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.