Sunday 19 January 2020

Hold the Back Page - The banned and the damned

It's hard to see what former Armagh manager Paul Grimley, right, expects the GAA to do about journalists calling him twice in one day
It's hard to see what former Armagh manager Paul Grimley, right, expects the GAA to do about journalists calling him twice in one day
Eamonn Sweeney

Eamonn Sweeney

In keeping with the current fashion, I've decided to institute a Hold The Back Page media ban. The current situation has gone on long enough.

For one thing I have the feeling that many readers don't realise the massive sacrifices involved in the sportswriter's life. It took me, like most of my colleagues, years of intensive training in a Shaolin monastery deep in the Himalayas before I ever dared to put pen to paper. And having done that I still have to overcome hardships which would make a lesser person blanch. A few weeks ago I finished this column despite having a really sore finger. I also watched the Donegal-Armagh match all the way through.

But am I appreciated? No. I'm not looking for reward or even thanks but simply a combination of pity, respect and unalloyed admiration. It is, you might say, my human right.

You. Yeah, you. You're not paying attention, are you? You have one eye on the column and you're talking to someone at the same time. Do you not know what this costs me in blood, sweat and emotional pain? Right, you're banned.

And you, the man on the train to the match giving out about something I wrote. I don't mind you criticising me but it's the effect on my family which is unacceptable. So you can sling your hook as well. Hang on, is that man . . . ? Jesus Christ, you've brought the paper to the pub and you're reading it and drinking a pint at the same time. Would you do that to the Book of Kells, would you? You're gone as well. And leave the paper after you, someone who appreciates fine writing might pick it up.

Human rights is, as I've said, what this is all about. My human right to put manners on readers who don't realise that I am a very important man indeed and should never be criticised. But don't take it personally, the Hold The Back Page media ban will also apply to subjects as well as readers. Number One . . .

Oi, what do you think you're doing here? Listen, if this fella doesn't stop reading, I'm not going to continue this column. Eight months ago he was out on a Sunday night and told several people he thought that day's column was no good. So he has to go or there'll be no column. Is he gone?

Good, now to the list of banned subjects. Censorship is, after all, as great an Irish tradition as dancing at the crossroads and predicting that the rain won't keep off for much longer. We should have more of it. Herewith the banned subjects.

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1 The huge difference Louis van Gaal has ALREADY made to Manchester United. Hang on a second, folks, before yesterday they hadn't even played a competitive game yet and people are hailing his magnificent work. They were doing the same this time last season to David Moyes and in fact, right up until just before the very end, we were being told that some result indicated that he had "turned the corner," "silenced his critics," or some such. Remember the aftermath of the Olympiakos game? I actually think United will win the league but wait till Van Gaal actually does something before you kiss his ass.

2 The necessity for a two-tier football championship. Because, apparently, some of the smaller counties have no chance of winning an All-Ireland. This is true but actually there are only about four counties who have any chance of winning the thing at the moment. Most of the time there's six or seven. So that's going to be one big second tier. Of course most proponents of this hoary old proposal would have Laois a tier above Tipperary, who beat them in this year's championship, or Derry a tier above Longford, who did the same to them.

3 The necessity for the football championship to be played off under a 'Champions League format.' This is a sexy-sounding idea because when you mention it people think of Barcelona and Bayern Munich and Real Madrid. They don't think of Tyrone and Kildare playing in the sixth round of games to decide who comes last. When I was a kid, the mere revelation that you believed in an open draw was enough to peg you as an enlightened liberal thinker. It was like believing in sex and rock 'n' roll. Well, be careful what you wish for because it will probably come true. Remember all the predictions that the qualifier system would see an era of exciting new rivalries as the fans flocked in, drawn by the exotic novelty of seeing their team play teams from another province? I bet the officials watching tumbleweeds blow across the field on Saturday afternoons in June do.

4 The world-classness of Wayne Rooney, conclusively proved by that volley he got in United's 4-0 win over Burnley. How many major tournaments does he have to underperform at? The belief in Rooney's stature as a world star is akin to the belief of Russian serfs that the Tsar was worrying about their welfare. It is impervious to all evidence to the contrary. It is a touching thing.

5 How drug cheats in sport are reprehensible. Except when they're Irish. A Turk or Russian caught tampering illegally with their body chemistry is an affront to all clean athletes, a sinister representative of a sinister foreign system, a robber of Rob and denier of Derval. Really, it makes a mockery out of sport that they're not banned for good. An Irish drug cheat, on the other hand, is a much more human figure, led astray by circumstance, somehow inherently decent in their willingness to admit that they've taken drugs, once they've been caught. A credit to us all really.

6 Why don't the League of Ireland sides do better in Europe? Wouldn't it attract crowds to the domestic game? The answer to the first question is that they are usually beaten by teams who have much more money to pay better players. And the answer to the second is that it wouldn't make a blind bit of difference. Right now, the League sits 40th in Europe. Were it, by some enormous miracle, to make it as far as number 20 it would stand where they Polish League does now. The Poles haven't qualified a team for the knockout stages of the Champions League since Legia Warsaw made the quarter-finals in 1996. The Irish soccer public wouldn't think of that as much of a competitor for the Premier League, would it?

7 Talisman. The most annoying word in sport right now. Even worse than iconic. If you mean important player, just say so. For some reason, talismans tend to be key players who are out injured. Yeah, that's right, talismans. Because that's the proper plural form of this word. The widespread use of talismen suggests no one even know what the bloody thing means. Mind you, iconic is fairly bad too.

8 How the Premier League is the best in the world because, very occasionally, a team from the lower reaches of the table gets a result against one of the top four. But not often. Otherwise Arsenal wouldn't manage to qualify for the Champions League even when in a state of utter chassis. Even Sky have kind of given up on the idea, which is why they've launched that new European soccer channel. Sunderland equalising against Manchester City is all very well but it's hardly Ronaldo, Rodriguez, Bale and Kroos going up against Messi, Suarez and Neymar, is it?

9 Katie Taylor and God and Heaven stuff. Fair enough if you're a Christian yourself but otherwise a bit much. As is people who haven't an ounce of religion in them suggesting that dead sportsmen are in the afterlife.

10 The use of the words, 'Trash Talk'. Perhaps this has some validity when used in connection with two NBA stars who grew up playing the game on inner city courts swapping vicious repartee about the size of their swimming pools. But it loses a bit when used to describe a bank official from Cavan calling a teacher from Armagh names.

11 The Great Man. The most irritating combination of words in sports journalism. Talisman times three. Suggests a journalist putting on the same kind of fake trembly sincere voice as DJs used to when saying, "And now for a record from . . . the Laaate . . . the Grrreeat . . . Elvis Presley."

12 BOD Balls. "A leading World Health Organisation official said that he has no doubt that if Brian O'Driscoll had become an epidemiologist he would have single-handedly ended the Ebola epidemic in West Africa by now." Stuff like that.

13 Psychoanalysing people who you only know from seeing them on television. This is allowable when you're dealing with characters from EastEnders and Coronation Street. But it's a bit risible when you attempt to delve into the tortured psyche of someone you've never met. Most of us barely know why we do things ourselves, let alone why Luis Suarez does them.

14 Passing heed on comments by half-drunken Englishmen concerning Sky's GAA coverage. "It's mental, blokes kicking it and catching it and stuff yeah," tweets Gary from St Albans and finds he's become an Irish media celebrity. Are the English papers full of comments from lads in Mayo about the Premier League? Nope. Because they don't feel they have to impress us.

15 Passing heed on twitter comments in general. If I wanted to get into arguments with people who can't spell, I'd have become a pre-school teacher.

16 The great tradition of Augusta Golf Club. Oh yes, how classy it all is, Owa Sudden Hospitaliteh, Mint Juleps and Rhett Butler in charge of the pin placements. Just don't mention the racism, the sexism and the fact that some of the members are probably still having therapy after seeing Tiger Woods winning the Masters.

17 The awfulness of BBC soccer coverage compared to the genius of Gibranphy. "I haven't seen him play before Bill, what's his name?" "Ramirez, is it?" "Rodriguez I think." And as for people who find Gary Lineker 'bland,' presumably this is in comparison with Rabelaisian gonzo anchorman Bill O'Herlihy. Hardly Howard Stern, was he?

18 The fact that the English would say an Irish sportsman was English when they won and Irish if they lost. This never happened. Produce your evidence.

19 Gaelic football, or indeed hurling, being "a game of inches". Listen, the reason Al Pacino says that in Any Given Sunday is because American football actually is a game of inches. Teams have four downs to advance ten yards, if they are even inches short at the end they lose the ball. Hence a game of inches. Football and hurling are more games of putting the ball between the posts.

20 International Rules. No one cares. Just take the holiday and say nothing.

21 The superior difficulty of Ulster football. Brian Hurley wouldn't have got 12 points if he was playing against an Ulster team said Martin McHugh. A few weeks after Donegal let Cillian O'Connor stroll in for three goals. An Ulster team wouldn't have let Kerry away with what they did to Cork in the Munster final, said the true believers. Anyone see the Dublin-Monaghan match?

22 Managers whining about extremely silly things. Like Paul Grimley suggesting that the GAA should do something about the fact that sometimes he can get a phone call from a journalist at both 11 o'clock in the morning and four in the afternoon. Appalling as this vista of human suffering is, it's hard to see what he expects the GAA to do about it. Unless he wants all sports journalists to be made hand in their phones to Croke Park who will release them on a strict manager-friendly basis. He surely doesn't. Does he?

23 How Roy Keane was better and more competitive than anyone else in the whole wide world. He was good and he was competitive but some were as good and as competitive, (Paul Scholes) and some were better (Zinedine Zidane).

The idea of Roy as the untamed voice of harsh truth is a bit old at this stage. Remember those columns praising him for revealing that he'd never be an analyst because he had too much integrity? He managed to stomach it in the end.

24 Silly faux outrage about stuff no one is really bothered about. A lot that gang last week knew about women's rugby. And they cared even less.

The game had a window of opportunity and it got partially blocked by a lot of rubbish. It'll be 'You're in Heaven now Mork" this week.

25 Burnout reports written by third-level coaches as though they're not burning out anyone, the 'pishan' of Davy Fitz, why armchair supporters won't go to League of Ireland games because they're criticised for not going to League of Ireland games, Manliness, shout-outs to fellow journalists facing serious criminal charges, doctor-pushing, splitting Dublin in two, death putting everything into perspective, why depression is a wonderful character-building opportunity providing you're not one of those people who kills themselves because of it, taking the wise option by chickening out and not shooting for goal, the utterly imaginary efficacy of the sweeper system in Gaelic football, Parnell Park 'actually' being Dublin's home ground. And pretending that sportspeople write their own autobiographies. Write them? They haven't even read them.

If anyone wants to point out that I have in fact been guilty of several of these offences in the past, feel free to say so.

But you'll be banned so you will.

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