Monday 16 December 2019

Eastern stars will not let you down in troubled times

Georgia's Giorgi Begadze during squad training
Georgia's Giorgi Begadze during squad training
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

Chacha, the Georgian brandy made from grape sediment, is sometimes rubbed hard into the belly or, as they say in polite circles, the tummy.

It seems chacha is not only good for indigestion and stomach cramps but also for earache. Chacha would sell well as a publican's wellness remedy.

The Georgians take on Ireland tomorrow and they'll be hoping to give us a right fright. I wonder if the chacha is their Deep Heat.

It was the custom in Ireland for footballers to rub poitin on to their legs but never drink it. Poitin can be a deadly poison.

As far as I know, doggy men still use moonshine to heat up the limbs of their greyhounds, particularly at this time of the year when the weather would discommode a polar bear wearing a fur coat, never mind a skinny greyhound with no more fat than you'd get on a modern rasher which are cut so thin the bacon is translucent. No fat, no flavour is our motto.

The underdogs from Eastern Europe might take some comfort from the exploits of a village in Eastern Clare. The men of Cratloe have knocked the landing of a probe from the European space mission on a fast-moving comet off this month's list of hot news.

It might well be that the next space probe could be landed on Comet Cratloe such is the soaring reputation of the men from Clare. But comets burn out and we hope the Clare men can keep going at their quest to win the football and the hurling club double.

The flowering of a subset of lads in a small place is the most romantic of all GAA stories. These teams only come along once in every three or four generations, or maybe never.

We watch out for flowerings at every underage match and all of us long for the day when our club wins an All-Ireland.

There's more to it than luck. The Cratloe club owe their success as much to nurture as nature. Jonathan Sexton has been nominated for IRB World Player of the Year. Here's one for the Cratloe mentors.

I had the young lad kicking a rugby ball from 50 metres into an egg cup and he was only three at the time. Well, not really; Jonathan's dad Jerry was his first coach. The Collins brothers, who star for Clare and Cratloe, were also set on the road to glory by their dad.

The Clare men play The Nire of Waterford in the Munster club football championship. I love the name The Nire. Our favourite though is the Dreadnots. The Dreadnots play out of Clogherhead in Louth and they have advertised for a new manager. Applications close by Friday next. Greetings to Dreadnots man Pat Cunnigham who often kept us up late.

It could be I was away on the day we did Georgia at school or, more likely, we didn't do it all. That gap in our education came about largely because Georgia was part of the Soviet Union when I was a boy.

We welcome the men of the east to the east of Ireland. Their teams are a sporting manifestation of independence in these troubled times for the countries bordering Russia. Aren't we lucky that the only interest the English have in the domination of smaller neighbours is the picking of colossal crash-ball centres?

Michael Bradley is on the Georgian coaching team. I was in the family shop in Cork this week. There wasn't a bottle of chacha to be had but I purchased a lemon and ginger cordial. I'm off the sauce for some of November. There's a fiery whiskey-like kick off the ginger and the cordial is as beneficial for the tummy as chacha.

Our sacrifice has not been greeted all that warmly. The witty bookie Declan Sheehy remarked, pointedly, that "a publican off the drink is like a draper walking around naked".


Bradley knows his stuff and I expect Georgia to give it a good go but Ireland should win. We're well on our way to greatness and I fancy us to take the World Cup, if we get the little bit of luck with injuries.

There are more eastern GAA- rugby connections. Did we ever think we would see the day when Gaelic football would be played at Ravenhill and the Dubs would finally leave home?

The 'Game for Anto' is being played today between Dublin and Ulster, to honour the bravery of Antrim player Anto Finnegan who has Motor Neuron Disease. The Dubs would never see you stuck.

There are days, though, when you'd wonder if we are a country of the crass and the cruel but then Anto restores our faith in hope, charity and humanity.

Men like Anto walk taller even if their gait tilts and the swagger of the pumped-up player running on to the field can sometimes falter in to a stagger. It's all about the heart. It's all about the heart. Thanks Anto, for reminding us.

There are heroes everywhere whether it be in East Clare, Eastern Europe or East Belfast.

Let us raise a glass of chacha then, or a tumbler of lemon and ginger cordial, to each and every one or, better still, get yourself over to Ravenhill and stand up for the Ulster man.

Irish Independent

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