MICHAEL MOYNIHAN: Let’s keep sports stars off ballot papers

Jack Lynch: A rare success.

I suppose it’ll start now anyway, whatever happens in Kildare Street. Candidates needed, so insert sportsperson’s name here, writes Michael Moynihan.

At the time of writing, the population of the country was behaving like someone the morning after a long, long wedding: rubbing the temples, shaking the head slowly, and rolling the eyes slowly so as not to bruise the eyelids.

While you’re reading, in fact, you may already have people knocking at your front door to ask you to maybe remember our candidate on the day, oh dear is that what you’re reading, sure he hasn’t a good word to say about anybody, how many of ye in the house have the vote — Sorry.

Despite conventions and such to select candidates, you’ll have plenty of the following to listen to regarding prominent sportspeople in your own locality.

“Yeah, he was down town the other day having a cup of coffee with ————, sure he’s bound to stand, absolutely guaranteed. Beyond a shadow of a doubt.”

This kind of speculation comes as naturally as the leaves to the tree, as Keats said about poetry. And in truth, there’s something oddly poetic, or at least romantic, in the conflation of sports appeal with political desirability.

The actuality is a little different. For every success, for every Jack Lynch or Jimmy Deenihan, there are any number of sportspeople-turned-politicians who turned back pretty fast, or who at least turned away from politics. Yet we persist in the notion that wearing the jersey is somehow irresistible to those dithering over a ballot paper.

Why? I’m sure Danny Kahneman could come up with a catchy new term to explain this particular obsession — disregarding vote-reality bias, or some such — because it shows such an ability to survive evidence and contradiction that you’d have to link it to the basic elements of DNA. Eating with your mouth, sitting with your backside, believing sports stars can get into the Dáil: these seem irrevocably hardwired into our thinking.

There was a good deal of laughing a few years ago when then-Taoiseach Bertie Ahern was trying to get his stadium off the ground — remember the Bertie Bowl? — only to be outflanked on all sides by sports organisations. The easy joke of the time was that Bertie et al could survive in the Dail and Seanad but when it came to real politics — i.e. sports politics - they were out of their depth.

Reassuring as this might sound, the iron truths of politics can be debilitating to many who enter the field after expertise and adoration in their own area: think of George Lee.

Sport provides an even sharper contrast.

A lifetime’s achievement in kicking and running and jumping is hardly great preparation for the pick and shovel work of rooting out grants and planning permissions; a lifetime of being admired and praised and facilitated, similarly, is no great training ground for the criticism — both forensic and furious — a professional politician faces.

For all our sakes, no sports candidates this time. Please.

Twitter watches for us all

Let’s keep sports stars off ballot papers

Funny how things come together. Last week I was talking to Dara Ó Cinnéide ahead of his Gaeltacht side’s clash with St Senan’s of Limerick in the Munster intermediate club final.

He was saying that after An Ghaeltacht qualified for the final he and the rest of the management team kept an eye on St Senan’s game against Kilmihil - via Twitter.

At about the same time another pal was saying that while in conversation with a third party about some show on the television, it soon became apparent that said third party’s views on same were based not on the evidence of his own eyes, but on the opinions expressed by others - fourth parties? - via Twitter.

In the course of trawling around myself on the social media foghorn I noticed this a couple of times: that ‘watching’ something on Twitter is a concept that has gained traction at the expense of the actuality, which is better described as collating the diverse views of those observing an event as mediated through random, brief observations.

Well, ‘watching on Twitter’ is certainly snappier as a description. Can’t argue against that.

Where are we going with the W.O.T. phenomenon, though? As someone writing accounts of sports events - events “that have been previously played”, in the words of Christopher Hitchens - this is a matter of some significance.

When giving the flavour of a match there are a couple of things worth considering. For instance, are you writing about an All-Ireland final, watched by a large crowd at the game and on television, with thousands already familiar with the proceedings, or a relatively obscure match played out in front of a small attendance, unbroadcasted and unknown to all but the few hundred souls present?

The latter is a good example of the game you watch on Twitter. You’re at the other end of the country or in work or on holidays and you’re trying to keep tabs on this game, but how?

You cast around and find some random person who’s posting up the odd score, but which side are they supporting? And are they really there or just being texted by a pal who’s not there himself either but getting the odd call while he’s in the boozer on a stag . ..

Watching on Twitter: from now on to be known more accurately as randomly accessed memories.

Hand of fate unkind to Ireland

Let’s keep sports stars off ballot papers

What is quite as evocative as early-eighties international soccer?

The hazy television feed, Jimmy Magee bellowing the names of players you’d never seen before and would never see again, not to mention the constant: those agonising defeats.

Ireland didn’t fare well at that time, despite having a stellar line-up of players who were first-teamers in the best English clubs of the era. Of all the close calls, maybe the sheer dodginess of the defeat by Belgium in 1981 takes the biscuit.

For a terrific examination of the circumstances - the muddy goalmouth, the referee’s disgraceful conduct, the sheer disappointment - try First Hand: My Life and Irish Football by Eoin Hand, out now.

Traditionally the gift you give those you hate, this soccer biography is the exception.

Book debate is fair game

Let’s keep sports stars off ballot papers

I see the folks at the Fair Game podcast are recommending books for Christmas. I spoke to Anna Kessel and found her hugely impressive, and her Eat Sweat Play is a great read. I agree with Fair Game there, and with The Fit Foodie by Derval O’Rourke of this parish; that would adorn any kitchen.

I can’t say I’d be on the same page as recommendations such as Maria Sharapova, between her drug ban and the . . . overtones to her descriptions of Serena Williams.


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