Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Donegal Football Revolution

Gaelic football is a Heraclitean fire – it is always changing, while always staying the same.

The first big change was in the 1960s, when Down brought coaching and planning to a level never seen before in the game. They knew they hadn’t a midfield to compete with Kerry’s imperious Mick O’Connell, so Down decided to let O’Connell field to his heart’s content, but to tackle him when he landed. That, and changing football from a static game to a running one, totally changed the nature of the football played in the fifty years that followed.

In the 1970s came the Olympic Handball era and the superior fitness of Kerry and Dublin. The ‘eighties saw a return to a more traditional football, with the robust rivalries of Meath and Cork. The ‘nineties saw the return of Down, arrivistes who had become aristocrats as their once revolutionary game had now become the court standard. Galway took a hint of classicism into and across the millennium, until Ulster heralded another revolution.

The Tyrone blanket may have looked shocking in the 2003 semi-final against Kerry but everybody is playing that game now. Until last Sunday, when Donegal broke its metaphorical sound barrier. Cork and Donegal were playing the same game in the first half but in the second half all that changed, as Cork hit the wall while Donegal hit the gas.

It was extraordinary to watch. Two Donegal forwards would loiter with intent in the Cork half of the pitch, at full and centre-forward. The rest of the Donegal team would gather back in their own half – all thirteen of them. Cork had a man on each of the two Donegal forwards, and then a line of five or so defenders stretched laterally across the field, between the 21 and 45 metre lines. Waiting.

Then the Donegal attacks would come, a ball carrier roaring from the deep come hot from Hell, as Shakespeare might have put it, and with outriders in his wake.

Once the runner hit the thin red line, things started to happen. Either Cork would win it, or the ball carrier would lay it off to one of his outriders, or he would break through. It was when the ball carrier got through that was particularly noticeable, because the substantial Donegal support would let loose a throaty roar.

Once the ball carrier was in space he was assured of a score. Why not? He had no marker – he had breached the Cork defence, and scoring a point into the Hill was like popping one over in his back garden. The Cork backs had been left behind.

Cork had no answer to Donegal. Cork arrived in Croke Park as the biggest, toughest and fittest team in Ireland. The theory was that Cork would match Donegal for fitness and then run the bench in the final quarter, crushing Donegal that way. Didn’t happen. Jim McGuinness has tuned Donegal to a level that’s never been seen before.

So what fuels this burning desire? It’s not just fitness. There is a deep and howling need in the people of Donegal to win the All-Ireland. We all think our own people are the best supporters, irrespective of where we’re from, because we’re all formed by where we’re from but reader, take An Spailpín’s word for it. There is nothing like the Donegal support in current Gaelic football.

Much has been made of the Donegal regime and sports science is clearly revolutionising football at every level, but it’s hard not to believe that identity and questions of belonging fuel that extraordinary fire. It hurts to play for Donegal – there was a man walking off the field on Sunday whom An Spailpín would have put straight into an oxygen tent. It’s not money that makes a man do that. It’s something else.

Donegal has suffered a lot from partition as its natural hinterland, Derry, has been cut off from the border. Donegal is part of the south but it’s of Ulster. It exists between the two states – cut off from the partitioned state to which it naturally belongs, but hugely isolated from the southern state, that has never even run a train up to those famous hills and glens.

Identity is important for every county, but in Donegal, it’s important with bells on because of Donegal’s geographical and cultural isolation. The curent Donegal machine is fuelled by all those things that money can’t buy, like heritage, pride of place, mórtas cine.

Whether the current Donegal revolution is a moment in time, a rhyme of hope and history, or an evolutionary leap like Down in the 60s or Tyrone at the start of this century is something we’ll have to wait and see. And all of yesterday’s glory will instantly pale if they don’t seal the deal in four weeks. Dublin and Mayo will have their own thoughts on that. They like where they’re from too.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Brush Up Your Irish with Katie and Seán Bán: Part 3 of 3

And here's the final part of the celebration of the greatest piece of extempore spoken Irish since God knows when. Seán Bán Breathnach's teary commentary on Katie Taylor's gold medal did more for Irish than a hundred studies or rubbish Departmental initiatives. I hope, in my own barely-competent way, I've taken some of the mystery out of the language so far, and people are looking forward to brushing up on the Gaeilge as Autumn falls. Anyway, back to the great man talking about the great woman.

Deich pointe in aghaidh a h-ocht, go h-oifigiúil anseo. Ó, dó a dó, sa chéad cheann, dó a h-aon ag Ochigava sa dara cheann, ceathair a h-aon ag Katie an triú babhta - sin é an ceann!

Ten points to eight, officially here. Oh, two-two in the first one, two-one to Ochigava in the second one, four-one to Katie in the third round – that was the one!

My Collins Irish Dictionary iPhone app lists six different meanings for the word “a.” It’s the language’s jack of all trades. You use it talking to someone (“a Sheáin”), as a preposition (“tabac a chaitheamh”), as a possessive adjective (“a athair/a h-athair/a n-athair” – his/her/their father), a participle with an abstract noun (“a leithéid,” as we’ve seen already), a relative participle (“an fear a bhris banc Monte Carlo” – the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo) and, as here, to count – a h-aon, a dhó, a trí. Phew! Why pile so much onto one one-letter word? I don’t know, but I wouldn’t rule out the Famine.

Tá sí ag breathnú suas sa spéir anseo - tá sí ag dul sásta go dtí na cúinne go gairid, tá sí ag cur an … dearg uirthí, tá sí ag dul amach as an fáinne anseo agus, a lucht eisteachta, dáiríre píre, … seo deor as do shúile. Tá sé an-deacair deor a bhaint as a chuid súile, tá sé ag tarraignt isteach ar cúig nóiméad tar éis a chúig, a lucht eisteachta, tá an stáir á dhéanamh.
She’s looking up to the sky here  - she’s happily going quickly to the corner, she’s putting on the red … she’s coming out the ring here and, listeners, honestly, [this would draw] a tear from your eye. It’s very hard to draw tear from your eye, it’s drawing in for five minutes past five, listeners, history is being made.

Stick a síneadh fada on the ‘a,’ of course, and you can get another day’s work out of it. This comes down to idiom – one of the reasons Gaeilgeoirs get thick about people translating directly from English is that it crushes the idiom that’s natural to the language. I’ve translated “tá an stáir á dhéanamh” as “history is being made” because that’s idiomatically correct English. But the phrase doesn’t literally translate at all – its construction is unique to the language itself. History is of the making, history is in the making, history has the making – something like that.

The big lesson here is when you’re working backwards. If you want to translate “history is being made”, don’t translate it as “tá an stáir ag bheith déanta.” A million fingers scratching one million miles across one million blackboards couldn’t be more horrible.

Why overload the “a” further with that fada? Musha Cromwell, don’t you know well.

Tá sé buaite ag Katie Taylor, 'sí Katie Taylor as Brí Chualann, sé bhliana d'aois, sé bhliana fiche d'aois, seaimpín Olympics don bhliain dhá mhile agus a dhó-dhéag. Le sin, agus mo cheainín bocht … go deo, le sin, ar ais … sa stiúideo.
It’s won by Katie Taylor, it’s Katie Taylor from Bray, six years old, twenty-six years old, Olympic Champion for the year thousand and twelve. With that, and my poor head … for ever ... back to the studio.

And here SBB, or what’s left of the poor man, wraps up and hands back to the studio. You’ll notice I’ve left out words in the past two extracts, and this is the most important lesson of all.

Reader, I haven’t a rashers what those words were. I couldn’t make them out. But here’s the thing – that’s ok. You’ve never going to catch all the words. Never. You can’t let the odd word here and there discombobulate you – as you may in fact be discombobulated just now by that most excellent jawbreaker. Missing the odd word is fine. Gaeilge, like golf, is not a game of perfect. Go n-éirí leat.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Brush Up Your Irish with Katie and Seán Bán - Part 2 of 3

Yesterday we got stuck into the first part of Seán Bán Breathnach’s epic commentary on Katie Taylor’s gold medal fight. Seconds out, round two!

Ó, a leithéid de bhean. Dúirt mé cheanna orthu, laochra na hÉireann - Maud Gonne, Gráinne Úaile, Mary Robinson, Máire Mac an tSaoí - tar isteach, seo í an bhean -
Oh, what a woman. I said already, heroes of Ireland – Maud Gonne, Gráinne Úaile, Mary Robinson, Máire Mac an tSaoí – come in, this is the women -

I’m not at all sure about the grammar of “leithéid de bhean,” but again, this is spoken in the white heat of excitement – we’re not always grammatical in English when we’re roaring. The tuiseal ginideach is here again – “laochra na hÉireann,” heroes of Ireland. Most people get thick when the British refer to Éire – Éire is the correct nominative form of Ireland in the Irish language. Surprise!

Tá an Rúiseach ag gáire - níl aon fhonn gháire ar an Rúiseach. Tá crá uirthí, tá colgach uirthí, tá sí lán d'éad, agus dúirt sí aréir go raibh deich pointe ag Katie sula dtiocfadh sí isteach sa bhfáinne ar chur ar bith. A leithéid de sheafóid! A leithéid de bhean. Katie Taylor!
The Russian is laughing – the Russian has no interest in laughing. She’s tormented, she’s angry, she’s full of jealousy, and she said last night that Katie had ten points before she got into the ring at all! What rubbish! What a woman, Katie Taylor!

Sofya Ochigava didn’t spare the trash-talking before the fight and SBB is inclined to take that stuff personally. When he sees her with a puss on her after the decision was announced he lets her have both barrels. Again, I’m not sure about two of the words, and I’m guessing “crá” and “colgach” – torment and anger. I’d say I’m fairly close.

“An Rúis” is the Irish for Russia, so “Rúiseach” is a Russian. It works for countries and for surnames, probably going back to when clans were their own states, more or less. Sasana, an Sasanach. Ó Brádaigh, an Brádach. Ó Ceallaigh, an Ceallach. Francach is a Frenchman, but it also means a rat. Puns exist in Irish too.

I’m not sure myself about the precision of the grammar in the last three of SBB’s sentences. But again, it’s spoken word and I’m not that clever, really.

Agus dáiríre, tá mé ag tráchtaireacht, a lucht eisteachta, le dhá scór bliain ach seo é an ócáid atá is giorra do mo chroí riamh sa tsaol, go bhfuil an bean seo 'théis craobh Olympic a thabhairt léi. Marach í, ní bheadh aon chraobh - ní bheadh aon bhean san Olympics.
And seriously, I’m commentating, listeners, for forty years but this is the occasion that is closest to my heart ever in life, that this woman is after taking an Olympic title. Without her, there wouldn’t be any title - there wouldn't be any woman in the Olympics.

This is where the commentary comes into its own, and SBB’s own personality comes out. The man’s a big softie, really. “Lucht” is a crowd, or group, so “lucht eisteachta” means “group of the listening.” There are no prizes for guessing what grammatical feature this is. Also here we see the phrase “tar éis,” after, contracted to “’théis.” Contraction is quite common in Irish, and we’ll see more of it.

Agus anois tá brat na hÉireann ag Katie Taylor, tá sí ag dul timpeall an fháinne. Sár-throid, níl aon cheist faoi cé hí an dara duine is fearr sa ndomhan - 'sí Ochigava an dara duine is fearr sa ndomhan, ach ag deireadh an lae, níl aon mhaith bheith ar an dara duine is fearr sa ndomhan mar 'sí Katie Taylor an duine is fearr sa ndomhan!
And now Katie Taylor has the flag of Ireland, she’s going around the ring. A fantastic fight, there’s no question who’s the second-best in the world – it’s Ochigava who’s second best in the world, but at the end of the day, it's no good being second best in the world because it’s Katie Taylor who’s the best in the world!

SBB is still pissed with Ochigava and her big mouth. Happily, it’s not all bad because here we see another of the primary features of Irish as a language – the fact there are two words for the verb “to be.”

If something is inherent to a thing, something that is essential to its very being, it’s rendered as “is fear é,” “is bean í,” – he is a man, he is a woman. If the something is something that can change, you say “tá sé caol,” “tá sé ramhar” – he is thin, he is fat. When Seán says “’sí Ochigava an dara duine” it’s a contraction of “is í Ochigava.” The two verbs for “to be” are another source of schoolroom torture, because there’s no equivalent in English. Spanish has the same system, yet it doesn’t seem to knock a stir out of them. On me head Xavi, on me head!

Phew. All worn out after that. Come back tomorrow for the last round-up.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Brush Up Your Irish with Katie and Seán Bán: Part 1 of 3

One of the many super dividends from Katie Taylor winning her gold medal was the opportunity for Seán Bán Breathnach to remind the nation of the inherent beauty of their own language. SBB’s commentary after Katie was announced winner of the fight has, in that awful modern expression, gone viral and people seem to be enjoying the emotion of it without actually knowing what the great man is saying.

So I thought I’d have a crack at transcribing, translating and commenting on the commentary, in the hope that it might help people who are trying to learn some Irish. This is slightly risky on my part, as verbatim commentary isn’t always correct in syntax or grammar. My own Irish really isn’t that great and there were parts of the thing I couldn’t quite make out myself but maybe we can use those flaws to our advantage too, and gain courage in the attempt. Seo chugainn anois - here we go.

Agus chomh ciúin - deich pointe in aghaigh a naoi - [béiceáil] Katie Taylor! Katie Taylor, seaimpín na hEorpa, seaimpín an domhain agus seaimpín Olympics anseo!
And so quiet – ten points to nine – [shouting] Katie Taylor! Katie Taylor, champion of Europe, champion of the world and Olympic Champion here!

SBB gets the score wrong at the start, but he’ll correct it later. Not that it matters – the detail is secondary to the achievement.

From the point of view of grammar, here we see the first occurrence of that notorious beast from under the bed that terrified your childhood but that gives Irish so much of its flavour, the tuiseal ginideach, or genitive case. English uses “of” to show possession. Irish doesn’t, but changes the word that’s being possessed instead. This is the tuiseal ginideach. So if “scoil” is school, school bus becomes “bus scoile” – bus of school.

Grammatically, changing a word according to its grammatical purpose in a sentence is called inflection. There are five tuisil in Irish, as there are in Latin. There are six in Ancient Greek, seven in Polish. The difficulty arises because English isn’t an inflected language – there’s nothing to equate it to. Also, the other tuisil don’t do an awful lot in Irish, and that’s what gives the tuiseal ginideach its Macavity the Mystery Cat air of omnipotence.

In the commentary, Europe is “an Eoraip,” but champion of Europe is “seaimpín na hEorpa.” World is “domhan,” champion of the world is “seaimpín an domhain.” There are a set of rules that govern this, and once you know them it’s really not that frightening at all.

Tá sé buaite ag Katie Taylor - a leithéid de thaispeántas arís, sa triú babhta sin. Tá sí fhéin agus Daide agus Billy, agus fear Georgia, tá siad ag baint barróige dá chéile.
It’s won by Katie Taylor – what a performance again, in that third round. She herself, and Daddy, and Billy, and the man from Georgia, they’re hugging each other.

There are two words here that I don’t recognise, so I’ve put in what I think are their nearest equivalents in the justly notorious Official Standard. “Buaite” is the verbal adjective form of the verb “buaigh,” to win, and there are those who will give you a fight that “Buaigh” itself not a right verb at all. We would not be Irish if we didn’t fight amongst ourselves.

The other word I’m guessing is “leithéid,” as in the likes of, the kind of – “ní bheidh a leithéid arís ann,” their likes will not be seen again. SBB seems to be saying “léide” here, which may be a Conamara equivalent of “leithéid.” It’s dialect – some people are thick about dialect in Irish and how everything should conform to the standard. That’s ok in textbooks but in actual living languages you must have dialect. To opponents of dialect, there are three words that crush all argument – Cheryl Cole, pet.

We also see our friend the tuiseal ginideach in this extract and one of the interesting points of Irish idiom. A verb in English that ends in –ing is called a participle – coming, going, and so on. In Irish, the giveaway is “ag” – “ag teacht,” “ag imeacht.” Where it gets interesting is if there’s a noun after the participle.

In English, we say we’re doing something. In Irish, we say we’re doing of something – that’s the difference. We don’t play football – we play of football, “ag imirt peile,” rather than “ag imirt peil.”

“Barróg” is the Irish for hug, but hug doesn’t exist as a verb in Irish. Therefore, Seán says collecting hugs - “ag baint barróige” literally translates as collecting hugs. It’s the way the Gael rolls.

End of Part One. More tomorrow - tuilleadh ar maidin.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Andy Moran Still Has a Part to Play

A great novelist once wrote that “all peasants know the crop must fail.” There’s a world of understanding in that short sentence.

If you’re an aristocrat, you don’t rely on the crop to the same extent. If it fails, you can always rack up the rent. But if you’re a peasant, the crop is all you’ve got and, at the back of your mind, you know that one morning you could go out there and your entire future could be destroyed. Too much sun, or too little, or too much rain, or too little, or one of a hundred other things can wipe you out. There are too many disasters out there for you to be able to avoid them all.

Mayo is a peasant county, with that peasant psyche. More so than most, in fact. At the back of the Mayo psyche there is a solemn drone behind the tune of life, that the crop will eventually fail and we will starve. That drone is loudly drowning out the melody now, as reality of Andy Moran’s absence from the senior football team hits home.

That the crop has failed once more, as we expected. Doom could only ever be postponed, rather than avoided, and now Doom is here, reaping his terrible harvest.

But this is just football. We’re getting carried away.

A friend of the blog likes to refer to Andy Moran as “Ever-Present-Andy.” In James Horan’s first league campaign as Mayo manager Horan changed at least six players a week. The one man he didn’t change was Andy. Andy was vital to Horan. Andy was going nowhere if Horan had anything to do with it.

But Horan can’t always have something to do with it. There are some things you can’t fight, and sheer bad luck is one of them. A man is handed the black spot, and that’s all there is to it. He’s not the first, and he won’t be the last.

But in their mourning for Andy, Mayo are in danger of losing a season that is still very much ripe with possibility. A consensus is quickly building up that, while Mayo had a chance against Dublin, now Andy Moran is gone there is no chance at all.

Once his knee went, Andy Moran became Mayo’s Eoghan Roe O’Neill, our Patrick Sarsfield, our Gile Mear. The great lost leader. But that’s not who he was going into the game.

Andy Moran is a vital part of the Mayo team, sure. But did anyone think of the team as Andy Moran and fourteen other bucks before he hurt his knee? Was Andy Moran Mayo’s Declan Browne, or Mickey Kearins, or Paddy Bradley, or a host of other fellas who were asked to carry their teams on their own?

No, he wasn’t. Andy Moran’s loss is huge. But to say it’s an extinction-level event is not true. Andy Moran isn’t irreplaceable, and the sooner that penny drops and the sooner the players concentrate on whatever it is they’re going to do to get past Dublin the better. New Zealand lost Dan Carter in the Rugby World Cup. They still struggled through somehow.

Andy Moran will still have a role to play, and if Mayo do get past Dublin then his role will be even bigger. It’s a bitter pill for the man himself, who is a gentleman by all accounts, but he can still do his bit for Mayo.

Even though it will break his heart to do it from the sideline or the dressing room rather than amidst the shot and shell, there is still a role for him in the context of the squad and the dream. Andy Moran has manned up for Mayo in the past. Now it’s time for Mayo to man up for Andy.

FOCAL SCOIR: The novelist? Lee Child, of course.