MICHAEL MOYNIHAN: Hero DeFord better over time

The reference to golf elsewhere on the page was sparked by a book I borrowed last week, Over Time by Frank DeFord, which contains an elegantly exasperated head-shake over the pretentions of that sport.

DeFord is one of my sportswriting heroes, a gifted chap who caught on with Sports Illustrated at the start of the 60s and in the process became a) one of the great American sports journalists and b) uniquely qualified to pronounce on the odd incorrect detail about boozing in Mad Men, which he does in Over Time.

It’s a memoir, and highlights come thick and fast. He reveals the threshold for accepting a gift in the great days of SI was whether or not one could consume it in a day, which made the odd bottle of whiskey less of a present and more of a challenge. He outs Mark Kram for submitting the most legendary expense claim in journalism (a talented writer with a fear of flying, Kram sailed to the UK for an assignment rather than fly, and handed this into accounts: BOAT: $10,000).

Nothing would do me only to talk to DeFord, so I did the usual sleuthing, threatening and pleading — often in the one communication — and eventually rustled up an email for the great man. I made contact, he said no problem and here’s my phone, I got distracted, and when I reestablished contact it was too late: he was moving house and couldn’t speak, sorry and all that, but...

I have built lifelong vendettas out of less promising material, but can’t hold it against DeFord. Not just because he wrote The Boxer and The Blonde, about Billy Conn and his wife, though that’s reason enough in itself. No, it’s because DeFord ends Over Time with one of the most affecting stories I’ve read in a while. His daughter died tragically young of cystic fibrosis, and when he ran into the notorious gambler Jimmy the Greek — some readers will recognise him from ESPN’s 30 for 30 series — he met someone who could relate to that pain. The Greek lost three children to the disease and asked how DeFord’s son was doing without his sister, if he was interested in sport. When the writer said the boy liked tennis, the Greek offered him a $100 bill for a new racket as a gift. DeFord mulled over the ethics before accepting.

“Never mind the taboo: it just seemed the right thing to do... The kid lost a sister,’ Jimmy said, and then the tears began to drip from his eyes.”

* Contact: michael.moynihan@examiner.ie

* Twitter: @MikeMoynihanEx

Finally putting some drama into tee-time

When did golf start to get so interesting? Sergio Garcia tries out one of the world’s unfunniest jokes about Tiger Woods and ends up groveling with apologies. European Tour director George O’Grady sees Garcia’s linguistic reversion to the 60s and trumps him by reverting to the 50s with his own master class in insensitivity.

Then you have the ongoing Rory McIlroy soap opera, in which McIlroy is variously dropping out of tournaments with toothache, vacillating between being British or Irish, and leaving his management company (we won’t even get into his girlfriend, tennis player Caroline Wozniacki, and her own scrape with controversy about impersonating Serena Williams, which leads us back to where we began, above, with Sergio Garcia).

Clearly there is a seething hotbed of barely restrained fury lurking, or to be more accurate, seething, just under the surface in professional golf. The obvious question is why not give vent to it with some trash-talking at the tee box?

They say repression is bad for the system; if golf shook off the fustiness it might find out that a let’s-get-ready-to-rumble approach would make the sport more attractive.

Munster must note value of local heroes

Limerick again. I was there on Saturday night for Cork and Limerick — you can read the fruits of my labours elsewhere in the paper — which means the usual litany.

Rathduff. Mallow. Buttevant. Charleville. The little place inside the Limerick border where you have to slow down. Then the same thing in reverse on the way home.

It would be stretching the truth to say that the traffic was bumper to bumper. The Cork football support is notoriously small, and while the crowd in the Gaelic Grounds was a decent one it didn’t translate to a headline on the AA Roadwatch round-up of the nation’s traffic problems.

On the way to the game, as you pull off the motorway, you can see the arches of Thomond Park in the distance, a route that’s familiar to Munster rugby supporters coming up from Cork.

There seems to be little enough comment on that particular issue lately, the decision to centralise training for Munster on Shannonside, and there’s an obvious reason why: the majority of the games take place in Limerick anyway, so there’s little enough change for supporters in terms of matches.

There’s also a tradition of Cork people going to Limerick to watch games, one which stretches back down the decades — my own father, a strong GAA man, would have travelled with his brothers to watch touring international teams play in Limerick — which was only strengthened by the Heineken Cup in recent years.

But part of the Munster appeal has always been the locally-based player. Just as GAA stars are visible in county towns and villages all over Ireland as they go about their business, Munster players pop up in supermarkets and coffee shops everywhere; there isn’t the sense of remoteness that exists with the Premier League, say, and it all builds the affinity with the team — or dare we say it, the brand.

But now there’s a potential downside. When yours truly had lunch last week in a prominent Asian restaurant in Cork a Munster and Ireland player strolled in with a few pals and there was a good deal of nodding and pointing. When he and his colleagues make the move to Limerick, that kind of encounter — fleeting but valuable — will vanish; it’ll be missed all the more because it used to be so common before the Exodus. Will that help Munster?

Making sense of ‘financial fair play’

Bayern Munich’s Arjen Robben lifts the UEFA Champions League trophy at Wembley.

Finally, I note the Champions League final was played on Saturday night. As the teams grappled for the trophy I was grappling myself, wondering whether to succumb to Supermac’s or not as I wandered home from Limerick.

I also note a lot of pious back-slapping for the two German teams involved and the general financial well-being of the German Bundesliga in the light of impending financial fair play rules being brought in by Uefa.

Does anyone else think this is a little excessive, imposing financial restrictions on organisations in the free market? I don’t want to get all Gordon Gekko, but large professional soccer clubs aren’t like banks. They don’t have your money on deposit until a harebrained investment scheme inspires them to lose all that money and get reimbursed by the government.

Soccer clubs are businesses, much like the businesses that used to operate out of all those closed-down shop fronts you pass every morning. They took a chance in business and it didn’t work out; if it had, how would they have reacted to government rules dictating how much they could and couldn’t spend on employees?

The logic for these new rules appears to be run along the lines of, ‘well that these clubs need to be protected from themselves, and the spiral of debt and spending’.

Why? Other businesses have those rules in place already. They’re called The Law. Doesn’t that apply to everyone already?


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