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.