?” around the nation. Mayo have promised in the past and delivered nothing, more years than anybody cares to count.

The optimistic talk current in the county has all been heard before, not least the last time Mayo got a League Final, in 2007 when they were out-generalled by Donegal. And a lot of good that League title did Donegal, as things worked out.

Mayo have marched to the top of this hill before. When you examine the teams who have won the League and the Championship in recent years you’ll find that they are either Kerry or Kilkenny, depending on whether or not you are playing football or hurling. But those two counties are exceptions to the general rule, and it is just plain wrong to think otherwise.

Who has doubled League and Championship other than those two? Once in twenty years in hurling, one in twenty years in football has it happened that a county other than Kerry or Kilkenny has won the League and Championship double. So anybody who does think that a League win will help their Championship cause is basing that belief on something other than the historical record.

To further blight my countymen’s weekend, Mayo have much more to lose by losing the League Final than Cork. Every day Cork are missing someone else, either Pearse O’Neill or Anthony Lynch or Graham Canty or John Miskella or Miah or Jeh or somebody. So if they lose, what harm? Sure aren’t half the team back in Cork?

But Mayo, even though they’re 15/8 or an astonishing 2/1 against in some shops, can’t afford to lose. They spent the League building up a team and if they were to lose does all that work then go down the broad swanee river?

The excellent Mayo News podcast tells us that John O’Mahony has brought in sports psychologist Gerry Hussey to the backroom staff. This is a good move because Mayo clearly have head issues. And they’ll have serious head issues if Johnno has to send for all the King’s horsse and all the King’s men to put Mayo together again in time for a trip to the shadow of Ben Bulben in the first week in June after getting handed their hats by half-strength Cork.

For what its worth - just about nothing - An Spailpín rather fancies Mayo in this one. Mayo have their issues of course, but you can only dance with the girls in the hall and if Cork are only bringing half a team sure Mayo can beat them. Why not?

Enough of the trivial. There’s another, much more important reason to attend the league finals on Sunday.

This is Thursday morning. In a few hours, the people of Mohill, Leitrim, Connacht and Ireland will make the long walk up that steep hill to the church in Mohill, where their hero, Philip McGuinness, lies at rest. Philip’s mortal remains will make their final journey after requiem mass and I truly hope and pray he’s at ease and at rest in a better world than this.

We who remain in the mortal realm, the vale of the tears in the old religion, and we should make the most of it before we too are called. There are worse places to be than headquarters in the sunshine of late Spring. We that are left owe something to those that are gone. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dilís uasal, suaimheas síoraí do, agus áit ag an Aonghusach go deo i measc na laochra Gael.

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Hitler Míshásta agus Leabhair Ghaeilge as Láthair mar Books of the Decade

Nuair a bhris an nuacht sa mbuncaer nach raibh aon leabhar Gaeilge ainmnithe mar cheann de na leabhair Éireannach is fearr foisithe leis na deich mbliana imithe, ní raibh An Führer ró-shásta...

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Book of the Decade

The fifty best Irish books of the decade have been announced, and they are to go before a public vote to decide on a winner. An Spailpín Fánach has been going through the shortlist and it makes for interesting analysis.

Of the fifty books, thirty-three are fiction. This further breaks down as twenty-one literary fiction, nine popular fiction and two mysteries with one book, With My Lazy Eye by Julia Kelly, that seems to defy easy classification. An Spailpín hasn’t read the book and sees no good reason to do so; therefore, Ms Kelly will have to settle for an asterisk I’m afraid. Better than nothing.

Of the seventeen books remaining there are five memoirs, three children’s books, two sports books (both soccer; more of that anon), five history/sociology and two volumes of short stories. There are no books in Irish, not even for the sake of tokenism, and poetry is also absent from the list. (Tuilleadh faoi leabhair Ghaeilge níos déanaí, nuair atá an You Tube faoi smacht ceart agam).

Of those fifty books there are thirty-three in which your correspondent has no interest whatsoever, six that I respect but either haven’t read or have no plans to read, five I never even heard of (all of which I’ve categorised at literary fiction, which may be a tale in itself), two I bought but haven’t yet got around to reading yet, Miss Kelly’s whom nobody seems to know is either fish or fowl, two I have grave doubts about and only one which I’ve actually read and liked.

I can understand why The Builders, by Kathy Sheridan and Frank McDonald is on the list, considering the influence the same demographic has had on the country in the past number of years. But a little like the “angry men” of O’Toole, Cooper, Ross and Pat Leahy, I’m not at all sure this book will tell me anything I don’t already know.

I don’t remember anything from The Builders causing a ripple on its publication (the way Andrew Rawsley’s book on the British Labour Party caused a ripple across the way, for instance), and this would suggest that it may be what no book on a list of Best Books of a Decade should be: boring.

The sports books are very disappointing. Paul McGrath’s book is fair enough, but it’s as much a personal memoir of one man’s battle with the bottle as it is a sports book proper. The inclusion of Eamon Dunphy’s Roy Keane book, however, is very hard to justify.

The Irish Book Awards website is correct in assessing Roy Keane as a significant figure of contemporary Irish but that does not mean that the book is worthy of the man, any more than either of Brian O’Driscoll’s two autobiographies are worthy of him.

Ghost-writing is often derided as a skill but it is very much a skill, especially when ghosting for so multi-faceted a personality as Roy Keane. Paul Kimmage and Tom Humphries are the two best sports ghosts we have, and either would have written a better book.

Eamon Dunphy failed to sublimate his own ego – which does not sublimate easily, of course – in writing Keane. Read the passages about Saipan or Alf Inge Haaland aloud and after a few sentences you find yourself doing your best Eamon Dunphy impression. That makes the book a failure, and that should disqualify it from this list.

On the broader sports front, I posted here some weeks ago that this has been the best decade for GAA books ever, with some outstanding work in what is by no means a full field. For not one of these books to have made this list tells us a lot about ourselves, who we are and who we pretend to be. It’s a pity.

The books I respect but don’t plan on reading in the immediate – or ever – future are Paul McGrath’s autobiography, Judging Dev, Bill Cullen’s Penny Apples, Netherland, PS I Love You and Should Have Got Off at Sidney Parade.

PS I Love You got shocking reviews here when it was published. Not because it was awful, but because of who wrote it and who her father is. An Spailpín had the honour to rent a bedsit that was as draughty as it was expensive from the father of a chick-lit queen, and he assured me that PS would never have been published were it not for Bertie Ahern. But PS I Love You sold like hot cakes and even got made into a(n awful) movie, so good for Miss Ahern, who stuffed it down their jealous throats.

Sidney Parade is worthy of respect because in Ross O’Carroll-Kelly Paul Howard has personified exactly to whom we aspire now as a nation. Ross O’Carroll-Kelly started off as a satire in the Sunday Tribune but as the Tiger roared we all wanted to be like him. Howard softened the character to make him that bit more likeable at a cost to Howard’s art but to the considerable reward of his bank balance.

Immigrants read the Ross O’Carroll-Kelly books in translation in order to figure out what the Irish are like. Fintan O’Toole may be who we’d like to be, a moralist in a post-Catholic Ireland, but Ross O’Carroll-Kelly holds a truer mirror up to our contemporary reality. Focking deffo.

The only book of the fifty your correspondent not only bought but liked? The Pope’s Children by David McWilliams. The Pope’s Children, as identified here at the time, is not so much a work of economics as of sociology, in which McWilliams forensically details what it was like to live in Ireland in the first decade of the 21st Century, when all we cared about was money and turning a buck any which we way we could. It’s the only possible contender for Irish Book of the Decade.

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Monday, April 12, 2010

Why Aren't Irish Newspapers More Concerned About the Revolution?

Steve Jobs - Will the iPad be a reprieve or a death warrant?The newspaper industry is in flux. It may survive, or newspapers as we know them may go the same way as the town crier. Nobody really knows.

This is a worldwide phenomenon, the biggest change since Guttenberg, possibly, and no less revolutionary. The whole nature of how information is disseminated is changing. The internet has reduced venerable business models to rubble and so-called traditional media are fighting to adjust before they go belly-up.

How odd, then, that the Irish media seems so not-bothered about it all?

The panel on Karen Coleman’s Wide Angle show yesterday morning were clucking over the sparse coverage of the Polish air crash disaster in the Irish Sunday papers. How very insular, they said. It’s not like the didn’t have time, as the crash happened so early on Saturday, they said.

But the Irish media could never cover what happened in Poland. If you’re editor of the Sunday Independent, whom do you ask to write up an analysis of the role in 21st Century Polish life of President Lech Kaczynski or Slawomir Skrzypek, the head of the Polish national bank? Declan Lynch? Brendan O’Connor?

The Irish media are like the guests in Edgar Allen Poe’s Masque of the Red Death. There’s a man coming to visit, and they seem innocently or wilfully oblivious to the devastation he will wreak.

Mark Little tweeted an link yesterday to something Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian, wrote about the iPad in today’s Observer, and how it could save the newspaper industry. Tech Crunch had a cheap dig, but they missed the most significant thing about the piece.

Rusbridger is the second major British media figure to come out and say that the iPad may save their industry. The first was Rupert Murdoch. The notion of anyone in the Guardian agreeing with Murdoch about anything is stunning. But this alliance between right and left shows just how parlous the state of newspapers is, and how close we could be to a whole new age of publishing.

A quarter of a century ago, when Murdoch broke SOGAT, the Fleet Street printers’ union, the newspaper business model was easy to understand. You had to print the paper, which took huge machines hours and hours of very expensive time. And then you had to put it in vans to ship it to whomever wanted to read it. But anybody who wanted to read it had to pay for it, and there was a second revenue stream of advertising as well. All neat and tidy.

But that’s all past tense now. Desktop publishing has sent hot metal printing the way of the dinosaur. You don’t need a fleet of vans now to deliver the product. All you need is a web server. Infinitely cheaper. Your prior cost model is now null and void. Equally, your chances of getting paid for gathering, processing and disseminating all this are zero too. It's a zero sum game. Everything is in freeflow.

What the newspaper product actually looks like the sticking point now, but Rusbridger’s argument is that the iPad may finally represent the ideal medium to view multi-media content.

When you watch media on You Tube you’re still in front of your computer. It feels like work. The iPad, according to Rusbridger, makes it feel like fun to a much wider audience than the techie mavens. And that’s what makes the iPad so potentially revolutionary.

How does this effect Ireland? Harder to say. For all this old yak about a knowledge economy, Ireland is very conservative in the way news is disseminated. Mattie McGrath, TD, is unlikely to suffer at the polls because he hasn’t been tweeting about headage payments to disadvantaged areas.

But it’s going to become increasingly difficult to justify spending two Euro a day on a newspaper when you can get more than a newspaper can possibly deliver from a device like the iPad. And what does that mean for the future of an independent Irish media, or who we inform ourselves about how the country is governed? And why isn’t anybody talking about it? Who’s that knocking on the door?

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Thursday, April 08, 2010

Haven't These People Anything Better to Do?

There was a bizarre TV show on BBC Three last night that tells us much about who we are as a culture in this twenty-first century.

It was called Great Movie Mistakes, it was presented by the sometime comedian Robert Webb, and it was compendium of movie clips where there’s been a mistake. You could see someone’s digital watch in a pirate movie, the cable holding a stuntman to a wall, or some other mistake in continuity.

This thing is that the thing was on for three hours. Three hours is a long time. Bearing in mind that each clip lasts about ten seconds and is shown twice – in the format here’s the clip, wisecrack, identify the mistake, show the clip again, wisecrack, next – there was a whole lotta movie mistakes exposed to the Great British public – and Paddy leaning over the ditch, of course – before midnight last night.

But to what end? Isn’t it all the one mistake? Doesn’t this show ended up like those 1,001 Best Liverpool Goals that nobody watches after twenty-odd because they all get a bit ... samey? This is the BBC, for God's sake. They're supposed to be better than this.

There is a whole culture that exists to tell us the world of make believe may in fact be a make believe world. There are websites that monitor these things, looking out for mistakes, evidence for a case that, far from Discovery Channel documentaries or live CNN-style reportage from the scene, something like Iron Man II or Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen may just be a movie. Nothing more, nothing less.

People get tremendously upset over some tiny mistake in continuity. They refuse to suspend belief in the slightest. In one website, a sage has spotted this in Buffy: “While it is established that Angel doesn't age, it's obvious across both Buffy and Angel that David Boreanaz gets older. More unavoidable than deliberate, but still worth noting.”

Still worth noting. There’s clearly no fooling this man. He’s got an eye for detail. He can’t prove anything – yet – but he is beginning to wonder if Angel is a vampire at all, and not, like, some actor, or whatever.

What are they trying to prove? Sophistication? How sophisticated are you if your greatest insight into Being is to carefully note that in the movie The Bounty Hunter, currently on general release, “Milo gets out of the car to pump gas, but they are in New Jersey where pumping your own gas is illegal.”

In his book, Which Lie Did I Tell, the great screenwriter William Goldman address the question of how it is that characters in the movies can always find a place to park. Goldman asks the obvious question: how many people want pay ten bucks to spend twenty minutes in the theatre watching some guying driving around looking for a place to park?

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