For sports columnists in search of topics to write about, there’s always a swivelling quality — swivelling, I said — to the days running up to deadline.
You’re looking everywhere. Is this snippet worth stretching to 600 words? Is this multigenerational epic capable of compression, readable in the time it takes for your morning coffee?
Last Friday Dan Jenkins, the doyen of golf writers — and a supremely funny writer to boot — passed away, and the column more or less presented itself.
Jenkins, who wrote a draft of Beverly Hills Cop II which was rejected for being too funny. Who rejected the deep-dive approach (“F**k that, I take my first impression and roll with it”). Who supposedly bought a house in Hawaii. Over the phone. From a bar in Manhattan.
Easy column ahead.
Then the news rolled in about Kieran O’Connor, the former Cork footballer. If you read this newspaper on Saturday, you would have seen the powerful piece former Cork captain Graham Canty wrote about his old teammate.
Canty alluded to the bond between those Cork players who won a football All-Ireland in 2010, pointed out that O’Connor is now battling cancer for the third time in 18 months, and added: “If I put myself in Kieran’s position or my own wife in Sinéad’s position, this would be the most frightened we could ever imagine ourselves to be. The time has come when he needs our help and I don’t think the group is enough this time. We need more.”
Writing about sport means addressing people’s pastimes and interests.
What they devote their weekends to. Generally speaking it’s easy to distinguish between it and real life, but Canty’s powerful piece last weekend showed readers where the two intersect. By stripping the situation down to its bare essentials, the former Cork captain removed the need for euphemism. The easy option is to lean on terms like opponents and challenges, battles, and campaigns, but even allowing for the natural inclination towards metaphor, images don’t do justice to the situation as described by Canty: as frightened as you could be.
Because of that it was good to tell a family going through a terrible time that people were thinking of that family. Better again, many were trying to do something concrete to help thanks to the gofundme page (see details below).
That links to another point, which is not so much that Kieran O’Connor played for Cork, or played in high-profile games, putting his name and reputation on the line in duels with some of the best athletes in Ireland. The point is that playing Gaelic games makes O’Connor part of a wider community. Spiking a couple of metaphors above means we can’t really lean on another tired cliche here, the one where we talk about the GAA being a family, or being a family like no other. But the response so far from GAA people has been heartening in its breadth. The support of teammates is expected, but so is the support of former opponents, oddly enough. There is something in the experience of trying to beat a guy in a different jersey to the ball, someone who spends an hour touch-tight in your company, that bonds people: the sincerity of the good wishes from the men who spent summer afternoons trying to get past Kieran O’Connor has been genuine and powerful in its own way. But for all that, Canty is right on the most pressing issue. The group is not enough this time. We need more.
Interesting times in the States, particularly last Friday, International Women’s Day.
That was the day the US women’s national team (soccer) filed a suit against US Soccer for “institutionalized gender discrimination”. The USWNT — World Cup winners in 2015 — is seeking pay parity with their male counterparts, who didn’t qualify for their World Cup in 2018. As a comparison, Jill Ellis steered the USWNT to that World Cup in 2015, yet it’s been reported she was the 10th-highest paid employee at US Soccer: she was paid $318,533 (€283,400) in the 2017-2018 fiscal year.
As a comparison, Jurgen Klinsmann was paid $3.4m (€3.03m) in severance after being fired while Bruce Arena earned $1.4m (€1.25m) for taking over as coach from Klinsmann and losing to mighty Trinidad and Tobago.
The women’s team has brought in more revenue than the men’s for US Soccer over the last three years, and that 2015 World Cup final was the most-watched soccer game in US history. Clearly they have a strong hand. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.
I’m a bit late to the party on the underage soccer game which was abandoned in Cork late last month, the kind of event which draws plenty of comment — particularly from those who love nothing better than commenting ad nauseam.
The news did remind me of a couple of abandonments I myself witnessed first-hand. I almost said ‘participated’ but I’d prefer not to take my chances under the statute of limitations.
I certainly wasn’t an influence on the decision to call off one particular Gaelic football game. Not as influential as the female relative of one of the other players. When she ended up in the middle of the field, and in the middle of a pretty uninhibited 20-man melee, poking the referee in the chest about some earlier decision, that was the final straw for the official. He blew his whistle and headed for the dressing-rooms.
Drilling into the reasons behind the game which was abandoned last month, it seems that parents abusing the referee were a contributing factor.
That sounds familiar, too. In my undistinguished underage career in Gaelic games there was always one particular fixture nobody looked forward to, because taking a sideline from a specific part of the field was a risky proposition.
Why? Because the mothers of a few of the home team’s players congregated there. With umbrellas, no matter what the weather was like. And the visiting player lining up his delivery from the whitewash, in hurling or football, was always a live target for those umbrellas.
I don’t ever remember a referee taking action, either. Which shows the immortality of ‘discretion is the better part of valour’ as a principle of officiating, no matter what the sport.
I’ll have to forgive Will Hunt eventually for nicking an idea I had and turning it into a book, and the name tells you everything: Underground.
Hunt explores what’s under the ground, whether it’s mines and subway systems, sewers and cellars, the Paris catacombs... he didn’t replicate my own subterranean experience, in particular being in a tunnel in Connecticut in July, sitting in six inches of water and feeling a frog hop out from under my hand.
I can still feel the lump on the top of my head where I collided with the pipes when I jumped.
Fair dues, Will Hunt, flying the flag for all of us non-claustrophobes.