MICHAEL MOYNIHAN: A frozen heartbeat from half a century away

One of your columnist’s (many) obsessions is the pre-game team photograph.

Who decides where to stand? Who decides they want to sit? 

Why do some players stand out on the edge while others prefer the middle? 

Arms folded? 

Hands behind the back? 

What expression is appropriate? 

Talking to the person next to you: right or wrong? 

Don’t get me started on the cut of the jersey or we’ll be here all night.

If Roland Barthes had ever taken an interest in Gaelic games we’d no doubt have a fully realised semiotics of the team photo, but the great man passed away before he could rattle off a snappy monograph on the subject.

In the house I grew up in there is one such photograph on the wall, of a club team before a senior football championship game in Cork early in the 60s. Focused, hardy, crew-cutted or sporting a Teddy-boy quiff, the players are typical of the time.

The reason it hangs on the wall is that the team features four of my uncles. My own father should have been in the photograph, and playing in the ensuing game, but an unfortunate incident in a hurling championship shortly beforehand led to a catastrophically-timed suspension and when the football team lost by a point, the fall-out . . . it was a subject that wasn’t raised too often.

I mention the photograph this morning because last week one of those uncles, Connie, passed away.

In the picture he’s a powerful presence, his jersey sleeves rolled up, hands loose. Ready. A grin on his face ahead of the conflict just a few minutes away. 

This was not a pose struck for the camera: when I ended up working in a Cape Cod motel for a summer back in the eighties, a middle-aged guest placed my accent and identified himself as a native of Macroom, transplanted for many years in Massachusetts. 

When he heard my surname he rubbed his jaw and said, ‘Your uncle Connie gave me that one.’ One of the innocent pleasures of a club history - irrespective of the sport - is seeing how the pages put years on the faces.

In one chapter someone appears as a fresh-faced teenager with an unfortunate haircut; a few pages beyond that the pictures show the hairline may be receding, or the waist thickening visibly, but whatever the markers their time as an active player is clearly coming to an end. 

Some graduate to a blurry snap of suited figures around a table: officialdom, and formal clothing.

But a single photograph, shorn of context, can fix the memory like a butterfly to the board, sharp and bright. The instant is everything. The decades which have passed hardly matter. 

Those old black and white shots imbue the personnel on show with the most elusive quality, identity, quite different to the muddy yellows and browns of colour photographs from the seventies. Thus the picture on the wall at home, a frozen heartbeat from half a century away.

“It is later one realises,” said the poet Bernard Spencer. “I forget the exact year or what we said. But the place for a lifetime glows with noon.”

Shedding light on all, like that character in the back row with the grin, looking forward to an hour’s combat.

Ar dheis De go raibh se.

Farewell to a piece of Cork history

Cork city over the weekend, and a bit of a shock when the gash in the landscape was noticed. 

The Capitol Cinema, or latterly Cineplex, has gone, and gone utterly — you can now stand at the bottom of Washington Street and see open air through to the bend in Patrick Street.

This was a bit of a start to yours truly, who put down a few months working in the Capitol early in the 90s. I could give you the exact date if I were able to put my hand on the release details of Terminator 2,

One of the other memories is the intercounty star who rolled into three different movies on three consecutive weekends with three different female dates, something which made an impression on my young mind; also noted, the Irish rugby international who wiped away the tears at one of the (many) emotional passages in Schindler’s List.

Neither are as vivid, though, as the child of seven or eight who spent all of Jurassic Park outside the cinema peeking through the doors at the screen, where vast dinosaurs roared and howled. 

His father explained to me he’d planned watching the movie that way so that he’d have an escape route if anything happened.

Wise beyond his years.

The secret to Eoin Kelly’s success

Belated kudos here to Eoin Kelly of Mullinahone and Tipperary, and his throwaway explanation for years of stunning accuracy on the field of play. 

In a recent Laochra Gael his former teammate Brendan Cummins recounted Kelly had once pointed out you could judge where the posts were if you had your back to the goal you were attacking.

By looking at the other posts — those your team were defending — you could work out where you were aiming for over your shoulders, because the posts are directly in line with each other.

Well, it worked for him.

The importance of an independent voice

I mentioned movies elsewhere, and many of you may have seen Legends Of The Fall, a rambling mess featuring Brad Pitt with the most luxurious, backlit, extensively-brushed, product-heavy hair this side of a Division 1 NFL game.

The movie was based on a book by Jim Harrison, who passed away recently. 

I don’t mention Harrison here because he once ate a gross of oysters (and developed gout overnight as a result), nor because he was a dedicated fly fisherman who often spent one-third of every year fishing his local river, nor yet because of his honesty about his period on cocaine (after one binge he realised when he went home he couldn’t remember the name of his own cat). 

What caught my eye once was a comment made by Harrison about the need to stay independent in your views. 

At a time when brand and content partnerships are taken as some of the only ways for writers to survive, consider the Michigan native’s perspective.

“Somebody’s got to stay outside ” Harrison told an interviewer once. “And I still think that’s true. Somebody’s got to stay outside.”


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