Politics Sport

Ireland 16 – New Zealand 9. A New Metaphor for Brexit.

God, we needed that.

For so many reasons we needed to beat New Zealand but not least, may I submit, as an antidote to all this Brexit bullshit we’ve been enduring for what seems like the last fifty years.

We needed our boys to make a statement on that field at Lansdowne Road — I will never use the A-word when referring to that place — and by Jesus they stood up and gave the world a big, loud message.

It’s over. We’re no longer satisfied with being second. We’re here and it’s time to get used to us.

Oddly, this is the same message we’ve sent out in regard to Brexit, to the utter incomprehension of the smug, superior Tory toffs who have been goading Britain over the cliff edge for the last two years. How ironic that this is  the centenary of the bloodbath when the Brexiteers’ antecedents goaded poor British people over the walls of the trenches in France and Belgium to be slaughtered.

Our message to them? Precisely the same: We’re here, it’s time to get used to us and no, we don’t do what you tell us. Ireland’s victory in rugby demonstrates a different kind of independence. A new, self-confident freedom that doesn’t rely on anyone else to define it and that doesn’t exist in opposition to anything.

New Zealand’s captain, Kieran Read, to his credit, came straight out after the game and said “They were better than us”. No bullshit. No messing around. Just a straight acknowledgement that a superior opponent prevailed on the day.

Jacob Rees-Mogg and Nigel Fromage, the cheesy con-man of Europe, on the other hand, trapped in a centuries-old bubble of incomprehension, aren’t quite able to process the ugly fact that the annoying neighbours refuse to do as they’re told, no matter how plummy the vowels one adopts.

Can you believe that Nadine Dorries (MP!!!) is today complaining that Theresa May’s deal with the EU means Britain will no longer have any MEPs or EU commissioners?

That is the  level of stupidity that exists within the British governing party.

Imagine leaving the EU and having no MEPs. Who’d have guessed?  That is the level of crass ignorance we have to endure every day in this country when we listen to the ruling party of our nearest neighbours and that is something we have finally decided to stop engaging with.

We have decided to move on, be the adults in the room and let the toddlers at the other end of the playschool slap each other. Let the parents take over. They’re not our problem.

Yes, they’ll leave a mess, but we’ve cleaned up messes before and we’ll get this place nice and tidy too, when the playschool management decide enough is enough and they’re no longer prepared to put up with ill-mannered brats.

There’s too much talk these days about existential issues. When I was a lad, existentialism was all about trying to look moody and interesting while reading French authors you didn’t really understand or enjoy. But these days, everyone likes to warn us about existential crises and I don’t like it. An existential crisis should involve being unshaven, wearing a vest and smoking a Gauloise. It should not be about countries collapsing.

Let me make a prediction, which as everyone knows, will probably be wrong, but why break the habit of a lifetime?

I predict that even if the Tories completely fuck up Brexit and crash out of the EU, we here in Ireland will be just fine after a bit of a bumpy ride.

Britain will try, disastrously, to trade on WTO rules, the only country in the world to do so.

They’ll quickly run out of Mars bars and mushy peas.

Spain will send all their train robbers back home.

Provence will eject all their authors manqué.

And then, after a few months of food riots, they’ll apply to rejoin an EU they didn’t understand in the first place, even though it was their idea.

They’ll be refused of course but we’ll welcome them into the new Irish Commonwealth, as long as they accept our rules. And they’ll have to wear a green shirt when they play New Zealand.

We’re decent like that.

Crime Sport

Pro10 – the Olympic ticket distribution company that doesn’t distribute Olympic tickets

Pro10 is the official ticket distribution agent for the Olympic Committee of Ireland (OCI). For some reason, however, another, unauthorised company, THG, ended up distributing the tickets at the Rio Olympics, leading to the almighty balls-up we’re now watching in amused horror. THG is owned by Marcus Paul Bruce Evans, Chairman of Ipswich Town FC.

Coincidentally, the Irishman arrested in Rio, Kevin Mallon, had a Paul Bruce listed in his phone.

A quick glance at the Pro10 company records shows the following:

The company’s legal name is KMEPro. K for Ken Murray, M for Michael Glynn and E for Eamonn Collins, the three directors.

The company trades as Pro10 Sports Management

It was set up on the 28th April 2015.

It lists its activities as Business and Management Consultancy

It doesn’t appear to have any experience in ticket distribution or any capability to carry out such work.

Let me just leave you with this: KMEPro has the same postcode as 121 other companies.


Pat Hickey, Irish Olympic boss, arrested in Rio

Isn’t schadenfreude an awful thing?

Of course it is, so why did I find it that hard to wipe the evil little grin off my face as I thought about Pat Hickey’s reality TV arrest? After all, the man is innocent. He hasn’t been tried or convicted of anything. He hasn’t even had formal charges laid against him in the way we’d understand here, but still I found myself chuckling even though I know that’s not a good thing. I’m a bad man for doing it. A bad, bad man. It’s true!

Perhaps it has something to do with Pat Hickey’s combative history, issuing writs against anyone brave enough to write about him, taking delight in humiliating one sports minister after another, crowing in public at every defeat inflicted on an opponent.

Pat Hickey Vladimir PutinIt’s probably no coincidence that Hickey’s personal sporting origins lie in judo. A man so driven to defeat his opponents rather than persuading them would do well in the martial arts and Pat Hickey was all about winning, no matter who he came up against. Apart from the Brazilian police, that is, who didn’t give a rat’s arse who Pat Hickey was as long as they got headlines for being tough on touting.

Was Hickey involved in the ticket scandal? Nobody knows and nobody will know until the Rio police bring forward whatever evidence they think they have, so for now we must all assume that Pat Hickey is blameless, but that doesn’t stop us having a quiet chuckle at the plight of a man who is, to be blunt about it, not especially likeable.

That isn’t his fault. I’m not especially likeable myself, but I wasn’t flapping my wings about putting an Irish government minister back in his box just hours before being arrested in the most embarrassing circumstances.

Hubris is an even worse thing than schadenfreude because it leads people to believe they’re bulletproof and Hickey can’t have been immune to its seductive powers. After all, he came a long way from flogging second-rate houses in Phibsborough to rubbing shoulders with Vladimir Putin. It was all very well nodding at Bertie Ahern in the chipper, but what was that compared to the oil-rich dictator of Azerbaijan begging him for favours?

When you’re the top dog in European Olympic circles, a mover and a shaker in world Olympics, it must be very easy to forget about the little people, even if you came from the little people yourself.

When you can command a first-class air ticket to Brazil, and a suite of rooms for yourself and your family in a top-class Rio hotel, along with €900 a day walking-around money in case you’re stuck, it must be easy enough to imagine that you’re above sanction and beyond reach.

Thus, when Romario was beating the anti-corruption drum in Brazil four years ago, our homegrown Olympic Ozymandias must have wondered who this upstart was.

Well, he knows now.

Did the cops read Hickey the Rio Act?





Ireland’s Rio Olympics

What are we to make of the 2016 Rio Olympics?

NemesisMore to the point, how are we supposed to take it seriously when we know that hundreds or perhaps thousands of the competitors are using  performance-enhancing drugs?

What are we to make of the billions spent on a vanity project in a city where countless dirt-poor people became homeless when the government bulldozed their favelas to make way for the shiny new stadiums that benefit only the Brazilian rich?

What are we to think of our own participation in the Rio Olympics? Nearly all our boxers are now gone, some of them victims of bad judging and one who took illegal substances but was caught. There’s a murky story involving the alleged touting of tickets. People have been arrested, other people are targeted for arrest and meanwhile the head of the Olympic Committee of Ireland is seized with a delusion that we’re all idiots and the sport minister is a credulous fool who came down in the last shower.

But wait! Let’s not forget the wonderful O’Donovan brothers who captivated the whole world with their dry, laconic, laid back interviews after taking silver in the lightweight men’s double sculls.

Podium pants and pizzas.

Thanks lads. We needed that boost. It might get us past the disappointment of Katie Taylor’s defeat and the mind-boggling arrogance of Pat Hickey refusing to tell the sports minister anything about the missing tickets on “legal advice” and then inviting him to lunch.

The gods of Olympus must be filled with wrath as they gaze on these antics. But Olympus is six thousand milia from Rio and I suppose the gods’ powers must fall off in an inverse-squared sort of way, which means they can’t impose the Olympian ideal by force of will, even though they might wish to. More likely, they’d want to fling thunderbolts at the whole thing and be done with it.

Not Nike, though. The Greek goddess of victory, who diversified years ago and now makes a nice living from pseudo-Olympic activities around the world wouldn’t be flinging thunderbolts but Nike is very much the exception, apart from one other Greek goddess who might make the journey to Rio and I sincerely hope she does.


Now there’s a deity best served cold.

Maybe she’ll find time to share a salad with Pat Hickey.



Looks like Nemesis found time to have that lunch with Pat Hickey. He’s just been arrested in Rio and charged with three offences carrying a penalty of  up to seven years in jail.

Hickey is not just the head of the Irish Olympic committee. He’s also the most senior official in European sport.

The mind boggles.


Leicester City for the league

Leicester City for the league?

Regular readers must be wondering if I’ve lost my dobbers. Have I gone over to the soccer dark side?

leicester cityWell, actually, I always had one foot in the soccer dark side. I’m one of the sad triumvirate who not only support Scunthorpe United but actually travel there to shout for that most mediocre of clubs, who have disappointed us yet again this season by threatening to get into the play-offs for promotion. It’s not right. They should know their place in League One, or as all right thinking people know it, the Third Division, or as some people call it, the future home of Aston Villa. Stay there at mid-table, going neither up nor down but remaining dour, miserable and stolid.

That’s what we love about Scunthorpe. They’re useless, but not bad enough to disappear forever. With any luck, they won’t try to improve, although this season they show a troubling inclination to get into the next highest division where, of course, they will experience only humiliation and defeat. Much better for our heroes to remain drab and only defeated occasionally.

On the other hand, who doesn’t love the underdog?

Well, it appears that everyone in the whole wide world loves Leicester City, including the clubs they’re trying to beat and that’s why I’ve been following them for a while, though not as long as the man in the UK who put a £30 bet on them at odds of 5,000 to one.

I don’t know how accurate  this is, but someone on the radio said it, so it must be true. Apparently, these odds are the biggest any bookie has ever offered. (Or something). Apparently, the next-longest odds are 2,500 to 1 and that’s the odds against the Pope playing for Italy. Now, to be honest, provided that’s not a contradiction in terms, if I happened to be the Pope and saw those odds, I’d be straight on the phone to the Italian manager.

Hey! I see those odds. Why you not let me come on for two minutes? We split the money. Ok?

Ok. He’s the Pope and they never do anything dodgy with money.

Isn’t that right?

Of course it is, Mr Calvino.

You agree, Archbishop Marcinkus?

Sure thing. Leave the bag on the steps of the church and walk away.

We could yet see the Pope playing for Italy. Who’s to say he won’t, if the money is good enough? But if the odds against the Pope playing for Italy are 2,500 to one, what on earth was going on in the mind of the bookies who offered 5,000 to one against a Leicester win?

Answer: greed. That’s what was going on in their minds, and panic is what launched them into a stampede of ticket-buying over the last few weeks, offering anything up to two-thirds of potential winnings for Leicester bets.

Don’t you love it? And don’t you love the idea that somewhere out there is an ordinary bloke, much like you or me, holding a ticket that will be worth £150,000 if Leicester win the League? An ordinary lad who didn’t cash it all in for a sizeable inducement but who decided instead to ride that wave wherever it takes him.

It’s for him we should all be shouting over the next few weeks. For him, for the fans who have never won anything before now and for the players who somehow have created a cohesive team, beating the best in spite of the difference in price-tags.

Who doesn’t love an under-dog? Especially when that dog is just about to piss against the biggest lamp-post on the street.


Stop Press!


Leicester have just won the League after Tottenham drew with Chelsea 2-2 and nobody anywhere is sorry. Not even the Tottenham crowd, although they must be feeling a little sick.

Nobody begrudges Leicester this title.

It can only be good for sport.



João Carvalho beaten to death in MMA fight

João Carvalho was beaten to death.

This is not a judgement-filled statement. This is simply a fact.  João Carvalho died a violent death at the hands of another man.

It’s true that the man who killed him did not intend to do so and it’s also true that João Carvalho was himself a willing participant in the fight that ended his life, but we could say that about many confrontations outside nightclubs at three in the morning.

How many men (and it always seems to be men) have died as a result of a punch to the head ? How many men, and again it always seems to be men, have faced manslaughter charges for giving in to an impulse we might all have, both men and women? Who hasn’t, at some time in their lives, wanted to punch somebody in the face?

As a human being I’m not free of that impulse and although I have never done it, I know what the urge feels like.

I have witnessed mindless violence. I have seen people being kicked in the head by other people who are entirely oblivious to the potential consequences of their actions, and it has always sickened me because I do not like violence. I recoil from physical assaults against people or against animals and therefore I have never liked cage fighting but of course my personal squeamishness should never count for anything.

So what if I don’t like it? There are many other things in our society that would have to be banned if we allowed people’s personal likes and dislikes to dictate how we run our country. Hardly a year ago, we legalised same-sex marriage despite the outrage of those who didn’t like the idea, and that’s how we should operate a civilised democracy. So I won’t be calling for a ban on mixed martial arts.

I won’t be calling for anything, in fact.

All I’ll be saying here, like it or not, is that one man beat another man to death in the National Stadium in front of a cheering crowd. And I’ll be saying that I don’t like the idea of hitting your opponent when he’s down. I didn’t like it when Conor McGregor punched José Aldo in the head after knocking him down, even though it’s permitted in the rules of MMA. I like it even less when I hear that Charlie Ward had the opportunity to punch João Carvalho in the head nine times as he lay on the floor before the referee intervened.

It might be in the rules, but perhaps the rules are the problem. Perhaps the rules are simply a codification of the fight outside the nightclub. Perhaps the problem is within us, since so many of us are willing to condone and even enjoy practices that at one time would have been considered beneath contempt.

Kicking in the head and punching on the floor, I don’t like them. That sort of thing is not how I was brought up and if you don’t like my opinion, you can call me old-fashioned.

In this instance, I’ll be proud to wear that badge.

I don’t want to see any more men like João Carvalho beaten to death in the name of entertainment.

Tennis Uncategorized

Maria Sharapova and the Meldonium doping scandal

Maria SharapovaWho doesn’t admire Maria Sharapova? All the girls want to be her and all the boys want to be, well, with her.

A fine tennis player indeed. A fine athlete and yet it turns out that all these years she was struggling with a severe heart condition necessitating the use of an unapproved drug that just happens to increase oxygen uptake and stamina. Not that Ms Sharapova was taking it for those reasons of course because that would be cheating. That would be like using EPO. That would turn Maria Sharapova into as big a cheat as Lance Armstrong, and everyone knows that tennis is far cleaner than cycling.

Still, who could have guessed that Maria Sharapova suffered from chronic heart failure requiring constant use of the drug Meldonium for the last decade?

What an achievement for a person with such a serious illness to win the Australian Open, the French Open (twice) and the US Open in the last ten years. It makes all our little petty concerns seem so small compared to the obstacles Sharapova overcame on her way to greatness, battling heart failure to become one of the legendary figures of modern tennis.

The dedication of this great champion was so intense that she didn’t even stick with the recommendations of the drug’s manufacturers that it should be used for no more than four to six weeks at a time, and no more than two or three times in a year. But perhaps that was because she was using it in America where no guidance exists, since the drug is not licensed for use there. And how brave of her personal physician to prescribe the unlicensed drug, risking disbarment and perhaps worse in the intolerant world of US federal drug regulation, though of course, since it can be bought over the counter in Latvia where it’s produced, it is possible that adoring fans simply purchased it and posted it to their idol.

Tennis, it’s fair to say, is a clean sport. There’s no need for all that drug-testing that happens in other codes, and while it’s true that the elite male tennis stars can play five gruelling sets lasting an entire day and yet rebound within hours to play another equally-hard match without obvious ill effects, that’s due to their extreme fitness. Like golfers, tennis players simply do not cheat.

I suppose we can blame Sharapova’s heart condition for her failure to read the email from WADA last September warning her that Meldonium was now included in their official list of banned drugs. It’s hard to concentrate when you might drop dead of an ischaemic attack at any second, staved off only by the life-saving medication your doctor has risked his licence to prescribe.

But what a pity she didn’t open that email and read what it said. What a shame Maria Sharapova, famous for her attention to detail, simply didn’t notice that the drug she had been using for the previous decade was now banned, and continued to take it. Naturally, that would have nothing to do with the fact that testing of professional tennis players is almost unheard-of.

She just didn’t notice the email and that’s why Maria Sharapova is now out of tennis.

Petty bureaucracy.






Conor McGregor beaten by Nate Diaz

Conor McGregor
Conor McGregor by Andrius Petrucenia

I won’t pretend to know anything about Conor McGregor, about mixed martial arts or about UFC in particular, but I must admit that I admire his chutzpah just as much as I find the violence of his sport repellent. I’m not passing judgement by saying that. Just stating a fact: I personally find the violence repellent and yet there’s something about the way McGregor carries himself that’s hard to dislike. You always feel that the swagger and the trash-talk are just things he must do, having bought into a world where trash-talk and swagger are valued above all else.

And besides, it’s not as if McGregor is alone in all the hubris and the posturing. It’s not as if he doesn’t have the finest of fighting royalty on his side in the form of Muhammad Ali, also known as Cassius Clay, the finest exponent of trash-talk known to the pugilistic world. And just like Conor McGregor, The Greatest sometimes let his standards slip a little as he did in his treatment of Smokin’ Joe. There was no call for the things he said about his opponent, and Joe carried the hurt of Ali’s words to his grave long after the pain of the punches had subsided.

Likewise, when years pass and Conor McGregor no longer sees himself as a modern-day gladiator, perhaps he’ll reflect on some of his words and cringe a little. He might be cringeing right now at his hubristic predictions that he’d take out Nate Diaz in the first round, but that’s UFC for you. The hype always trumps the truth which is this: Conor McGregor had to put on 25 pounds to fight a much heavier opponent who also happens to be a Ju-Jitsu black-belt. When he fought Jose Aldo, McGregor looked sick, having dehydrated himself so much in order to make the weight, and when he met Diaz, he wasn’t ready, because such major body changes take time to settle down.

Now, McGregor says he’ll lose 25 pounds and drop back to Featherweight to defend his world title, prompting many to ask how this can be good for his health. Is this life imitating Art, or to be more precise, is it life imitating the making of Art? It looks a lot like the insane weight regime Robert De Niro followed when he played Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull.  In order to fit in with the filming schedule which required shooting LaMotta’s latter days first, De Niro piled on the pounds at the start of shooting to play the older Jake and then drastically shed it all to play Jake the lean middleweight. This sort of thing can’t be good for a person’s health, and yet that’s also what Conor McGregor is planning to do in order to defend his featherweight crown.

Moving up two weight divisions, Conor McGregor had the energy of a featherweight powering the body of a welterweight. How was that ever going to work? When he failed to knock Diaz in the first round, he ended up mixing it on the floor with a Ju-Jitsu expert and that contest was only ever going in one direction, but perhaps much of the problem can be explained by his decision to torture his body with gigantic weight changes.

As I said, I don’t know much about mixed martial arts, but how much do I need to know to understand that this sort of thing can’t be good?  In many ways, it strikes me as a sort of macho anorexia and it seems to be leading in the same direction, although the million dollars Conor McGregor collected for his defeat will no doubt sweeten the bitter pill.

He strikes me (though not literally, I’m glad to say) as a nice enough guy. He’s pulled off a great coup in becoming the darling of UFC and he’s made a lot of money. Maybe Conor McGregor might consider not shedding all that weight, which, unlike De Niro, consists mostly of muscle. Maybe, if he has any sense, he won’t endanger his heart, and instead maybe he’ll decide to just enjoy the money he’s already made.

I hope he does. It’s plenty.


Soccer is not a new word for football

Some people can get very sniffy if you use the word soccer. Very sniffy indeed. And there’s no point trying to tell them that the game you played as a kid was called soccer and not football.

It’s American, they’ll tell you. American soccer moms and hot-dogs on the bleachers. Before you know it they’ll want four quarters in our game of, that’s right, Football.

There’s no point in suggesting that the word soccer has the same linguistic origins as the word rugger, originating in English public schools as contractions of rugby football and association football.

No. It’s American. Nobody ever called Football soccer before the Americans started doing it.

Oh, really?

Nobody at all?

How about Jimmy “The Chin” Hill, presenter of Match of the Day and champion of professional footballers’ rights?

soccer jimmy hill

How about Kevin Keegan, captain of England, star of Liverpool and Scunthorpe?

soccer kevin keegan

How about Raich Carter, who played his first game for Sunderland in 1931?

raich carter soccer star

All American soccer moms, no doubt.

But if you don’t believe Jimmy Hill, Kevin Keegan and Raich Carter, do you think a company like Subbuteo would have marketed a board game based on the name of a sport nobody recognised?

soccer subbuteo

All right. It’s still a conspiracy dreamed up by people who wouldn’t know a soccer ball from a burst ball-bag.  Maybe we should turn to historical documentaries.

Here’s one from British Pathé newsreel of the Irish Soccer Derby of 1927.

Pathe Irish soccer derby 1927

British Pathé, you say? British? But … but …


Let me leave you with this clip from a newspaper I found recently when a friend was renovating an old building.

This 1935 article is in the Sunday Pictorial, as the Sunday Mirror used to be known.

Sunday Pictorial 1935 soccer

American, you say?



soccer jimmy hill


soccer by searchlight 1920


Six Nations 2016. France 10 – Ireland 9.

rbs 6 nations

Ireland lost to France by a single point today in the Stade de France. 10-9 was the score and it probably scuppers our chances of winning the Six Nations for a record three times in a row, resulting in a flood of criticism from the commentariat, the supine armchairiat who’d be hard-pressed to know one end of an inflated elongated spheroid from the other. People who’d be pushed to describe what hard physical exercise feels like are now telling us that the backs let us down, the forwards let us down, we were too lateral, we didn’t do the set-pieces well, we weren’t physical enough, the scrum didn’t work, the lineout was shaky and a whole lot of other guff besides.

Listen. We went to Paris and we were beaten by a single point in a hard-fought game. One lonely point. We lost three or four vital players due to injury and we fought the French every inch of the way on their own home turf with la Marseillaise resounding through the stadium. And we only lost by a single point.

Do you remember the old days, when Ireland supporters had far more modest expectations?

I do.

I remember when we hoped for a good first-half display from the Irish, knowing that in the second half we’d be trounced. It wasn’t easy to watch and the certainty of defeat didn’t begin to dissipate until sixteen years ago when a young man called Brian O’Driscoll burst through the French defence not once, not twice but three times to clinch victory in Paris. And it’s true that we suffered massive defeats at the hands of other nations in the following years, but we also celebrated  massive victories over them.

The days of the wooden spoon are long over. What people are mourning today is not yet another humiliating defeat consigning us to the bottom of the pile as usual, but the fact that we lost the chance to win three Six Nations in a row. If that was an easy goal, it wouldn’t be worth chasing. No team has ever achieved it, so let’s get a grip and realise that we’re facing the big boys on equal terms and they know it.

Let’s remind ourselves that things weren’t always so.