MICHAEL MOYNIHAN: It’s okay to like both soccer and hurling

I like to call it the chocolate cake versus apple tart debate, because that’s how I roll. I keep the metaphors on the basic side, me.

Anyway, having mentioned the World Cup – subtle, no? — I note that just as the hurling games have been soaring in quality, the goals have rather dried up in the quarter-finals, and hosts Brazil — see above — have been “agricultural”, if by “agricultural” you mean “behaviour appropriate to a threshing machine”.

Hold on. Come back. Not what you think at all.

The point you probably expect me to make is along the lines of, ‘sure there’s nothing like a game of hurling, if you want excitement ye should pack in watching that rubbish in Brazil, wha’, paid millions and they can’t hit the target’.

Sorry to disappoint.

By any criterion the World Cup has been terrific. If the quarter-finals have been mostly poor then that’s outweighed, surely, by the quality of the games in the group stages.

That hasn’t always been the case. For all the romanticising of Ireland at Italia 90, that was, well... putrid isn’t a bad description. This is like something from another planet in comparison, even if Brazil’s behaviour playing the Colombians the other night was like something from the planet which is home to the Alien which Ripley had to kill all those years ago.

The quality of the hurling this year has also been a little special, to use a Muhammad Ali-ism and some of the games have been downright spectacular. Last weekend’s action offered a couple of decent examples.

You can like both. Or one of each. Or none. But there’s no need to compare, is there? That’s a sign of insecurity, surely. The truth is that most people settled down on Saturday for some quality sport and did some serious channel-surfing as the quality thermometer went through the roof.

(Not me, I hasten to add: I was throwing a frisbee around Kennedy Park. Yup, that was me.) I doubt most people felt their eyeballs were scalded by Argentina-Belgium after an unforgettable game in Cusack Park, or that they felt disappointed by Netherlands-Costa Rica after Tipperary-Galway.

To echo a point made by a good friend of this column, journalist Jackie Cahill: “Why the need, again, for the soccer v hurling comparisons? Enjoy hurling for what it is. A terrific game. And the World Cup ain’t bad either.”

Sense from a Tipperaryman. It’s possible to enjoy chocolate cake and apple tart, after all.

A window into the beautiful game

Better Late Than Never Department: I only recently caught up with Jonathan Wilson’s book on soccer tactics, Inverting The Pyramid, and remain impressed the hell out of.

There’s a good deal of nonsense perpetrated in soccer commentary on the basis that there’s so much of it, ranging from Ian Wright’s extraordinary notion about getting players who don’t want to play for their country to ring the relatives of dead soldiers, at one end of the spectrum — or maybe the very end of the spectrum — to analysis from the likes of Wilson at the other end.

His book focuses on formations and tactics, but it’s not dry or diagrammatic. One of the (many) interesting angles to Inverting The Pyramid was an ongoing tension between what you might call an indigenous national culture and revolutionary ideas brought in from the outside by a variety of influences, ranging from English journeymen to mysterious South Americans/Mittel Europeans. One of my favourite characters was Helenio Herrera, who is nowadays remembered in these parts as having his Inter Milan side outwitted by Jock Stein and Celtic in the 1967 European Cup. Full credit to Wilson for getting the other side of the story about a game that lives mostly in legend: he lists the frank testimony of Inter players who felt overrun by Celtic’s galloping full-backs, who kept the Italians pressed back and proved instrumental in the two goals that won the Scots the title.

The book also offers a sharp appraisal of the tactical innovations — and disasters — at various World Cups. It’s particularly good, for instance, on the much-loved Brazil side of 1982, and how a dazzling midfield was essentially left down by their defence.

And their forwards. Because if you think Fred is bad, the 1982 team had Serginho up front. And he made Fred look like Puskas, the man who dazzled Wembley in 1953 before Hungary destroyed England by... simply doing six keepie-ups before the kick-off.

Anyway give it a go and bore your friends with la nuestra in the last week of the World Cup.

Drive on in ‘championship day mode’

Despatches from the field.

A correspondent texts with a not-so-random query: ‘why do people going to matches feel they can walk their kids right out in front of your car, fully confident that the laws of physics will bend and preserve the child’s safety?’

Answer: the button on the steering wheel labelled ‘championship day mode’. If you press that it (a) activates the voice mechanism which charms the Garda to let you through the barrier, (b) generates sandwiches automatically in the boot and (c) yes, generates auto-swerve to save that heedless brat.

Happy to help.

Clare travails show a developing competition

Are we being a bit too demanding of Clare in the hurling? Last Saturday they were both sluggish themselves and stymied by a lively and enterprising Wexford side — the replay is a live issue, particularly if it’s held in Wexford Park.

My point here is that in the aftermath of their All-Ireland win, the player age profile and tactical acumen inclined you to think that here was a team that would dominate for years, yet they’re without a Championship win in the first two outings while wearing the crown.

However, there’s a case to be made for this being the reality of a deeper, more competitive field of competitors, one we’ve seen in Gaelic football for many years (don’t all shout at once about Dublin, please).

The dominance exerted by Kilkenny for a decade or more has tilted our expectations a little, maybe, to a point where collecting a title must mean years of superiority are destined to follow — not the reality, a once-off win for a county coming first among equals.

Kilkenny’s ability to string so many All-Irelands together may have coloured our perceptions, to a point where a team can’t just win one Championship: that title has to inaugurate a thousand-year reign for a team, a period of crushing primacy which brings all others under its heel.

What’s happened to Clare this year illustrates the achievement of last year; getting to the top of one mountain doesn’t give you a cast-iron guarantee of making the other summits, but that doesn’t take away from the initial glory. Mind you, it rubber-stamps that Kilkenny side’s status as the best ever. And it doesn’t rule out a return to form by the men from Clare next weekend either.


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