LARRY RYAN: Observe the Gaelic masters

Dipping in and out of festive fare, you surely gained a fresh admiration for Gaelic football and its people.

Admittedly, the easiest time of year to admire Gaelic football is when there isn’t much Gaelic football being played.

But doesn’t there remain a beautiful, confident integrity about these people’s relentless pessimism? They might be the exact opposite of the darts crowd.

We have dwelt before on the unpleasant business of people enjoying themselves at sporting events; an unwanted condition that gives rise to antisocial habits such as the Mexican Wave and The Poznan.

In the main, partisan witnesses to a gripping sporting spectacle will endure rather than enjoy. Sure, isolated pockets of enjoyment may break out due to exuberance or restlessness or the grog.

But when swathes of people stand up, night after night, to inform you that they are standing up because they love the darts, it is obvious something fundamental is missing from their experience.

The marvellous men on the oche are able to shut out the braying insecurity, even pretend to appreciate it. But when they were still at it during the final, even as Snakebite mounted his fightback, it must hurt the great men. They must know, deep down, that if these people cared that much, they would shut up and they would sit down.

If the peculiar brand of try-hard evangelism surrounding darts is generally expressed in the form of na na na-ing and oi oi oi-ing; there was subtler zealotry on offer in other festive pickings.

A peek inside the cage brought insight into UFC’s remarkable growth. If Jon Favreau’s cameo as a hapless cage-fighter on Friends once encouraged the world to snigger at underground brutality; Conor McGregor’s appearance on The Late Late Show last year was the mainstream applying its rubber stamp.

In between, there has been much missionary work by disciples.

They won’t stop preaching for a while yet, judging by the aftermath of the Anderson Silva-Chris Weidman bout last weekend.

What happened in the second round graphically emphasised why the foot block is proscribed in the Gaelic rule-book. Silva swung a kick, Weidman offered a knee, Silva’s leg shattered and settled at an angle that rattled post-trifle stomachs.

In a sport more certain of its place in the establishment, debate about rules and duty of care would have rung loud and long. But the disciples have heard too much of that talk, so they largely closed ranks and wrote it down to a freak. They may be right, but you suspect the cage dwellers remain cagey about where they stand.

There is a different kind of insecurity at the heart of most hurling talk, as the annual roundups brought renewed insistence that every match played was the greatest ever.

The year passed might even have been the one when the hurling people were righter than ever before about this matter. But like all chosen people, being right has never been enough for them. They will not rest until everybody else has been proven wrong.

If every hurling match is the greatest, every rugby match played is the last — an apocalyptic, day of reckoning on which empires will rise and fall and plays are written. And that’s just the friendlies.

The ROG documentary — an enjoyable production — was faithful to this hysteria; casting every misplaced kick as an existential crisis and every selection decision a grievous slight.

It is this effortless command of hyperbole that places the sport on the cusp of turning a modest playing base into the national sport by proxy. Afforded a rare showcase with their own Christmas documentary, you could forgive the women’s game following a similar path to growth.

We must accept that we are living in a time when Tom Huddlestone’s haircut is shown live on Sky Sports News. So when minority pursuits grab the spotlight, there is not necessarily time or inclination for the full story.

So it was almost understandable, during Making History, that nobody mentioned how England — who won the last seven championships — put out a reserve team in 2013.

At the same time, you know a Gaelic football man would have applied the necessary asterisk to his achievements. Just as he would not be found standing up and shouting about loving the game. Because these people have no need for pretence.

Instead, football man is found, now as ever, giving out about the game and wondering what can be done. And he doesn’t care who hears him.

This week, Roscommon manager John Evans represented his people marvellously. Naturally, John wasn’t celebrating the prospect of removing cynicism from the game, but worrying about a suitable dress code for the future of cynicism.

As he fretted about the implications of the black card, John insisted the only suitable attire for the modern substitute is the poncho; facilitating a rapid strip and spring to replace a convicted cynic.

Leaving aside for a moment the idea that a tracksuit bottoms is a formidable shackle that would delay even Houdini onto the field; there is something about the poncho that is made for Gaelic football; an unpretentious, plain garment, designed for practicality. Fitting garb for the sporting people most comfortable in their own skins.

No substitute for having done it before

It has been known for many years Michael van Gerwen would become darts’ world champion. But the big man showed one or two doubts on Wednesday, before he finally secured his destiny.

At first he cruised but when Peter Wright let his garish hair down and played, the Dutchman looked as surprised as anyone might that a man named after a cocktail of lager and cider should be capable of such accuracy.

There was even a moment or two when the outsider looked more at peace in the din, when he invited the roar to swell around him, then nailed the finish – like a neurosurgeon turning up the radio.

It was a different challenge to the one MVG faced last year, when his lead melted under Phil Taylor’s familiarity with the road home. A route simply mapped out via the next dart and then the next. Belief can be a dangerous asset in the arrows. Maybe both men allowed their eyes drift towards the prize; Snakebite, critically, on that last double-top.

“It is one thing everyone saying you are going to be world champion, another thing doing it,” reflected MVG afterwards.

In the great sport of repetition, there’s no substitute for having done it before. MVG’s future may have been long mapped out, but when he next faces Taylor back at the Ally Pally, both men will know the way.


Stairway to Heaven

ROG: Whatever about the hyperbole, there remains something enduringly impressive about men who can speak French without putting on a French accent.

Duke scientists: A long-awaited good-news story about the World Cup. Seems the kick-off in the opening match in Sao Paolo may be taken by a paralysed teenager with a robotic exoskeleton. Beats Diana Ross.

Hell in a Handcart

Jose Mourinho: The river of bullshit flows deeper and wider and faster than ever.

We are worse, of course, to swim in it.

David Moyes: Maybe the biggest worry of the post-Fergie era: United’s fading ability to convert dives into penalties.


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