Warren Gatland, who announced his Lions squad today, is a serious man…who generally sports a serious expression. It’s Dour Central with our Warren! He’s one of those ‘You either love him or hate him’ type of guys who add spice to our sporting lives. In public, Gatland’s direct, uncompromising, utterly charmless. I have no doubt it’s a different story off-camera. He’s a serious rugby man with a proven record as a world class coach. Good for Warren. I guess if we want laughs we should switch from those post-match interviews and browse the channels for a comedian.
I digress. In his much-anticipated selection, Gatland has included eight Irish players in a 37-strong Lions’ squad for the tour of South Africa.
There is surprise at the omission of James Ryan, disappointment too at the exclusion of Johnny Sexton. For what it’s worth, I can understand why Sexton didn’t make the cut. While his experience would have been very beneficial – including off the field – it’s hard to argue with the coach’s blunt view that the now 35-year-old injury-battered star might have struggled to play a number of games over a short period.
In these parts, as anywhere in the world where rational people are to be found, we welcome the inclusion of Athlone’s Robbie Henshaw, who has been in sensational form.
It promises to be an interesting tour. If the Lions fall short, Gatland’s choices will be unsparingly revisited. If they triumph, his shrewd leadership, singlemindedness and aversion to sentimentality will be acknowledged, enthusiastically by some, grudgingly by others. Either way, he’ll maintain that steely expression, the look of a man whom you should cross at your peril!
Later on Thursday
Tonight, in an unexpected late-night thriller for Twitter fans, Eoghan Harris is exposed over his involvement with a fake social media account.
Pugnacious Eoghan has been a naughty boy online. The so-called ‘Barbara Pym’ Twitter account – now suspended – frequently tweeted praise of Harris, while attacking other journalists.
The Sunday Independent has now dropped the veteran columnist. I’m not keen on kicking a man when he’s down, and I detest the cancel culture. That said, it’s clear that Harris – whose column is often more bizarre rant than reasoned argument – is at the very least guilty of hypocrisy.
It’s dubious enough that a high profile columnist was a party to this anonymous account and its often vitriolic content; when that columnist has a history of writing about ethics within the media, the hypocrisy is self-evident. (In subsequent days, Twitter suspended a further eight accounts which the company says had links to the Barbara Pym account; Harris has admitted involvement with ‘Barbara’ but denies having anything to do with the other accounts).
At around 9.10 on this beautiful morning – school run done – I went to Mote Park for a walk. From what I could gather, I was the only person there at that time. Just me, thousands of bluebells and hundreds of chirping birds.
As I’ve noted here before, it’s a beautiful, calming web of walks. If you aren’t familiar with the magnificent, stunning Mote Park, I highly recommend that you visit.
This is nature in all its glory, with beautiful trees, delightful walks, and varied animal life nestling in the forest. The bluebells add a gorgeous dash of colour. The red squirrel is celebrated. There is quaint, unimposing signposting, a picnic area, benches on which to relax.
In Mote Park, the bluebells and trees and the singing birds are immune to wars and pandemics, to inequality and misery, to greed and turmoil. The insects and birds aren’t on Twitter. This is an untainted world, natural and timeless.
By 9.30 am, walkers are emerging in the sunshine and shadows. Cheery ‘Good mornings’ circulate. A man briskly walks his dog. A middle-aged couple turn into the Crofton Trail with two dogs alongside. A mother passes with her toddler in a buggy, the kid twirling a twig and savouring the surrounds.
When I return to my car just after 10 o’clock, there are eleven or twelve vehicles parked, the occupants merging into the maze of trails. The cheery sound of a radio broadcaster seeping from one woman’s headphones is the only challenge to the beguiling chorus from the trees. Serenity reigns. Mote Park is a glorious treasure on our doorstep.
4.30 pm on a May Saturday, and Main Street in Roscommon is almost entirely deserted. The innards of the street remain exposed as the current major renovation project continues.
On my walk, I meet only a handful of people. Many premises’ are closed. Some are open, but footfall is almost non-existent. It’s eerie. In the newly-created crater/valley, an assortment of JCBs and diggers stand dormant. It must be particularly strange late at night, although I am reminded of that scene in Toy Story when the motionless toys suddenly come to life!
I chat with a local trader. He raises a question that had also crossed my mind. Why can’t work be ongoing in the ‘crater’ on this dry, pleasant Saturday? Surely it would be a big momentum driver (and of some reassurance to traders) if the works could continue on Saturdays, indeed at every available opportunity.
Tonight, Northern Irish sporting superstars take over the TV. The first episode of ‘Gods of Snooker’ (BBC2) featured the late, great Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins. It was a thoroughly enjoyable nostalgia trip, even if many of us have seen much of the footage before.
Even with Alex thrilling and tormenting from the past, and with GAA match highlights back on RTE, the absolute ‘must-watch’ of the night was the Wells Fargo Championship, where another Northern Irishman was the star turn.
Rory McIllroy – born seven years after Higgins won his second world title in 1982 – ended a very poor run of form with a fine victory.
Part of McIllroy’s appeal is a swashbuckling style that can see him destroy a golf course when he is inspired, while also being prone to occasionally self-imploding. This man is so blessed by the golfing Gods, a return to the winner’s enclosure was inevitable.
Of course, as so often with McIllroy, there was drama. He’s programmed to thrill. Leading by two on the last, it should have been a green-tinted victory stroll in front of his adoring American fans (now back on the course). But McIllroy conjured up a dreadful tee shot, finding deep rough near a creek. Potential calamity awaited. Genius prevailed, McIllroy arrowing the ball past hazards on to the embrace of the green.
Rory’s return, coinciding with bigger crowds being allowed to attend, was a dream for golf, its sponsors and the TV companies. So too were the images of Rory celebrating with his wife Erica and their baby daughter, Poppy.
Watching, I was struck by how fitting a finale this family celebration was to a great night’s TV viewing. Just an hour earlier, the ‘Gods of Snooker’ documentary had ended with the iconic moment when an emotional Alex Higgins hugged his wife Lynn and their baby daughter, Lauren at the close of the 1982 World Snooker Final. Similar heartwarming images, almost forty years apart. Another Northern Ireland sporting God is now strutting again in front of the watching world.
Real progress now, with more and more people – of varying ages – sporting broad smiles after an appointment is confirmed on the phone. Hour by hour, men and women walk into those rooms, are offered a seat, and before they know it they are looked after. The roll-out of haircare by barbers and hairdressers shows no sign of slowing down.