LARRY RYAN: Revamping the whole sporting devotion business

Brian O’Driscoll… Pray for us… AP McCoy… Pray for us… Henry Shefflin… Pray for us… Ruby Walsh…. Pray for us.

Many football enthusiasts of a certain vintage sat in the time machine this week, put a few decades on the clock.

Word of Jimmy Greaves’ illness carried us back to Saturday lunchtimes; to a few goals, a howler, a gag or two about Saint opening his wallet, the latest from Chilly Jocko Land north of the border and then the wrestling.

Greavsie: the father of goalscoring, grandfather of modern banter.

Jimmy is, as such, an ancestor and, let’s face it, a cause of things like Fletch & Sav, BT Sport’s current vehicle for the personality of Robbie Savage, to promote which they have tried every trick in the book, including shutting down their coverage of midweek live matches virtually at the final whistle, and switching over to Fletch & Sav in the hope nobody notices until it is too late, and they have been pulled into the orbit of Sav’s personality.

But lest Jimmy allow any of that to weigh too heavily on his conscience at this difficult time, he and Ian St John were also, as Jeff Stelling has put it, “the grizzly old forerunners of Soccer Saturday,” which generally contains the recommended levels of bantz and football, at least in safe doses.

So Jimmy has made his contribution, inside and on the box. And we wish him well.

Hanging around back in those days, waiting for Elton Welsby to pull up in the DeLorean, you might get all manner of other flashbacks.

St Dominic… Pray for us… St Francis… Pray for us… All you holy monks and hermits … Pray for us… St Mary Magdalene… Pray for us.

In those times of devout religious observance in many homes, there was real danger that the screening of, say, a European Cup Winners’ Cup final might not take precedence in any scheduling conflict with the recitation of the family Rosary.

The best outcome achieved, perhaps via the recruitment of a senior male ally in tense negotiations, might be a half-time slot for the devotions. So you could easily find yourself trying to inject a little pace into proceedings — St Catherine, Prayforus — while preoccupied with just how Everton will break down this stubborn Rapid Vienna rearguard.

For some of us, then, there’s a certain comfortable familiarity in hearing, courtesy of Eamon Dunphy, a Litany of the Saints on big European nights. This week, for instance, the feats of Messi could only be put into proper context by a quick recitation of the Litany. “The Brian O’Driscolls, the Tony McCoys, the Henry Shefflins, the Ruby Walshs”.

In their own ways, both Jimmy and Eamo were once outsiders keen to shake up the way football was covered on television. It’s true they may have approached things from different angles, Jimmy with the view that football was being taken a bit too seriously, Eamo certain it wasn’t taken seriously enough.

Perhaps this fundamental difference in outlook was best summed up on days the two lads were missing from their posts; Jimmy perfectly happy to have a Spitting Image puppet sit in for him on Saint and Greavsie, Eamo blowing a fuse when Dermot Morgan replaced him for the 1986 World Cup third-place play-off, advising RTÉ to “put fucking Dermot Morgan on your panel” for the final.

A few decades on, the difference in approach might not appear so pronounced; Eamo essentially responsible for producing a pantomime every time RTÉ have a match on.

But if Greavsie gave us a belief system — that football can be a funny old game — Eamo has provided us with an honours system.

With religion now languishing in the relegation zone, politics a joke, business distrusted, music broke, celebrities laughed at, sports people have essentially been handed the keys to the kingdom. These are the ideals. The morally unimpeachable paragons of virtue. Most of the ones on Eamo’s list, anyway.

Notably, others have attempted to muscle in on this work creating lay saints, the Second Captains lads, for instance, with their Good Wall.

But given the years of service he has put in, this is Dunphy’s area. Ironically, given his discomfort with Official Ireland, his is the definitive series of Irish petitions. This is recognition somebody on the verges, like Richie Hogan must be, would surely give up at least a Leinster medal for.

The only flaw in his work: some twisted self-loathing that disallows footballers from inclusion. For all that, we can take it for granted that a space has been reserved at the top table for Gilesy, Chippy, Bobby Charlton, that guy who played in the back four for Brazil, Xavi, Iniesta and Messi. With Gilesy allowed Billy Bremner as a guest. We can’t know what way the dice will fall for Roy Keane on Judgment Day.

So, with Eamo facing time restrictions every Wednesday, I felt it was about time somebody organised his work into a modern prayer. Research has been thorough, but not exhaustive, so there may, admittedly, be gaps.

And sure, there are oddities. Yes, the Sport of Kings seems over-represented. A couple of non-nationals naturalised. There is one member of a different species. As in every Litany, a handful of saints gain controversial promotion on the basis of one miracle.

Nonetheless, these are real people. People of courage, conviction and, most of the time, integrity. The bar is here. Cut it out. Carry it with you. And honour them.

Brian O’Driscoll… Play for us…. Michael Kinnane… Play for us… Henry Shefflin… Play for us… John Oxx… Play for us… DJ Carey…. Play for us… Aidan O’Brien… Play for us…. Ronan O’Gara… Play for us... Tiger Woods… Play for us… Katie Taylor… Play for us… Pádraig Harrington… Play for us… Declan Kidney… Play for us… Lewis Hamilton… Play for us… Willie Mullins… Play for us… Rory McIlroy… Play for us…. Ken Doherty… Play for us… Tommy Wade… Play for us... Sean Kelly… Play for us… Ruby Walsh… Play for us… Johnny Murtagh… Play for us… AP McCoy…. Play for us… Brian Cody… Play for us… The Kerry footballers… Play for us… Sea The Stars… Bernard Dunne… Play for us… Amen.

HEROES AND VILLAINS

STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN

Luis & Pep & Massi & Carlo:

For sending their teams out to play toe-to-toe in matches befitting the collision of superpowers.

Leo Messi:

When Sepp’s dream of an Interplanetary Cup comes through, let’s hope we don’t draw whatever planet he’s from.

Stuart Bingham:

For reminding us again there are many routes to the top, some of them circuitous.

HELL IN A HANDCART

The JT consecration:

He has earned his corn this term, for sure, but the impression has grown again lately across the water of JT, pictured right,as the greatest of them all. Now picture JT thrown in on Wednesday night, denied his ‘low block’ and asked to defend on the halfway line against the Trinity. Boateng’s twisted blood would look dignified.


Lifestyle

Wesley O’ Regan is the General Manager of Popscene in Voodoo Rooms, Cork city. Popscene opened last November and is Cork’s only themed bar that is dedicated to celebrating the best of the 80s and 90s. https://www.facebook.com/PopsceneCork/You've Been Served: Wesley O'Regan, Popscene

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