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Paul Healy's Week

Paul Healy's Week

Ophelia, Axel and fickle football...

 

 

Sunday/Monday

From Sunday morning on, the warnings were stark and frequent. Nobody, bar perhaps an old bachelor happily living without Internet or television or phone in a tiny cottage on a windswept cliff, could possibly have been unaware of the imminent hurricane. And, in truth, an old bachelor happily living without Internet or television or phone in a tiny cottage on a windswept cliff would probably be well able to read nature’s small print by now, not needing The Met Office or a National Emergency Coordination Group to tell him that some serious weather was indeed brewing. 

   The handling by the authorities of everything to do with this exceptional ‘weather event’ was very impressive. Complimenting the wise counsel of the various experts was a superb media response, particularly, but by no means exclusively, starring RTE. Of course, there was some hype, arguably too an over-reaction in some quarters; but much better to be safe than sorry. If Ophelia wasn’t quite as ferocious as had been speculated, the extraordinarily detailed approach to the hurricane almost certainly saved lives. It was heartbreaking that three people lost their lives and our thoughts and prayers are with their families.

  The media coverage was simply superb, a tour de force on radio, television and online. The Oscar for ‘Best report in a storm’ goes to RTE. The constant warnings meant people were well prepared. Just about every wheelie bin in County Roscommon was placed under shed/garage arrest; loose tiles were checked, farm machinery secured, and, above all, trampolines – which seem to see storms as an invitation to visit the neighbours – were secured.

Midday, Monday

It’s shortly after midday on Monday, and those businesses that had opened this morning begin to close their doors. Roscommon town moves into slightly eerie mode. In the shops, people smile while panic buying. We’re like a doomed people about to be cut off from civilisation for at least 20 hours. People queue for bread, milk and excessive sweet stuff, their expressions alternating between bemused and deeply nervous. Slightly embarrassed looks are exchanged as bashful locals line up to pay for perceived essentials. It’s like the night before Good Friday and the night before Christmas Day rolled into one, with the promise of a hurricane thrown in for good measure. “It mightn’t be as bad as they’re saying” we all agree. With that we’re all off home to watch Come Dine With Me, Four in a Bed and Bryan Dobson.

Monday afternoon/evening

Certainly in Roscommon, Ophelia wasn’t nearly as bad as they were saying. It was stormy, but not hurricane-like. We survived fairly unscathed. Other parts of the country weren’t so fortunate. Personally, I caught up on lots of reading, peering up every now and again to glance at the impressive endeavours of Ophelia-rattled but undaunted Ciaran Mullooly in Mulranney, not to mention Paschal Sheehy, Teresa Mannion and others elsewhere…reporters perched on hills, in deserted town squares, on flooded promenades. Well done to all involved, including the snug-in-studio Bryan.

Also on Monday

The comedian and actor Sean Hughes, who died today at the age of just 51, was very talented and versatile. He may not quite have been in the comedians’ Premier League, but he was ‘box office’ for a while, bursting into public consciousness in 1990 with his Perrier Comedy Award, developing a hit sit-com (Sean’s Show) on Channel 4, and enjoying a long stint as a team captain on Never Mind The Buzzcocks. Along the way, there were writing, acting and stand-up successes. Perhaps most appealing of all about Hughes was his likeability as a person; he seemed to be the very same off-stage as on. He was laidback, deadpan and – quite unusually in the showbiz world – distinctly lacking in ego. A gentle and great talent, he will be missed. 

And Monday night…

I happened to see the tribute to ‘Axel’ Foley, broadcast on RTE tonight, one year after the rugby great’s untimely passing. It was a fine programme which gave a clear insight into just why his sudden death caused such an outpouring of grief and loss.

  The programme makers impressively conveyed how popular and inspirational a figure Foley was in the rugby world. Rugby was in his blood, no doubt about that, his father Brendan having also been a lion-hearted and greatly accomplished player. Anthony himself was a gifted player and a born leader.

  Beyond rugby, it is evident that he was a devoted family man. The most moving part of this documentary featured footage of ‘Axel’ with his young family. To the credit of the programme makers, they didn’t shy away from the unpleasant period when Foley was being abused and criticised (by commentators/the public) in his role as Munster coach. Foley’s sisters didn’t flinch from expressing their anger at how he had been treated. It was an evocative documentary which, after all the nostalgic flashbacks to great Munster feats and all the heartfelt tributes of still-shocked former colleagues, left a real sadness in its wake, sadness at the untimely fall of a warrior.

Tuesday night

Checking the football scores online, I see where Leicester City bosses have been wielding the axe again. Idiots! A few months after he led them to their astonishing Premier League triumph, they crassly sent Claudio Ranieri packing. Now his successor, Craig Shakespeare, has been sacked after just four months as ‘permanent boss.’ On a personal level, it’s a Shakespearean tragedy for Craig, who kept Leicester in the Premier League last season and led them to the last 16 of the Champions League.

  I wonder did these Leicester jesters – the club’s Board members, that is – say, even two seasons ago, in their wildest dreams ever imagine they might win the Premier League and also strut across the European stage? 

  A pretty ruthless old world, although these vulnerable managers are of course very well paid. One wonders what conversation Claudio and Craig would have if they met in a quiet bar…“Eh…just where did it all go wrong?”

  Staying with soccer this week, I may have inadvertently given readers the impression a few weeks ago that Leeds United are on the point of possibly making their long-awaited return to the Premier League. While it could well still happen this season, I wish to now confirm that where once they were winning, now they are losing. Normal service has resumed – as soon as possible.

 

 

 

Happy? We were Wes-static…

 

Monday

 

A friend, commenting on the remarkable feat by the Republic of Ireland in Cardiff tonight, said: “A great win…but they’re hard to watch.”

  Normally I’d agree — but I thought this was an absorbing spectacle. Not pretty, but pretty impressive.

  I had low expectations before the game. Got home from work in time to hear the usual tiresome ‘Wes, Wes, Wes’ themed analysis on the telly.

  For God’s sake, and for Martin’s, will that RTE panel ever stop going on about Wes Hoolahan? Yes, he’s a really talented player – I love watching him — but he’s neither Messi not Messiah. The big clubs never came calling. He’s merely a Norwich stalwart, not a superstar. He does make us tick, but he’s probably not able for two games in quick succession and, let’s face it, the Irish management can claim to have been proven right in their policy on Wes.

  With kick-off looming, Liam Brady was particularly morbid, having been decidedly uninspired by the Irish team selection. When the game began, it looked like his fears might prove to be justified. Wales controlled possession and Ireland offered nothing creatively. After half an hour or so, we began to settle, the Welsh storm weathered. We grew in confidence and finished the half strongly. Back in the studio at half-time, a surprisingly uncritical Eamonn Dunphy said he sensed a major shock was on the cards. I wasn’t as optimistic.

  Into the second half and my admiration for the marvellous Randolph in the Irish goal reaches new levels. He’s turning into a national treasure. Twelve minutes in, a great Irish sporting moment is born before our eyes. Breathtaking determination from Hendrick on the wing, the ball teetering dangerously close to crossing the sideline. The challenge of the Welsh defender, in truth, reminds one of the half-hearted resistance of a drunk being ushered towards the pub exit by a kindly bouncer. So be it. Hendrick crosses, Harry Arter dummies, the ball zips towards lion-hearted and slightly crazy winger James McLean. He drills it into the net, the sweetest of finishes. Hell of a contact; McLean as a whistle. The Irish fans, and nation, go a bit crazy. Suddenly, it’s 1990 all over again. Or it might be. There’s 34 (no doubt tortuous) minutes to go. In the stand, the injured superstar Gareth Bale has the worried expression of a man who has entrusted his new car to an over-enthusiastic novice driver.

  For most of the remainder of the game, I was quite relaxed. The Irish defence, with Duffy just brilliant, held firm. Wales ran out of ideas before our eyes. The biggest worry was the usual worrying confidence of the great George Hamilton. I met him once, in the press box at Croke Park. Actually in the canteen, at half-time. I’m not claiming any credit for his great career. I simply passed him the milk (for his coffee) and exchanged a few words. Anyways, to use the modern venacular, he’s a legend, but am I the only one who worries about the sometimes prematurely optimistic way he commentates when Ireland are hanging on in a game?

    The 34 minutes after McLean’s goal were fine – it was the six minutes of time added on that were very, very nerve-wracking. We held on, heroically. What a win. Sure, we’re still only into the play-offs – not actually in the World Cup (yet) – but this was, to quote Dunphy, a famous victory built on great courage.

  I recorded the RTE analysis and switched to Newstalk. I’m glad I did. The lads were absolutely er…over the moon. It was great craic. Infectious.

  Fifteen minutes later, I checked in with the RTE panel reaction. Thought they were a bit muted. Yes, they were basically happy, but it’s as if they didn’t want to get too excited because they wanted to justify their pre-match negativity. You know, the Wes stuff. To be fair, they gave O’Neill credit, albeit with teeth maybe gritted. Dunphy, definitely a national treasure, held up a piece of paper and joked with presenter Darragh Maloney that he would be binning the obituary he had brought “for O’Neill.”  

  With that wisecrack, the credits rolled on a great night. Great night? I was Wes-static.

 

Don't Shatter Alan's fragile ego!

 

Monday

Following Claire Byrne’s moving interview with the humble Alan Shatter on Monday night, we would like to clear up any misconceptions that may have arisen in the past…

  Alan Shatter did not put the curse on Mayo; Alan Shatter did not slay the Celtic Tiger; Alan Shatter isn’t the reason we no longer do well in the Eurovision Song Contest; Alan Shatter isn’t responsible for the bad weather or indeed for climate change; Alan Shatter isn’t to blame for poverty or homelessness; Alan Shatter didn’t encourage Jedward to audition for The X Factor.    

  Actually, being serious for a moment, Mr. Shatter’s “I must be the most vindicated politician in the history of the State” performance was a bit hard to take. The former Minister was being interviewed after publishing his autobiography, ‘Life is a Funny Business.’

  It is absolutely the case that Mr. Shatter’s reputation has been largely restored following a series of investigations which took account of his period as Minister for Justice. It’s complicated stuff but it does appear fairly clear that Shatter was badly treated, essentially dumped, by former Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

  Shatter is a man of considerable intellect and ability but his interview with Byrne was another reminder of the enormous egos that most politicians possess. If you feel you’ve been vindicated, Alan, get on with it and spare us the part self-pitying, part boasting.

  And by the way Alan, you aren’t the most wronged person in history, or the most angelic. In 2013, during a television debate with Deputy Mick Wallace, Mr. Shatter – then the Minister for Justice –sought to denigrate his political opponent by revealing to the nation that the Independent TD had been cautioned by Gardai for using his mobile phone while driving. That pathetic and shocking abuse by Shatter of his ministerial position (by using confidential information clearly received, no doubt with relish, from Gardai) unmasked an arrogant man who seemed to think he was untouchable. 

  Guess what? This smug demeaning of Wallace was the one thing that Mr. Shatter felt he was legally constrained from speaking about during his Monday night homage to himself!

Next Sunday

We didn’t really have hurleys in Rooskey; more so fishing rods (and footballs). 

  It was only when I moved to Roscommon town in 1988 that I discovered the county’s modest but proud hurling heritage. 

  Pockets of prowess existed. Soon, the words ‘Four Roads’ and ‘Oran’ infiltrated my vocabulary. They were great, honest hurlers, those warriors of more than a quarter of a century ago, on whom I reported. I loved reporting on their exploits from the quaint press box in Athleague. Some sections of the county were barely aware of the epic rivalries fought out between four or five clubs; in hurling heartland they spoke of little else.   

  From the late 1980s to the mid-1990s, I frequently occupied that modest press box in Athleague; later, when I sort of left the ‘sports beat’, I lost touch with Athleague and the sliothar. 

  This Sunday, it’s Pearses versus Four Roads in the County Final. Four Roads are the traditional royalty; Pearses are hungry for glory. A new chapter to be cherished.

  It’s not small stuff; it’s the GAA, the parish, the detailed writing of history before our eyes, in real time. A fascinating sporting story will be told on Sunday. Athleague’s field of dream awaits new heroes, new feats.

The PR man’s spinning (not Madeline)

“I don’t think Madeline Carthy spun the wheel” I said to the PR man in the National Lottery, after rudely interrupting his lunch break. 

  “Oh she did, she spun the wheel” he replied in response to this odd phone call from ‘The West.’

  Now I don’t usually watch ‘Winning Streak’ – but I watched it last Saturday night and was sure that Madeline (from Strokestown) hadn’t spun the wheel!

  Aware that there was a Rossie on the show, I had tuned in. I couldn’t watch it in real time: I paused the programme for about ten minutes in order to avoid the usually cringeworthy chats with the contestants.

  I like Marty, but he probably should tone his act down a little!

  And the shots of family members waving placards in the audience are almost too much for the viewer; not to mention a flashback to those horrendous days when people attending the Late Late Show used to wave at the camera, hold up signs/recite poems to loved ones at home.

  Anyways, when I ‘unpaused’ the television and watched/endured the show, I was delighted to see Madeline from Strokestown get off to a fantastic start, with thousands of euro rolling in. And, actually, it was a nice show with very nice contestants.

  When it came to the bit where one of those contestants gets to spin the wheel (for a possible half a million euro) I was pretty sure that it was one of the young men who made it through. Not Madeline.

  And that’s why I was beginning to doubt my sanity when the press release from the National Lottery arrived at the Roscommon People this week. It stated that Madeline from Strokestown had spun the wheel. It even said, with a flourish,  “Madeline had the chance of a lifetime to spin the Grand Prize wheel.” The press release even carried the following headline: ‘…Madeline spins wheel on Winning Streak…’ (It was reported thus elsewhere).

  But…but, I saw with my own eyes…she didn’t spin it…

  Confused, I rang the National Lottery PR man on Tuesday.

  “Your press release says Madeline Carthy from Strokestown spun the wheel on Saturday night…but I don’t think she did” I ventured. 

  “Oh she did, she spun the wheel, she won €25,000 on it, add that to her earlier winnings” he replied, confidently.

  I began to doubt myself.

  “Are you sure?”

 “Yes, that’s why she’s in the photo we sent you.”

  “But I honestly don’t think she spun the wheel…I think it was one of the young men…” I tried again.    

  “No, she spun it alright.”

  “Ok, if you’re sure…but…”  

  The PR man paused, then admitted...

  “Well, to be honest, I wasn’t watching Winning Streak on Saturday night. I’ll check it out and come back to you.”

  He didn’t come back to me, but he was a nice guy and anyone can make a mistake.

  Madeline won €61,000, I’m delighted to say. But she didn’t spin the wheel. (But she did great; see page 9).

  I won’t be watching next week – but the PR man probably will.

 

 

Broadband? What Broadband?

 

Tuesday

‘Most astonishing claim of the week’ award could well go to Minister Denis Naughten, who – with respect – has rather bizarrely suggested that investors may be looking to move into Roscommon because of the “high quality of our broadband.” 

  Sitting in a hotel in Ballina on Saturday evening, I turned on my laptop and got the shock of my life. Instant access to the Internet! Incredible (normal?) broadband speed! Startled by this instant access, I had a look at one of Donald Trump’s press conferences on YouTube, and the big guy was uploading in front of me quicker than I’ve ever encountered before! (Watched Trump without the slightest delay/interruption/freeze, and realised he’s even more bombastic than I thought).

  That was Ballina last Saturday (admittedly not a very scientifically-based example of fast broadband)…

  Back in Co. Roscommon, which Minister Naughten says is attracting the interest of would-be investors due to our “high quality” broadband, the experience tends to be much more frustrating.

  While I have no doubt that there are pockets of Roscommon which have Ballina-esque broadband, generally speaking we are a broadband blackspot – and that’s despite the best efforts of all stakeholders/interested parties.

  At our own house in Newtown, just outside Roscommon town, we have long accepted our fate; slow Internet access, chronic delays the norm, an uncertain service at best.

  Fast-forward to Tuesday of this week and Minister Denis Naughten announces that a number of companies have been visiting County Roscommon with a view to possibly investing here. That’s good news on the face of it, though we might well ask Minister Naughten – and all other politicians who hailed the announcement at the time – if there is any sign of the 50 ‘Moss Vision’ jobs announced for Roscommon Town in 2015?

  In any event, Minister Naughten says of the recent visits by potential investors: “While many of these projects are at an early stage, the fact that they are considering locating in our county is significant. In one instance, namely a technology start-up, we are in the running with cities like London, purely because of the high quality of our broadband.”

  High quality broadband in Roscommon? Hardly!

  This may all work out. Some of these investors may set up in Roscommon, in which case, great. And yes, we are aware of the recent positive moves with regard to investment in fibre broadband in Roscommon Town, Ballinasloe and other areas. But just now, and over years, poor broadband service in some parts of County Roscommon has been a huge issue for small businesses and householders generally.

  We welcome news of the visits by would-be investors, but with no sign of the much-heralded Moss Vision jobs – two years on – we’re not popping any champagne corks just yet.

Monday

Thoughts, briefly, on a great comedy double act (not Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump, definitely not Bridget & Eamon)…

  Throughout its remarkable 57 years (and counting) as a much-loved presence in the lives of millions of people, Coronation Street has had many great characters; Jack & Vera were probably the duo who most represented the heart and soul of the legendary series.

  For decades, Bill Tarmey and Liz Dawn played husband and wife Jack and Vera Duckworth, and what gentle joy they gave to generations of fans.

  Liz joined in 1974, Bill joined in 1979, and I ‘joined’ for a few years from around the late 1990s. I haven’t watched it in years, but when it comes to soaps like Coronation Street, I’m no snob!

  Anyone who tells you they don’t watch that stuff is of course usually being ‘economical with the truth’– some people don’t think it’s fashionable to admit being a viewer, but, in truth, just about everyone has some level of familiarity with programmes like Coronation Street and Eastenders. The latter, with its relentless misery, I have some misgivings about; Coronation Street’s greatest charm has always been its humour.

  Jack and Vera had their moments of drama and sadness, but humour was at the heart of what they brought to the screen. Liz Dawn passed away this week (aged 77) and will be fondly remembered as a queen of Coronation Street. 

  And…pass no heed on those self-styled soap snobs: they always have at least one eye on the telly!

Tuesday

On TV3, and in Cyprus, Harry Kane scored a hat-trick in its purest form: left foot, right foot, header.

  I only saw the highlights of other games, shown long after the panel’s postmortem on that evening’s featured live Champions League match. Back in studio after the Spurs highlights, it looked like it had been a long evening. Graeme Souness, Kevin Kilbane and Brian Kerr resembled the weather outside; fairly miserable.

  Nice guys, but they don’t quite have the chemistry of the ‘other side.’ Those expressions! They were like old school pals summoned to a reunion in the knowledge that they aren’t likely to have much to talk about; worse still, the bar has just closed early.

  Kilbane is everywhere these days, and he’s a pleasant media presence. Kerr is a character, who sort of gives the impression of being a dodgy used car salesman (he isn’t). Souness, who might even make Roy Keane quake a bit, looks like he’s wandered in off the set of a gangster movie. The presenter is earnest, but he’s not Bill. And while the coverage is entirely acceptable, this reality is inescapable; it’s not Bill, it’s not the lads, it’s not the ‘other side.’

  TV3’s soccer coverage is the party you’d call into for a while on your way to the proper party, the slightly mad one out in RTE-land…

Every week

How much more of this incessant talk radio and talk telly can we take?

  Anyways, VB is gone (but not forgotten), and so what are we to make of Matt and Ivan?

  Well, there have been a few lively moments on TV3’s ‘new’ three-times-a-week show, but overall it’s been less than thrilling. Still, we’ll certainly dip in from time to time.

  Just now, in these early days, the guys are struggling a little to find their feet. It’s too forced; Ivan turning to Matt and saying ‘I want to ask you a question’ as if it’s spontaneous, when it’s obviously rehearsed.

  The ‘standing and staring at camera’ pieces are awkward. They look like two boys who have been marched into the Principal’s office after some goodies went missing from the school canteen.

  Ivan, wearing a terrible jacket on  Tuesday night, is too fidgety, not at ease yet. Matt can’t shake off the proverbial ‘choir boy’ look, and maybe he doesn’t want to. If there’s to be a VB in disguise, the role will fall to Ivan.

  We’ll certainly give the boys every chance to impress us/replace the legend, but it all seems a little forced just now. The guests? The usual suspects dipping into the familiar current affairs menu.

  Still, the signature tune is catchy enough…

 

 

Heroic Mayo perish on the Rock

 

Sunday

It was, I thought, a wonderful match.

  Some purists have probably pointed to some imperfections, but most of us were utterly gripped by this great battle, a war waged with a glorious intensity.

  And, marvelling at the epic below me, I felt great pride at the magnificence of this occasion, this peerless coalition of a great stadium, wonderful supporters and the highest sporting stakes we Irish know.

  It may not have been the historic day so many of us had wished for, but there was still something very special – and historic – about Sunday in Croke Park.

  After all, not only did Dublin seniors win a three-in-a-row, there was also the remarkable feat of Kerry minors winning a four-in-a-row.

  And what a pleasure it was to see the extraordinary David Clifford in the flesh. He has all the skills and wonderful vision. Most of all, like Messi in soccer and greats in other sports, he appears to have all the time in the world to do what he does. A sensational star is born.

  Of course Sunday was, with respect to the minors, all about the big battle, and what a game it was. I watched it from high in the Davin Stand, surrounded by tortured Mayo fans.

  The atmosphere was just fantastic. With six minutes to go in an epic, Mayo’s huge army of supporters dared to believe. I was willing them to a sensational win. Then, all the ghosts of the past surrounded the stadium in the way the stewards used to descend on the sideline near the end of a game (do they still? Hadn’t time to look on Sunday). When Dublin got the late free, I said to anyone who cared to listen, ‘he’s hardly going to miss that.’ On television later that night, I realised it was a lot more imposing than I originally thought. We watched as Dean Rock did what he usually does. An eruption of Dubs in front of us, the stadium rocking. Mayo heads in their hands. A few agonising minutes later, the final whistle. The Mayo woman on our right sat in shocked silence. The Mayo man on our left bounded out of his seat and jogged away in silence, alone with his dread.

  The harsh truth is that Mayo should have won, had every chance to end their famine, ultimately have only themselves to blame.

  And yet you have to say they were, for the most part, superb. They had rattled Dublin and come so close to a truly great win. Mayo were mighty. Our hearts went out to them. They had perished on the Rock – with the Holy Grail within reach.

Thursday/Friday (quite often)

Overheard in the Oval Office: “Okay Donald, I mean Mr. Trump of course…sorry, President Trump…it’s been a great week, a really, really great week!

  “You’ve not sacked or lost any key staff…and hey, you’ve been playing a blinder with your response to those hurricanes…

  “So can I respectfully suggest that we keep going in this direction, in this, er…new calming phase. Nice and steady does it, nice and steady…”

  Half an hour later…

  “He’s tweeted what? He’s called Kim Jong Un ‘Rocket Man’!  Are you serious?”

  Ah sure I suppose he’ll calm down again.

  Oh, oh…update: Three or four days on from labelling Kim Jong Un ‘Rocket Man’, President Trump addressed the UN and rather undiplomatically announced that, if required shall we say, the United States will “totally destroy North Korea.” He did rather helpfully add that “hopefully that won’t be necessary.”

  Maybe just as well that the North Korean ambassador to the UN had walked out before Trump’s speech started!

  In other Trump tweeting news, the U.S. President has switched his attention from speculation about nuking North Korea to commenting on the Emmys.

  “I was saddened to see how bad the ratings were on the Emmys last night – the worst ever. Smartest people of them all are the ‘DEPLORABLES’” he tweeted.

  What a guy!

Then and now

Brian Clough may not have wanted them, but I was happy to get Leeds…

  My brother had suggested to his siblings that we close our eyes and run a biro over the league table in the Sunday newspaper; after my three brothers and one sister ended up with West Ham, Sunderland, Newcastle and Chelsea, I got Leeds.

  It was 1975; Chelsea were in the doldrums, but Leeds were in the European Cup Final. Now officially a Leeds supporter, I took great pleasure in finding out about the club’s glory era; but at first I didn’t realise I was arriving just as the party was ending. So be it.

  Leeds had enjoyed a lot of success – and also a lot of near-misses – since winning promotion to the top flight from the old second division, in 1964. In the mostly golden era that followed, Leeds won two First Division titles, two European trophies (The Fairs Cup), the FA Cup and the League Cup, and also finished runners-up on multiple occasions (including a heartbreaking five times in the league). All in the space of a decade or so.

They lost that 1975 Champions League equivalent (against Bayern Munich and a dodgy ref).

  Turns out that by the time I got lucky and found Leeds, with manager Don Revie moving on, and several of the Leeds greats now past their best, I had missed the good old days; and neither Brian Clough (manager for 44 days after Revie left) or anyone else could make Leeds great again.

  Still, we had Tony Currie in the 1980s and later there was Tony Yeboah and in fact Howard Wilkinson miraculously won the league with Leeds in 1992. At one stage David O’Leary had Leeds flying again, reaching the semi-finals of the Champions League in 2000-2001.

  Then came financial turmoil, a devastating decline in fortunes, a humiliating slide down the leagues – all along with/due to mismanagement on a Fawlty-esque scale.

  It’s early days yet (in this new season) but the club of Eddie Gray, Billy Bremner, Johnny Giles, Allan Clarke, Peter Lorimer and many other great stars has now nudged its way to the top of The Championship. Victory over Premier League side Burnley in the League Cup on Tuesday night adds to the sense that Leeds might indeed be on their way back! Could the great Leeds be back in The Premier League soon (you get the point)?

 

 To be continued…

Where the streets have no shame

Every day

 

Another Minister, another series of smug soundbytes.

  As ever, it will ‘end in tears’ – with more broken promises, more missed deadlines, more redundant reports.

  But, as ever, the ministerial merry-go-round will continue, and Ireland’s two worlds will continue on their divergent paths.

  This is the sad story of the people who live on the streets and the people who live on another planet.

  Ireland’s homelessness problem has grown into a crisis. The figures are shameful. About 8,000 people are homeless in Ireland. Up to 3,000 of these people are children. Despite the apparent improvement in the country’s economic fortunes, homelessness has risen by about 25% over the past year. In our cities, many families are living a wretched existence in cramped conditions in B&Bs, hotels and hostels. On our streets, vacant stares signify vacant lives.

  In the past week alone, three homeless people have died on our streets. Humiliated, abandoned, stripped of dignity.

  We will always have some level of homelessness, but does it have to be this pathetic?

  Why my derision with regard to our ‘political elite’? Because it is shameful. I will refer readers back to the otherwise angelic Simon Coveney, who let himself down badly in 2017 with his shocking ‘contribution’ to this debacle. Cool, clean hero Simon was, you will recall, Minister for Housing. And Minister for Saying Things In A Very Solemn Tone.

  I actually think Simon has a lot of potential – he may well be Taoiseach within a decade or so – but Simon was a naughty boy on this one. In full ‘Trust me, we will sort this crisis out’ mode, Simon told the nation that he would personally end the housing of homeless families in hotels and B&Bs. When critics said he was “crazy” to pledge to end emergency accommodation by the end of June 2017, Minister Coveney said: “I am going to make this happen.” 

  This wasn’t a casual commitment given by the Minister; it wasn’t presented to the public as one of the usual political promises that we routinely invite to enter our heads via one ear while progressing to exit through the other. Almost on a ‘sincerity par’ with the (written) pledge of James Reilly to retain all emergency services at Roscommon Hospital, Simon went out on a limb; he set a deadline, he was definitive (“end all use of hotels and B&Bs”, “no emergency accommodation”, etc.) and he never shied, during media interviews, from insisting that he would achieve his ambitious goal. End of June 2017.

  A new Sheriff had arrived in town – and he had the scourge of homelessness in his sights.

  Two questions then: Why, when new Taoiseach Leo Varadkar selected his first Cabinet in the middle of June, did he offer ‘Defeating Homelessness by the end of June’ Sheriff Coveney a different ministry? Second question: Why did Coveney accept the offer?

  Surely if Minister Coveney was to retain his full credibility, he would have insisted: “Thanks for the offer of Foreign Affairs Leo, but I said I’d sort homelessness by the end of June and by God I intend to see it through.”

  He could even had told Leo and the public that the June deadline may have to be extended, but at least he (Simon) was going to stay in town to oversee the mass exodus of hotels and B&Bs.

  Fast-forward to August/September 2017 and three homeless people die on our streets. Danielle Carroll and Jack Watson died in Dublin. The homeless lady who died in Cork hasn’t been named publicly. The new Sheriff, Minister Eoghan Murphy says: “Neither resources nor money nor ideology are an impediment here. A huge amount is being done but clearly more is needed.”

  The public are, I suspect, losing patience with the political establishment’s repeated failure to address this enormous social problem.

  There will probably always be some level of homelessness. And I am not naïve; I realise that some of those who end up homeless are ‘their own worst enemies’ and probably destined by circumstances to journey on an irreversible path. But I suspect that is a tiny minority. Most of the homeless people are being failed by the state. Most would and could take life’s conventional path. And the families languishing in hotel rooms are living in one world – a shoddy one – while our elite live in another world. These families, the people for whom the end of June wasn’t the promised day of destiny, have been let down.  

  What can we say to Ireland’s homeless people, as the degrading congestion continues in ‘emergency shelter’, and as darkness descends on the streets?

   What is the latest update for our forgotten people?

  Well, “ideology us no impediment” to addressing/solving the problem – and Simon Coveney is flying in Foreign Affairs. 

 

Follow the maroon

brick road…

 

Sunday

 

We watched Galway’s irresistible march towards their glorious destiny in a pub in Dublin. Galway were in Croke Park, we were in the pub, having Sunday Lunch, I might add. We had just dropped off our eldest daughter to her ‘digs,’ College life beckoning. Three hungover young men on our right passed little enough heed on the hurling. A young couple in front of us cheered every Waterford score. Our hearts were with Galway, of course. They were not to be denied this thoroughly deserved victory. Here’s hoping Mayo footballers can follow the maroon brick road to glory. 

 

Fond memories of

Merryman Eamonn

 

He was a presence on the music scene for around a half a century, and that’s how thousands of people will remember the late Eamonn Kelly.

  It is true, technically speaking, that we performed together, but after a few duets in the early 1970s, our musical careers drifted apart!

  One night in 19790 Eamonn Kelly and his Merrymen performed at the opening of the Kon Tiki Lounge Bar (outside Rooskey). It was a venture with a difference, which was started by my parents. In the summertime, the Kon Tiki was usually packed every night of the week, and there were two separate music sessions on a Sunday. For a period when I was a small boy, Eamonn would invite me to the stage when he was singing ‘Two Little Boys’, and I’d join him in a verse or two. As the decades passed, the make-up of the Merrymen chopped and changed – as with all bands – but I never got the call!

  Eamonn was surely known to thousands of people, and fondly regarded, because he was a natural entertainer and enjoyed a career of great longevity. It probably peaked in the 1970s and ‘80s. The ‘singing pubs’ phenomenon started in the 1970s, in the wake of the swinging sixties and the showband era. Eamonn was made for the singing pubs. Later, his career moved into a new phase when he began to perform on the circuit as a solo artist. In more recent years, came a third phase, as Eamonn – who clearly didn’t see retirement as an option – became a popular entertainer in local nursing homes. Eamonn had a huge repertoire of songs, most of which became fond audience favourites.

   There was of course much more to Eamonn than his music career – a loving family man, a Bord na Mona employee, a proud community figure – but it was through music that thousands of people over a wide region will remember him.

  Eamonn passed away last Thursday following a brave battle with illness. The people of Rooskey and beyond paid him a fond and fitting farewell. Our family had a long association with Eamonn and we extend our sincere sympathies to his wife Paula, son Paddy, daughter Mary and extended family.

  The king of the Merrymen made a lot of people happy.

  

Bruce, Brazilian weddings and Croke Park...

Recently…

I never passed much heed on him on ‘Strictly’, wasn’t particularly excited by ‘Play Your Cards Right’,  could barely stand  ‘The Price is Right’, and am absolutely prepared to accept that nostalgia almost certainly distorts our memories of ‘The Generation Game’.

  But Bruce was still great, and a giant of showbiz as long ago as when we were growing up. Really, it was all about The Generation Game. Long before Ant & Dec were born, in the days prior to Noel Edmonds storming the set with his House Party, and of course BC – before Cowell – Saturday nights on the telly were all about Brucie. 

  In the 1970s, Bruce was unmissable on the simple but superb Generation Game, a BBC game show that was required viewing in the UK and Ireland. It (and later, Play Your Cards Right) gave birth to numerous classic Bruce Forsyth catchphrases. 

  He had a wonderful, long career at the top, and while critics very reasonably noted that he wasn’t the ultimate master of any single area of entertainment – dancing, singing, acting, stand-up – as an all-rounder, he was probably without equal. 

  The simple ‘Bruce measurement’ was this: he won our hearts. He will be missed by millions. 

Saturday

On Saturday, we had a great afternoon and evening at the wedding of our Brazilian friends Francielly and Junior. After a beautiful and touching ceremony in the Sacred Heart Church, we got a taste of how the Brazilian community do wedding receptions.

  It was a very enjoyable evening in Jackson’s Restaurant, with good food, drinks, music, dancing and, for the native Irish present, some insights into Brazilian culture.

  It was a reminder too of how brilliantly the great Brazilian community in Roscommon has integrated here over the past 15/20 years. A great night amongst our Brazilian hosts in the splendour of our shared Roscommon. Best wishes for a long, healthy and joyous life together to the happy couple (and their son, Joao Vitor). 

Sunday 

It was, of course, a ludicrously early start…the very idea of knocking around Jones’ Road at 11 am on a Sunday morning. But, so be it; it was great to have good reason to be back at Croke Park so soon. 

  The Roscommon colours were prominent as football folk weaved along the pavements leading towards the Holy Grail. The drab early morning rain in Roscommon, which had turned downright miserable by the time we got to Athlone, had now given way to very pleasant conditions.  

  “A grand day for the match.”

  A section of the Hogan Stand was dominated/occupied by Rossies. The first ever All-Ireland U-17 Football Final began at 11.45 am. Roscommon started promisingly, but soon a Tyrone tsunami rocked the Rossies. A truly spellbinding flurry of scores (nine points in twelve  minutes) by Tyrone effectively ended the game as a contest, although Roscommon would rally heroically in the second half. At 0-10 to 0-2 behind – and to a rampant Tyrone –there were fears that Roscommon would be crushed. But Liam Tully’s team were much more settled and composed after the break and they played some lovely football, controlling much of the half, actually reducing the deficit to four points. 

  When the last whistle had sounded in the first U-17 final, no-one could argue with Tyrone’s triumph. They had finished clinically to win by nine and were deserved and impressive winners. A fast, expressive team, their sprint into the record books could not be halted. They had met the noblest of opponents. The Roscommon fans proudly cheered their team as the dejected youngsters departed the stage they had graced. 

 A little later on Sunday 

At half-time in the senior game, the queue for the ‘gents’ was, initially at least, long. There wasn’t a lot to talk about. We had all been mesmerised by the brilliance of Dublin, yet there was a collective dismay at the anti-climax we were witnessing.

  Maybe we should have felt privileged, but in a way we felt cheated. Tyrone’s tactics were depressing. We were cheered by one fan’s confident assertion that we were witnesses to the death of the blanket defence. Anyways, all kudos to the superb Dubs; what a wonderful team. And yet…yet, Mayo, believe!

Tuesday

Latest random odd sighting on a roundabout in Roscommon: At 11.37 am, a motorist drives his car on to ‘McNeill’s roundabout’, from the direction of Circular Road.

  The car boot is wide open. There’s a big dog inside the boot, well, two legs in, two legs perched over the edge, above the towbar.

  The male motorist drives on as a female pedestrian stares at the boot, open-mouthed.

  As the car proceeds on its way, pedestrians –  eyes follow it – the boot is ‘up in the air’ and the entire body of the dog is visible, well, two legs in, two legs perched over the edge, above the towbar. 

  This can’t be safe, can it? (And no, it (the dog or the car) wasn’t a Rover).

 

 

 

Belfast blossoms in bright new era

 

Thursday

We spent three days in Belfast – but we didn’t mention the war.

 The very informative tour guide on the sightseeing bus mentioned it once or twice, but, like Basil in Fawlty Towers, I think he “got away with it.”

  We had ended up in Belfast after joining half the country in a desperate ‘Before-the-kids-go-back-to-school’ last-minute scramble for a late summer break.

  Easier said than done. Last weekend, it was easier to reason with Kim Jong Un than it was to find accommodation in Ireland. We were delighted to eventually secure a few nights in Jurys Inn Hotel in Belfast.

  The hotel is centrally located, in the heart of what is now a modern, confident, bustling city. Its grim past has been replaced by great vibrancy, and Belfast is now a very nice place to visit. Although guardians and beneficiaries of the peace process remain wary of dissidents, and of the lessons of history, it’s pretty clear that there will be no turning back. Nobody is forgetting the past, but nobody wants to repeat it.

Friday

Signing up to the ‘hop on/hop off’ sightseeing bus tour (which is recommended) we headed for ‘Titanic Belfast’, the now world famous tourist attraction. No doubt many Roscommon People readers have already visited. It was our first time. You could spend a full day there. We enjoyed it and yes, you really do get a strong sense of history as you emotionally connect with the sheer enormity of the tragedy of April 14th, 1912, when over 1,500 people died after the Titanic ship struck an iceberg. The Titanic centre in Belfast, with its range of tours, museums and attractions, takes you inside the stark statistics and reveals the raw and deeply moving human aspects of the tragedy as you learn more about the victims, the survivors and their stories. Just as riveting and poignant too (no pun, on use of rivets in the project, intended) is the extraordinary story of the construction of the ship.

  Later, we explore the ‘High Street’ and are well impressed with the buzz and atmosphere in downtown Belfast. Good shopping, many great attractions, a real ‘young’ feel to the place too, with lively bars, restaurants and cafes.

Saturday

On today’s ‘hop on/hop off’ bus, the tour guide was friendly, kind of charismatic, certainly ideal for the role, a retired teacher with a marvellous knowledge of the city and its complex history.

  He loved telling his motley crew of tourists all about Belfast, its people and its fascinating past and present. Our guide almost had ‘labour of love’ etched on his forehead. You got the impression he’d enjoy dispensing his impressive knowledge all day as a hobby, though there was a box for tips on the way out. When it came to the ‘Troubles’, he may have mentioned the war once or twice, but he was a master of diplomacy and balance, knowing exactly how to paint a picture of the past and present, without causing offence to either tradition or  misrepresenting history.

  Seeing a ‘peace wall’ (initially built to keep two warring communities apart) was quite an experience, as was our visit to the Shankill Road and the Falls Road. The peace wall is covered in murals, many of them very impressive works of art, the blitz of colour and conflict commentary a stark reminder of the dark times the people of this inspirational city have experienced.

  Noting that there had been talk of tearing down these walls – in the interests of the peace process and the greatly improved relations that now exist – our guide wryly admitted that one reason the walls are still in place is because of their value to the tourist industry!

  Later – yes, more ‘Troubles tourism’ – we visit Crumlin Road Jail, an infamous Victorian era prison which was actually open and functioning up to 1996. Conditions for the inmates in the 19th century and beyond were appalling. Over the decades, seventeen prisoners were executed there, the last such episode being in 1961. We had the dubious pleasure of visiting the ‘Condemned man’s’ cell, and the execution chamber, complete with the actual hangman’s rope still present.

  In more recent decades, Crumlin Road Jail was brimming with hardened criminals, including many killers, as well as political prisoners, both republican and loyalist. Amongst its inmates were the late Ian Paisley, the late Martin McGuinness, and Gerry Adams.

  Not surprisingly, a relaxing pint was called for on Saturday night, after all this grim, albeit fascinating, hopping on and off history’s trail.

  On the big television screen in Jurys, tributes were still being paid to the great entertainer Bruce Forsyth. Oblivious to this, and to the football scores flashing across the screen, were the members of a hen party who were downing cocktails. Soon they had moved on in search of the city’s nightlife, as the great song and dance man Brucie swivelled and smiled in black and white footage.

  Meanwhile, tourists continued to order bar food. The tasty looking burgers were served in a box/miniature wooden briefcase, in keeping with the fashion of the times. On seeing the briefcase, one might have been tempted to say ‘I ordered a burger, not a Budget.’ Does any restaurant still serve everything on a plate?

  “Smells wicked” reported the teenage American girl to her parents when her pizza arrived, and I’m pretty sure that was a compliment to the chef.

  By 10.30 pm the young barman was in ‘winding down’ mode. Jurys had fallen quiet. Then a resident rang to order room service.

  The barman took the order and repeated it.

  ‘So…pizza…tuna sandwich, no cucumber…on white bread…and a gin and tonic…got it.’

Presumably it smelt wicked on arrival.

Each night

Very noticeable all weekend – maybe it’s the same in most cities now – was the presence of many homeless people on the streets. 

  Jurys Hotel is beside the Europa Hotel and the Grand Opera House. All weekend ‘The Europa’ and the Opera House were buzzing, with much evidence of economic buoyancy.

  Tucked against the walls of these and adjoining buildings were a number of homeless people. One guy in his 30s wrapped his legs under a sleeping bag, his dog at his side. When I passed again about a half an hour later, he was helping himself to a pizza (the man, not the dog). Then he cheerfully directed some theatre-goers to the Opera House – “over to your right, the next door…there you go.”

  The following night, the same guy was staggering down the street along with an ‘out of it’ woman who could barely stand up. A pitiful sight. After a few minutes of wobbling and weaving, they made it ‘home’ and zigzagged into their sleeping bags, where the loyal pet dog was waiting. Minutes later the dapper ladies and gents emerged from the Grand Opera House, inoffensively but matter-of-factly sidestepping the homeless folk…two worlds briefly merging on a buzzing Saturday night in Belfast. 

Sunday

Driving to Giant’s Causeway. Conscious of Mayo v Kerry in Croke Park. Dodgy reception on radio, well, dodgy in terms of trying to get RTE Radio One. Stopped in a couple of pretty villages along the stunning coastal drive, thought ‘we’re in County Antrim, maybe some of these quaint pubs are showing the GAA?’

  Stepped into one quaint pub, which was heavily decorated with Union Jack flags. Some Chelsea player stares back at me (from the television). I retreat. Ten minutes later, step into another small pub, also adorned with Union Jack flags. Nobody here seems interested in Donaghy v O’Shea either.

  Through some patient Internet/smartphone tinkering, Fiona works wonders to get the radio commentary going, and as we continue our journey we are gripped by the drama in Croker.

  On arrival we marvel at Giant’s Causeway, a mysterious wonder of nature which has withstood the ferocity of all types of challenges for years.

  As we park, the final whistle sounds in Croke Park, and we marvel at Mayo, a mysterious wonder of nature which has withstood the ferocity of all types of challenges for years.

  Giant’s Causeway was great, as were the giants of Kerry and Mayo. And I’d certainly recommend Belfast for a weekend break.

 

There’s still space for innocence and joy as greed infects global sporting circus!

 

Monday-Friday

When our six-year-old, Matthew, glides up with a prepared whisper, it’s usually to ask if he can “borrow mom’s phone.”

  Video games on mobile phones…a phenomenon of our time.

  The other day, he had new (and not fake) news. He had found his moneybox – and it was bulging. When it comes to money, Matthew is obsessed. He loves it. The dilemma is whether to spend or save. Part of him is excited about the promise of all the things money can purchase, another part of him is tempted by the tantalising lure of collecting more. It’s like a tiny Charlie McCreevy and a tiny Michael Noonan are squaring up to one another inside his head.

  Due to recent birthdays, the missing but now relocated moneybox was indeed bulging. And Matthew had decided he wanted to splash out. He’d had enough. He was rejecting austerity. Matthew wanted to buy a soccer goal set.

  A day or two on, and following negotiations which took a predictable course, we arrive at the hard part: the soccer goal set is spread out in front of us in various different parts. Sure enough, on the side of the box were three of the most terrifying words in the English language: ‘Must be assembled.’

  Thankfully, my daughters were on hand to ‘assist with assembly.’ Within 15 minutes or so, we had the soccer goals constructed and, even more impressively, we had no screws or bolts left over.

Something’s trying to kill sport, they say. The suspects include money, drugs, greed. Ultimately it’s greed, I guess. But we all battle on, the sports stars and the fans. Deep down, the fans know that corruption has crept into many sports, that greed thrives in this environment, that some sports are tainted by drugs, and trust has died. But we still want to believe that there is space for innocence and wonder.

  We’re still thrilled by great sporting exploits, by great stars. When it comes to doping, we often turn a blind eye. The huge sums of money within sport, I don’t have a big issue with. Let them reap the benefits of their brilliance. The doping, however, is another matter. This is cheating, morally wrong and – assuming there are clean athletes out there – not having a level playing field just isn’t fair.

  All week there was relentless media hysteria (mostly from the BBC) as Mo Farah and Usain Bolt were bringing their glittering careers to an end at the World Athletics Championships.

  With athletics now almost as tainted as the Tour de France, I wasn’t that bothered by the Mo/Usain hype, and certainly wasn’t checking out the television schedules. I missed Farah’s farewell races but happened to see Bolt finish third in the 100m. Then, on Saturday night, I channel-hopped to the World Championships. It seemed a better alternative than watching Saturday Night with Miriam O’Callaghan, which sounds more like a penance than a pleasure.

  I engaged with the hype. Saturday night’s 4 x 100m Relay Final is, apparently, Bolt’s last ever race. On the closing stretch, as the superstar closes in on the finishing line, he pulls up, injured. It is a poignant end. He has given us wonderful entertainment, but can we believe? Yes, it is widely accepted that the remarkable Bolt is clean, but can we be sure? The legacy left by shamed dopers is that we end up doubting and questioning everyone.

  There are legitimate question marks over the career of Farah, Britain’s middle-distance multiple champion. He has had a close relationship with Alberto Salazar, a coach who is under investigation after multiple claims that he is involved in doping athletes. Who is Mo? A genuinely clean superstar, or cheat? The fans want to believe the fairytale, but many recent fairytales have had damning postscripts.

  I wasn’t sorry to have missed Farah picking up another gold and silver, because who knows whether those medals will sparkle forever or are destined to be tarnished. Too many questions, too much doubt.

The moneyboxes of the Premier League players have been bulging for some time. The new soccer season in England kicks off as the impact of ‘big money’ on the beautiful game grows to new levels of absurdity. Manchester City have spent £220m during the closed season. Brazilian superstar Neymar recently moved from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain for around €222m. His annual salary will be €30m. “My heart told me to move” Neymar is quoted as saying, but it may have been a  misprint – he may have actually said ‘My accountant” or ‘My dad” or “My brain”…

  So, big, astronomical money is fuelling soccer while perhaps also a threat to it. For years, we have been saying that the money madness surrounding soccer cannot continue; yet in reality it’s getting crazier all the time.

  Away from gazing at their moneyboxes and listening to their iPods, the stars of the Premier League like to relax with the odd game of football. It was, in fairness, a thrilling opening weekend, and it’s great to have the soccer back. I’m looking forward to enjoying the fun and games of the Premier League, while the serious business – of getting Leeds United back to the top – continues in The Championship.  

When Tony Keady was in his prime, there were no iPods or primadonnas. I am glad to have seen Keady in action, in the flesh. He was a warrior-like presence at the heart of the defence in the double All-Ireland winning Galway hurling team. In 1987 and ’88 it was a hair-raising experience to watch from ‘The Hogan’ as that swashbuckling Galway half-back line drove the men from the west on to All-Ireland glory. All that Gerry McInerney was missing was a Zorro-like cape. These were great men, chieftains, truly leaders of their tribe. In sport, it was a more innocent time than now. Keady was a true sporting hero. Unlike most of the soccer superstars, he was accessible too, of his place and of his people. It is so sad that this devoted family man and sporting great has been called so early. 

  Fittingly, Cork and Waterford produced a compelling All-Ireland hurling semi-final at the weekend. Waterford’s goal threat was decisive. It sets up a fascinating All-Ireland final between two ravenous teams, both desperate to end their period of exile. 

  On Saturday, in Ennis, more great sporting honesty, more of what draws us to sport. A world away from the doping, the diving, the money and the madness, Roscommon’s U-17 footballers produce a joyous sporting feat: victory over Kerry in the All-Ireland semi-final.

Against all the odds, we had assembled the soccer goal set, now rested on the grass on a fine August evening. The break from video games on the mobile phone – I think the technical term is ‘heads stuck in screens’ – may not last, but for now, our son is out in the fresh air enjoying the ‘real-life goals’ and playing with his siblings and cousins.

  It’s not quite clear what they are actually playing – it’s some surreal mixture of soccer, gaelic, rugby and judo, a fusing of sports that would probably interest the promoters of Mayweather v McGregor. At least the kids are running, enjoying fresh air, and scoring goals for fun. The soccer net adds a prestige and status to the kickabout; better, in fairness, than the traditional deployment of two jumpers as goalposts. 

  Beyond, in the outside world, the marvellous but mad sports circus continues. Inside the house, the mobile phones are charging and waiting for (ab)normal service to resume, if it must. But for now, it’s fresh air, fun and daydreaming that reign.

  Far from the sporting circus, we’re in the garden, bending it like Beckham and giving innocence every chance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nightmare on Jones' Road!

 

Monday

Nightmare on Jones’ Road.

  But, a mere two days on (as I write), I’m pretty much over it.

  It was one of those days when hope and ‘horror show’ rhymed.

  We travelled in hope, but everything possible went wrong.

  When we spent 15 minutes trying to find a parking meter that actually worked, we should have known. One of those days. Portent of things to come. Found a machine and a queue of perplexed Rossies and Mayos. Two-hour limit. Grim faces as we ‘did the maths.’ Then a Mayo fan took control: “I met a Kerry man who said ‘get two two-hour tickets and put them on the car window and it’ll be fine’.” We all agreed that a Kerry man should know the score.

  Now, the word is that there was free parking on Monday ‘cos it was a bank holiday. I don’t want my €6 back – they can use it towards putting up some ‘no charge on bank holidays’ signs!

  When a bird made a small deposit on my jacket (seriously) in a crowded Dorset Street before the match, I should have known that it was likely to be another portent of things to come.

  I went into Quinn’s to deal with the bird’s ‘delivery’ and the place was rocking with Rossies (and Mayos). It was still only 12.30.

  Black Betty was belting out and it was like the 1980s all over again.

  “Damn thing gone wild, bam-ba-lam” – another portent of things to come (from Mayo) perhaps.

  In Quinn’s these days, they like to keep the fans moving towards the back, to free some ground for incoming thirsty folk. I watched as a tough looking bouncer who appeared to have poor enough English frowned as a middle-aged Mayo fan unwittingly blocked the main thoroughfare. Eventually the bouncer humourlessly gestured to the Mayo man to move over. The Mayo man nodded apologetically, which is precisely what I would have done, had I been challenged by the bouncer. The Mayo man had a craggy face, he was about 50, and he was in his element. He moved out of the way and the bouncer remained ungrateful and expressionless. All that mattered, it seemed, was that more customers could flood in. All over and done with? Nope. Suddenly, having made way for the flow of human traffic, the Mayo man waltzed back over to the bouncer, blocking people again, and said: “Ah, you know yourself…sure we love the craic when we’re out!”

  Forty minutes on and we were seated in wonderful Croke Park, nervous but quietly confident. We had no idea there was a tsunami brewing.

  Soon 6-0 down, we were despondent. Then Roscommon scored two points and hope briefly surfaced. Then the ruthless reality of this day flexed its muscles and hope retreated. Three quick Mayo goals, their fans rose into the air to claim their destiny and complete command of Croke Park on what we had expected to be a day of equals. We sunk back in our seats and into the uncomfortable bosom of our greatest fears.

  By 3.40 or so it was over. A few days on, it feels okay, not the end of the world. We met a super team and we were caught on the hop (or two hops, in the case of Mayo’s first goal). No complaints. Best of luck to Mayo. Go and win Sam. You are exceptional warriors. And well done Roscommon on a great season. We’re Connacht champions and we can become a force in the next year or two. We can be warriors. We can make hope and Hyde rhyme.

Tuesday

One moment my American relation was scanning the menu, the next moment she was getting to the point.

  “So Paul, have you seen our great new reality show?”

  For a second I was actually trying to wrack my brain. New American thrillers I am reasonably familiar with, but a new reality show? Nothing was registering. Then, within a second or two, the dime dropped.

  “Yes, we are watching it! Pretty chaotic!”

  She was of course talking about Trump in the White House. We were having a bite to eat in The Brandywell in Dromod, now under new management, and as welcoming as ever. I don’t think my American aunt and her son (my cousin, also present with two of his children) will mind me outing them as MBTs (mortified by Trump).

  How representative their views are of their fellow Americans, I can’t really say, though President Trump’s decreasing approval ratings suggest that he’s struggling to maintain momentum with the public post his stunning election triumph.

  As for my relations, they are simply mortified/deeply embarrassed by what they see as the circus in the White House. Listening to good, decent Americans speak with actual shame of their ‘reality show’, you have to feel sympathy for them. Ordinary Americans – a majority anyway – feel a huge sense of embarrassment about Trump and his chaotic White House regime.

  Now I know there is a counter-argument, and that some people see Trump, for all his eccentricities, as a breath of fresh air. But I can only report on my own little insight this week, this chat over Dinner. For the record, my American relations believe the soap opera/reality show is a huge embarrassment. They are counting on Trump being impeached and say he’ll be gone this time next year. When they put this endgame to me, I am sceptical, and suggest it won’t be that easy to impeach him. They are placing their faith in the Russian involvement in their election bringing the Donald down.  

  I can see that the conversation is depressing them, so we return to our menus and I change the subject. I begin to tell them about the exploits of the Roscommon footballers. My aunt (in America most of her life, but a native of Knockvicar, Boyle) asks “How can Roscommon be Connacht champions if they got beaten by Mayo yesterday?”

  Wow. I really wasn’t expecting that. I calmly explain that we legitimately won Connacht and were then unfortunate enough to ‘draw’ Mayo later in the championship.

  Could have done with Mayo being impeached, but I guess you need some grounds.

The new Mrs Brown(e)

The gifted Brendan O’Carroll (even his critics surely agree he is gifted?) cannot go on forever. He’s not quite as young as he used to be, and all that physical slapstick humour requires an awful lot of energy, not to mention a capacity to withstand bruises and bumps. Besides, with his money, why wouldn’t Brendan consider retirement some time soon?

  Never fear! A worthy replacement has been unearthed. My good friend, Sean Browne, the charismatic Castlerea cameraman, has shown us another stunning string to his bow. At the Castlerea Rose Festival, Sean revealed a largely hidden talent – for all these years, he has been hiding his acting prowess. Sean appeared as ‘Mrs. Brown(e)’ and a damn good Mrs. Brown(e) he was too!

  The nation can breathe again. If and when Brendan O’Carroll decides to hang up his apron, there’s a potential successor in Castlerea. From Hell’s Kitchen to Mrs. Brown’s kitchen. Only thing is, Sean could never do the effin and blinding. Not his style. But he’d still make a fair go at the comedy. And some would say the wig even suits him.

 

 

 

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