Category Archives: Sport

Coe-opted

When I was growing up, Shay Healy was as ubiquitous as anyone in gainful employment in Ireland could be; he seemed to have a hand in almost everything musical in the country. He and Phil Coulter looked to have Irish popular music carved up in their own duopoly. Not much of Healy’s work from those years is remembered now – except, of course, the 1980 Eurovision winner he wrote for Johnny Logan – and that’s not too surprising given his work was almost quintessentially ephemeral, written and performed for a living.

To give Healy his due though, he and his work had an edge and wit that was lacking in most light entertainment emanating from the official culture of Ireland in the 1980s. He also never took himself too seriously, even if he did have the semi-legendary attribute of indirectly causing Charlie Haughey’s downfall. His interview with Seán Doherty on Nighthawks in January 1992 elicited the claim that other members of Haughey’s cabinet knew about Doherty’s phone-tapping while justice minister. Haughey was gone within weeks.

One song I do remember introduced me to the man who is now the head of the London Olympic Games Organising Committee. I was too young to remember the Moscow Olympics but three years later I heard “If I Were Sebastian Coe” and its jangly pub-rock was sufficiently catchy to lodge the middle-distance Olympic champion in my conscience. It was so impressive that I was a bit surprised to discover that Sebastian Coe was not some crusty old dignatory but a fairly young man with a few years on the track ahead of him. The song is an amusing ditty, with the inevitable Steve Ovett reference, and the title and refrain demonstrate a command of the subjunctive mood rare in pop music. As Healy explains on his own YouTube channel, Coe himself was not too impressed at the tribute:

I wrote “If I Were Sebastian Coe” in 1983 as an homage to Seb, one of the greatest middle-distance runners of all time, whose frequent jousts on the track with fellow Briton Steve Ovett were the stuff of legend. I sent a copy to Seb and he said he would sue me…I hope Lord Coe, Olympic supremo 2012 has a better sense of humour…

Quite.

(I first saw the video for this song on Youngline, an RTÉ youth programme of the day, and a precursor to Jo-Maxi. I have a very dim recollection of Youngline, though it also provided me with my first ever glimpse of The Jam around about that time. I always imagined it to be short-lived but I had in fact only caught the tail-end of it. It ran from about 1978, in which year U2 made their first ever TV appearance on the show. Well, we won’t hold that against it.

(by Oliver Farry)

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The Green Army (With Guest Appearance by ‘Borat’)

Irish football fans like to think of themselves as the best in the world; it’s pretty much a self-awarded accolade but it’s also undoubtedly true that they are well regarded by those that have encountered them. The reputation was forged at a time when English football fans (or at least a sizeable minority of them) were still terrorising towns and cities across Europe, so it wasn’t too difficult to look good in comparison. But boozy good-naturedness is not the sole preserve of the Irish — the Danes had a similar reputation on their first World Cup in Mexico in 1986, and other Scandinavians and the Scots are largely known to be the same. You might even say that the majority of football fans anywhere in the world, behave just like that — whatever followers of snottier sports might say — but the bad eggs, of course, will always stand out. Regardless of whether the Irish are unique in their good behaviour, there is something remarkable about large groups of mostly young men drinking so much yet causing little or no trouble.

The video below, which I found on YouTube, sums up Ireland’s fans rather eloquently. It was filmed in Bari three years ago (on April Fools’ Day, no less) on the occasion of Ireland’s World Cup qualifier away to Italy. A sharply (or maybe tackily) dressed young man is apprehended by a group of fans, who delight in his supposed similarity to Borat. There’s an initial hint of menace in it, not intentional but the fellow might be forgiven for being worried by a group of foreigners taking such a keen interest in his appearance. After nervously declining an offer of being lifted on someone’s shoulders, he finally joins in with the fun, with another mustachioed local sharing the heat. You have to admire his perseverance and good humour as it was a situation that might so easily have been misinterpreted, given the probable language barrier. Having been in Bari myself on that trip, I can testify to the wonderful welcome the locals gave the Irish fans, despite dire warnings that local businesses were going to rip us off at every opportunity. The Irish fans’ banter in this video could have veered into mean-spiritedness but ultimately it’s generous and endearing. The very fact their poor ‘victim’ really looks nothing at all like Borat only makes it all the funnier.

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What Will I Do at the Community Games?

It’s only a faint recollection but I remember my first Community Games. I was about five or six and my parents brought me down to Corran Park in Ballymote one Spring Sunday where I was instructed to run like the clappers upon hearing a gun. Out of a field of eight others, some of whom were manifestly better prepared and more motivated than I was, I came fourth or fifth, which pretty much set the tone for where I would come in most things throughout my life. Not destined for glory but neither would I haplessly bring up the rear. The die was cast, I would develop into a Sunderland or an Aston Villa of the competitions of life. An also-ran, as they call them. Because I also ran.

Like most things you encounter when you’re a child, you assume the Community Games has been around since the beginning of time and being blooded in its local competition every May is as integral a part of your development as spending a night on a mountainside was for Spartan babies. Like many other Irish children, I tried my hand in multiple events, first the individual track and field sports, at parish level (it all begins with the parish), later even more haplessly with ‘art’ (doomed to failure there — there was a young heavy metaller in town who was actually able to draw who had the local and county titles locked down every year), and finally the team sports, where I finally tasted success at county level and, were it not for the organisation’s absurd rules, might have gone on to greater things).

The competition though, dating only from 1968, started to keep youngsters off the streets in Dublin — something that seems a bit odd to me as I think of it as a quintessentially culchie event — meaning it wasn’t of so old a vintage by the time I was thrust into competition some time after the Moscow Olympics. It seemed like everyone in Ireland took part (or so it looked from our parish, where nobody was absent when it kicked off in May every year). The games’ structure was more or less based on the GAA’s with parishes holding their own ‘games’ in spring, with the winners progressing to the county finals a month later. That in turn would produce the All-Ireland finalists, who would compete over two weekends just as the school year was starting in late August and early September in the Mosney holiday camp in Meath (still colloquially known as ‘Butlin’s’ in my childhood). Ireland’s geometrically perfect number of counties — 32 — was easily whittled down to a final eight in a series of heats and semi-finals. The team games would be held throughout the spring with the county finals decided in June and in July the provincial finals would take place. The four winners of those would face off in Mosney later in the summer.

Like their grown-up prototype, the Olympics, the Community Games were best known for the track and field events and dozens of Ireland’s finest athletes from Frank O’Mara to John Treacy and Sonia O’Sullivan cut their teeth there. But there were odd appendages too, such as the ‘choir’; our local parish’s representatives were a crack outfit at that, with my sister and her frightfully well-marshalled schoolmates regularly cleaning up at Mosney with orchestrated accapello worthy of Brian Wilson. There was the aforementioned ‘art’, which is more Olympian than you think — in the early days of the Olympics it was a regular event and Jack B. Yeats won a silver medal at the Paris games in 1924 for ‘The Liffey Swim’ no less. Draughts was another competition our parish conquered the rest of the country at on a few occasions. ‘Model making’, on the other hand, for some reason not considered ‘art’, was something nobody did where I grew up, though presumably someone did it somewhere, like those people that did Dutch for the Leaving Cert. According to Wikipedia there are several other non-athletic events, none of which I can remember being there when I was young, the variety show, ‘project’, comedy sketch/drama and the quiz (I’d have remembered that one all right), the intriguingly named ‘culture corner’ and disco dancing (though, given the ubiquity of disco-dancing events throughout the country when I was a child, I’m surprised it was never there to begin with).

The medals got progressively better the further you got. The local ones were the usual cheap-looking plated monstrance-shaped sunbursts with a sticker in the centre bearing the Community Games logo, a circle with the four provincial crests enclosed in smaller ones. The county medals were a bit bulkier still and the national medals — at least in the late 1980s, when I got to see them on a regular basis — were relatively impressive slabs of plated medal. My sister and brother both brought them home but my only ones came in soccer and hurling (it was quite difficult to win a soccer medal in Sligo, less so a hurling one, given there were only four teams in the county and probably only two of them could hit the sliotar). The Games’ arcane rules prevented us from winning a possible national title one year; players were not allowed compete beyond county level in more than one team game. Having won the soccer, Gaelic and hurling titles with effectively the same players  — despite the age groups being under-12, under-13 and under-14 respectively — it was decided to send only one forward to provincial level. A coin was tossed and the Gaelic team won, depriving of glory the soccer team, which probably had a better chance of winning. The following year, faced with a similar scenario but fewer player overlap, the players were instead divided among the various sides and all competed at provincial level, and lost, with depleted panels.

There’s surprisingly little Community Games-related stuff on YouTube and the XBox filching of the name has made searching for it all the more difficult. Here is Kilcormac boys’ volleyball team from Offaly, victorious in 1985.  One of the YouTube comments says they didn’t get to stay in Mosney, travelling up and down on the same day. Doesn’t sound very sporting to me.

I only visited Mosney for the national finals once or twice. If you weren’t taking part it wasn’t really all that fun and even in the 1980s, the sheen of glamour on the ageing holiday camp had been well and truly dulled. For those competing, it must have been a laugh though —  staying in the chalets with your teammates, in a mini-Olympic village, with often a fair stab at the shenanigans that take place in the real village. For the past few years the games have taken place in Athlone instead, as Mosney is now home to asylum applicants — a reminder that the word ‘camp’ can be as readily connotative of misery as it can be of leisure.

The authoritative work on the Community Games is, of course, Aidan Walsh’s single ‘Community Games’, from 1987 or thereabouts, in which the self-styled Master of the Universe meditates on the games, refraining ‘what will I do at the Community Games?’ and pointing out, quite rightly, that draughts was a ‘child’s game’. I got to know Aidan a bit years later when he was a familiar face around Temple Bar. He would always give you the thumbs up and exhort you  to not work too hard. It was a bit at odds with the Community Games’ Victorian-style motto, ‘Mens Sana in Corpore Sano’ but, then again, they used to always tell us as kids it was the taking part that counts…

(by Oliver Farry)

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Clash Of The Ash

Clash Of The Ash was written and directed by Fergus Tighe in 1987. It was shot on 16mm with a running time of just over 50 minutes and won Best Irish Short at the Cork Film Festival that year. Some months later the film was broadcast on RTÉ 1 where it made quite an impression on my teenage self – primarily because it contained a lot that I could identify with.

Phil Kelly (played by William Heffernan) is the anti-hero; a restless teenager imbued with natural hurling ability and a strong aversion to studying. The location is not fictitious but instead it’s the very real Fermoy in County Cork which is a welcome touch. Like much of 1980s smalltown Ireland it’s a claustrophobic place that drives people away but inexplicably retains a strange sort of hold on them. The latter is exemplified by Gina Moxley’s character, the tempestuous Mary Hartnett who has returned after a stint in London. The other members of their gang are languid Martin (Vincent Murphy), uptight Willy, and mousey Rosie who carries a torch for Phil.

Control and the expectations of others are what Phil fights against. Kelly Senior wants him to take on a job in the local garage while his nagging and snobbish mother has her sights set on him getting a good Leaving Cert. Meanwhile on the sports field the coach Mick Barry (Alan Devlin) has high hopes that his star player will make the county minors and by extension a job in the bank.

“The GAA looks after its own”.

There is a keen build-up to the upcoming match against local rivals Mitchelstown. But Phil isn’t happy. He prefers to train alone (running down a hill backwards and belting a tennis ball around a handball alley) and just can’t apply himself in school. He has little interest in what his well-meaning father can arrange for him and clashes with his mother about late nights and “cavorting with gurriers”.

“It would be more in your line to think about the Leaving Cert”.

Music plays a key part in Clash Of The Ash. Phil wears a Cramps t-shirt, has a Rum, Sodomy and The Lash poster stuck to the bedroom wall and spins Dirty Old Town on the turntable. Mary complains about sharing a house with NME hopefuls The Saints and Scholars while it’s revealed that Martin is talented musician but lacks the motivation to take it to the next level. In a pivotal sequence the gang borrow Willy’s father’s car and drive into Mitchelstown to see The Big Guns play the local nightclub. An exercise in pint stealing means a clash with angry punters and an increase in tension with Murphy (Phil’s nemesis and hurler on the opposing team).

The ill-feeling between the two players explodes during the crucial game. It proves to be a turning point in Phil’s life.

Clash Of The Ash takes place in a world of Silk Cut posters in shop windows, radio clips of Michael Lyster reading soccer results, interminably boring Irish classes and lessons in how to skip mass effectively. The television in the pub is tuned to RTÉ’s Closedown (national anthem), the Sunday Press costs 50p, the dole is paid on Tuesdays and the bank is seen as an ideal career choice. While drifting down the river Martin wistfully remembers a time when local trains still ran and flattened ha’pennies so wide that they could be used to buy penny sweets from the almost-blind shopkeeper. However the sense of claustrophobia is ever-present and the drift towards emigration an inevitable outcome.

The moral: when others try to run your life then escape becomes necessary.

As Mr Kelly states (when offering advice on how to dig properly):

“It’s all about balance”.

(by nlgbbbblth)

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