MICHAEL MOYNIHAN: MICHAEL MOYNIHAN: Putting spit shame under the spotlight

I’m especially good at expectorating, sings Gaston in Beauty and the Beast, and the hunter’s skill with a well-aimed spit is just one more indication that he’s the villain of the piece.

If that comparison didn’t leap immediately to mind at the news of Spitgate, it surely landed with a wet splash compared to other incidents from the recent and not-so-recent past.

You can go back to American football in the 70s, when a spit from Pittsburgh’s Joe Greene landed on the facemask of Dick Butkus of the Chicago Bears.

As both men were widely assumed to eat innocent children as part of breakfast, this was seen as a nuclear flashpoint — “this is going to be the greatest fight of all time,” said one awestruck witness — but Butkus simply trotted back to his position. Advantage Greene, whose temperament can be guessed at when you consider his perennial prefix: Mean.

Those of us of a less advanced age probably had our eyes opened to the reality of spitting during the World Cup in 1990; while we fondly imagined the whole world was in love with the boys in green, Frank Rijkaard landed a green one in the admittedly ludicrous curls of Rudi Voller.

The wet-curl look was in at the time, but it didn’t usually require saliva for the full effect.

Then, a few years ago there was a nose-clearing incident in Wembley, but the occasion was rugby rather than soccer-oriented.

While the Millennium Stadium was being rebuilt Wales played in Wembley, and they famously picked English pockets in 1999 with a late match-winning try by Scott Gibbs, nervelessly converted by Neil Jenkins.

As then-England captain Lawrence Dallaglio walked off afterwards, a charmer from the valleys spat on him. “Bottle that,” Dallaglio said to himself (referring to the feeling rather than the fluid, presumably).

All of which serves to underline that spitting remains beyond the pale no matter what the code. By pointing out that they’ve been spat upon, Emlyn Mulligan and Paul Galvin have done the GAA a service.

As Galvin has by far the higher profile of the two, he should get a good deal of the credit. While the Kerryman probably doesn’t put his postman under credit late in December with Christmas cards postmarked Cork or Tyrone, outlining his feelings so clearly has put the ball into the authorities’ court. All too often a veil of silence isn’t drawn so much as nailed down firmly when it comes to incidents such as these, and Galvin is to be applauded for putting it in the public arena — as is Mulligan, to be fair. The entire question of what’s acceptable, and what isn’t, in the heat of elite contact sport is one that produces different answers over the years, but it’s safe to say that spitting is unlikely to be welcomed in from the wilderness any time soon.

Beware wounded Australians

Elsewhere on the page I refer to spitting and the fact that it remains an act which unites everyone in disgust.

Something which might be more likely to unite everyone in a warm glow of happiness is the hapless downward spiral of Australian sport. Colleague Larry Ryan pointed this out on Saturday in the context of the four cricketers who couldn’t finish their homework (look it up, it rewards your persistence), and with the recent drug scandals Down Under, the stream of news seems unremittingly negative.

Given that on low-risk occasions I still bring up the story of the staggering rudeness of Australia rugby coach Robbie Deans a couple of years ago, I can’t say I’m weeping like a willow. (And yes, I know Deans is a Kiwi).

However, I sound a note of caution, specifically in Deans’ case. Anyone expecting the Aussies to roll over for the Lions tour would want to think again; in fact a part of me would be inclined to back the home side even more heavily given recent travails.

Don’t condemn Kidney for measured words

The memory is not what it was, but I seem to recall a piece in the prescribed prose section of the Leaving Certificate, which I sat some time in the 17th century, by the Canadian writer, Stephen Leacock.

In a lengthy ramble about something so boring that birds fell stunned from the sky, as Clive James once said, Leacock made one great point about talkative people: he remarked that while we claim to admire silence, we never say: “So and so never says a word — let’s invite him round for a couple of drinks.”

I was reminded of this in much of the recent Declan Kidney coverage — not so much the apocalyptic end-of-days tone, though thanks to all concerned for maintaining some kind of perspective in this matter.

No, I refer rather to the continuing faux-frustration, the manufactured dissatisfaction with Kidney in sections of the media.

A good deal of this seems to be centred on Kidney’s poker-faced press conferences and general lack of roaring and shouting.

The Cork man didn’t suddenly change from a Mick Doyle persona with Munster, however, as soon as he got the Ireland gig. He’s always been a quiet person.

I used the Mick Doyle analogy advisedly above. Irish rugby hasn’t customarily had an extrovert in the hot seat at the top of the coaching tree, with apologies for the mixed metaphor.

Eddie O’Sullivan was lampooned widely when he ventured outside sports-speak with a few unusual analogies. Murray Kidd’s short reign doesn’t leave anyone with memories of sparkling press conferences. And doesn’t anyone remember Tom Kiernan’s deadpan interviews? Of course, the sharp-eyed among you may have noticed that two of the names in the above paragraph are from Cork, while the other — Kidd — was a longtime resident in the southern capital. This has no pertinence to the matter at hand, whatever those unfortunate enough to be born outside Cork choose to believe.

Nobody believes that the above-mentioned were transformed into Harry Redknapp types once they were back on their native heath; much as I would like to report that when Declan Kidney hops off the train in Kent Station he changes into a garrulous purveyor of bawdy stories, alas, I have no such evidence to hand.

However, it’s striking that the qualities lauded so loudly when Kidney was steering Ireland to the Grand Slam — the politeness, measured approach, calmness — are now seen as negative indicators of stubbornness and worse.

If you still insist that the man has to go, which seems to be the default position now in media circles, then by all means proceed with the leftover firelighters from the Vatican and give us some white smoke.

Who’s next? How good will he be in a press conference?

Dim view of Saturday night lights

Before I leave the Banks (of my own lovely Lee), a word about Saturday night’s game between Cork and Clare in the hurling.

Kudos to an outstanding Clare for their second-half rally, which was irresistible, but something that caught my eye was the number of players who seemed to misjudge the flight of the ball, dropping and missing the sliotar at times when gathering it comfortably seemed a given.

What was notable was that those players were from Cork rather than Clare — one would imagine that the home panel would have more experience with the lights in Páirc Uí Rinn than anyone else, but more than once, routine catches were fluffed, with players showing that telltale hesitation in going to the ball that tells you they’ve lost its flight.

(I know whereof I speak: as a myopic teenage full-back, yours truly often enacted that same hesitation until the goalkeeper behind me hit on the brainwave of saying ‘left hand, left hand’ to guide me. It worked, too. Sometimes.) This is not an excuse, by the way, for Cork’s defeat, just an observation that perhaps the reservations expressed loudly, if privately, by a member of another county’s hurling management team weren’t too far off the mark.

That individual said his side would avoid playing under lights as much as possible, and maybe there was an explanation for their reticence on Saturday night.


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