You can probably quote Oscar Wilde on cynicism, or what a cynic is, to be more precise: Someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.
Would Oscar have had to adapt his definition in this century? Probably not, given the number of examples to hand in the last couple of weeks. And years.
For instance, there’s been a philosophical debate about Gaelic football following Kerry’s David Clifford getting a red card in a recent league game. Clifford and Tyrone sub Ben McDonald got entangled in a row, and when Clifford picked up a second yellow as a result and got the line, a storm duly blew up about cynicism in Gaelic football.
Well, cynicism in Tyrone football, mostly. This is almost a hardy annual, a theme so strong it defies euphemism. A couple of years ago Dick Clerkin mused ahead of a Monaghan-Tyrone clash that “Tyrone have lost none of their cynical instincts,” for instance, and there are even harsher verdicts to be found if you wish to search for them.
But wait! We then got all distracted by the suggestion that there might be cynicism in hurling — so much, in fact, that a black card might be needed to produce matches with as much heartwarming sportsmanship as, er... Gaelic football.
More on this another time (though I note Cork’s Diarmuid O’Sullivan considered in these pages last week: “If there was cynical play inside in the game of hurling, you wouldn’t have had the scoring numbers that were in the championship over the last number of years.”)
Wait, though. More distractions! We were diverted from our porridge once more when the C-word raised its ugly head in rugby last week. Wales discovered some issues with Ireland’s scrummaging and duly broadcast those to the world. Former England international and columnist Stuart Barnes wasn’t standing for it, saying the comments “weren’t cheating as such, but were cynical”.
But hang on a second. You think that’s cynical?
In professional baseball in the US, recent revelations have seen the 2017 Houston Astros discredited completely for cheating their way to that season’s World Series by stealing signs (long story). No wonder Houston writer Cort McMurray said: “The Astros cheating was institutionalised. It was organised, and cynical and, as far as anybody can tell, countenanced at the highest levels of the organisation.”
The Astros aren’t the only pro side facing tough times lately, of course.
Manchester City have fallen foul of Uefa’s Financial Fair Play rules, as you probably know. I was more surprised to see them come under fire for a different reason recently, when former referee Mark Clattenburg suggested the Manchester side are inclined to foul “tactically” if they lose possession while attacking: “City midfielder Fernandinho, in particular, is guilty of these cynical fouls.”
Is there any respite from cynicism?
I regret to inform you that not only is there little respite, each of the above revelations comes with a caveat.
Dick Clerkin’s protests about Tyrone’s cynicism, for instance, came with this addendum:
“Monaghan have to be ready for their (Tyrone) willingness to do whatever it takes to get over the line.”
Stuart Barnes’ disappointment with Welsh complaints about scrummaging was leavened slightly by going on to say: “Indeed, you have to ask the question; if a prop forward isn’t going to scrum at the odd illegal angle, what is their purpose?”
For his part Cort McMurray’s delineation of the Astros’ crimes was prefaced by:
“For as long as there’s been baseball, ballplayers have stolen signs, doctored balls, and cut corners, anything to give them a little edge over the other guys.”
Mark Clattenburg’s identification of Manchester City’s willingness to be cynical led to: “But then, so are all teams in certain situations.”
The price of everything. The value of nothing. If the cynicism is so widespread, is it even cynicism any more? Or just the way things are?
McClean’s principles stand, no matter what
James McClean’s refusal to wear a poppy across the water is something that bobs into my view every now and again, but even a daytripper like myself was surprised by recent comments from Barnsley’s deputy safety officer, of all people.
Sectarian chanting was aimed at McClean recently during a Barnsley-Stoke game, and when this was brought to the DSO’s attention, this person, one Peter Clegg, reportedly said:
“He’s a professional footballer, he should be used to it by now.”
These are not the days for anyone showing up the contradictions of democracy. That freedom of expression carries risk is a lesson at odds with what you could charitably call the tenor of the times. McClean’s honesty has made his last few seasons difficult, to put it mildly, in an era already difficult for anyone outside the orthodoxy.
But if the above is representative of the views of a deputy safety officer, then we have reached some class of a new low. The wonder now has to be that McClean has stuck to his principles for so long.
Finding out (match details) the hard way
That rain, eh? Last weekend yours truly was supposed to cover Limerick-Waterford in the Gaelic Grounds on a Saturday evening: Postponed.
It was refixed for the following day but postponed once again.
What was interesting was the crackle across the internet of the postponment, the instant zap of information.
In the late Jurassic, when yours truly played sport, a heavy downpour on the eve of a game could put you into an elongated state of anticipation: Would the game go ahead? When would they make the call? How? Who would do it?
And most important: How would you find out?
This was the time when not every player on a team had a phone, never mind a mobile phone. Your best bet was to go to the venue/rendezvous point and . . . find out.
Clearly this has no place in the modern world, particularly at the elite level, with so many people on the move. But hanging around that Sunday morning, awaiting the thumbs-up or down, was a sharp flash of contrast with those old days and the old is-it-on-or-what, which was usually answered with lookit-there’s-only-one-way-to-find-out.
So long to the‘True Grit’ man
Arrivederci to Charles Portis, who left us a few days ago.
Portis is a writer you probably recall from one book, True Grit — filmed twice to great acclaim, John Wayne and Jeff Bridges starring each time. He wrote several other well-received books, including one, The Dog of the South, which is required reading for those who write for The Simpsons. Take that as a recommendation.
An aside: I read True Grit and enjoyed it immensely. When I heard Portis died I tried to track down a second-hand copy of The Dog of the South, with no success.
Plan B — which should be Plan A every time — worked out well. I simply logged into the Cork City Library website and requested a copy of same from another library up the country; it will arrive in due course.
The sheer brilliance of this service, which I have come to shamefully late, is difficult to overstate but bears repeating here. Do yourself a favour and join your local library, if you haven’t done so already.