Monday, December 31, 2007

Out with the old

The old year is dying rapidly on us, with delusional hopes about what 2008 might bring already taking wing furiously. We might win Connacht again! Beating the living shite out of Galway in the process! We might, once again, make our improbable way to the final! We might meet Kerry again! And they might ... you know, they might, the hoors, as they'll be aiming for the three-in-a-row. Okay, that's enough delusion for now.

With the New Year comes the return of inter-county action (unless you happen to be from Cork, in which case the only action you're apparently going to see will happen on the picket line). The first shots in sort-of anger have already been fired, with Monaghan (about whom many have high hopes for the coming year) losing their opening McKenna Cup fixture by a point to Queens up at Clones yesterday. That'll teach them to jump the gun. Next weekend sees the start of the O'Byrne Cup with de Dubs tackling the Goat Suckers at Parnell Park on Saturday evening. Micko v the Dubs: that might be worth a look, I reckon.

No word yet on the FBD league but it's got to be getting underway soon, as they need to finish it before the league starts in a month's time. Oooh! I'm almost giddy with the excitement of it all.

On that note, all the best for the New Year. Here's to silverware. Here's to delusion. Here's to another year of following the Green and Red.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Happy Christmas and all that

It's nearly Christmas Eve, I'm nearly drunk and I'm nearly going to switch the laptop off and get more than nearly bladdered shortly. Some very nice red wine (thanks, Gerry!) is already coursing through my veins and not even Martin Breheny's assessment in yesterday's Indo of where he reckons we've ended the year in the pecking order (12th, down from 4th last year) can spoil the moment. Santie's on his way in a little over 24 hours and the little people asleep upstairs are more than a bit interested in what'll be in his bag.

It's Christmas, in other words, and so time to sign off for a few days. However, plans are already afoot for a revamp of the site early in the New Year (new look, new domain, that sort of thing) so keep an eye out for what's in store.

Meanwhile, have a great Christmas and New Year and I hope that the experience of reading my various rants here have been at least partly as enjoyable as has been my creation of them.

Keep the faith!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Last-minute stocking fillers

Attention, ladies! If you're stuck for ideas for the GAA-loving, book reading man in your life, there are a number of suitable titles from which to choose. All the more so if you'd planned to get him The Book but have only now discovered that he went out and bought it himself, the bollix.

There's a large crop of GAA books out this year. I must confess that I haven't read those by Sean Kelly, Jack O'Connor, Oisin McConville or the new biography of Micko though, from the reviews I've seen, any of them shouldn't get flung back in your face. I have read, and enjoyed for the most part, Roland Tormey's Summertime Blues, a nostalgic account of what it felt like to follow Dublin on their way to their last All-Ireland in 1995.

That was the last long, hot Summer in these parts and it was also the final one that I spent in London (where the Summer that year was even longer and hotter than over here) and, having missed all of that year's championship (as well as most of the previous seven), the stuff about Jayo scoring the goal in his stockinged feet and the controversy about Charlie Redmond's sending-off in the final were stories I'd only heard about vaguely in the past. The story is mainly recounted, a la Nick Hornby, from the author's perspective as a member of the blue horde on the Hill but it's also interspersed with interviews with a few of the players. Personally, I'd have preferred if he'd stuck with his own story as the bits told through the players' eyes was the kind of stuff you could have read in any newspaper article.

The other odd thing was that, for all his talk about yearning to see the Dubs win Sam again, he has very little to say about what he felt like and what he did when they finally did go and win it. Did he run down O'Connell Street buck naked? Did he go on the piss for three whole weeks? (Either could happen to WJ, dear reader, were Mayo ever to triumph again). It would have been nice to know what he thought of seeing his team reach the summit and what the view looked like from there.

The other book I'd point you towards is Michael Foley's excellent Kings of September. This was, I thought, a bit like reading The Day of the Jackal, in that you know the ending but it doesn't spoil the story. (De Gaulle doesn't get shot in Michael Foley's book either). Seeing as the denouement results in defeat for Kerry and their hopes of making history smashed to smithereens, it made, all told, for rather enjoyable reading. The film version is, I see, on TG4 on Christmas Day and I'm already looking forward to putting my feet up beside the fire (sorry, Bronwen!) with a glass or two and waiting for that magic moment - which is almost as good as that bit in Mary Poppins where she first appears in the sky holding her brolly - when Seamus Darby has his date with destiny. Ho! Ho! Ho!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Clash of loyalties moves another step closer

With St. Vincent's victory yesterday in the Leinster club final - their first provincial title in 23 years - the possible clash of loyalties to which I first alluded last month has moved another step closer. De Vinnies now face defending All-Ireland champions Crossmaglen Rangers (or will do, once the XMG lads have finished having their fun with Tir Chonaill Gaels in their quarter-final over in Ruislip at the end of January) while Mayo's Ballina Stephenites are up against Cork's Nemo Rangers in the other semi-final. They could both lose. They could both win. One might win and the other might not. In other words, there are a number of permutations that could arise, only one of which could leave me with a problem about who I shout for in the final on Paddy's Day.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Carbon footprint

I'm just back from a rapid trip to Mayo, having gone down to stock up on some proper firewood (ash, whitethorn and the like) and, yes, a few bags of turf while I was at it. Coming back with the car stuffed to the gills with fuel and, bearing in mind all the emissions I must have generated on the 282.5 miles round-trip (down last night, back this morning), I feel like I have a carbon footprint the size of a yeti. At this rate, I'll have Bronwen Maher and her tree-hugging chums on my case. In my defence, the wood was all thinnings that had to be cut anyway and, honestly Guard, I do my bit of composting, recycling and tomato growing and the like. But . . . I know, I know, the few sods are what clinches it. I hope Santie has some carbon credits in his bag for me.

I went down via Athlone last night, with the sort-of motorway now stretching all the way to Kilbeggan and, from the little I could see of the earthworks further on, it looks as if it'll be motorway all the way to the other side of Athlone soon enough. That will mean that Knockroghery will be the first town you hit on the way to Mayo coming from Dublin - no doubt Brendan Shine will want to commemorate this little nugget with a verse or two.

Coming back this morning, I decided to take the alternative N5 route, which was a bad idea as it was littered with roadworks. Nobody might have shouted stop on the John Healy Road, but they sure did around the airport, in Tulsk, in Ballinalack and in various other places too. And what is it with these medieval roads in Roscommon?
(And, indeed, medieval drivers - fuck me, if you get stuck behind someone with an RN reg, you've had it). It's not just their county team that's in need of an overhaul, I can tell you.

The Off The Ball lads on NewsTalk made for good company on the way down in the dark last night (the podcast of the interview they had on last night's programme with David Feherty is worth a listen) but when that got a bit dull, I switched to the CD and the excellent Amy McDonald, whose tuneful offerings were, I found, best enjoyed with the sound turned waaaaaaaaaaaaay up. I usually do night-time cross-country treks with the wife and childers (and, sadly, no turf) on board and so don't normally have this kind of latitude in terms of volume or, come to think of it, artist. Suffice to say that my little Dublings wouldn't have slept soundly given the volume at which last night's musical selection was playing.

Now, where are those shaggin' firelighters?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Another award for Ronan + Elvery's

Ronan McGarritty's rollercoaster year has reached another significant milestone: he's just been awarded (jointly, along with Cora) the Connacht GAA Writers' Personality of the Month for November. Does this mean that these lads announce a Personality of the Month every month? There's a thought - maybe I should do the same. Well done (again), Ronan. I bet you'll get a cracking present from Santie as well.

Mayo News also reports that Elvery"s have agreed to stay on board as official sponsors of the county team for another five years. I guess that's good news, providing, of course, that the county board (them's the lads that don't like anything to do with money, especially if it's going to the players) drove a hard bargain with Elvery's. After all, they're going to feature on pictures with the Sam Maguire, aren't they?

By the way - talking about the county board, I see from the same article that County Chairman James Waldron seems to have offered an olive branch of sorts to the players over the grants issue. Better late than never, I suppose, but where was he last week when that "unanimous" motion got passed?

Monday, December 10, 2007

Time to get real

The players' grants issue is continuing to generate plenty of debate: there's John Maughan reminiscing about what things were like in the good old days when he had a full head of hair, there's PJ McGrath saying that refs should be ahead of the players in the queue for payments, there's An Spailpin fulminating about the GPA's motives and drawing apocalyptic comparisons with Welsh rugby, there's Sean Rice huffing and puffing about the GAA being on "the road to ruin" and, in the other corner, there's Colm O'Rourke making the point that payments to managers - the widespread practice within the GAA that still dares not speak its name - will continue to cost far more than the grants to players will and that, in terms of getting some financial recompense, the players have come to the table very, very late.

Anyone who has read any of my previous posts on this issue will know that I'm in firmly on the Colm O'Rourke side of the debate. While PJ McGrath is technically correct when he makes the rather facetious point that there would be no games without the ref (when, in fact, the ref in Gaelic football isn't always where you expect him to be: where was he, for example, when he was needed last May in Salthill?), it's the players who produce those moments of magic that we all treasure and who keep us coming back each year in anticipation of witnessing more of the same.

All players put in significant effort but it's obvious that it's the elite performers - those who reach inter-county standard - who sacrifice most, in terms of the ongoing commitment they make and the way in which many of them effectively put their work careers on hold for the duration of the time they spend at inter-county level. This is especially the case in the modern era: one time being a county player might have saved you from the boat whereas now, where there's plenty of work but most of it comes with fairly relentless pressure to perform, county players often have to sacrifice opportunities to get ahead in their careers just to ensure that they have the requisite time to devote to wearing the county jersey.

So being an inter-county player involves making hefty sacrifices, often for many years. But by doing so, they create all the action (call it the "product" if you like) that people pay good money to see, which many of the most prominent companies in Ireland pay significant sums to get their names associated with and the TV rights to which the GAA is increasingly able to monetise. Let's be clear: it is the inter-county players who create virtually all of the value that enables the GAA to rake in this money.

Before the GPA came on the scene, inter-county players were treated, by and large, very poorly and many of the advances in player welfare can be attributed to the poking and promptings of Dessie Farrell and his compadres. Likewise, the players' grants issue - the genesis of which was a Government initiative for those involved in top-class sport in general - would never have come to fruition without the GPA. What did the GAA do in the hundred years and more before the GPA came along to improve the lot of players? That's right: they did chuff all and they'd have continued to treat the players in the same despicable manner had not the GPA forced them to change their tune.

Like Colm O'Rourke, I'd have some sympathy with the concerns people have about the drift away from the community ethos within the GAA but, like the Meathman, I'd be loathe to saddle the players' grants issue with all of the blame for what is just another example of how Ireland has changed in recent times. Homepsun tales about Missus Mac baking her rock buns for the team and Josie washing out the jerseys are all fine and dandy but they're not in any way relevant to the debate about extremely modest grants being provided to inter-county players. Rule 11 remains intact and the GPA have stated publicly that they support its retention. Even if they didn't, there are more than enough backwoodsmen in positions of power within the GAA to ensure that the status quo remains intact for many years to come. Look at how long it took to get a perfectly reasonable and sensible proposal such as opening up Croke Park to get ratified: just how long do you think it would take to get a two-thirds majority for the scrapping of Rule 11?

In any event, all this John Hinde ass and cart stuff about how great things worked in the old days is a bunch of horseshit: looking to the past to provide answers for the future is rarely a good option. It has echoes of the bone-headed attempts by successive Irish Governments up to the Sixties to promote agriculture as the engine of growth within the Irish economy. All that succeeded in doing, as Tom Garvin has so rightly pointed out, was to delay by decades the eventual arrival of prosperity in Ireland.

The amazing thing, when you think about it, is how much the community ethos within the GAA has - in this post-Celtic Tiger Ireland - remained intact, in much the same way that it's somewhat surprising that Church attendances are still as high as they are after all that's come out over the past fifteen years. Community involvement in the GAA has survived in the face of the huge changes that have place within the country over the past twenty years, including the significant drift towards a more commercial outlook in all aspects of the GAA itself, from sponsorship to the gleaming new Croke Park. These paltry grants to players are just one more facet of this. They do not represent nor can they seriously be portrayed as Armageddon for the GAA.

And they don't mean we're on the cusp of an age of professional gaelic football (or hurling) either. For fuck's sake, where is the money going to come from to sustain two professional codes on an island of just under six million people? Unlike the Premiership, the GAA will not earn megabucks from selling the rights to its games all over the world and so, with limited enough income from gate receipts and sponsorship, there's clearly not going to be a massive pot of money to sustain a professional GAA. It's simply too small in scale and with the increasingly unworkable and unfair championship structures in both hurling and football, it's not as if the GAA has got a wonderfully dependable product to pimp.

In this context, the comparisons with rugby might seem to be more apt but any perceived likeness is, IMHO, more apparent than real. The organisation of rugby, no more than soccer, is a very different kettle of fish compared to gaelic football and hurling. Like soccer, it has both a club and an international dimension and it has a major money-spinning European competition keeping it going in this part of the world. I'm not convinced that the misfortunes currently facing rugby in Wales or elsewhere can easily be transferred to the GAA, where professionalism on the level seen in rugby simply can't, given the simple arithmetic, happen. The extremely rigid rules about players transferring allegiance from one county to another also militate against such a development. As Tommy Conlon points out, this rule - which has been in place for over 120 years - effectively means that players are chained to their roots ensuring that, unlike in almost all other sports, the very best players aren't always allowed to rise to the top. That, however, is one for another day.

For now, with Saturday's Central Council vote behind us, the issue has been resolved from the point of view of the GAA. Those poor, holier-than-thou souls on county boards up and down the country can rest happily that they won't have to dirty their hands dishing out the filthy lucre to the players (they can continue to concentrate instead on paying their managers) and can convince themselves that they've fought the good fight to preserve all that is good about the GAA. Well done, lads: not for the first time, you've done the country some service.

Meanwhile, the players will continue to bust their asses in preparation for the new campaign and I doubt very much that, in doing so, they'll give all that much thought to the modest amount of dough they'll get at the back end of the year. Like every other year, it's the silverware, the medals and the chance to make history for their county of birth that'll be uppermost in their minds. And in ours too, I reckon, once this storm in a teacup finally abates.

Friday, December 07, 2007

"Oi! You voted unanimously for WHAT?"

The Mayo senior football and hurling panels have wasted no time in reacting to their county board's "unanimous" decision to oppose the awarding of grants to inter-county players (see previous post). Earlier this evening, the two panels issued a joint statement expressing their disappointment with the county board's position on the issue and stating that they "stand firm" on their support for the grants.

In their statement, the two panels even use that phrase so beloved by the Shinners during the Norn Iron Peace Process, i.e. "parity of esteem", and there's little doubt but that they're as "pussed off" as Gerry Adams famously declared himself to be during one of the many tortuous twists and turns in those now happily-concluded negotiations. The Northern Issue may be settled but it would appear that the players' grants one is far from over.

I'm still scratching my head as to why Mayo has become the eye in this particular storm, although given the county board's penchant for making the FAI look competent, perhaps it's not all that surprising. From a supporter's standpoint, I'd be worried about the impact all this will have on preparations for next year's campaign. It's not as if we don't have enough to be concerned about as it is.

Johnno's position on all this is worth watching. Having recently expressed his relief that a players' strike had been averted, he's unlikely to view this latest development favourably. Unless, of course, he decides to don his political hat on this one and calls for a vote of no confidence against Shamie Brennan.

We don't like players' grants, apparently

The Mayo GAA politburo have apparently - so says RTE so it must be true, right? - voted unanimously against the Pat's Ass solution to the players' grants issue. I'm not sure why we've emerged as the hotbed of dissent on this one, although we're far from alone on it, as there was a biggish protest gathering (what is it about Ireland and protest meetings in the depth of winter? It's like a male alternative to bingo or something) in the wee North earlier in the week. The GPA's Dessie Farrell - ever the diplomat - described the Toome session as the ravings of "a small rump of malcontents" but he then got a right old earful from the Ulster Council for his trouble.

I know others feel differently and have, as is their right, strongly-held views on this one but I just fail to see why, in the early years of the 21st century, giving a few lousy quid to guys who bust their arses to represent their county should be seen as an Armageddon situation for the GAA. An utterly fucked-up championship structure is, IMHO, a far greater danger to the ongoing well-being of the organisation, while the anti-grants movement reminds me just a little of that scene from Father Ted.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

What's another year?

Echoing David Brady's recent pronouncement that the All-Ireland is not a realistic target for us next year, County Secretary Sean Feeney says, in his annual report to the county convention, that supporters will need "patience" in 2008, as the team rebuilding process continues. Nothing new there, then.

BTW, belated congrats to Ronan McGarritty for winning the Club Player of the Year award, which he was presented with at the bash in the TF last Friday night. I think it's fair to say that 2007 won't be a year he'll forget in a hurry: it's an incredible achievement for him to have battled back from serious illness early in the year to play a huge role in Ballina's successful Connacht club campaign.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Two months and counting

It's exactly two months to the date until the competitive inter-county action, in the form of the 2008 NFL, gets underway again. For the purposes of making this point, I'm ignoring the FBD League, which is only a warm-up job with many of the lads playing for whichever third-level institution they're diligently attending.

So it's only sixty-two days before the team trots out under the lights up in Derry and, what with Christmas and all that in between (Q: What will we not feel till Christmas? A: It, i.e. "we won't feel it till Christmas". Ah yes, the old ones are the best, aren't they?), we'll be back in the thick of it before you could say "ahforfuckssakerefyahfuckinbollixyah" or some other such cheery match-related ditty.

Friday, November 30, 2007

TV rights + Mayo club footballer of the year

I see that TV3 have landed one of the packages of live championship matches for 2008, comprising at least 10 live and exclusive matches over the next three years. This means that TV3 will broadcast two provincial finals in 2008, thus breaking RTE's age-old hegemony in this area.

This has got to be good news. Monopolies are, in general, bad for the ordinary punter while competition, by and large, delivers a superior outcome all round. The record of Irish monopolies is particularly poor, that of Irish public sector ones is, well, shite. RTE's live TV coverage of gaelic games has always been, at best, fairly complacent, pedestrian and lazy. While they've faced limited competition from the BBC in recent years in relation to the Ulster championship, this coverage has been totally focused through the prism of Norn Iron and the lads could have been talking about tiddlywinks for all the relevance that it has had to the wider GAA scene. As such, the Beeb's coverage never made any attempt to tackle Monstrose's championship offering head-on. TV3's will and so this first serious attempt to muscle in on RTE's erstwhile monopoly patch should be the root up the hole that RTE need to up their game significantly.

Elsewhere, Hogan Stand is reporting that Ronan McGarritty has been shortlisted for the award of Mayo club footballer of the year. This is a punter-driven poll, run by the Mayo News and the others on the shortlist are David Brady, Kenny Golden, John Brogan and David Tiernan. Vote early and vote often, as the old Sinn Fein mantra used to go.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Pat's ass

So there'll be no all-night sessions at the Labour Court, no grim-faced, downbeat assessments provided to the media by a bearded Brudder Farrell, no Ingrid Miley reports for RTE News, no placard-bearing players huddled around burning braziers outside Croke Park. What did I tell you? None of the participants in this comedy wanted to go the full distance on it and so today's announcement that the players' grants issue has been sorted (or will be once the GAA and the GPA vote on it) comes as little surprise.

Oh and, by the way, this has nothing whatsoever to do with "pay for play". No sirree - what's on offer is an Annual Team Performance Scheme (ATPS) and an Annual Support Scheme (ASS). With a little rejigging, one could easily end up with a nicely apposite two-part acronym for this particular peace deal, i.e. Pat's ass. I can imagine that one catching on. Picture the scene: a player (who shall remain nameless) pulls up for training in his new boy-racer motor. One of his teammates stops to admire it and asks him how much he gave for it. Our friend tells him and then adds "I got it on the Pat's ass".

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Brady's last year, "probably"

David Brady has announced his retirement a few times over the past few years and, in the wake of Ballina's Connacht club title success on Sunday, he's sort of done it again by intimating that the victory was all the sweeter as "it's probably my last one".

That still leaves plenty of room for confusion as to when exactly he plans to pull on his cardie and slippers. Is this year (i.e. 2007) his last? Or will he call it a day once
Ballina's club campaign is over (i.e. 17th March 2008 at the latest?) Or is he still going to make himself available for the county next year? Probably, I'd say. DB isn't a first fifteen man anymore but he's still someone that would be good to have in the squad and who could still have a part to play over the course of 2008, preferably not just to come on when we're two or three goals down either.

Incidentally, there's been quite a funny bout of handbags at dawn on the message board over Brady's performance for Ballina on Sunday, where it has been alleged that he was a "disgrace" with all his "divin and pretendin to be injured". Quite right - we're the nice guys of Gaelic football aren't we? Pure as the driven snow, always playing the game as it should be played and bugger the consequences. Jesus wept: what would the reaction be if a team from Mayo actually engaged in a bit of rough stuff itself?

Monday, November 26, 2007

A looming case of divided loyalties?

Yesterday's club results brought one step closer a potential situation where I'm torn between supporting two different clubs in the All-Ireland final. One of them - Ballina (reason for supporting: representatives of county of birth) - has already taken the provincial crown in Connacht and now faces the Munster champions, most likely Nemo Rangers, in the All-Ireland semi-final in February.

The other - St Vincent's (reason for supporting: local club where I'm domiciled here in the capital, for whom my little Dubettes are already expressing vociferous support) - are in the Leinster final, where they'll face either Moorefield or Tyrellspass and will, I reckon, fancy their chances of landing a first Leinster title in aeons.

If the Vins do the business in Leinster, they'll face defending All-Ireland champions Crossmaglen Rangers in the All-Ireland semi-final. XMG (as, I was once told, was the term used by the Occupying Hordes up north for the army base they had there) would be favourites to make it back to the final but the Marino lads could well topple them. And the Stephenites will also fancy their chances of a return to Croke Park on Paddy's Day and a tilt at a second national title in four years.

There's still a few major hurdles to be surmounted before I'm faced with this particular dilemma but it's now beginning to look like a realistic scenario and so I feel it's only right to lay before the world the potential personal agonising I might have to face over which cause to support on March 17th next.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Silverware for Ballina and Cornacon

Both Ballina and Cornacon lifted cups today, the former the Connacht senior club title - deposing the holders St Brigid's of Roscommon - while the latter claimed the ladies All-Ireland senior club title, hammering Cork's Inch Rovers.

Ladies first, as they say - Cornacon had it all their own way in their All-Ireland final against Inch Rovers at Banagher, winning by 2-14 to 1-6. RTE's match report is here. The peerless Cora Staunton - the Ronaldinho of ladies Gaelic football - racked up 1-11 of that winning total, as Cornacon made up for last year's All-Ireland final defeat. The club is also the backbone of the Mayo ladies team so today's All-Ireland win would, no doubt, have dulled the pain from September's All-Ireland final loss to Cork.

Ballina's Connacht final clash with St Brigid's was live on TG4 and I caught most of it, though not the two early first half goal by Stepenites, which helped them into a four-point lead at the break. The second half looked fairly robust at times, with plenty of mistimed tackles, shoulders landing square in the chest and the odd few belts being thrown. From my vantage point on the couch, it appeared to be Brigid's doing most of the scelping. However, it was Ballina who went a man down early in the second half, at a stage when Brigid's were only a point behind but this seemed to provoke Ballina back to life and they raced five points clear before being reeled back in to just two at the finish. Brigid's hit the woodwork in injury time - when a goal would surely have landed them the title - but Ballina managed to hold on for, literally, a hard-fought win. A full report on the game, also from RTE, is available here.

Like the Champions League, the club championships now go into a hibernation phase, with the action resuming in February. I'm not sure who Ballina will meet in the semis but Crossmaglen are already through from Ulster, Nemo Rangers look like they'll be joining the party from Munster and my local club here in the metropolis, St Vincent's (who hammered Portlaoise 3-13 to 1-8 today in the Leinster semi-final: go on ya good things!), are starting to look the part in Leinster. That's four heavyweight clubs so the All-Ireland series early next year could be worth watching out for.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Rarer than Popes

It would be remiss not to mention this week's appointment of Monaghan's Paraic Duffy as the new Director General of the GAA. Although not as rare as Halley's Comet, such appointments don't happen just any old day - the new man will, when he takes oifig next February, be only the fourth DG the organisation has had since 1929. Mother of God: we've had more popes since then.

Paraic Duffy is obviously a good choice as DG and his recent experience, in particular his current post as Player Welfare Manager, means he is ideally placed to offer progressive leadership to the organisation on issues such as the players' grants controversy. In his post-appointment press conference yesterday, Duffy stated clearly that it was time "to move on to a totally different relationship with our players". He's not wrong there and, by the sounds of it, he could be the man to ensure that this happens.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Injury stories start to reappear

Remember our injury crisis from the early part of this year? You might recall that goalie Kenneth O'Malley was one casualty, when he dislocated his thumb in the league match against the Dubs in early April. Well, he's crocked again - so says this report in Hogan Stand - this time after coming off second-best in a collision with a trainee Guard while playing for UL against the Garda College. You'd think the Guards would wait till after their passing-out parade before dishing out the rough stuff but this lad must have been keen to get out of the Templemore classroom and put some theory into practice. It looks like he was taking notice in his beat-up-the-suspects class as O'Malley had to leave the match by ambulance after the altercation, though the report reassures us that he's making a "steady recovery".

Elsewhere, Hogan Stand is also reporting that Conor Mortimor is denying rumours about him transferring to Dublin club Oliver Plunketts. I should bloody well think so - if Mort switches to anyone up here it should be to our own St Vincent's, where Pat Kelly and Brian Maloney would no doubt make him welcome. Not too sure about Mossie, though . . .

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Conflict of interest?

I see that Pat O'Shea has been re-appointed as Kerry jefe for another 12 months, like. Well done, Pat, keep up the good work and all that. The hunger for All-Ireland success must be only wogeous down there in the Kingdom at this stage, given that it's now two whole months (TWO WHOLE MONTHS!!! FUCK ME! HOW WILL WE SURVIVE THE NEXT TEN??) since a Kerryman hoisted the Sam aloft in Croke Park. There's definitely a job of work to be done down there and no better man to do it. But ...

I dunno about the rest of you but I can't help thinking that this appointment has a whiff of something, well, odd about it. O'Shea's day job is, apparently, that of Coaching and Games Manager with the Munster Council, which I suppose means that his brief is to develop playing skills and the like amongst the footballing fraternity in all six Munster counties. Meanwhile he's also moonlighting as Kerry bainisteoir and, as such, his goal is to ensure that Kerry wallop the bejaysus out of everyone else they come across in Munster. Which they have done successfully a few times under his watch, notably the 17-point trimming handed out to Waterford in this year's Munster semi-final and, indeed, the 10-point victory over Cork in the All-Ireland. Is it just me or is there the scent of a teentsy-weentsy conflict of interest involved in this particular bout of double-jobbing?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Summer dreams

It's Monday, it's wet and it's cold - a triad of misery, in other words. It reminds me of that passage in Flann O'Brien's At Swim-Two-Birds about that bloke who does everything in threes. After a series of threesomes (of sorts), he ends up slashing his wrists three times and then scrawls a message on the wall with his own blood saying "Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye".

November mornings can be shite, can't they? It almost makes one wistful for Summer. Ah yes, those lazy, hazy, warm days with a long championship campaign stretching out ahead, the melodious, mellifluous voice of Michael O Muircheartaigh wafting through the air bringing news of a fierce championship encounter at a packed provincial venue somewhere, the aromatic scent of cut grass and then . . . and then this happens. Followed by this. And then you realise that it wasn't Michael O Muircheartaigh you were listening to, it was that tool Brian Carthy. Maybe November days aren't all that bad after all.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Careful with that axe, Eugene

No, I'm not going launch into a treatise on obscure Pink Floyd numbers but instead direct you towards an incisive (as ever) piece in today's Indo from Eugene McGee on the GAA, GPA and P4P (that's pay for play to you lot). Eugene's analysis is pretty much on the button, IMHO. Contrast, if you will, what he has to say with this bit of provincially-minded piffle. See what I mean?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Ballina win, Mayomen rescue Vincent's in club action

The provincial club championships are now well underway with plenty of action yesterday. Two fixtures of note (well, they're the two that I'm going to note) were those involving Ballina Stephenites and my local club here in Dublin, St Vincent's.

Ballina made it through to the Connacht final but their 1-8 to 1-4 win over Sligo champions Tourlestrane sounds like it was a laboured enough affair, whereas reigning Connacht champions St Brigid's of Roscommon were in sparkling form as they saw off Killererin by 4-10 to 1-11. Goals win games, goes the old cliché, and Brigid's banged in two more than they needed to see off the Galway champions. It'll be difficult to see Ballina stopping them. It'll also be difficult for colour-blind individuals (of which I am one, dear brethren) to gauge what the hell is going on, as both of them sport the red and green. Getting teams to wear kit that allows poor saps like me to instantly tell them apart hasn't - well, not since colour TV became widespread - been much of a priority for the GAA in recent years (Kerry v Mayo in their first choice strips, Cork v Mayo likewise. Hello? Anyone at home?) but, with this one, they'll have to do something. Expect to see one of the clubs being forced to wear the local U14s kit in the final when, at the last minute, the lights start to come on.

The essential amateurishness at the core of the GAA was also nicely illustrated yesterday when two of the Leinster matches finished in draws but extra-time was only played in one of them - the Moorefield/Dromard clash - because the ref in the St Vincent's/Seneschalstown match wasn't aware that extra-time would have to be played in the event of a draw. The other match ended in a draw after extra-time anyway so it all worked out grand in the end, didn't it?

Vinnie's had a tough match with the Meath champions - no surprises there. Diarmuid Connolly and Mossie weren't up to much (are they ever?) and it took their two Mayo lads - corner-forward Brian Maloney and half-back Pat Kelly - to help dig out the draw. It was Kelly, who knocked over a delicious long-range effort right at the end who saved their ass and he had a cracker by all accounts, scoring three points from play. Mayo could do with a few more options in the half-back line and Kelly, one of the forgotten men in Mayo footballing circles, could well prove to be one of them.

Pleasure amidst the pain

It’s over twenty years since an off-hand remark made to me by a Kerryman put me squarely in my place as to the ambitions I should have in following Mayo’s footballers. The year was 1985 and, although well beaten by Dublin in that year’s semi-final replay, Mayo had performed better on the national stage than at any time since the Fifties and we were undoubtedly back as a force to be reckoned with in the championship. It would not be long, I opined, before Sam would be making his fourth trek to the Yew County. The Kerryman wasn’t slow in disabusing me of such notions. “Look it” he said, with the arrogant insouciance that comes from knowing that almost every year the Rose of Tralee festival heralds the imminent arrival of Sam Maguire on Platform 1 in Killarney, “there’ll always be at least one team good enough to beat Mayo in any given year”.

That has been the case every year since 1951 and Keith Duggan’s marvellous House of Pain: Through the Rooms of Mayo Football captures superbly the many false dawns, near misses and shattering disappointments that the county and its loyal followers have endured since then. In one sense, I hate it when Mayo supporters are referred to as “long-suffering” because, down through the years, we’ve had many good days to enjoy. That draw with Dublin in '85, for starters. The six-point trimming of Kerry in ’96. The defeat of All-Ireland champions Tyrone in 2004. And, of course, the Daddy of the lot – downing the Dubs last year. We’ve had great days – and, indeed, nights – out but we just haven’t done enough to close the deal.

Keith Duggan tells the story of this “magnificent idea” through the voices of those who know it best – the men who have pulled on the famous jersey to do battle for the county over the past 50 years. He has assembled an impressive cast – which stretches back all the way to Paddy Prendergast and ends with David Brady, containing on the way cameos from the likes of Leo Morahan, JP Kean, Martin Carney, Jimmy Maughan, Peter Ford, Kevin McStay, Anthony Finnerty, John Maughan, Liam McHale, John Casey and, of course, John O’Mahony.

Through their voices, Duggan gently weaves his story of a half-century of disappointments, focusing in particular on the five All-Ireland finals that we’ve lost over the last 18 years. 1989 was a final which, for Cork, Duggan says “losing would have been unthinkable” while for Mayo “winning was all but unimaginable”. Back then, we didn’t have the tag of perpetual losers hanging around our necks and it was a final we could, and should, have won. I recall so clearly standing on the old Canal End that day, seeing the Red and Green on All-Ireland day for the very first time and feeling almost like being there was enough. It was a great match, we didn’t disgrace ourselves and we’d be back.

Anthony Finnerty labelled the aftermath “the homecoming without the cup” as Mayo partied for days as if we had won it. John O’Mahony desperately tried to keep a lid on events, knowing that it would be difficult for everyone to come back down to earth. The following year, the championship campaign lasted all of seventy minutes and reality bit in hard enough then.

1996 is, of course, where all the regrets reach their crescendo. Duggan tells of John Maughan musing that the outcome of that year’s final “haunts” him still and that he knows “there are plenty of people in this county who think that I have blown All-Irelands for Mayo”. Duggan recounts the “unbearable” pain that the loss inflicted on Liam McHale, whose sending off after the mass brawl six minutes into the replay was a pivotal moment in turning the tie Meath’s way. But the most chilling reflection came from Charlestown’s John Casey, who, by his own admission, played poorly the first day against Meath but who, when subbed with only three minutes to go and Mayo still two points up, was hugged fiercely by Tommy O’Malley who said to him “Case, we are All-Ireland champions”.

What Mayo person that was there that day can forget those moments? My memory is of inhabiting for at least ten solid minutes a serene bubble in the Lower Hogan where I had the certain knowledge that we were going to win the All-Ireland. As the six-point lead with 15 minutes to go dribbled away, that certainty was draining away rapidly but it was still intact until Colm Coyle’s bouncing bomb did its worst.

The three since then can easily be conflated into one gruesome triptych, slashed through with green and gold. Duggan describes Mayo’s return to the final in 1997 as being similar to how “a dog lost in a snowdrift will sense its way home”. He tells of how John Casey sought out Maurice Fitzgerald after the game to enquire how Billy O’Shea – who’d suffered a bad leg break during the match – was faring. Fitzgerald assured him that he was fine. “No offence” Casey said to Fitzgerald “but I wish it had been your fucking leg”. 2004 gets only a cursory mention but the 2006 disaster is told through the eyes of David Brady who, when he took the field with Mayo ten points down after only eleven minutes, says he felt he “was being sent in there to look for survivors”.

It’s easy to use words like “tragedy” when talking about how a football match went but Duggan demonstrates beautifully why such terms should be used cautiously in this context. His understated and gentle evocation of the brief, brilliant life and the bizarre, sudden and untimely death of Ted Webb from Ballyhaunis demonstrates that the loss to Mayo was but a fraction of that suffered by those around him. Garda John Morley’s footballing days were behind him when he died at the hands of the IRA in Loughlynn but, through the voice of his widow Frances, Duggan tells of her memories of her late husband and how "the old head would be down for a few days" after he's played on a losing Mayo team. Mayo were crushed by fourteen points in the Connacht final by Roscommon a few days after his murder but, as Duggan notes, although this meant the county had now gone eleven years without a Connacht title, “this one did not seem to matter very much”.

This is a wonderful book, one that every true Mayo supporter will – despite the fact that the outcome of all those past losses won’t magically change as you turn the page – enjoy, at least in part. Many of the memories are indeed painful but we have plenty to be proud of too and, as Duggan says, the next time – and there will be one, don’t worry – we’re back in there, the supporters will be there too. He reckons we’ll do it one day. I think he’s right and, when we do, I hope he writes another book about it. I’ve already got the title for him – House of Fun.

Friday, November 09, 2007

GPA brudders vote for strike

The GPA announced today that its members had voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action involving upcoming inter-county games. With the NFL not due to start until the first week in February next year, the strike action - if it goes ahead at all - will impact on the traditional provincial pre-season softening-up tournaments. What? No 2008 FBD League? How will we survive at all at all?

This issue is cloaked in a number of layers of gombeenism - what do you get when you cross the worst of the Fianna Fail party with the worst of the GAA for Chrissakes? - with one set of gombeens (that's the lot on the Government side) wanting to give the dough to the players but not wanting to embarrass the other lot - that's the crowd on the GeeeeAaaaah (as Eugene McGee tends to refer to them) side - by making it appear as if it is "pay for play" money. Of course it isn't, Your Honour, it's a tax credit for the bulk purchase of Wintergreen or its an infrastructure grant for shinpads or a contribution towards the attendance at a verbals awareness seminar or . . . It's not for nothing that RTE's Sean O'Rourke put it to former GeeeeAaaaah President Sean Kelly on lunchtime radio today that the way in which the proposed payments were being characterised smacked of "shamateurism". Too right, Sean. It's not only contraception that requires an Irish solution to an Irish problem.

The whole issue of the amateur status is a thorny one for the GAA but it's one that has to be faced at some point. Managers have been paid in one way or another for years (not all of them but a good portion of them) and for a long time players in different counties have been looked after in ways that don't accord to the pure virginal whiter-than-white notion of amateurism. Let's be clear: the players are the ones who are attracting record crowds to GAA venues and, in the 21st century, it's unrealistic to expect them to continue to bust their guts to do so for no reward.

It's not as if the proposal is for inter-county players being given lavish public sector-esque salaries (with jobs for life, guaranteed benchmarking payments and defined benefit pensions). The development will not lead to GAA versions of David Beckham poncing around providing the entertainment. We're unlikely to see any inter-county players turning up at
McHale Park or O'Moore Park or even Croke Park in their Ferraris. What's on offer is only a small token in recognition of the enormous commitment and sacrifice that inter-county players make in the modern era.

Will the strike happen? Well, if the GPA really wanted to put pressure on the GAA they could have taken a leaf out of their brudders in the transport sector. Now there's the lads who know a thing or two about striking. A 95% vote in favour of a strike almost three months before the real (i.e. NFL) action starts is hardly a hang-tough opening gambit and smacks more of Aer Lingus pilots than it does de Dubbelin Bus drivers. Expect a messy compromise before the strike notice expires but don't - whatever you do - mention the dreaded words "pay for play".

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Mayoman takes over in Sligo - well, there's a surprise

Crossmolina's Tommy Jordan has been appointed as the new bainisteoir of Connacht champions Sligo in succession to Tommy Breheny. The new Tommy has good pedigree, having guided the Deel Rovers to their All-Ireland club success in 2001. And he is, of course, a Mayoman which for some time has appeared to be the sine qua non for aspiring county jefes this side of the Shannon. With Peter Ford's departure from Galway and his replacement by Tribesman native Liam Sammon, it seemed that this particular trend might have peaked but the Sligo appointment restores to three the number of Connacht counties managed by Mayomen.

Brady aims a little too low for 2008

We won't win the All-Ireland next year, according to county legend David Brady. He's probably right and, after 56 years waiting, it's not is if one more year will hurt us. However, I think he undersells a little what our ambition for 2008 should be. According to DB, this would be "a good performance in a Connacht final". If he means by that a winning performance in a Connacht final, then I agree with him. However, I don't think - given the nice, old-fashioned feel to the '08 draw plus the fact that both the Sligo (sorry, London) game and the final (sorry, Sligo) are due to be played at McHale Park - that gallant losers in a Connacht final should be the height of our ambitions for next year. As ever, a Connacht title has to be the baseline aim. Anything else would be a bonus, while ultimate victory would, of course, be nirvana. But, as The Man says, don't expect that to happen.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Got it!

I got my hands on Keith Duggan's book this morning but this was just before setting out on a 260-mile round trip to Limerick, which I've only just completed inside the last hour. I'm positively salivating at the prospect of getting stuck into it - An SpailpĂ­n's review has whetted an already voracious appetite still further - which could mean that the Champions League footie and (Heaven forbid!) Prison Break will have to take a back seat this week.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Keith Duggan's House of Pain

At last! A book about the sorrowful mysteries of Mayo's recent footballing history, one with a wholly appropriate title too. Keith Duggan is, IMHO, by some distance the best writer there is right now on gaelic football (far better than that much-hyped, overbearing buffoon, Tom Humphries). Over the years Keith has shown that he understands perfectly what it means to be a Mayo supporter and has written numerous memorable pieces about us. I recall with particular fondness the one where he compared us and our plight to that of the Native Americans and also his rallying call after the 2004 final (which the Irish Times reprinted after the 2006 walloping) where he warned fans from other counties that we didn't need their sympathy and would be back beating many of them again soon. Amidst all the other wise-after-the-event pieces ripping us to shreds, Keith's thoughtful take on our defeat was just what we needed.

He just gets the whole Mayo thing and so I can think of nobody better placed to write a book about Mayo's unrequited pursuit of Sam. Which he's only gone and done. The House of Pain: Through the Rooms of Mayo Football is now on sale, published by Mainstream Publishing. I haven't read it yet, I haven't even bought it. In fact, I've only in the past hour discovered that it existed. But I will. Buy it. Read it. And review it here. Only now I've work to do but I'll probably nip into town later to pick up a copy. In the meantime, here's an extract concerning the 2006 final.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Details of league fixtures

As promised, here are the details of our 2008 league fixtures. The full fixture list is now also available on the GAA's website.

Our campaign is as follows:

Round 1 (2nd February): away v Derry, this will be a Saturday night match under the lights at Celtic Park, throw-in 7 pm.
Round 2 (17th February): home v Donegal, 2.30 pm throw-in.
Round 3 (1st March): away v Laois - another Saturday nighter, throw-in 7pm.
Round 4 (16th March): home v Kerry, 2.30 pm throw-in.
Round 5 (30th March): away v Kildare, 2.30 pm throw-in.
Round 6 (6th April): home v Galway, 2.30 pm throw-in.
Round 7 (13th April): away v Tyrone, 2.30 pm throw-in.

A few interesting clashes to look forward to, I think. Being Dublin-based, I'm already eyeing the away matches with Laois and Kildare as bankers to get to, also the home one against Kerry, as it's on the day before Paddy's Day. But the opener away to Derry? I'm not sure I could face that long haul up and down again, just for a bloody league game but, then again, three months from now I might feel differently.

Meanwhile, Hogan Stand is reporting that the GAA have also published their "Master Plan" for next year's football championship. If they have, its not yet on their own website but that would be too much like hard work I suppose. All the dates for the 2008 qualifiers are listed (now why should that interest us?) plus the make-up of the All-Ireland series, which confirms that its the Connacht v Munster champions in the semis
(or whoever beats them in the quarters) this year.

The end is the beginning

I'm still trying to find the full fixture list for next year's NFL but according to this morning's Indo, we 're set to start our Division 1 campaign up in Celtic Park against Derry. At least directions to the ground shouldn't prove to be a problem. Once the GAA gets its arse into gear and publishes the full fixtures list I'll post the relevant details here.

Monday, October 29, 2007

2008 NFL fixtures released

. . . but I can't find the sodding details anywhere. I'm just back from Mayo and I popped out to get some curried chips (as one does), when I heard on the radio (NewsTalk to be precise) that the fixtures for next year's league have been announced. Well, the GAA's PR Department hasn't exactly broken sweat in terms of getting the info out to the wider world: a quick perusal of the usual websites has just drawn a blank. No doubt they've given the details to the papers so all should be revealed in the morning. What I can say is that the action gets underway on Sunday 2nd February - that's only 96 days away folks!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Into the dark

The clocks go back tomorrow night and, in doing so, the last vestiges of evening daylight go with them. Soon the grass won't need cutting anymore and the long march to the shortest day of the year becomes more akin to a headlong dash, with each day that little bit shorter.

With all this darkness, there'll be bugger all in the way of football action to talk about, although Croke Park is being lit up tomorrow night (fittingly, for the night that's in it) for the interprovincial finals and then Ballina will attract some attention next month in the Connacht club championship. But the inter-county season is now well and truly over for the year and will remain in the deep freeze till January, when the FBD League finally gives us something to chew on once more.

That's still over two months away so, no more than the lawn, this blog won't need the same level of maintenance as it has done so far this year (though, admittedly, things have tailed off significantly since August). If time permits, I might try to fill the gap with some Winter-sitting-around-the-fire type of reminiscences about all those All-Irelands that slipped through our fingers since 1989. Sorta like the Five Sorrowful Mysteries, only more painful. And only if the mood on these long dark nights takes me . . .

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Wait goes on for Connacht

There was no joy for Connacht up in Ballybofey last night when they beaten 1-15 to 2-9 by Ulster in the Railway Cup semi-final (match report here). 2-2 to 0-2 up after just seven minutes (one of those goals coming from Andy Moran), a goal up at half-time, they lost in the end by the same margin. Oh well, that's what you get for fielding too many Sheepstealers and the like.

On the positive side, it looks like Andy had a good game last night, contributing 1-1 to Connacht's total. Keith Higgins, lining out at left-half back - his new position on the Mayo team? - got a point as well. I wonder how Ronan got on? It's good to see him getting some game time and, with Ballina taking their place in the Connacht club championship, he might get a few more hard games under his belt before the inter-county action starts up again.

But, for poor old Connacht, the wait goes on. Already 38 (not 28) years without interprovincial success, it'll be at least another one before they win it. That's if it's not canned in the meantime, along with the minor and U21 grades.

Friday, October 19, 2007

To hell or to Connacht (again)

I've only in the last few minutes cottoned onto the fact that Our Man in the Oireachtas has, as well as his burdensome political and footballing duties within the county, responsibility for the fortunes of the Connacht interprovincial side. In this role, he has announced his panel for tomorrow evening's semi-final up in Ballybofey against Ulster. Only three Mayo lads - Keith Higgins, Ronan McGarritty and Andy Moran - are included in the 26-strong panel (full details here), compared to seven places for Galway, six each for Roscommon and Sligo and four for Leitrim.

Maybe Johnno is doing the routine of the teacher (he was a teacher in a previous life, after all) giving his own offspring a harder time than the other lads in the class just to show that there's no favouritism. Or maybe our lads aren't too bothered about the quest to end Connacht's 28-year wait for Railway Cup honours. I dunno but it just seems a bit odd that our representation is lower than that of the other four counties. Still, the best of luck to them - it's an incredible statistic that Connacht have failed to win the interprovincial title since 1969 and if Johnno manages to engineer the slaying of that particular dragon, it might prove a good omen for other dragon-slaying duties closer to home in 2008. (See: fresh shoots of delusional thinking starting to appear already!)

The football All-Stars were also announced tonight (details here), with Kerry taking the majority of the fifteen places. However, the Kingdom got only six places while beaten semi-finalists Dublin were ridiculously over-rewarded with four spots. Cluxton and Cahill probably deserved theirs but Alan Brogan and Ciaran Whelan - who were both posted missing when it really counted against Kerry - certainly didn't. All-Ireland finalists Cork - who only got Graham Canty on the team (how the fuck can Whelan have got the nod ahead of Nicholas Murphy?) - can consider themselves hard done by, as can Monaghan who only got Tommie Freeman on the side.

While Derry's two awards - Kevin McCloy at full-back and Paddy Bradley at full-forward - may be welcome (especially the mercurial Bradley, whose talents we saw in full bloom back in July), they have to be seen in the context of the poor treatment handed out to Cork and Monaghan, not to mention Connacht champions Sligo, who failed to get anyone on the team.

I'm almost certain that this extremely odd and ill-considered All-Star side is the first one that doesn't have a single representative from Connacht. Now, regardless of Johnno's own motivational skills, if that little nugget doesn't provide sufficient incentive to the lads up in Ballybofey tomorrow night, I don't know what will.