Sunday 25 February 2018

Billy Keane: Ear pulling and seal hops -- now that's real sport

Is poker a sport? The answer is no, it's not. That's not a 'kiss my a**e' no. It's a definite no. But it's on TV, on Sky Sports. There are commentators who talk in whispers like rugby announcers at Thomond Park when a kick is being taken. You have close ups and player profiles and action replays.

There has to be some element of physicality in sport. And maybe a little danger.

Sometimes the poker players get bed sores from sitting in the one place so long but that's about it really as far as physicality goes.

The only danger in poker is if you're caught cheating and another player kicks over the table, the piano player stops playing and a man with a pencil-thin moustache calls you a dirty rat and shoots you dead like the dog you are with a pearl-handled pistol, the size of a referee's whistle.

I like playing real-life poker but I don't pretend to be The Bomber Liston when he scored that famous hat-trick against Dublin every time I get three aces.

Fishing isn't really a sport either but it's on the sports channels all the time, especially when they haven't anything better to show. It was never for me.

I was always getting my minnow caught in moss or trapped under rocks while the other boys were pulling in trout. Fishing is very much a good walk spoiled. Eating is cheating and you have to throw back the fish.

Terrapins are small turtley things. Got them for the kids to teach them to be responsible. Cheaper than buying a pony.

I named the little creatures who carried their houses on their backs Terry and Pina.

They were very smelly. I used to fish 'em out of their world to clean the tank and it made me feel sick. Phil Hogan would have closed down their septic tank.

It beats me how such tiny little creatures could produce so much s**t.

Then one morning they were gone. Their bowl was as empty as Oliver Twist's. Foul play was suspected. We all have our dark side.

Maybe if they've grown into man-eaters in the sewers, we could get the Alaskans to catch them.

The same night I was watching the poker, I fell asleep on the sofa. I woke up with a stiff neck just in time for the traditional Alaskan Games.

It was a while before I made up my mind whether or not it was sport. The games got off to an inauspicious start.

The Alaskans were playing bodhrans made from seal skins but that might have been some sort of opening ceremony type thing.

The blue riband of the native Alaskan games is the seal hop. The competitors prance like lateral kangaroos on their fists and heels in a press-up position.

It's incredibly difficult. The sport's origins are based on seal hunting. The old Alaskans snuck up on their prey by mimicking the seals' own hopping gait.

There were no seals hurt in the making of the programme. In fact, there were no seals in the gym, only dead ones on people's backs. As clothes.

But this was a real sport that came from the struggle for food in the harshest of environments.

I'm not so sure about the ear pulling-off.

The rivals tied string or caribou gut on to each other ears and basically tried to pull the ears off each other by twisting their heads and necks like rugby props.

The idea behind the sport was to toughen up the competitors for the harsh winters. Pain prepared you for pain.

This is the beginning of another winter season, up north. The near north as in where the golfers call Northern Ireland. Personally, I prefer the North of Ireland.

It's the indoor bowls. Not to be confused with outdoor bowls played mostly on the winding boreens of Cork, Antrim and Holland. Now there's a day out.

The boulers take a hop, skip and a jump as they hurl the boul faster than a cannonball.

Passions

The indoor stuff is more sedate. I often imagine that behind the slow roll on the artificial lawn, there are fierce jealousies and hidden passions. Agatha Christie would surely set a novel there, but she's long dead in unsuspicious circumstances.

Top of the list of the things to do before I die is to stay alive but a few places below is to report on an indoor bowls tournament. I'll have to be sent.

I was taught this strategy by a TD, who saw more of the world than most pilots.

The trick is to apply to the Sports Editor for a trip somewhere far away and expensive like The Hong Kong Cup or indeed the Alaskan Games.

You quote for nine-star hotels and travel first-class.

The 'no' will come through even as the email is in the air between Kerry and Dublin. Go into a sulk but don't overdo it. No man is indispensable.

As the TD says, "you could finish up sitting next to the independents and as bad as the political isolation is, listening to their constant whinging is far worse."

About a week later, ask for the trip to Belfast. This model can be applied in any walk of life and often works even in these troubled times.

I'll let ye know then, and only then, if indoor bowls is really a sport.

Irish Independent

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