Saturday 17 March 2018

Joe Brolly: Who needs a life coach when our teams are full of them?

Manus fell to the ground on his back, motionless. ‘He fainted’ said McKeever
Manus fell to the ground on his back, motionless. ‘He fainted’ said McKeever

Joe Brolly

The world has gone very tacky. Victoria Beckham's €17,500 handbag sold out within a few hours of its unveiling. On the day this triumphant announcement was made across front pages, there was a news item tucked away on page seven about the average wage in Malawi falling to under $1 a day.

The super wealthy life coach Tony Robbins was in Dublin at the Pendulum Summit a fortnight ago, flashing his Ultrabrite smile and telling the thousands of awestruck Paddies in his audience they could be just like him.

"I'm the quarterback on the field, throwing the 70-yard touchdown pass. Everybody says, 'look at the hero'." For all his wealth, he is still a modest divil. It wasn't long before the Ultrabrite man had the wannabe castle and private jet owners on their feet, high-fiving and screaming at the person beside them "I own you". His book, Master the Game, seven simple steps to financial freedom, is a best-seller. He earns an estimated $50m a year. Yet his work is an illusion, nothing more than a sales pitch for your money.

Texan attorney Charles Chandler Davis put it in a nutshell: "Robbins' clients are mostly white males who have been fairly successful in life but, for some reason, feel insecure, lost . . . They go to these deals, pay the money and get pumped up - in a religious sort of way. The truth is, they want to be like Tony, who stands in front of them in $600 suits, silk ties and looking like Hollywood and the American Dream rolled into one."

Gordon Clanton, a sociologist at San Diego State University, attributes the rise of Robbins and other New Age practitioners to "the search for faith in a secular age."

Put another way, he appeals to people's deep-seated need to believe in something, mainly the self. In American and UK society, where the individual is everything and God's power has waned, these people are filling the vacuum and getting very rich in the process. It was scary to see so many Irish people dancing so deliriously on his strings in Dublin. And cringeworthy to see their beatific faces as he patronised them with words that would have been embarrassing coming from John Wayne in The Quiet Man.

A few days after the Ultrabrite man had returned to his castle in Bel Air where he has 30 full-time staff - even the greatest quarterback needs a little support - the Golden Globes took place in Hollywood. Host Ricky Gervais, referring to Jennifer Lawrence's crusade for fairer pay for Hollywood leading ladies, said: "Jennifer made the news when she demanded equal pay for women in Hollywood. There were marches on the street with nurses and factory workers saying, 'How the hell can a 25-year-old woman live on $52m?'" The cameras swooped onto Lawrence, as she gave the sort of fake laugh you see in court when the judge makes a joke.

As Gervais was taking to the stage in Hollywood to present the Golden Globes, I was taking to the stage in St Canice's clubhouse for an antidote to all that sort of thing: The awards ceremony for Dungiven's reserve championship-winning footballers.

The night was organised at short notice because full-back Boozy Baz, aka Barry McReynolds, is emigrating to Perth. Let us hope he stays longer than Stephen Murtagh. I was at Stevie's emigration party/wake in the Glen club many years ago and it was a most poignant affair. At the end of the night, a highly emotional Stevie took to the stage. Clasping the mic, tears rolling down his face, he pointed at the crowd, then his heart, before blurting out: "You are my people. You will always be in my heart." A fortnight later he was back home.

As I arrived into the clubhouse, Plunkett Murphy was setting out the chairs and tables. Plunkett has four senior championship medals. He was the greatest high fielder ever to come out of Dungiven and certainly the greatest I have seen. His brother Andy joked once after a league game at St Canice's Park that "our boy was up so high, he saw Mary K Hinphey turning into Teeavin Road off the Main Street in her wee Volvo". Plunkett played at midfield for Derry and Ulster, soldiering alongside Brian McGilligan during the barren years. I never remember him being injured or missing a training session with the club. And I am fairly sure he has never familiarised himself with The Seven Habits of the Wealthy. There he was setting the tables and carrying chairs, looking forward to seeing his son Conor make his county debut against Tyrone.

Owen Quigg (the boys call him 'Y factor' ever since he lost the final of X-Factor) is the corner-forward on the reserve team. It is always a shock to see his hair again in the flesh. For Stephen 'Bandy' McGuigan, the veteran half-back, it was an occasion to really savour. Having played for the senior footballers since he was 18, this was his first championship medal. He told me it was the greatest feeling he ever had. When I gave him his medal on stage we hugged. When I was 35, he came into the senior team and was a vibrant presence on it for 14 years. He is a great community man, like his father and grandfather before him. He told me that after I wrote in a column earlier this year that he was one of the funniest people I had ever met, it had "put a wile lot of pressure on me to be funny sir, I wish you hadn't said that".

Kieran McKeever was busy ladling out that classic GAA dish, chicken curry, coleslaw and chips. Kieran is the workaholic chairman of the club. Here he was, checking the mic, helping to carry the karaoke machine up onto the stage (you've not heard karaoke until you've heard Owen Quigg singing I Should Be So Lucky), making pots of tea and stacking the medals. McKeever (ask Peter Canavan if you don't believe me) was the greatest corner-back of the modern era. He was a zealot, who agonised if I scored off him in training. The next night he would come over and say, "I know what you did Joe, I won't flimming well fall for that again". He never curses, instead saying "flip sake" and "flimming". For a decade, he held Meath's Bernie Flynn scoreless. He was a perfect mixture of balance, pace, power and skill. He was also unbelievably tough.

We played Donegal in what was humorously described as 'a friendly' in Banagher around 1991. At that time, it was daggers drawn between us. The inevitable row got up shortly after throw-in when Anthony Molloy and Big McGilligan went at it in the middle of the field. Manus Boyle ran in with McKeever pursuing him. "Stay out of it Manus," McKeever warned him. It was good advice, which the Donegal man ignored. Instead, Boyle swung an air punch and McKeever, a superb amateur boxer with the St Canice's club, banged him with a heavy right hand. The only thing missing was the American boxing commentator Teddy Atlas shouting "Timberrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr". Manus fell to the ground on his back, motionless. We gathered round him and watched as the blood came scooting out of his forehead like a Tarantino movie. " He fainted" said McKeever, as the ref ran in asking what had happened.

Two years later, we met them again in a league quarter-final in Breffni. By then, they were reigning All-Ireland champions and we hated them even more. McKeever was brilliant that day as usual. With ten minutes to go, McEniff brought on Tommy Ryan who immediately started riling him.

I knew what was coming and in fairness to the ever polite McKeever, he administered the standard warning. "Quit that Tommy, or I'll flimming hit you." Tommy, who was a beast of a man, threw a right hand, McKeever ducked and boom, Teddy Atlas time: "Timberrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. Ryan goes down. He's not getting up from that one." Tommy lay on the ground a good long time. McKeever was sent off. Which explains why the country's best defender didn't win an All Star in our All-Ireland year. In those days, a sending-off disqualified you from a gong.

There are three Irish medium schools in the town, nursery, primary and secondary. My father, an ex-chairman of the club, whose claim to fame is that he scored a hat-trick once against Fermanagh in the McKenna Cup (haven't we all?) made the introductions in Irish. McKeever spoke stirringly about his vision for the town over the next decade. The medals were handed out. The place was buzzing.

Standing at the bar with Kevin Hinphey, the thought struck me that if Tony Robbins turned up at the club spewing that shite, he would be laughed out of the place.

As I was leaving, Big Plunkett and McKeever were helping out with the dishes. Dungiven. A liberal, socialist, communitarian, non-sexist paradise.

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