Monday 29 May 2017

Galvin survives trial by television with his integrity intact

Last year we had the first hurler to come out as a homosexual, this year it's the turn of the first metrosexual, writes Eamonn Sweeney

At some stage the makers of Galvinised, RTE's big Christmas sports offering, must have thought they had a Poseidon Adventure-sized disaster on their hands.

Their fly-on-the-wall look at the life of the reigning Footballer of the Year had encountered one small problem. A two-month suspension after his sending off against Cork in February meant that Paul Galvin hardly kicked a ball in the National League. And his subsequent ban for impersonating Laurence Olivier's Nazi dentist in Marathon Man, with Eoin Cadogan filling the Dustin Hoffman role, ruled him out for most of the championship.

What we were left with then was a documentary about a footballer who wasn't playing any football. This might have been a beguiling notion for aficionados of avant garde cinema but, for the rest of us, it promised to be the televisual equivalent of the pub with no beer.

That it didn't work out like that is due almost solely to the documentary's subject. Because Paul Galvin did for the makers of Galvinised what he did for Kerry in this year's Munster semi-final replay: he pulled them out of the fire. North Kerry's leading Satan impersonator did this by revealing himself to be as likable, interesting, self-aware and, above all, honest a sportsman as you'll ever see profiled.

It was the honesty which made the film work. Because we were treated to a sight which is unusual not just in Irish sport but in Irish life generally, a man saying exactly how he felt. There was no spin, no special pleading, no whingeing, no posturing, we got Paul Galvin neat. These documentaries normally show us arrogance dressed up as modesty but in this case the opposite was the case. It was a refreshing change.

Galvin told us how he felt about being substituted, "I was disappointed of course. I was very annoyed"; what happened when a player disagreed with Jack O'Connor, "you'd be left licking your wounds"; the Munster championship, "the last few years have just been a pain in the arse"; and his job as a teacher, "I didn't fit in at all. The job was boring to me so I left it."

And, most compellingly, he talked about the disciplinary problems which ruined the year for him. He did so in a way which put to shame those people who tried at the time of his suspensions to make out that the player had been targeted as part of some anti-Kerry conspiracy or that he is merely 'playing close to the edge'. Paul Galvin, more than any other player I've seen, was brutally tough in making no excuses for himself. "You hate to think you're compromising people, they're all sick of it", "It's completely brain dead to do what I did", "I feel stupid over it", "I don't think there's any point in defending it. I can't defend it, it was wrong", "If my team-mates feel like I left them down, it would be hard to blame them."

The notion of 'manliness' is often invoked in GAA in a mealy-mouthed attempt to excuse cynical play. But Galvin's willingness to accept responsibility was genuinely and impressively manly.

There has been some sneering at Galvin since both his appearance on the Late Late Show and the screening of Galvinised, which seems to derive from the clichéd idea that an inter-county GAA player is a kind of Fianna Fáil TD in embryo who should be banging on about his love of golf and horse racing, his desire to open a pub, his respect for businessmen and his love of The Sawdoctors.

In reality, anyone who thinks there's something unusual these days about a country lad who's interested in fashion, likes Dizzee Rascal, Kanye West and Biffy Clyro and wears tight T-shirts because he's gone to the gym to make sure he looks well in them should get out more. It's a nice change to see a footballer who'd prefer to hang with Jay-Z than Hector. Last year we had the first hurler to come out as a homosexual. This year we've had the first footballer to come out as a metrosexual. And, in a society where conformism and time serving are rife, you'd have to respect the integrity of a lad who's quitting a permanent pensionable job because he wants to see what else life has to offer.

Galvinised was not without its flaws. There was far too much RTE match footage which anyone interested in football would have seen already and which the casual viewer would have been bored by.

And there was a huge missed opportunity when Galvin took off to New York. He was obviously excited by being in the Big Apple but we never got to see him doing anything in the city other than strut the streets looking like a cool cross between John Travolta in the opening sequence of Saturday Night Fever and a hustler in a Warhol movie.

Instead, the New York segment largely consisted of him watching the Kerry-Down match in a deserted pub, something he could have done just as easily in Tralee. Galvin told us several times how much he loved New York, it would have been nice if the programme makers showed us this love in action. It's not, after all, as though there's a shortage of interesting things to film in the city.

Honest to the last, Galvin finished off by telling us, "it's been a shitty year really." A shitty year but a fine documentary. In the words of Jay-Z, "a star was born. Clap for him."

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