Hiding behind the sporting occasions

I imagine you turn to these pages out of weariness and disgust with much of what appears earlier in the newspaper. As in the confirmation of the banana-ness of this particular republic with such spectacular own goals such as missing files in the Department of Finance, the kind of hapless cock-up quite at odds with the notion promoted by that same Department of its own expertise...

Hiding behind the sporting occasions

Well, ahem. Sorry.

Anyway, occasionally the real world intrudes even here, in this little universe of fun and games. Take, for instance, the preparations for the next festival of football to be held under the auspices of Sepp Blatter and sundry other creeps.

The occasional missive floating out of Brazil ahead of the World Cup is pretty discouraging. The collapsing structures and construction deaths, however, are part of a long-standing pattern, an unedifying one which was brought to life in a piece I read last week in The Guardian.

Simon Jenkins of that newspaper neatly skewered the notion of nations and politicians seeking validation through large-scale sports events, the Olympics and the World Cup in particular.

He took the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Vladimir Putin’s pet project, as his starting point, pointing out that selecting the venue in question had less to do with its convenience for winter sports than it had to do with displaying Mr Putin’s political strength, the dozens of terrorist deaths in the region last week notwithstanding.

Jenkins referred also to the work of Dave Zirin, a US writer with a long record of setting sport in a wider context, saying the American had “...inveighed against a cult that claimed a licence to militarise whole cities, extort public money and shut down civil liberties to protect its monopolies and its prestige”.

He justly cited the 2006 London Olympics act, which legally handed over the government of London to the International Olympic Committee for the duration of the games. “I really doubt if Zirin would have been able to broadcast his diatribe during the London Olympics in 2012, when official state hysteria was at its height. Nor would he have enjoyed such freedom in Beijing in 2008, or in Sochi today.”

Fair dues to Jenkins and Zirin. The great conjuring trick which convinces you that all human life must stop when these occasions are taking place is revealed sometimes; I would say that the shrivelled old man behind the curtain is exposed to public view — like the Wizard of Oz reference — but I withdraw that in fairness not to Mr Blatter, but out of deference to shrivelled old men everywhere.

Myself included.

Legislating against the workers

Here is what the proposed change to the hurling rules means.

If you are a youngster seeking to improve your skills, to fine-tune your striking, to give up hours of your time for the glory of the game, if you are able to make perfect contact with the sliotar right on the sweet spot of the bas... why bother? The GAA will only legislate your ability out of existence.

We’ve been willing to see the funny side of the proposed Nash rule, but now that it seems likely to be given the force of law, the laughing has to stop.

Nobody seems willing to acknowledge the basic ridiculousness of any rule being revamped on the basis that Anthony Nash scored a couple of goals in the All-Ireland finals.

For one thing, the change punishes a player for improving his skills, which would seem contrary to any basis for legislation.

The fact that Nash is to be penalised for being able to strike the ball with such power is being sidelined in favour of a spurious health and safety regulation... cast your minds back to Kilkenny’s ’Henry Shefflin’s terrific penalty strike to decide the 2009 All-Ireland final against Tipperary.

Clearly if that sliotar had struck anyone they’d have been hurt, but there doesn’t appear to have been the same level of hand-wringing and hypocrisy after that.

A few years before that, Tom Kenny of Cork scored a spectacular goal against Wexford in the All-Ireland semi-final, blasting the ball past keeper Damien Fitzhenry; the netminder remarked casually afterwards that the ball had nicked his jersey sleeve as it flew past him, adding that it might have broken his arm if it had made contact.

Reaction from the lawmakers? None.

The Clare players who lined up in goal last September were all wearing facemasks, and as such were better protected than Fitzhenry and the Tipperary players on the goalline facing Shefflin.

Yet now those players’ health is in greater danger.

The attempt to focus on where the sliotar is lifted and struck as the crux of the problem, by the way, is both misleading and erroneous. For one thing the ball has been lifted forward and closer to goal for penalties for decades.

For another, there’s a self-regulating aspect to lifting the ball which you saw in evidence during the All-Ireland finals.

Nash himself, for instance, though better at moving the ball forward than almost any other player, is still not guaranteed to make perfect contact with the sliotar when he does; witness the last close-in free he took in the drawn All-Ireland final.

An appeal to common sense seems not worth the paper it’s printed on, but consider this.

Is there any other sport in the world which would punish a player who has honed his skills by changing the rules?

Strange to have it all, whenever I want it

I won’t name the sport, or the incident, but I became aware, tangentially, during the week that something had happened in a particular code that was noteworthy.

What I missed was the sweet ache of having missed something, because I knew I’d find it on YouTube soon. Leaving aside the other odd sensation, that niggling sense that if you want something to occur in your favourite sport you need only type in the desired key words into the YouTube search bar and somehow, against all known logic, you will call that event into existence, I cast my mind back to the dear, dark days (almost) beyond recall: my youth.

There was a particular, specific sense of regret then if you missed something on the news or sports programmes because there was no way to call it back up.

We had heard of VCRs, yes, that metropolitan affectation which lurked in the capital, but when I was a small boy you had to have your wits about your for own goals, streakers and savage tackles.

Are we missing out by having the entire digital world ready to summon up such sporting highlights at the flick of a button?

Maybe. It could be that we are raising a first generation now who will never know sporting nostalgia. Nowadays, though, every place is all access, all the time.

Disclosure: that sports matter I referred to above? I YouTubed it within seconds. Make of that what you will.

A step in the right direction

Yours truly understands an announcement is imminent from Cork GAA about the development squads it runs in the county.

Furthermore, it is our understanding that several former All-Ireland winners have been persuaded to get involved in running said squads, raising the profile of the operation and making available to the youngsters involved some of the vast expertise within the county. A guarantee of future success? No. A step in the right direction for the most successful county in the GAA? Very much so.

Interesting times ahead.

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