20 random thoughts about the week’s sport
In the clamour for football ‘content’ we are now flies on every wall, forever ‘behind the scenes’. Just last Sunday, we were able to view classy footage of Liverpool players greeting Sean Cox in the bowels of Anfield. Football has become a reality TV show, with suitably selective editing. So for how much longer can we tolerate being cut out of the real drama? Why was there no pay-per-view option for Sterling v Gomez?
At least Gareth Southgate quickly brought us up to speed. Yet our natural instinct was to wonder why we needed to be told. Why couldn’t a fudge have been dreamed up where Raheem got a quiet slap on the wrist and nursed a tight hammer for Montenegro? But maybe that says a lot about what we have come to know of accountability and transparency, in all walks of life.
Perhaps Southgate simply knew we’d find out anyway, just as we soon heard the punchline when Roy Hodgson told his famous monkey joke. The gaffer might have polished the current generation’s image but can anybody plug the notorious England leak?
Or are managers becoming more concerned with optics than with protecting their players publicly at all costs? Unai Emery seems to have lost Granit Xhaka with his heavy-handed approach to a ‘controvassy’ that might have been easily defused. What has become of the noble art of defending the indefensible?
Chief victim of Southgate’s ‘openness’ has been Joe Gomez, another man now targeted by his own crowd, which seems to be the new thing. It prompted Denis Hurley, of this parish, to select the player least deserving of a volley of boos:
“Denmark’s Peter Madsen had his every touch barracked at Lansdowne Road in 2002 because the announcer incorrectly identified him as Rangers’ Peter Lovenkrands.”
The man who once defended Nicklas Bendtner by suggesting someone had pulled down his trousers for an awaiting nightclub photographer would surely have put his player before optics. It sums up Fifa’s relevance to most people’s lives, the downbeat reaction to Arsene Wenger taking up a position there, rather than a real job. Many would love to see him back in a dugout, wrestling with his zip, producing the last of the genuine, unchoreographed goal celebrations. And yet, while we might not necessarily trust his new associates, it can’t do harm to have him up there, in the corridors of power, an antidote to the sport’s ugliest excesses, the ‘facilitator of beauty in man’.
Frankie Lampard’s blissful honeymoon continues. A leaked document from Chelsea outlined Lamps’ fierce aversion to lateness, with fines of up to £20,000 for missing the start of training, and a £500 per minute tariff for tardiness at team meetings. For now, at this beautiful time in the new gaffer’s life, he is credited with ‘running a tight ship’. Give it a run of one win in six, the word du jour will be ‘draconian’.
All of that aside, you’d have to wonder how big the fines would be if Lamps was still in charge at Derby.
Is an Ireland friendly the dress rehearsal least faithful to the show? Once more, we looked an entirely different beast in a friendly match, spraying it around without a care against New Zealand, the latest cause célèbre — Jack Byrne — pulling the strings. Perhaps some draconian system of fines or forfeits needs to be put in place, if we want to replicate the terror we endure on the nights that matter.
“While it’s enticing to talk about keeping the ball and playing the incisive, if risky passes, it’s not always easy to do, especially when our natural inclination over a long time has been based on brawn, conditioning, and safety first football. But this was different, as we were willing to pass out of trouble, wove some lovely patterns in the final third and constructed a superb goal.”
Turns out, everything is relative. We mightn’t have thought they were any great shakes, but that was the New Zealand Herald, talking about the All-Whites’ performance in Dublin.
RTÉ might have revived Player Cam for the Aviva, such was the interest in Troy and those off-the-ball runs we are assured he was making. But the current understandable infatuation with Parrott and Connolly might just have knock-on benefits in freeing men like Sean Maguire and Callum Robinson from the glare of our expectation, making those horrible new Springbok shirts lighter to wear. The impressively resilient Maguire has always displayed a rebellious streak when he’s in danger of being forgotten.
As for the shirts, surely New Balance could at least have thrown in a set of skins to match?
If a gaffer’s honeymoon is a blissful time, there will never be a better period in a young striker’s life than when he ‘bursts onto the scene’. A golden window when we appreciate every rudimentary tool of his trade, purring knowingly about his movement and hold-up play. All the things nobody gives a damn about when he goes six games without a goal.
Wherever in the world Ireland play, however poor the opposition, we have grown used to wondering why we don’t keep the ball like they do, why they’ve got the tricky little playmaker who drops the shoulder. And sure enough, if you tuned in late to Yerevan Thursday, you’d have seen Ireland U21s knock it long and Armenia look the more threatening side. But it would have been a misleading impression of the match, as Kenny’s kids tired with 10 men. Before that, we were witnesses to unfamiliar scenes on foreign soil, as Ireland made their technical superiority count.
The U21s did enough to defy our magnetic attraction to the traditional 1-1 draw. The women’s senior team didn’t. There were things to admire in Greece, most of then from Denise O’Sullivan, but never control, and there was plenty of evidence that our national inclination to just knock it doesn’t discriminate. In fairness, Vera Pauw is only getting to know our strange ways.
Cathal Dennehy was a thoroughly deserving winner of the Sportswriter of the Year prize this week. In the squeeze for media space, it’s a constant battle for sports like athletics to get their fair share. But Cathal tends to make every word count.
Every word counted in one of the best essays about sport of recent times, by Eimear Ryan, on life as a camogie player, a brilliant dissection of the notion that ‘winning takes balls’.
Today, Iseult Howlett’s adaptation, The Grass Ceiling, premieres at the Everyman Theatre as part of the Cork Film Festival, an exploration of how a body becomes “more engine than ornament”.
How does sport take root in a life without nourishment? The most important sports article this week was published in the Limerick Leader, written by a 13-year-old boy who’d given up hurling, a game he loved, because he never got picked.
“The coaches didn’t care about my feelings, they only wanted to win at all costs. Even now I find it very hard to trust adults. I was completely isolated at a sport I love. I can honestly say, I have been affected by what I had to go through at a very young age. There is so much sadness in life but playing sport should not be a sad experience.”
A heartbreaking dereliction of responsibility.
It’s the kind of thing that might no longer be legal in Sweden from January 1, Stockholm-based coach Mark O’Sullivan points out. That’s when the Swedish Sports Confederation will require its youth sports to comply with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. How the courts will interpret the law is unclear, O’Sullivan suggests, but Henrik Persson of the Confederation believes focusing on the ‘best’ kids at youth level may be in conflict. UN children’s rights expert Kirsten Sandberg says this type of elitism “should not happen until the children themselves can have a clearer opinion about whether they want to be exposed to it. Selection should be made on the basis that it is for the child’s and not the club’s best interests.” Read more from Mark on this at footblogball.wordpress.com.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a Swede who will always ensure things are done in his best interests. His farewell to LA Galaxy fans — ‘Now go back to watch baseball’ — was the perfect farewell for a player who tended to make things all about him.
If you don’t believe that football is the perfect preparation for life on reality television, take note that Ian Wright is hot favourite to win I’m a Celebrity — and to inherit Harry Redknapp’s throne.
Surely the final piece of the complex puzzle in Cork’s march to next year’s anniversary double is now complete: there is more pure Corkness up there at the very top table, keeping an eye out. Niall Tobin, RIP.