LIAM MACKEY: Hype springs eternal

THE latest episode of Cowengate was a bit of a hoot, wasn’t it?

Sorry, Freudian slip there. What I meant to say, of course, is that it was one of the most extraordinary days in the history of Dáil Éireann, a day which left the Soldiers of Destiny with, according to one report, “shock, bewilderment and humiliation written across their faces” or, if you prefer — and actually according to the same report, just seven paragraphs later — a “look on their faces (showing) varying levels of shock, anger and sheer despair”.

We can take it they weren’t very happy then, although we can’t help wondering what on earth might have been written on or even across their faces if, say, they’d just been driven out of Government buildings by a coup, tanks on the lawn, the bar in flames, the Taoiseach under armed guard.

As it was, we were assured by various reports that the “unfolding drama” was “electrifying” as “stricken politicians” huddled in full view of “astonished journalists” with some deputies appearing “on the verge of tears.”

John McGuinness was spotted standing to one side, taking it all in. “I’ve read about these famous pivotal events in Leinster House history,” he explained, “occasions of huge drama that go down in history and here was another. What was happening was sensational. I just wanted to stand back and observe.”

By God, but those politicos could teach Sky Sports a thing or two about over-egging the omelette.

More sensible folk have likened the FF leadership soap opera to a couple of bald men fighting over a comb, though hailing from the toy department of this paper, I’m obviously more inclined to see the accurate comparison as being with the plight of West Ham. Avram Grant might be staying at Upton Park or he might not, but either way it doesn’t make any difference to the fact that the bottom-of-the-table Hammers are odds-on for relegation. The good news for West Ham, of course, is that they can only drop as far as the Championship whereas, if the experts are to be believed — but who believes the experts any more? — Team FF is plummeting towards non-league football.

Actually, reading the Third World War-style coverage of the farcical dying days of the present government is pretty reassuring for those of us who make a living out of writing about what someone once called a magnificent triviality. For one thing, while we can debate the triviality bit, we need only cue up some Messi magic on the box to confirm that the magnificence is self-evident. And for another, it’s a relief to know that we don’t have a monopoly on windy hyperbole, the kind of knee-jerk exaggeration which describes an own goal as a tragedy and never has an ashen-faced gaffer offering an opinion when you can sooner have him blasting, slamming, or having a pop at.

A reader wrote to me this week asking for advice on breaking into this business and I immediately recalled an incident last year when I was returning from a Giovanni Trapattoni press conference with a colleague. In the car with us was a work-experience student who’d spent a few days learning the ropes. So what did he make of this football journalism lark, I asked? “It’s great,” he beamed. “You don’t start first thing in the morning and you don’t have to wear a suit.”

My colleague and I looked at each other and more or less said the same thing at the same time: “Well, that’s us sussed anyway.”

I’ll offer some hopefully more useful advice to my reader by return of post but, in this context, I’d simply highlight the value of trying to avoid cliches (like the plague) and understanding that when Bill Shankly said that thing about football being more important than life and death, he had his tongue planted firmly in his cheek.

I’d also recommend getting a copy of Provided You Don’t Kiss Me, a riveting account of 20 years covering Brian Clough, written by Duncan Hamilton of the local Nottingham Evening News. Even with the singular Clough as an endless source of fear, fun, fascination and inspiration, Hamilton admits to struggling with the doldrums.

“The beautiful game can seem ugly and dull when viewed through tired and jaded eyes,” he writes. “It looks worse when in early March you find yourself recycling phrases, already soiled by overuse, that you originally wrote in August or September. Worse still, after a while you learn to routinely fabricate an emotional response to something about which you feel absolutely nothing.”

Still, there’s always the dream of another perfect game or a perfect goal to keep you going.

And, of course, it could be worse. You could be writing about party political turbulence and having to pretend that it actually matters to people as much as Saipan or Thierry Henry.


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