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Big money, big €5m mess…at least Big Jack cheered us up!

I won’t claim to be an expert on FIFA or world soccer matters, but it’s safe to say that the dogs on the street would have known for many years that the stench of bribery and corruption hung heavily in the air over the soccer world governing body.

  It has long been suspected that the granting of major soccer tournament finals, with the massive financial benefits that accrue to the country that gets them, depended on the size of the brown envelopes that changed hands, and recent events have only served to confirm that suspicion.

  Here at home the FAI have managed to blunder along for years with what almost seems to be a certain degree of farce, with, as they say, the right hand not having a clue what the left hand was doing, and it seems that under the stewardship of John Delaney, nothing has changed.

  The €5m payment that the FAI received from FIFA, as a result of the Thierry Henry ‘handball goal’ in a World Cup qualifier against France in 2009, has sparked worldwide controversy, and indeed led to Enda Kenny describing it as remarkable – and there are certainly a lot of awkward questions to be answered.

  And so, in my opinion, you would expect the Chief Executive to keep his head down, and get ready to sort out the mess that himself and his association now find themselves in – not so with Delaney, as on every newspaper in the country on this Monday morning there he is having a snog with his partner, Emma English, during the Ireland-England soccer international in The Aviva on Sunday afternoon.

  Now, under normal circumstances, giving his girlfriend a kiss (although in my opinion he’s a bit long in the tooth for such a public display of affection) might just be acceptable, but I would have to say it was just a little stupid and unnecessary in the present climate.

  It’s highly likely that the five million payment was properly accounted for, although kept very quiet, but you’d have to wonder did FIFA, under Sepp Blatter, deal with all major problems the same way – i.e. write a cheque and tell the recipients to say nothing and that all would be well?

  Anyway, I’d say we’ll be seeing plenty of Mr. Delaney over the next few weeks and months and it will be interesting to hear what he has to say – I look forward to it all.

 

Big Jack’s back

 

Sticking with soccer for the moment, and everywhere we look we are being reminded of that magic summer 25 years ago, when Big Jack and his band of merry men brought the country on a journey of unbridled joy and craic as they made their way to the last eight in the World Cup of Italia ’90.

  And what a summer it was – the weather was fantastic and we watched the matches in glorious sunshine, drinking pints of cool lager to beat the band, and all the pubs entered into the spirit of the thing by giving away World Cup t-shirts (I still have the Hollywood Bar, Roscommon one), caps, free finger food, and for a full month in June 1990 the country experienced a flat-out summer party.

  Who does not remember the penalty shoot-out against Romania, when David O’Leary, who had been out in the cold for almost three years, after a falling out with Big Jack, scored with his penalty kick, after Packie Bonner had saved from Romania’s Timofte, to put us into the last eight.

  It was the moment that George Hamilton, who was doing the commentary, was to go down in folklore, when he issued the immortal line “The nation holds its breath”, as O’Leary prepared to shoot. On then to play Italy, the host country, in the last eight and history tells us that Toto Schillaci scored the goal that brought an end to one of the most amazing sports odysseys of all time.

  It all came back to me when I saw pictures of Big Jack (Charlton) at the Ireland/England game on Sunday afternoon, and the reception he got from both sets of fans showed how revered he is on each side of the Irish Sea – after all he was a World Cup winner with England in 1966, before having such a successful spell with Ireland in the 1980s and 1990s.

  And yet the suspicion lingers that Charlton didn’t get the best out of what was undoubtedly the best set of players in the history of Irish soccer – his long ball style meant that artists like Liam Brady were often bypassed, and a lot of people believe that we underachieved under Big Jack.

  The other thing that came into my mind was an interview with the late Bill O’Herlihy who said Charlton was a very awkward man to interview, and he felt he (Charlton) was always more accessible and amenable to reporters from England, and the English TV channels. It’s probably definite that Big Jack, being a tough English northerner, was fairly thick in his dealings with the Irish media, and, indeed some of his players, especially Brady and O’Leary, but, thick or not, all of us who were on that month-long party in 1990 will always be grateful to him for giving us something that will never be forgotten.

  Here’s to Italia ’90.

 

Why we should never

abuse GAA players

 

I didn’t set out to write about sport only, but sometimes I wonder about the lengths our county footballers and hurlers are expected to go to when representing their counties as they chase either the Sam Maguire or McCarthy Cups.

  Last week, hurling pundits, analysts and commentators alike, were all united in their criticism of Galway hurling ace Joe Canning, after he had an unusually poor outing in the drawn championship game against Dublin.

  What they made no allowance for at all was that the previous week Joe had picked up a very serious hand injury, which required sixteen stitches, and in my opinion, it’s highly doubtful that he should have played at all.

  It’s no secret that key players like Joe Canning can be rushed back into action for important games, but sometimes it can do more harm than good. As it happens Joe was back to his best on Saturday evening when he scored 2-3 from play in the impressive replay victory over the Dubs.

  However, sometimes I think that we lose sight of the fact that our hurlers and footballers are amateurs, but they are expected to train and behave like professionals, and as supporters we are not inclined to make any allowances at all if a fellow has an off-day.

  The tragic car accident that Galway footballer Shane Walsh was involved in on Friday night, which claimed the life of 55-year-old Tuam taxi driver, Mike Ward, also highlights the fact that our sports stars have the same triumphs and disasters as everyone else, so the next time you feel like abusing your county footballers or hurlers, maybe hold your fire, and realise they too have jobs and families, and if you were more talented and committed to the cause you too could be getting your share of the abuse.

 

And finally…

 

Finally for this week, I’m told that Mick Roarke Senior celebrated his 93rd birthday at the weekend, and he’s as hale and hearty as ever. Congrats Mick, you’re closing in on the President’s cheque.

  ‘Till next week, Bye for now

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