Wednesday 21 March 2018

Billy Keane: Ali and his grandmother can inspire Banner to cast off chains of oppression

A shopfront in Ennis decked out for the visit of Muhammad Ali to unveil a plaque in honour of his ancestors. Photo: Julien Behal/PA Wire
A shopfront in Ennis decked out for the visit of Muhammad Ali to unveil a plaque in honour of his ancestors. Photo: Julien Behal/PA Wire
Muhammad Ali, the magnificent heavyweight champion whose fast fists and irrepressible personality transcended sports and captivated the world. Photo: AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

It's a wonder the Banner never took chance with Muhammad Ali at full-forward. The champ came to visit his ancestral home in Clare a few years ago and he wasn't even running for president.

Our former president Eamon de Valera was elected to the House of Commons by the people of Clare 99 years ago. Dev got a huge vote without so much as having to promise to fill in a single pothole.

Our hero came to fight Al 'Blue' Lewis in Croke Park. Ali didn't even know he was a Clare man back then but he still wanted to visit the Aras.

The civil servants didn't go easy on Ali. "I don't think it is appropriate for a boastful, bombastic man such as Ali to be visiting the president."

The civil servants' words say much about the Ireland at the time of Ali's fight in Croker back in 1972.

There was a difficulty then as now in deciding on the difference between modesty and confidence. The Irish were a downtrodden race and when independence came, we swapped downtreaders.

Church and State decided it was in our own interests as a people to be kept backward. In case we rose up, or gave in to sin, or had a bit a fun, or found our inner gumption. The inherited post-colonial hangover remains with us.

Ali's grandmother was born just a generation away from slavery. It was the Nana who told him he was the greatest and boy did he believe.

There's no doubt that President Obama, being the intelligent man that he is, picked up on our lack of confidence as a nation when he made is féidir linn - we can do it - his rallying cry for Ireland.

I always come back from a visit to the States full of get up and go. It's contagious. Failure is seen as just another excuse to start again. Here there is too much cribbing, enough red tape to go around the world twice over, and the sense of entitlement blocks us up.

So what brought all this on, you might ask? Well it was an interview given by Clare manager Colm Collins to Joe Ó Muircheartaigh in this week's Kerryman.

Collins managed to get the balance right between whistling in the dark and giving confidence to his players, saying: "I have said it a thousand times: the young fella that's born in Tarbert, there's no difference between that fella and the young fella that's born in Kilrush. It's just self-belief."

There seems to be very little of where anywhere is any more in the teaching of geography.

It's about old rocks, stats and facts to be forgotten the day after the exam. And sure don't we all know there's no such thing as climate change?

Tarbert, in North Kerry, is just a quick sail over the Shannon from Kilrush and West Clare, where football is the main game.

Clare were terrible against Limerick in the first round but they are much better than that.

Says Collins of his players: "I have great belief in their ability to up their performance."

You don't have to read between the lines. Just read the lines. Collins is doing all he can to instil belief in his boys.

The Clare manager might refer back to the courage of a mighty woman from the ranks of the Clare diaspora who spoke words of wisdom to a young boy in Louisville all those years ago.

I'm Kerry all the way, but I hope The Banner put it up to us. Both for our sakes, and theirs.

Killarney, and Thurles, are the nearest you will get to the prairies of Croke Park and August football.

Word has it Kerry will bring in Briain Ó Beaglaoích and several other young players will be included in the match-day squad with a view to giving them a run at some stage.

Marc Ó Sé might not start but he will still have a role to play. I'd even chance him in the forwards. That man has Ali's feet and his sting is more hornet than bee.

There are young players in Kerry who will bring us great glory in the years to come. We are not far away from a good run or even better than that.

Young Kerry players are told that from the minute you pull that green and gold jersey over your head, you become the best in your position.

We are beaten by better teams but we still believe there is a next year, and that next year is always in the here and now.

It was Derry O'Shea himself who asked us the question. We promised him the question would be put out for answering: "Billy, what do myself and Muhammad Ali have in common?"

"The two of us fought in Croke Park."

Derry, a former Kerry star, a lilting accordion player and a lovely singer, was sent off for fighting in an All-Ireland final against Galway. His brother 'Thorny' got his marching orders on the same day. The game was well over by then.


And for balance, we have a Clare story. Clare are a county who take defeat with good grace. The Clare man told us he was leaving Thurles last Sunday when he was approached by a Waterford acquaintance. "What happened to ye at all?" asked the Waterford fan.

The Clare man answered, "Sure weren't we saving Podge Collins for Kerry."

I swear I'll do for the next lad who comes up with the pretend empathy of "what happened to ye at all?" And you knowing well he's one of those lads who knocks more fun out of your team losing than his team winning.

And if the judge is a GAA fan, I'll be given one of those telescopic litter pickers, with the claw at the end, and a severe warning that if I ever do it again, the community service will be doubled to a fortnight.

Irish Independent

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