Learning a lesson from US dilemma

Among the many newsletters I subscribe to — The New Taxidermy, The Modern Man’s Guide to Panache — is The New Yorker’s daily offering, which never fails to uplift, educate, and spell out the pressing concerns of the Manhattan middle class, writes Michael Moynihan.

Ben McGrath of that magazine had a thought-provoking piece last week on sports rules, and more specifically, the driving impulse to change rules in American sports.

Some of the instances cited were eerily familiar — his starting point was the retirement of ice hockey keeper Martin Brodeur, whose particular skills led to redrawing of NHL legislation.

Others were familiar to me, if nobody else — McGrath said: “Another of the league’s proposed solutions was a no-brainer: asking the referees to enforce the written rules.”

Generally speaking, this is an area of some elasticity in every physical-contact sport, with officials inclined to allow some leeway to players competing at the highest level.

However, in this regard McGrath was referring to was “the increasing tendency, across the league, of defensive players to impede the skating progress of offensive players through “clutching and grabbing”.

“Technically illegal, just like travelling in basketball, hockey’s hooking and interfering tactics had spread gradually, like a plague, with the referees’ tacit endorsement.”

If you can imagine that point being made in this newspaper by a former Cork hurling goalkeeper in his column, then you will see why this piece was half interesting article, half echo chamber for many points made here.

It won’t come as a surprise to anyone interested in US sports to hear McGrath cite hockey team owners’ concerns that their league is less interesting to spectators because of the relative decline in scoring. This makes it less attractive, and less lucrative, a spectacle.

Don’t all groan at once. The sports-business Darwinism practised in the US wouldn’t fit most models in this country, but isn’t there a cold-shower freshness to an attitude which takes the entertainment value of a sport as important?

It’s not as if that isn’t a consideration across the spectrum. The National Football League is in full swing, and following on from the grim fare in much of last year’s championship one would hope for an improvement in the spectacle; odd, then, that the (relatively) sweeping changes being mooted are in hurling.

Consider this: why are rule changes implemented in sports in the first place?

Is improving how the game looks that far from the law-changers’ mindset? Does greater legislative accuracy naturally produce a spectacle which is more aesthetically pleasing?

Are we conditioned to see a ‘fairer’ game as prettier?

Answers on a postcard. Hopefully your insights aren’t lost in the centre pages of The New Taxidermy.

Suffering a Thurles lockout

Mr Jackie Cahill, freelance journalist at large, caused the bottom to drop out of my world the other evening, and the world nearly dropped out of my bottom, for good measure.

When Jackie tweeted Kilmallock were to play Portaferry not in Thurles, but in Mullingar, it just... spoiled everything.

My car is like Barry Fitzgerald’s horse Napoleon: once it goes through the Jack Lynch Tunnel, you just have to point it north and it finds its way to Semple Stadium anyway.

Mullingar? Does it even exist, I thought? As it happens, I needn’t have worried. The capital of Westmeath was charming and the game enjoyable, so my snootiness about the place was misjudged. Sorry, Mullingar.

And anyway, it’s not always been a bed of roses in Thurles. A few months ago I was wending my way over to the dog track after a game, where I customarily park, and noticed that the large iron gates were shut.

Ah, Thomas Kinsella: locked fast inside a dream with iron gates, eh? A sharp Anglo-Saxon expletive. Delays. A cold evening, getting colder. The road home getting darker and darker.

But wait: a phone number on the billboard inside the gate, and when I rang that I got an answering machine, unsurprisingly, on a Sunday evening, but the message ended with a mobile number “in case of emergency”.

Triumph. I only had to ring the number three or four times before I memorised the mobile, and when I rang, the call was quickly picked up.

“Well.”

“Hi, just ringing from outside the dog track here in Thurles, my car’s been locked inside.”

“Right. Locked?”

With a terrible, terrible sensation in my stomach I came closer to the gate. It was closed, certainly, but without a padlock of any shape or size.

“Yeah, it’s okay, actually. (Coughs) Sorry to disturb.”

“No bother.”

Thurles, bro. The finest.

Hard to believe Taylor 56, not out

Item: Lawrence Taylor was 56 last week. 56!

He wore the number 56 jersey for the New York Giants in the NFL and in his prime, he was a force of nature, but his... chaotic lifestyle off the field meant there was general surprise he made it to his mid-50s.

That general surprise extended to Taylor himself, by the way.

“It’s hard to believe that I GOT to 56, yes,” he told the New York Post, “but I’m here. Don’t get me wrong — it hasn’t been an easy road.”

There have been problems with drugs along the way, but apparently Taylor is a more settled person now.

If you only know him from Any Given Sunday (he was Luther ‘Shark’ Lavay), then you may not be aware of how intimidating a presence he was in real games.

“I mean, everything you did was predicated to where he was and what he was doing,” said one opponent — John Elway.

“The best defensive football player I’ve seen,” said Howie Long.

Happy birthday to LT. 56!

Take timeout to remember Dick Beecher

In the Nobody Asked Me, But section today... there will be a mass on Thursday morning in St Augustine’s Church, Cork, in memory of firefighter Dick Beecher, who died in the line of duty, 40 years ago, on February 14.

He died right across the street from that church, and a small plaque commemorates the building where it happened.

I met Dick once, when I was a small child, but I never forgot him: he gave me a present of some pencils when my father introduced me to him.

He passed away just a few days later. Remember him in your prayers today.

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