LARRY RYAN: A piece of Cake in Cats

Wednesday. The cartoonist rings. Drinan. Good, isn’t he? "What’s it about this week? I’ve to draw it today. Heading off."

“Oh,” says I. “God knows. But I have Cake here.” “Course you have,” says he.

“No, the book. I’ll read it.” There was sure to be something in it that gets to the heart of drive and ambition and frustration and maybe, probably, madness.

A man who looks caged whenever he stands in goal. Yet, a man who seems set to do life in there.

Or, as Hollywood’s and Roscommon’s Chris O’Dowd put it: “He could save a penalty and score a 45, but at the same time he’d be just as happy to ride a bull into a church.”

“Just draw Cake.”

Shane Curran. Nutshell. Keeper. Long-serving. Eccentric. Entrepreneur. Semi-professional gas man.

Essential stuff first. Cake. A nickname born of gluttony? Not really. Currant cake. Curran cake. Cake. When bantz was a simpler, more joyful, business.

“The craic,” as Curran calls it, laying out one of his driving forces.

“We were stone mad about craic: having it, making it, talking it, whichever way possible. We could have had PhDs in the craic and all its manifestations, if it was on the curriculum.”

Sure enough, there are tales of science classroom explosions, of Monday clubs, of madcap antics in Boston, of censure for playing soccer with the other Roscommon subs at half-time during a National League game, of miscreant League of Ireland footballers who piss on your leg in the shower and who eventually, inevitably, get an unmerciful puck in the jaw for their contributions to the craic.

There are the beautiful, poetic words of the knowledgeable Dublin League of Ireland fan vexed at his winger continually finding the hands of the Athlone Town goalkeeper. “That ginger c*** plays gah for Roscommon so he does. Will ya stop crossing the ball into him, for jaysus sake!”

It was mainly the craic that sustained Cake in his soccer days. For a time. “If the cold didn’t kill you, the drabness eventually would.”

A man cannot live on craic alone. Nor can a book stand.

Part of the joy of sports autobiographies is insight into the mundane. Tony Cascarino’s Full Time with Paul Kimmage. The disastrous spell at Celtic. “You’re pathetic, Cascarino.” The little voice in his head goading him to get in the box and miss again.

In Cake, you are inclined to look, rather, for mundane insight into the madness. Why did he surge past nominated penalty-taker Peadar Glennon, to goal with the last kick of the 1989 Connacht minor final and nearly cause a riot? Because he calculated Roscommon would lose a replay without the suspended Lorcan Dowd and disagreed with the decision to take a point and a draw.

What possessed him to start stripping off his layers of jerseys as he approached a last-ditch free to save a qualifier against Louth? “I figured if I landed the free I’d run to the Rossie supporters in the crowd and throw the jersey in to them to try and galvanise us all for extra-time.

“It made sense to me.”

The kind of thought processes that led a man to earn his crust designing kicking tees and installing flood defence in places like Somalia.

Original thinking, notes the first goalkeeper to make a habit of kicking frees, isn’t always appreciated in these parts. “It just wasn’t the done thing and, if it wasn’t the done thing, then why would you do it?”

Switching clubs isn’t the done thing, as Curran did, from Castlerea to St Brigid’s. Resentment lingers, 16 years on, among diehards. He lost five county finals, before he won one, in his adopted place. He won an All-Ireland last year and last Sunday he qualified, at 43, for another Roscommon senior final.

But he also stormed off the bench and drove home when he wasn’t brought on in a challenge before the 2012 All-Ireland semi-final.

It’s complicated. The drive and ambition and frustration and madness.

“You wouldn’t want to romanticise it too much... The bottom line? Every player is ultimately doing it for himself. You’ve set that target for yourself in your sporting life, to win championships and to go as far as you can in your chosen sport. Players are basically greedy, self-centred people… they want the glory and the ego trip and the personal fulfilment that comes with winning things. When you’re preparing for a big game, the last thing on your mind is doing it for the pride of the parish.”

It’s too late for Drinan. The book is good. The cartoon is drawn. But this isn’t really about Cake. It was just a timely reminder.

Thanks to the magic of social media, we could keep close enough tabs on the Kilkenny celebrations this week. Among them are undoubtedly ideas men. Original thinkers. Selfish men. Driven men. Disappointed men. Men who love the craic. Men achieving personal fulfilment with women in number 11 shirts. Men who might be just as happy to ride a bull into a church.

It was good to see them like that. Sometimes, you could nearly forget that all these lads probably have different ideas of drive and ambition and frustration and madness. The way they give themselves so completely, so often, for one man’s plan.

This is really about Cody, who just takes the cake.

Cake: The autobiography of a passionate, outspoken sportsman and entrepreneur is published by Penguin.

Sports facing the attention deficit

We are in a desperate hurry. This week Major League Baseball announced experimental plans to speed up the pace of play. Moves to better fit the sport to shrinking attention spans.

A 20-second limit to throw a pitch, speeded up innings breaks and pitcher changes. Fewer timeouts and chit chats.

Another report leaked that the NBA is considering awarding one free throw instead of two for personal fouls. Thousands of fans look down and fidget on their smartphones, noted ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz, whenever someone steps up to the stripe.

No wonder UFC is growing so quickly, when they can wrap things up in 100 seconds without anything much happening at all.


Stairway to Heaven

Paul Lambert: His team might not have responded very well to their tough challenges of recent weeks, but his snub was the perfect response to Mourinho’s patronising early-handshake-job-done-disappear-down-the-tunnel nonsense. Roy did well too, completely ignoring it.

Paul McGinley: Fair play to him, all the same. But listening to him explain how it was done this week, you could see a potential catchphrase for a Fr Ted remake: “Is there anything to be said for appointing another vice-captain?”

Hell in a Handcart

Rio Ferdinand: The great chip deprivation didn’t stop at United. Rio says England players were treated like kids, so he had to sneak in supplies of Nando’s, Big Macs and chicken burgers for the lads. “We were like hyenas at feeding time with a limitless supply of dead wildebeest.” Kids, Rio? Hard to imagine why.


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