LIAM MACKEY: Following trail of the Hunter

“Well, yes, and here we go again...”

That was how American writer Hunter S. Thompson introduced his brilliant 1976 collection ‘The Great Shark Hunt’, the one and only Dr Gonzo stepping into the arena once again. A good many of us who grew up on what Tom Wolfe dubbed ‘The New Journalism’ flirted awkwardly at some point with the Gonzo approach before, sooner or later, learning the sobering lesson that absolutely nobody could imitate Thompson.

In fact, not even Thompson could imitate Thompson, which was one of the reasons why, when he finally found himself running on empty, spiritually and physically, he imposed his own last deadline by putting a gun to his head and pulling the trigger.

Which is a grim thing to be thinking about as high summer comes rolling in and the national sap rises in anticipation of a great sporting adventure in the east. It was Eamon Dunphy who put Thompson back in my mind this week, mentioning him approvingly in the course of a conversation we had, prompting me to recall the wonderful shock and awe I felt at reading Thompson for the first time.

There’s something incomparably thrilling about Thompson’s prose, an electrifying quality it shares with the best rock ‘n’ roll, a pure adrenaline jolt which can inspire the most jaded soul. Towards the bitter end, he’d lost track of the essence but, from time to time, he was still able to knock out a superior sports column for the ESPN website, even if it was no patch on his golden era and, really, only the very least we could have expected from a ridiculously gifted writer and sports nut who was obsessive about American football and only marginally less devoted to the fights.

An interview he did with Muhammad Ali still stand stands as one of the funniest, most soulful and most revealing pieces ever written about the man. It also functioned as some form of belated consolation for the fact that, when Rolling Stone magazine sent Thompson out to Zaire to cover ‘The Rumble In The Jungle’ in 1974, the fully accredited, no-expenses-spared, access-all-areas star writer only managed to miss the whole damn thing, spending what turned out to be the greatest hour of Ali’s career floating on his back under the African night sky in his hotel swimming pool, smoking the local weed.

Fortunately for the rest of us, a couple of other not bad scribes by the names of Mailer and Plimpton were on hand to pick up the slack.

That’s the thing I mean, about it not being very wise to try to do a Thompson. Tomorrow, the Irish squad finally hit the Euros road, flying out of Dublin to their training camp in Tuscany. We, in the hack pack won’t be too far behind and, having travelled this road a few times by now, I think I have a fair idea of what the Commander-in-Chief will require by way of publishable words from the front over the next few weeks.

And I’m pretty sure it won’t be something along the lines of ‘The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved’, Thompson’s devastatingly hilarious portrait of his hometown horsey set on the razzle-dazzle. Or even ‘Fear & Loathing At The Superbowl’, in which our hero managed to file only a couple of lines out of about 10,000 words on the game itself, preferring instead to devote luxurious space to a description of an incident in the media hotel when, from a balcony overlooking the heaving lobby, Thompson called for attention and began urgently declaiming verses from a Gideon Bible at the top of his voice, while taking sips from a big glass of Wild Turkey and occasionally reaching around to slap at his own back in an attempt to impede the progress of the giant blood-sucking leech which he was convinced was climbing up his spine and heading for his brain.

Ah sure, we’ve all been there.

But, still, I don’t think the sports editor will be wanting that class of thing from Poland and Ukraine. Indeed, I sense that most people will be surprised if he gets anything at all since, to judge by a series of random encounters I’ve had over recent days, the popular view still prevails that sports journalism does not qualify as a job at all.

So, for the benefit of all those people who look at me askance when I mention that tomorrow I’m off to Poland, via Tuscany and Hungary, to cover Euro 2012, here are the answers you all want to hear to your most pressing questions.

1. Yes, it’s a beano and when it’s not a beano, it’s a jolly.

2. No, it doesn’t involve any work whatsoever.

3. Yes, the hotel has a swimming pool.

4. No, we don’t have to fork out for tickets.

5. Yes, we get paid to do this.

6. No, you can’t “carry my biro”.

Hope that’s cleared everything up. And if, by chance, something vaguely resembling a pressing assignment threatens to get in the way of sun-tanning and latte-imbibing, well, there’s always an escape route of one kind or another.

I’m thinking, in particular, of the conscientious English journalist who, looking to steal a day’s march on his rivals, decided one slow news morning at the 2002 World Cup to get an early flight out of a team’s training base and strike out for the mainland to prepare for the tournament proper.

Good forward thinking there — except the team was Ireland and the training base was on an island by the name of Saipan.

It’s said that when his flight touched down a few hours later in Japan, there were something like 50 text and voice mail messages from his editor on his mobile phone, beginning with a quizzical ‘Where u?’ and escalating into a torrent of increasingly hysterical and abusive rants in which every other word that wasn’t ‘Roy’ or ‘Keane’ began with the letter ‘f’. Well, yes, and here we go, here we go, here we go again…



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