MICHAEL MOYNIHAN: Hurling meets The Right Stuff

The great Tom Wolfe passed away last week. Master of the masters of the universe, he was 88, and if his last book was an oddity — The Kingdom Of Speech, really? — some of its predecessors are well known to you, gentle reader, writes Michael Moynihan.

Take the likes of The Right Stuff and The Bonfire of the Vanities as starting points.

You may be more familiar with the film of the former (and hopefully less familiar with the film of the latter) but they both give a good idea of the Wolfe style, which is headlong, verbose and never knowingly under-punctuated.

Sports lurked in Wolfe’s past, as it does with all the greats.

Though he struck a foppish figure around the New York of the 70s and 80, clad in a white suit, he had been good enough as a baseball player to get a try-out with the New York Giants, and one of his early signature pieces was The Last American Hero Is Junior Johnson. Yes!, about a relatively obscure NASCAR star.

(Decades later, Johnson would say of Wolfe:“He done more for me than anybody. He done more for NASCAR than anybody.”)

Later books like A Man In Full and I Am Charlotte Simmons weren’t as good, though college sports in America figure prominently in both as a barometer of the decline of the country, or maybe just a reflection of the reality.

There is also a passage in A Man In Full which later became known as the ‘saddlebags’ scene which justifies reading the entire book (This here’s the morning after, bro).

That Johnson title above is a fair indication of the Wolfe manner in full flow, by the way.”

To get the full effect try collections of his non-fiction. Titles like Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers or Mauve Gloves and Madmen, Clutter and Vine surely entitle him to a place on your shelves.

The appropriateness of his approach to a sport like NASCAR made yours truly ponder a hurling match report written in high Wolfese...

Look — there, just where the blood leaked out from the helmet onto the grass! Where the wing-back is down — not face down, shaped like a murder victim, arms here, legs folded, waiting for the cop to come along with the chalk and outline him! Clear the area! Forensics, where are forensics?!?!

Nearby the child in the crowd is still crying, snotting on its father’s bright red polo shirt with the lurid crest, the creases still visible down the sleeve, running onto the skin in Polynesian tattoos curling past the elbow . . . Look . . . the wing-back is ON HIS KNEES while the game — roar, inhalation; whistle, murmur — eddies around him somewhere else, some other planet, a distant galaxy he heard of once as a child at the cinema.

The helmet comes off :::: he’s still constricted, his pulse hammering in his ears, the gash above his forehead thumping a BASS note in stereo - bump bump bummmmp - as the medic covers the wound, asks him to count fingers-

“One, two-”

-BUMP-

“Okay to continue?”

Who the hell is-

-Bump-

“Ref-”

“That’s blood, you’ll have to get him off-”

-Bump-BUMP-

“Where’s he cut?”

-Bump-

The medic lifts his hand and the wing-back feels rather than hears the hot hiss as the blood sprays

- “Christ!!!!”

The referee reels back, crimson pooling on the belly of his black top. The medic is shouting — screaming — but the wing-back can’t hear the words, all he’s aware of is the bump-bump-bass has stopped and the medic’s mouth is distended, are those his tonsils and — Wait, thinks the wing-back: am I dying?

GAA stats still has ground to make up

I note an on-again, off-again discussion across all platforms about data and stats in Gaelic games. Much of the discussion has moved past the validity of stats - that’s pretty widely accepted, even it the degree of acceptance may vary.

The tightness of definitions - tackles, chances - may vary as well but so long as managers are happy with the information being fed to them, that’s not as significant as you might think.

What seems common to many discussions is the lack of a central database of statistics, and given the number of games at the top level - and several levels below that - which pop up on film in some way or another, that seems hard to understand.

Until you accept the driving force behind the formal acceptance of stats and data in other sports. Last week Sean Ingle of the Guardian wrote about Ted Knutson, who worked with Brentford and the Danish club FC Midtjylland as well as the soccer consultancy firm Statsbomb. Anyway, Knutson pointed out that with information available on shot speed and goalkeeper placement, it is now possible to determine just how difficult every save in the Premier League is, and hence to work out the best keeper ...

Knutson’s work suggests how much, exactly, goalkeepers are worth by virtue of the ‘extra’ goals prevented by the likes of David De Gea. Based on the data, De Gea saved ‘eight goals’ an average keeper wouldn’t have stopped: what are those eight goals worth in terms of points, league places, European qualification? Millions and millions.

Which brings me back to the start. Until GAA stats have a dollar value I doubt we’ll see a formal central database. And in what context, exactly, would they have that value?

US gambling follows precarious Irish course

Jack Anderson of this parish pointed out the ramifications of liberalisation in US sports betting law last week with his usual elan.

I heard a broadly similar discussion on a US podcast at around the same time, and what hit home was the fact that the two hosts, both seasoned sports media professionals, were chuckling about sports presenters on all platforms actually calling out the ‘line’ while discussing a sports event.

The fact that they were discussing this in a tone of ‘yes folks, this may, incredibly, be what we’re facing, or would be if it wasn’t so outlandish’, was one thing; the other was that they were basically describing just about every sports broadcast on Irish TV and radio.

Rouse following a Faithful tradition...

The very best of luck to the new Offaly senior football manager, Paul Rouse, who is well know to Examiner readers from his weekly columns here. It was inevitable that a county board somewhere would eventually bow to the inevitable and realise that nobody is better suited to intercounty management than youse lads in the meeja. Anyone who knows Paul will know his passion for his native heath is on a par with his passion for history: I’m looking forward to some pretty erudite post-match press conferences. And in fairness, the county he’s taking over has some form in this area as well. It might be a full four decades ago, but that was the county which took a punt on another journalist as a senior football manager and Eugene McGee worked out pretty well, all things considered.

No pressure, Paul.


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