MICHAEL MOYNIHAN: Don’t call off the booze hounds

We are all part of the same hypocrisy, said Michael Corleone in The Godfather (Part Two).

Granted, he was talking about extortion, prostitution and murder, not sport, but some lessons don’t need the relatively confined context of organised crime.

A few months ago your columnist was at the launch of new sports facilities in UCC, a function at which Leo Varadkar was present. The Minister for Tourism, Transport and Sport, Varadkar appears comfortable with sport only when it has ‘tran’ before it, and he didn’t disprove that impression at this particular gig, essaying a gag about Cork and Dublin’s relative levels of GAA success that was either so sophisticated that it was post-humour comedy or a complete misfire.

Yet Varadkar sounded a welcome note of common sense during the week when he pointed out that a ban on alcohol sponsorship of sport would be a blow to sports organisations’ efforts to be self-sufficient. That note of common sense was somewhat undermined by his indication that he’d prefer a system where the Government would compensate bodies giving up alcohol sponsorship, but we’ll come back to that.

Is there a contradiction in the combination of alcohol sponsorship with elite sport? Of course there is, but unfortunately for the zealots among us, we live in a real world, not one run by the muesli-eaters among us.

The words of Michael Corleone are true: you can wish for a situation where the organisations with the money to invest in promoting sport are wholesome and wholly ethical, but without them you must rely on what’s available.

That isn’t a charter to seek funding from arms manufacturers, more a simple invitation — if there are spotlessly ethical companies with nary a skeleton in the cupboard, nothing a sports organisation need worry about, then where are they? What’s clearer is the necessity for sponsorship of sport in this country. This runs in parallel with an indictment of successive governments over decades for their failure to invest in sports, despite obvious dividends in health, social cohesion and other areas.

In a chat recently with this column, Diarmuid Ferriter pointed out that it was only in the 1970s that Irish governments saw sport as something to invest in; they hadn’t needed to before that, because for the preceding decades the sports bodies themselves had looked after facilities and so on. Hence the biggest sports bodies in Ireland had the clout and finance to sort out good venues, while – to take an obvious example — marginal sports organisations, like cycling, still pine for a dedicated velodrome even in the wake of successes like Martyn Irvine’s in Minsk last week.

Alcohol sponsorship isn’t ideal, but what’s the alternative? Varadkar’s matching Exchequer funds idea isn’t going to fly in a time when (insert the example of savage government cuts which most appeals to you here).

Finally, Varadkar isn’t the only politician to butcher a sporting yarn.

One of his current Cabinet colleagues featured at a Dáil committee your columnist attended while working in the Dáil. Said politician compared a situation to one in which a manager sends up his full-backs, but sometimes those full-backs have to tuck in, and that means a gap towards the back...

The metaphor meandered on for a decade or so, until a technician leaned forward and tapped me on the shoulder. You would have to be of a certain vintage to appreciate his putdown.

“When the —— did Don Howe get elected to the Dáil?”

Failure of the ‘one size fits all’ approach

Were you surprised Kilkenny reacted so vehemently to the new sideline regulations introduced by GAA headquarters? Martin Fogarty, the Kilkenny selector, didn’t pull any punches in the statement he issued to this newspaper during the week. Words like ‘dictatorship’ were used, and he added that cutting the numbers allowed on the sideline from 12 to five made the position of selector untenable.

All in all, he didn’t leave readers in any doubt as to the depth of feeling on Noreside.

Fogarty was correct. The plainest expression of difference between Gaelic football and hurling is also the most obvious one: the 30-odd inches of ash that every hurler uses, or rather the two or three substitutes he keeps on the sideline in the care of a hurley-carrier. Facilitating the replacement of broken sticks isn’t an affectation at any level of the game. It’s a necessity.

However, the dissatisfaction in Kilkenny may also stem from the suggestions in some quarters that the new regulations may have as their inciting incident, to use a screen-writing term, the little disagreement between Anthony Cunningham and Brian Cody at the end of the drawn All-Ireland hurling final.

You remember the game ended on Joe Canning’s equalising free, and when Galway won that free Cody didn’t hide his displeasure, there was some pretty dangerous-looking . . . finger-wagging that went on for at least a few seconds.

If the suggestions are true then Kilkenny would certainly have grounds for annoyance. There is barely a county in the country which doesn’t have a little skeleton or two in the discipline cupboard.

Those counties are different to Kilkenny, though, in that none of them have a) collected six of seven consecutive All-Ireland titles and b) seen a single contretemps call into existence a major re-drawing of the basics of staging games. If the new regulations are the result of the Cody-Cunningham spat then it’s a poor day’s work. If the authorities felt that deeply about the incident when it happened a couple of suspensions should have been handed out at the time, and that didn’t happen.

In addition, examples have been cited from other sports when it comes to supporting the new regulations: much has been made of the rugby approach in terms of on-field incursions, but it’s worth pointing out that invoking other codes carries a risk as well: the danger of contradiction.

Most sports bodies don’t take an uncharacterised incident or two as a the launchpad for general legislation with the sport as a whole, for example.

If you want to talk about touchline interaction between rival managers, go back a couple of years to the Super Cup clash between Barcelona and Real Madrid, when Madrid boss Jose Mourinho notoriously — and pretty sneakily — poked a finger in the eye of Tito Vilanova, now Barcelona manager but then a member of the backroom staff. It was ugly and unprecedented but it didn’t provoke Uefa, Fifa, or anybody else into sweeping changes to ensure that rival coaches wouldn’t clash on the perimeter of games.

There are bigger challenges for the GAA than numbers on the sideline without finding problems to impose on itself. Recognising that hurling can be hindered by rules which work in Gaelic football would help a lot in that regard.

Jordan — simply the best

Michael Jordan celebrated his 50th birthday during the week, a fair milestone for the man generally viewed as the greatest basketball player of all time.

Whether he was or he wasn’t is a matter for debate, but as a personality Jordan repays your interest. There’s a fair library on the man who led the Chicago Bulls to NBA glory, among them When Nothing Else Matters by Michael Leahy of The Washington Post.

Leahy was kind enough to show me and my wife around the Post on a trip to the States a few years ago, pointing out where Woodward and Bernstein sat as they broke the Watergate story.

Leahy’s book doesn’t have my favourite Jordan story, though. That comes from the late David Halberstam’s Playing For Keeps.

Halberstam told the story of Jordan being beaten regularly by a team-mate at a video game in the departure lounge of the airport the Bulls used, but eventually Jordan improved enough to defeat the team-mate. What his opponent didn’t know, however, was that Jordan had bought an exact replica of the game in question and played it at home until he was good enough to defeat all comers.

When Robbie met Morrissey

The options were numerous. We were going to dwell on the possibilities when it comes to Jamie Heaslip’s playlist — why else would he have those earphones on all the bloody time — or a searching aside or two aimed at goings-on in the opening round of the Allianz Hurling League (props to Lorcan McLoughlin of Cork for the overhead flick last Saturday).

But in the end it was no contest: the much-tweeted picture of Steven Morrissey, once lead singer with The Smiths, alongside Robbie Keane was the most significant sporting event of the last week for this column. Having seen Morrissey lead the greatest band of all time through not one but two concerts in Cork’s old Savoy a scant 30 years ago, it was a memorable photograph, matched by the great man’s effusive comments about being distantly related to Dubliner.

When worlds collide, eh?

If you haven’t seen the picture, check it out. To garble the title of an old Smiths classic, it was really something.

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