Thursday, March 31, 2011

Mayo Aren't That Far Away

Old and New Mayo - Jason Doherty holds off Billy Joe PaddenThere is an air of grimly facing the inevitable about Cork’s trip to Castlebar on Sunday. Cork were sweetly obliging the last time Mayo played them in the League regular season, rolling over to have their tummies tickled by the banks of the Lee. They then turned around in a week to have a loud last laugh by carpet-bombing Mayo in the League Final and setting up the further Mayo humiliations to come.

Cork are now the best football team in the country. There is no disputing that fact. Having finally won that All-Ireland last year, their option now is to win a few more, and claim definitive greatness. If they leave it only at one, you can rest assured their witty neighbours to the north won’t be long reminding them that, yerra, 2010 was a soft one.

And for all that, An Spailpín isn’t despairing about summer prospects for Mayo. If anything, the summer looks rather good.

Of all the bizarre events of that hammering from Dublin last Sunday week at Croke Park, An Spailpín was struck by the fact that James Horan made no substitutions until the second half. How many times will teams go down 4-4 to 0-2 after fifteen minutes in any grade without at least one of the backs getting the curly finger?

So either Horan didn’t notice that Mayo were getting a complete scutching, or else he didn’t care. An Spailpín has no idea, but I’d guess that Horan knew it was happening alright, but whatever was on his mind was more important than two league points against Dublin.

If not, why wouldn’t he have hauled poor Chris Barrett out of there, and sent Ger Cafferkey back? If Mayo have as bad a start as that in the Championship, you can rest assured Horan will do something. But for the League; no. Results aren’t what interest him just yet.

Which doesn’t mean Mayo are playing to lose, of course, or that relegation doesn’t bother them. It’s just a question of relativity, just as we all now realise in the modern world that, while getting a pay cut stinks, it’s still better than losing your job.

Relegation wouldn’t be that bad if, for all his tweaking, Horan can hit on a winning formula in the summer. Connacht isn’t as weak as has been made out, and if Galway can do something against the rising Ross in the Under-21 Connacht Final in Salthill this weekend, that might do their senior team no harm either.

Nor are Mayo necessarily doomed to the trapdoor either. How bothered are Cork about a spin to Castlebar? The League is all about judgement. Cork know from Mayo last year that League wins aren’t worth a damn. It’s only about your last game in the League, and how that sets you up for the summer. Stronger or weaker? Better to suffer now than later.

Issues remain with Mayo, and there are issues with nearly every line of the team. But this Mayo. That will always be the way. It’s too early for weeping by the lovely sweet banks of the Mayo. Wait until the summer, and see what the good God brings.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

So. Farewell Then, Elizabeth Taylor

The late Elizabeth Taylor was the inspiration for what is, to An Spailpín’s mind, one of the great gallant comments about any woman. Richard Burton, the man with whom she would be associated more than any other, wrote in his diary that the first time he saw Taylor he wanted to laugh out loud. It seemed the only correct reaction to her staggering beauty. Wasn’t it a lovely thing to say?

Millions and millions of women wanted to be Liz Taylor. Maybe you should be careful what you wish for. Eight marriages, seven husbands, countless addictions, and all for what? Was Liz Taylor ever happy?

Liz Taylor was a child star. How many child stars have led happy and adjusted adult lives, if such things exist? Shirley Temple, maybe. Deanna Durbin. But both of those shunned the limelight once they grew up. For others, like Taylor, who lived their entire lives in its glare, it’s hard to know if it was every worth their while. Or if they even knew who they were when the light went out. Maybe the limelight itself was Taylor’s worst addiction.

Liz Taylor’s first marriage was to Nicky Hilton, when she was eighteen years old. The marriage lasted a year. Hilton was a drunk who used to beat his child bride. A woman so beautiful that Burton wanted to laugh out loud at the joy of her.

After Hilton, Taylor married a British actor called Michael Wilding, and then Mike Todd, who died in a plane clash. Eddie Fisher left his wife, Debbie Reynolds, to catch the grieving Taylor on the rebound only to get the elbow himself when Taylor hooked up with Richard Burton while they filmed Cleopatra.

Burton and Taylor were second only to John and Yoko as the iconic sixties couple. Mervyn Davies, the former Number 8 for London Welsh, Swansea, Wales and the British Lions remarked in his autobiography how odd it was to return to the London Welsh dressing room and see the most beautiful woman in the world going whiskey for whiskey at the bar with her husband.

Burton loved rugby, and Taylor too, in his way. They divorced, and remarried, and divorced again. Taylor didn’t attend Burton’s funeral in 1984. It would have been unfair on Sally Hay, Burton’s wife. Whom would the world identify as the widow?

Taylor married twice again, for reasons that are difficult to fathom. Or else painfully easy – the most beautiful woman in the world was lonely. Who wants to be Liz Taylor, really?

Her celebrity was greater than her career, although as an actress she had a considerably greater range than her only rival for the most beautiful woman in the world, Marilyn. She wasn’t funny, as Marilyn was, but Taylor could burn up the screen in an instant. Whatever it is, she had it.

Most of her pictures are dated now. She and Burton were directed by Franco Zefferilli in The Taming of the Shrew; twenty years later, the trailer to the film was used in English courses as an example as the crippling weight of the patriarchy. Neither director nor stars nor Shakespeare himself could get past the politburo in those days.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf won Taylor her second Oscar but, while it’s by no means fashionable to say so, it’s a two hour episode of Eastenders, really.

An Spailpín’s dollar for Liz Taylor’s greatest performance must be as Maggie the Cat, the role she was born to play, in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. She was opposite Paul Newman, in one of his great roles. After all, it took an actor of stunning ability not to laugh out loud when Liz Taylor came into a room.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Moriarty Report: The Most Important Irish Political Document Since the Treaty

Yesterday’s publication of the Moriarty Tribunal report was a red letter day in the history of state. An Spailpín suspects that its publication will be like Bishop Casey’s flight in 1992; although momentous at the time, history now sees it as even more so; nothing less than the beginning of the end of the Catholic Church in Ireland.

Nothing was ever the same again after Bishop Casey’s fall, and neither shall it be after the publication of Moriarty. Whether the repercussions will be good or bad is up to ourselves; if we react quickly we can still save the country. If not…

What is the Significance of the Moriarty Report?
It is this: the case is now proven that corruption in Irish public life is by no means exclusive to one political party. The very institutions of the state are set up as such that corruption is the path of least resistance and the route to quickest results.

A whisper here, an introduction there. A phone call on a Sunday morning. A round of golf. A day at the races. Great things discussed. We could do wonders, if only. Is that all that’s holding you up? Leave it with me; I’ll see what I can do. We’ll never forget you; we’ll remember you in Paradise. Here’s something for your trouble.

None of the nods and the winks mean much in themselves. Together, they’re red rotten and stink to high Heaven. They mean that merit doesn’t win out, but that the Golden Circle shines brightly and eternally.

Why is This So Bad?
It’s bad because we’re up to our eyes in debt and are currently on our two knees before the rest of Europe giving them the poor mouth about our debt. And we’re giving them the poor mouth while paying our public servants above the European average across the board. These same public servants who are bypassed by sweetheart deals worth billions to vested interests.

Why are we paying the public servants so much again? To do what? What is the point? What results are you getting for all that money that you say you haven’t got? When the Germans ask why we don’t regulate our own affairs and save money that way, how will we reply?

What Can We Do?
We must change the way the country is governed. Changing the way the country is governed is not wishy-washy old blather about doing away with the Seanad, which is like taking off the corner-forward when you’re getting hammered in a game of football. The problems arise long before it gets up to the men inside. If people aren’t talking specifics, and coming out with a lot hot air about “real change now” now, as expertly skewered here, forget them.

An Spailpín would suggest a root and branch reform of local government. Do away with county councils, and use either provincial or super-constituency based regional areas for local government issues. Having the bins collected doesn’t require a meeting of the Jedi high council.

Reform the libel laws, so the press may operate freely. Reform the press ownership laws, so that all are held equally open to account. Punish those who abuse press freedoms; freedom of speech is too precious to let it be abused.

End the multi-seat constituencies, thus lessening the localism and clientelism in Irish politics (politics will always be local, but it need not be outrageously so). Pass new laws where those seeking to peddle political power and favours are prosecuted enthusiastically and punished severely. The only way to clear up a mess is to spare neither brush, bleach nor elbow grease. It’s time to get serious.

What If We Don’t Get Serious?
You’d think the worst case option would be that we would be no worse off, but we would be. The debt is the issue. Not just Irish debt, but the fissures that have opened all across the Eurozone as part of the global financial crisis.

The Euro was a German idea, and the Germans are now beginning to realise that maybe Europe wasn’t ready to be German in how they regulate their money. So, being realists and practical and so very, very German, they will set about seeing how to deal with that. And they will do it without hand-wringing or calling Joe Duffy or wondering why people don’t take to the streets. They’ll just get on with it, and leave sentiment far behind.

A two-tier Europe is the obvious solution. The countries who can be trusted to balance their books move ahead. The countries who are more inclined towards cheating and playing fast ones and being equally mendacious and dumb will get pushed slowly, slowly to the edge. And if they fall off, what harm? The contagion has already been limited, and the positive contribution was slight. The project moves on without them.

Are Our Politicians Capable of Seeing How Bad the Crisis Is?
The TG4 debate was seen as one of the high points of the election. An Spailpín found it depressing, and for this reason: when the leaders debated the Fine Gael proposal about the future of the language as a Leaving Cert subject, the debate was reduced to whether or not landladies in the Gaeltacht would lose income.

This is Irish politics. No vision. No big picture thinking. Irish is an important issue, as it has to do with the national identity and our very claims for being an independent nation in the first place. And instead it’s twisted, like all things are twisted, into an exercise in squeezing out another thirty or forty votes. The politicians dish out this rubbish, the nation laps it up and so the whole rigmarole goes on.

Not any more. Europe is watching, wondering when they’re getting their money back, and if the Irish are actually capable of self-governance at all. The Government, and the Irish political system’s reaction to Moriarty, which makes the craven reality of Irish politics clear, is the biggest decision facing an Irish government since Independence.

It’s up to us to decide if the country will turn a corner and be relied on to act responsibly in our public life, or are we to be feckless and hopeless poor (with a filthy rich elite of 5-8% of country – our own gentry, as Breandán Ó hEithir put it) for ever?

This is our choice. We are still a sovereign people, who still govern ourselves and can decided how we can to be governed. What are we going to do?

Political Reform now. And may God take pity on Ireland.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Beware, Beware the Ross on the Rise

Michael Foley of the Sunday Times is one of today’s best GAA journalists, but he was wrong to write a fortnight ago that this year’s Connacht Championship would not be a good one. It may prove one of the all-time greats.

It seems an article of faith in the national media that Connacht is a two horse race, just as Munster is. Foley went a step further, by suggesting that Galway’s current and undeniable decline is a reflection of a fuller provincial malaise.

Michael Foley is wrong. Galway are in decline, certainly, and it’s hard to see how they’ll turn it around by the summer. They’re bunched. But Connacht is bigger than Galway alone.

Leitrim welcome the return of Emlyn Mulligan and with him around they are always a threat if they don’t get scutched at the back. No team has more to prove than Sligo after calving in Connacht Final last year. Mayo aren’t too bad but Roscommon is the team that An Spailpín is keeping a close eye on this year. The primrose and blue have a lean and hungry look, and it’s not just coming from spending too much time at one of Luke Flanagan’s clinics.

The two horse race analogy was never correct in the first place. Roscommon teams are not the strangers to September that analogy would have you believe. Roscommon have not as many Nestor Cups as Mayo or Galway, but they have more provincial football titles than the four Munster counties who aren’t Cork or Kerry combined.

The backdoor works against Roscommon, and it’s possible that their missing decade was due to psychological damage after being the first real victims of the back door. Being managed by Tommy “Tom” Carr didn’t help either, of course.

But that was then and this is now. A veteran St Brigid’s team will face Crossmaglen in the All-Ireland Club Final on St Patrick’s Day, hoping to go one better than the Clann na Gael teams of the early ‘nineties. An unrated Roscommon Under-21 team dogged out a win over a very highly rated Mayo Under-21 team in Castlebar on Saturday. And the Roscommon golden generation that won the minor All-Ireland title in 2006 is being skilfully woven into the senior side by Fergal O’Donnell, who managed them to that win in 2006.

Roscommon are playing Division 4 football now, of course, and can’t afford a slip-up as they fight for promotion. They haven’t slipped so far, and An Spailpín Fánach can’t get it out of his head that winning against Fermanagh and Longford in the League can’t be all bad – not least in comparison to losing against Mayo, Kerry and whoever else shows up as Galway are currently doing.

The national media may not be aware of the sound of drums along the shores of Lough Ree, but Connacht is. Not least in Mayo. People talk about border rivalries in football – Mayo has the greatest border rivalry of all, as the Ballaghderreen club isn’t even on the border. It’s six miles behind enemy lines.

Heart is mentioned in the Roscommon county motto – the constant heart of Ireland. An Spailpín Fánach knows of no prouder county, and can only imagine how O’Donnell and the rest of the Roscommon brains trust are mixing the scalding hurt of the past ten years with the still-bright memories of the great Roscommon teams of the past to make a very potent football potion.

Mayo will not run scared of Roscommon. There are garments being rendered at the prospect of relegation after defeats to Kerry and Armagh currently of course, but there is no life outside the high summer in the GAA now. Mayo have had some good under-age teams too.

But while Mayo will not run scared of Roscommon, they certainly won’t be thinking they only have to show up to beat them. Not least in Ballaghderreen, where the smoking altars to their strange and pagan Roscommon gods, Kee-gahn, J’gerr, Muh-ree and the rest remind the Mayo faithful that Roscommon are on the rise again.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Fine Gael Can’t Image Life Without Their Labour Blankie

RTÉ's Eleventh Hour team uploaded a funny montage to You Tube about the number of mentions of change during the election campaign. How sad that the end result of that campaign is civil war politics as usual, with no change at all.

Fine Gael is the biggest party in the state, for the first time in its history. Single party government was easily achievable. Fine Gael could return their own gene pool independents and ideological matches – Lowry, Ross, Donnelly, maybe Ming, strange though it may seem – to the party to bring the number up to eighty-odd and then dare Fianna Fáil to put its money where (what’s left of) its mouth is to support Fine Gael in Government.

Fine Gael could have called Fianna Fáil’s bluff. If Fianna Fáil pulled the rug Fine Gael go to the country with hurt in their faces and right on their side. They could then go the extra yard and return with a working majority. This crack about “stable Government” is a myth. Lemass had minority administrations and got a lot done. You can have the majority of support in the Dáil and still be in a minority yourself. All it needed was the ability to see beyond the obvious and the courage to seize the day.

But Fine Gael didn’t even consider that as an option. Instead, Fine Gael reverted immediately to type, and restored Irish politics to its leaden polarity within a week of the election.

Irish politics has been defined since the 1930s not as Fianna Fáil versus Fine Gael, but as Fianna Fáil versus Not Fianna Fáil. This is what has made coalitions between Fine Gael and Labour in the past, and the disastrous inter party governments of the 1950s – the single fact of the collective parties’ Not Fianna Fáil-ness is greater than each individual parties’ ideologies or beliefs or manifestoes.

Fianna Fáil got more or less one hundred per cent of the blame for the current crisis in the election. Whether or not they deserved it is open to the judgement of history It could be that they were simply unprepared for the calibre of disaster in which they were engulfed, like a seven stone weakling getting into a bar fight with Mike Tyson. They never stood a chance.

The people are outraged, and want a radical change in Irish politics to address the new reality. Instead, they got a warm reunion of former lovers.

The most depressing thing of it all is that the extraordinary cosiness with which the coalition deal was arranged. Ivan Yates and Shane Ross – Fine Gael men both, who should know whereof they speak – both said last week that a deal could be hammered out between the two sides in half an hour, and the rest of the week would then be about divvying up the goodies and optics.

Labour are Fine Gael’s security blanket. Fine Gael have been given an extraordinary and unprecedented mandate to save the country and finally wipe out the Fianna Fáil party that has dominated politics since DeValera choose pragmatism over ideology in 1926. But they don’t realise it. They don’t know that the world have changed, and are dancing the same steps that Liam Cosgrave danced with Brendan Corish and Garret Fitzgerald danced with Michael O’Leary and Dick Spring.

As for Labour, it’s hard to know what they get out of it. They suffer after every coalition they’re in, and they’re always the minority party. For a left-wing party to not even acknowledge the extraordinary swing to the left in Irish politics makes you question if Fianna Fáil really is the most cynical party in Irish politics.

It would be nice to have something on which to pin hopes. The new Government, according to Phil Hogan on This Week, will target jobs, rebuild hope and hit the ground running. How it will target jobs or rebuild hope, or whether just being able to sit up in bed and having a little tea and toast rather than go haring off down the road would be better for shattered Ireland remains a mystery.

The policy document talks a great fight, until to you get to when exactly all this gravy will be poured on the chips. Then you read about committees, a Fianna Fáil special of the last ten years.

The creation of the Ministry of Public Sector Reform seems the only potentially radical proposal. But exactly how radical it is will depend on its true remit – will the department exist to pare the fat and get value for money in the Irish public sector, or will it be the Ministry for Keeping Beards Happy? Is it Public Private Partnership under another name?

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Political reform now.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Níl Tacaíocht Tuillte ag Foireann Chruicéid na hÉireann

Is cuimhin leis an Spailpín Fánach sár-fhoireann chruicéid na hIndiacha Thiar 'sna hochtóidí, agus na sár-imreoirí a bhíodh acu. Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Hayes, Viv Richards, Richie Richardson, Jeff Dujon, Curtley Ambrose, Courtney Walsh, agus mo laoch féin, Malcolm Marshall.

Babhálaí gasta ab ea Marshall. Fir laidre go leor ab ea na babhálaithe eile ag na hIndiacha Thiar an tráth sin, ach ní raibh Marshall chomh ard leosan. Ní raibh an sé troigh aige, ach bhí dhá bhua aige a rinne sé níos fearr ná duine dá laghad ó na babhálaithe eile, ina fhoireann féin nó riamh i stáir an chruicéid.

Bhí teicníc thar moladh beirte aige, agus bhí an croí chomh láidir leis nárbh fhéidir leis ach éirigh. Bheadh sé ina aghaidh nádúr ruaig a chur ar Malcolm Marshall.

Bhí an ghriain ag titim ar an sár-fhoireann sin i 1988, agus dlíthe cruicéid á athrú chun coisc a chur ar an bpreabaire, céad cloch ar phaidrín ionsaigh na hIndiacha Thiar. Ach roimh na heagóra dhlí sin, bhi deá-Shamraidh 1988 ag na hIndiacha Thiar i Shasana faoi cheannaireacht Marshall agus Richards agus na laochra eile.

Iarraidh ar Marshall ag deireadh na sraithe cén bhrí a bhí ag bua na hIndiacha Thiar dó féin. "Tá roinnt daoine dár gcuid ag obair anseo i Sasana, i bhfad ón mbaile," arsa Marshall. "Is seoltóirí busanna iad nó tógálaithe nó obróirí ísle dá gcuid sin. Cuireann daoine geanc orthu rompu. Ní bheidh aon gheanc rompu anocht."

Fear cróga bródúil ab ea Malcolm Marshall. Ba Bharbadós é a áit dúchais - ní tír ar bith iad na hIndiacha Thiar, ach bailiuchán tíortha a théann le cheile chun cruicéad a imirt agus atá neamhsleach ó thaobh gach uile rud eile.

Scríobh CLR James leabhar dárbh ainm Beyond a Boundary, ar cheann de na leabhair spóirt is fearr a scríobhadh riamh, ag breathnú ar sin, ceist féiniúlachta na hoileáin éigin 'sna hIndiacha Thiar agus tábhacht an chruicéid dóibh. Ba é Frank Worrell an chéad fear gorm a cheapadh mar chaptaen na hIndiacha Thiar, agus ceapadh é mar chaptaen i 1960. Nach dochreite é? Bhíodh fear bán ina cheannaire orthu riamh roimh sin.

Tá cruicéad na hIndiacha Thiar ag titim as a cheile anois, agus roinnt fáthanna taobh thiar den meath. Ach smaoinigh mé ar na fir chróga uaisle maithe a d'imir leis na hIndiacha Thiar ins na 70í agus 80í nuair a chuala mé faoi bhua foirne na hÉireann i gCorrán Domhanda Cruicéid inné. Fir mhóra cosuil le Marshall agus Michael Holding agus Clive Lloyd agus Patrick Patterson. Bhí cruicéad tábhachtach dóibh, ach bhí an fhéiniúlacht níos tábhachtaí arís.

Tá Gael amháin, Ed Joyce, ag imirt ar son na hÉireann arís anois mar thug sé iarracht ag imirt le Sasana ach ní raibh sé maith go leor dóibh. Tá Gael eile, Eoin Morgan, ag imirt leis na dtrí leon faoi láthair ach ní raibh áit aige ar an bhfoireann san Astráil ag an Nollaig agus seans go mbeidh sé ina Pheadaí arís sula gcrochfaidh suas a bhata. Chuala mé ráfla gur rinne laoch na h-imirthe inne, Kevin O'Brien, iarracht imirt le Sasana ach theip air. Seans go mbeidh seans eile aige tar éis a theaspeántas inné.

Deirtear nach bhfuil an dara rogha ag imreoirí cruicéid na hÉireann. Ní tír chruicéid den scoth í Éire, agus mar sin tá ar na himreoirí is fearr leanúint leis na Sasanaigh.

Ach smaoiním fós ar Malcolm Marshall. An nglacfadh seisean an schilling más Gael é, nó an leanfadh sé mar a bhí sé ar son ghrá cine?

Mo lean, ach ní bheidh a fios againne go deo. Cailleadh Malcolm Marshall ina fhear óg fós i 1999. Bhí bliain is dhá scór d'aois aige, ach threascair an ailse é. Ní raibh ach cúig kilometres is fiche meacháin ag Marshall nuair a fhuair sé bháis. Is dócha gurb ceithre kilometres fiche meacháin an chroí móire aige, a thiomáineadh na hIndiacha Thiar ina na laethanta órga sin. Go dtuga Dia suimhneas síoraí ar a anam cróga uasal.