Michael Moynihan: Time to go all guns blazing on the war cliche

Stop, stop, stop. Halt the election campaign in its tracks. Climate change action: cease and desist. We have a far more pressing issue to hand, one which requires urgent action.

Michael Moynihan: Time to go all guns blazing on the war cliche

Stop, stop, stop. Halt the election campaign in its tracks. Climate change action: cease and desist. We have a far more pressing issue to hand, one which requires urgent action.

I refer to the war metaphors in sport, a recurring problem which seemed to be on the wane, but which now needs to be reined in immediately.

A couple of weeks ago I noted that these infectious pests are beginning to gather their forces and mobilise so we must root them out before they can spread too far.

My alarm went off when I saw a throwaway comment by former Argentina star Diego Simeone, now managing Atlético Madrid. Asked to compare Ronaldo and Messi, Simeone cut loose: “You can take Cristiano Ronaldo to a war and he’ll win it for you all alone, for Lionel Messi you need to bring all of his Barcelona teammates so he could actually do something.”

I would have passed quickly on but within a day or so American football star Tom Brady chipped in on Instagram, the New England Patriots star acknowledging a season-ending defeat: “Nobody plays to lose. But the reward for working hard is just that, the work! I have been blessed to find a career I love, team-mates who go to battle with me, an organisation that believes in me, and fans who have been behind us every step of the way.”

In case you think the war metaphor is not known on these shores, consider this from a Darragh Ó Sé column last year: “It’s like seeing a fella going over the top in the trenches and following him without even thinking about it.” (It should be going over the top out of, but let that pass.)

Can we call a ceasefire when it comes to the battling and the fighting, the war and the trenches? Your correspondent doesn’t claim to be blameless in this respect, so you can refrain from flooding my inbox with examples of martial metaphors.

There’s an inherent falseness to pushing the war angle because it’s so blatantly self-glorifying. Sorry to break the news to heroes wielding football boots/hurleys/whistles/gumshields/clipboards, but what you’re up to is not a war. This trope was well and truly skewered years ago by the great David Halberstam in an aside delivered in his book about American football coach Bill Belichick, The Making Of A Coach.

Halberstam described the terminology used in player evaluations in professional football: “Was he the kind of man you wanted next to you in a foxhole?— a saying used almost always by men who had never been in foxholes about other men who had never been in foxholes either.”

(The added gravy to this description, of course, is that Halberstam himself was no stranger to foxholes, having covered the Vietnam War).

Space prevents me from drilling into some of the other tricky paths in sports terminology, but one glaring example popped up in a recent conversation with Cork footballer Mark Collins about the return of Ciarán Sheehan from Australian Rules: “Absolutely brilliant to have him back, he’s a model professional, everything he does is spot on and he’s great for the younger players in the panel too.”

Collins isn’t alone here, as the customary eulogy for a retiring GAA player now seems to start with a description of him as “the ultimate professional” which probably comes as a surprise to the player’s employer.

On a lighter note, I enjoyed this from outgoing Sports Minister and general delight to the nation Shane Ross on a recent meeting with the FAI: “The Old Guard have now been excised and a healthy regeneration of the FAI can commence . . . “

Kudos to all outlets which capitalised Old Guard, thus bathing Ross’s comments in the reflected glow of Napoleon’s farewell to his ‘Immortals’, his elite veterans, which begins: “Soldiers of my Old Guard, farewell!”

What happens at meetings (shouldn’t) stay at meetings

I’ve mentioned the FAI above. Last week, Uefa was in town and there seemed to be positive signs about financing, even as Shane Ross was continuing to insist the Government was not in the bailing-out business.

Or maybe more precisely, not in the bailing out of anyone not a bank business. But anyway.

In time, this will all be explained in a book or podcast or mini-series or investigative documentary, no doubt.

How an organisation was able to evade scrutiny despite apparent safeguards and was allowed to create a financial disaster zone, despite supposed oversight.

How meeting after meeting was told that there was a plan in place and a path to stability, and how those plans and paths weren’t examined or interrogated.

How the supposed stakeholders were placated with platitudes at those meetings and left happy they had brought up the important matters — well, the matters important to them.

How those attending such meetings were able to satisfy themselves that they had probed those in charge with questions — but were also happy to praise those in charge for the terrific job they were doing.

How they were able to stroll out after those meetings, happy they had done their job.

Whenever it comes out, it’ll be a hell of a book (or podcast, or mini-series, or investigative documentary), though I doubt it’ll do much for the reputations of those who were supposed to ask the questions.

My controversial hurling days are done

I was going to begin a new slot here, Sports Figures With Troubling Political Views, given the dazzling emergence of MMA fighter Paddy Holohan last week with an attack on Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s heritage.

Holohan subsequently apologised but I’m sure pol corrs everywhere, facing into three weeks of carefully-calibrated soundbites, were secretly happy to see the first week of the election campaign kindle so quickly.

That new slot may have to give way to a newer slot, Music Figures With Troubling Political Views But Intriguing Musical Titles.

Morrissey, who articulated every sensitive teenager’s angst in the eighties, has expressed some horrific political views and seems to be more and more right-wing as the years roll on.

Hence the slightly guilty interest in the last track on his forthcoming album: My Hurling Days Are Done.

If Morrissey is cancelled, does that mean we can’t even listen to a few seconds of this?

Late Sprawson’s work so worthy of revisiting

Sad news on the book front with the passing earlier this month of Charles Sprawson, author of Haunts of the Black Masseur: The Swimmer As Hero. He was 78.

Sprawson wrote only one book — the above — and, as I’ve written in the past, it’s a mesmerising, immersive exploration of swimming. As I’ve also written, it’s also a very unusual exploration of writing about sport, given it namechecks, among others, Byron, Flaubert, Gide, Hugo, George Borrow, Stevenson, Coleridge, Swinburne, Rupert Brooke, DH Lawrence, Woolf, Thomas Mann, Whitman, and F Scott Fitzgerald.

This is the kind of book you simply need to have on your shelves, whether you like sportswriting or swimming — or not.


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