Big match fever from Zanzibar to the Bronx

THE great world spins towards another All-Ireland Sunday. Around the world – for an hour or two at least – Irish feet will not make footprints on the fine sands of southeast Asia’s beaches.

Friends will meet on familiar corners of oblivious American cities before pushing the door open on a little wet embassy with a satellite pointed homewards. Phones of those abroad will buzz with succinct updates – but never often enough in the last few crucial moments.

John Canty is a 26-year-old from Innishannon in Cork. After two happy years working as a pensions administrator in Zurich’s Dublin office, like a lot of guys his age, he set the Facebook status thus: going to Oz with the lads for 12 months. And he was off.

Two years later, when I ring him this week, he picks up the mobile in Zanzibar.

“With the financial crisis and everything else I’ve been gone now for longer than I expected. I just arrived in Zanzibar this morning and the place is incredible. The people are really genuine, unlike in some touristy places and there’s a real happiness in the air, I must say.

“I went travelling with my friends but I left them all in Australia and I’m on my own now. But I’m not on my own really – there are plenty of German and English back-packers – and I usually just slot in with those groups.

“I’ve been trying to suss out where to watch the match. There’s an Irish bar in Dar es Salaam called – listen to this – ‘O’Willy’s Irish Whisky Tavern’. And I’ve been talking but there are Premiership games on and they’ll be showing them. I’llprobably just stay here ’til Monday and listen toit on the radio in aninternet cafe.”

A brother of Cork senior hurler, Kevin, John will surely soon be back swinging a hurley with Valley Rovers – but, like Cork and Down, there are a few peaks to be scaled yet.

“I might try Kilimanjaro – I’ll see how the money is – and the idea then is to circumnavigate Lake Victoria so it’ll be Rwanda, Kenya, maybe fly out of Ethiopia. I told the parents I’ll be home by Christmas. So we’ll see how we go.”

He’ll nearly run into our troops somewhere so. Comdt Ronan Corcoran picks up a crackling phone line in Uganda. Part of a European mission to the country, the officer shows immediately that you can take the boy out of the Kingdom, but...

“I’m from Killarney and to be honest it’s going to be very strange to not be watching my county in the third week of September. I’m not being cocky or arrogant – but growing up in Kerry, it’s what you associate with.”

Sorry you’re breaking up there, Cmdnt...

“But I’ll be cheering for the Rebels. Am I sure? I am; we have two Cork lads in our small unit out here. And I’ll certainly be cheering them on,” he adds.

“I’m in Kampala and there’s one Irish pub, Bubbles O’Leary’s. Two Irish lads have it here and they brought the bar itself all the way from Dundalk. The locals come in obviously and they don’t know what to make of us, the Mzungus, as they call white people – but its good fun.”

Now imagine twirling the globe or Google Earth westwards on the same morning. Treasa Smyth (nee Coffey) from Ballard in Cobh is winding through the streets of New York City from her home in Queens to a small studio on a college campus in the Bronx where she will present the station’s Sunday Game coverage.

“I usually open with two pieces of music – this year it will be the Banks and the Mountains of Mourne. That gets us off on a nice note and tells people what we’re about as well as paying tribute to the teams,” says Treasa, wife ofESPN soccer pundit Tommy – who started the broadcasts for the Irish in the Big Apple.

“We take the feed live from RTÉ – but the station in the Bronx is non-commercial so it’d be fined about $150,000 if there were adverts aired. So when they go to the breaks in Dublin, I come in and give bits of information about the teams,managers or the jerseys this year or whatever.

“I love doing it; it keeps me... well for that day I’m home again.

“People can find the pictures live these days if they like but we still have a lot of people in hospitals, cops, nurses who listen. And you’d be so surprised at the amount of second-, third-, even fourth- or fifth-generation Americans who sit down and listen every year.”

As Colm McCann wrote in his New York-based novel about an Irish priest, a French tight-rope walker and so much more: ‘The world spins. We stumble on. It is enough.’

adrian.russell@examiner.ie Twitter: @adrianrussell

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