McMahon doesn’t need a football pitch to shine

McMahon doesn’t need a football pitch to shine
East Kerry’s David Clifford celebrates scoring a goal in the Kerry SFC final at Austin Stack Park, Tralee yesterday. See Pages 18 and 19. Picture: Inpho/Bryan Keane.

Doubts your columnist entertains.

Can The Irishman really be that good? Can Ben Lerner really be that good? Will two points for a sideline cut truly revolutionise hurling and . . . be that good?

A big one: can the GAA really be a supplementary department of health, or adjunct outpost of social welfare, or cultivator of mental wellness, or whatever the challenge du jour is?

I’m inclined to be doubtful because it seems unfair to put the onus on an organisation which was founded to promote its sports rather than augment what should be the work of various well-funded government departments.

Then I headed up to the library of Terence MacSwiney Community College, Cork, last week, for a meeting. The speaker was Philly McMahon, the Ballymun Kickhams and Dublin footballer.

He was talking to an audience of sportspeople, coaches and community activists, sharing his life story in terms of choices made and supports offered.

The story was familiar to many present because it of course formed the core of his outstanding memoir, The Choice.

Alongside the sports elements, the book details the tragedy of McMahon’s older brother John, who became addicted to drugs and died young, and Philly drilled into the detail of John’s story while also challenging those present in the school library: challenging them to change their mindset when it came to drugs, to drug addicts, to their own weaknesses and strengths.

In person McMahon is not as big as you’d expect from his appearances on television in an AIG jersey — harassing, marking, charging, generally tormenting the corner-forwards all over the country - and he barely mentioned a football career that has seen him win seven All-Ireland medals and put great forwards in his back pocket.

His message is delivered powerfully, and the large attendance was fully engaged.

McMahon’s lessons landed: you could tell from the range and number of questions when he invited queries from the audience, and the Q and A went on longer than expected.

I chatted to him last Wednesday about talks such as the one given in the library and what, specifically, he hoped to achieve with them.

“I hope my story tonight, with all these young sports-people and others from the community, that they can take one thing out of it. In my time I’d have loved someone to come into my community to give me information.

Ultimately the message that parents have given kids for generations, ‘don’t take drugs’, hasn’t worked. That doesn’t mean we should tell kids to take drugs, obviously, but young people need to see the pain and suffering that others go through when they make that choice of crime and addiction. I’m hoping some of the people here can take something from it.

I don’t doubt they did. There were other things they could have taken from the evening as well, such as evidence of the strength of that community.

The fact that the gardaí of Gurranabraher Garda Station, and John O’Dwyer in particular, had put so much work into arranging everything.

The fact that Super Valu Hollyhill and Gurranabraher Credit Union had backed and supported the event.

The presence of people like Cork’s All-Ireland U20-winning manager Keith Ricken, camogie All-Ireland and All-Star winner Amy O’Connor, international boxer Christina Desmond.

I still think the government of the day gets a free pass every time the GAA gets involved in the community, but the retort is obvious. If they don’t do it, who will?

RTÉ’s sports coverage deserves due credit

Going by the evidence of social media there seems to be no shortage of people who could run RTÉ (or manage Manchester United, or put manners on Donald Trump. Or do my job, though in the last case I’ve no doubt they could.) I’m not in the RTÉ-defending business, because there are plenty of people employed for that specific purpose.

But in terms of sport — which I presume is why you’re here — I think credit is due.

There are glitches and oversights you get in all organisations run by humans (and not by Skynet from the Terminator movies), but in general terms RTÉ’s sports coverage is first rate.

Comparisons with the BBC, for instance, need to consider what a BBC Northern Ireland producer told me a long time ago: the BBC drama budget alone was a multiple of RTÉ’s entire budget.

The heroes looking for an alternative to RTÉ, and its sports coverage, might want to be careful what they wish for.

Tinseltown’s ‘de-ageing’ wonders coming soon to a sport near you

I mentioned The Irishman elsewhere on the page, the movie you may be aware of if you are not a middle-aged man, and a movie you are very much aware of if you are a middle-aged man.

This is not just because it’s a gangster movie made by Martin Scorsese, though in itself this is enough to trigger bores all over Ireland into telling you about the first time they saw Goodfellas.

The real reason those past the first flush of youth are taking such an interest is the ‘de-ageing’ technique by which actors in their late 70s like Robert De Niro and Al Pacino are, thanks to the wonders of digital technology, made look younger.

How convincing you find this is another matter. To this unpractised eye it just looks a little unnerving, not to say unnatural.

Scorsese himself has admitted that whatever about faces, a 78-year-old body getting out of a chair does not resemble a 48-year-old body getting out of a chair (this led to some awkward reshooting with Al Pacino, with Scorsese joking that the best they could do was to get Pacino’s movements down to those of a 62-year-old.)

Well, where there’s a will, and an enormous amount of money as well as impregnable egos, there’s a way.

Which leads to the obvious question: how soon before we get digital de-ageing of sportspeople? When will technology facilitate the reproduction of great players of the past — in all sports, from all eras?

Surely the day is coming when we’ll flick on a screen and see facsimiles of players from all periods of our favourite sport competing against each other.

The bodies may be old, but the smooth, unlined faces will make it all seem like magic. Not a bit unnatural. Not a bit unnerving.

Wrap up well in TheMan In The Red Coat

An old favourite of this column is back in the bookshops.

A combination of factors (i.e. my own inability to organise a calendar) meant I missed out on Julian Barnes at the Cork International Short Story Competition last September, but the consolation is available to buy.

The Man In The Red Coat has to be good because all of Barnes’s work is good.

Though for our purposes will anything ever beat the section of another book where he celebrates the greatness of his local club, Leicester City?

Name that book for acknowledgement in next week’s column. (That’s the best I can do as a prize. Live with it.)

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