Wednesday 25 April 2018

Omens are in place as the west awakes

Billy Keane

Billy Keane

THE cluster of arty-looking types sat out in Shop Street. The men wore baggy clothes, sandals without socks and carried shoulder bags full of nothing. Some of the women didn't bother with make- up. No need. Their faces were as crisp and fresh as iceberg lettuce. No worries, you see.

A few drank pints in the middle of the day and a few more sipped coffee from white mugs as big as small saucepans. Cigarettes were rolled with four fingers, all from the one free hand.

Sartre, Joyce, Camus and me might have been critically assessed. Definitely mentioned would be their own latest creations as yet unsculpted, unbrushed and unwritten.

I wondered if these people are happy and came to a swift conclusion. Yes they are.

The arts community invented flexi-time but, then again, all of the good ones worked all hours to make it to the top. We wondered if the daytime dilettantes in Shop Street were the shapers. Were the real ones hard at work trying to make a living?

Come to think of it, it's more than money. If the true artists' projects were never destined to make a cent, they'd do them anyway. For the love of it.

Connacht, in that tradition of doing it for the love of it, battle on with no little skill, great abandon and limited funds. It's about having a cut, sacrifice and maybe a little envy.

Munster, just down the road in Limerick, win Heineken Cup matches with 40 unfazed phases of high-wire rugby and 26,000 crazed fans roaring them on. And Connacht lose their best players, just when they have made them into exactly that.

The city was still on a high after the election of Michael D to the presidency. There was little talk of today's game against Toulouse. Yes, the green Connacht banners fluttered in the merest sylph of a Claddagh breeze. But Connacht jerseys were well outnumbered by hoodies and healthy students strolled around in neckless T-shirts without goosebumps on a balmy November day.

Limerick it ain't.

But the hardcore who have kept Connacht rugby alive, just about, are as committed and sincere as any Limerick rugby fanatic.

Hooker Adrian Flavin used to call in to us with his father when he was a small boy. His dad, John, lived in London but his heart was always in Ballylongford. The young lad was mad for sport. Flavin will give everything. He's tough and has plenty of footballing skills.

It's the biggest day of his Connacht career. Toulouse are in town. Shout it out. Toulouse, the four-times champions of Europe, the richest and most powerful club of them all, are here on the edge of the western rugby world.

Toulouse, the playboys of the eastern world, who offload quicker than a phantom bank. Hands faster than a Michelin chef chopping onions. No tears, though.

Cleavers of men in the forwards who can step from Galway to the Aran Islands without getting their feet wet. Yet, all are artists, capable of going the full length of the pitch in one elegant brush stroke.

I met up with Mick Galwey -- surely an omen, although I'm pretty sure the city was named long before Mick came on the scene.

We checked out the bookies and Connacht are plus 12. Angela Merkel, you could do worse. Surely a better bet than the Greeks, who see austerity as no more than taking an aubergine less at dinner.


Eric Elwood, one of our best out-halves, is the Connacht coach. Gallaimh says Elwood is very good at his job and offers friendly advice.

"You must tear into the French. Toulouse aren't the best of travellers. If Connacht get inside their heads, you'd never know what might happen. I won my first cap against Connacht in Galway and it was fierce tough. Never forgot the soreness after."

It occurred to me that the big man was the perfect fit for Connacht in some sort of coaching role. No one has more experience of Heineken Cup rugby.

Mick stayed on for my dad's play, 'Big Maggie', performed by Galway's own Druid. They earned that standing ovation. I was the proud boy.

But tonight is the night of the 9,000. And two. Another omen. The Connacht Taoiseach and President will be at the match.

Western men and women will still the baying Atlantic wind and The Wild Swans at Coole will stick their heads deep in their chests to escape the din.

Tonight could be Connacht's miracle match. They have a chance. The wages paid do not appear on the scoreboard and the 9,000 will sing the anthem of a race often dispossessed but never beaten.

Thomas Davis wrote the Connacht song to kick-start a revolution. The ultimate wake-up call.

But hark a voice like thunder spake,

The West's awake, the West's awake.

Wide awake.

Irish Independent

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