Paul Healy’s Week

We were grateful for a slice of normality, even if it was symbolised by face masks, a slightly subdued atmosphere, and the knowledge that another lockdown is circling

 

Thursday

‘Christy Ring: Man and Ball’ was a very enjoyable, poignant and welcome documentary on the hurling hero.

He was long retired when I was growing up, but his legend was passed from generation to generation. This was an excellent, affectionate and moving documentary. The footage of Ring gave a sense of both his playing ability and his iconic presence on and off the field.

Until I saw this documentary (shown on RTE), I wasn’t quite fully aware of the extent of his achievements. Not only did he win eight senior All-Irelands, he was almost a Cúchulainn-like figure to his people. Like too many other superheroes, he departed this world much too soon. His legacy and legend will live on.

 

Saturday

There were times during the first half of Saturday’s All-Ireland football final when Dublin, the invincibles of this era, looked uncharacteristically out of sorts. There were mislaid passes, wides, the odd fumble. Mayo were playing well. It was probably reasonable for the watching TV audience to wonder if Mayo-ites might yet be celebrating (in their homes) like it was 1951.

Still, Dublin led by two at the half-time whistle, and were much slicker after the break. It was particularly impressive how they owned the ball for much of the 10-minute period when they were down a man. Mayo battled on impressively, and going into the last fifteen minutes, they were level with the six-in-a-row chasing champions. But Dublin’s grip on the game was growing. Mayo only got one point in the last 29 minutes of the game, the Dubs winning with comfort in the end.

Dublin weren’t at their best, which is ominous for all the hapless pretenders. Although they never actually looked like winning, Mayo did very well, and James Horan’s latest team could well be a stronger force over the next two or three years. Congratulations to this magnificent Dublin team on their latest record-breaking success.

Meanwhile, the RTE panel had a very average outing. I never know what to expect from Sean Cavanagh. To be fair, he appears to like the idea of disagreeing with fellow panellists, of straying from consensus. At heart, he doesn’t want to play it safe. Sean seems to want to say something controversial or provocative, but he seldom delivers. It’s like he went to the Joe Brolly School of Animated Provocation, but didn’t really concentrate.

The once-great BBC panel show Have I Got News for You is now tired, arguably past it. It is in terminal decline. A similar fate is revealing itself for the Three Grumpy Men who once starred with the likeable straight man, Michael Lyster.

Colm O’Rourke, his old sparring partner Pat Spillane, and the mischevious Joe Brolly once formed a feted Sunday Game panel. Maybe we were easily entertained in those days. There were times when they were very good, other nights when they revelled in indulging in hyperbole for the fun of it.

O’Rourke was a great footballer. As a pundit, for many years he was the voice of reason as Spillane and Brolly did their showboating. The glory days are gone. O’Rourke’s contributions now are often embarrassing. Like Paul Merton in Have I Got News for You, the magic is fading. Colm is past his punditry peak. I’m not being ageist. The game has changed, and O’Rourke is sounding outdated.

It’s the same with Spillane. If I hear him pass off any more basic statistics as credible punditry, I’ll despair. We need nuance and intelligent analysis, not lazy clichés and Pat’s annoying obsession with silly stats. Time to ring the changes.

 

Later on Saturday

When friends rang to invite us out for a meal, it felt like we were being asked to step back in time. Which we were, I suppose.

And so, the other night, we found ourselves in a restaurant, a party of four. Getting ready to go out felt strange. Being out and about in a social setting felt strange. It was great to revisit something of life BC (before Covid).

There were 25 to 30 customers in the restaurant. It was all a touch muted, yet still very nice. With no background music, we were spared Chris Rea and friends. To our right, five ladies were in great form. When they got quite excited about the arrival of their cocktails, it almost felt like Christmas.

By 10.30 pm or so, the staff in the restaurant began to gently ease the night on its way. A little while later, the waitress stopped at our table and chatted (probably playing her ‘Eh…we might wrap up when you’re ready’ card). She was stoic in the face of the pandemic’s cold unreasonableness. There had been speculation over the previous 24 hours about restaurants and hotels possibly closing again later this month. When we sympathised, the waitress smiled a weary smile.

All night, the proprietor and staff had done all they could (and they succeeded) to make this an enjoyable experience. Smiling faces (well, behind masks) standing up to the chaos besetting the hospitality industry.

As for us, we were grateful for a slice of normality, even if it was symbolised by face masks, a slightly subdued atmosphere, and the knowledge that another lockdown is circling. We thanked our hosts and made a heartfelt wish that the New Year would bring some stability for them. Then we sanitised our hands and stepped into the eerily quiet night, passing the empty pubs and inhaling the stillness of this silent last Saturday night before Christmas.