Frank Brandon’s Column

Roll on long summer evenings, and a break from ‘Misery TV’

Our man Frank is unhappy with one TV show dampening the Mother’s Day mood; he expresses concern over Ireland’s prospects against England this weekend; recalls playing rugby with Dick Spring…and highlights ‘young lads on huge tractors’…

It’s Sunday morning – Mother’s Day. I get up early enough and think to myself that this is one of the best days of the year; a day on which everyone who is lucky enough that their mothers are still alive can show them how much they mean to them, pamper them a little, and, for this day at least, make them feel that bit extra special. And so I came down the stairs full of the joys of life, admired the bunches of lovely flowers the children had got for Carol, and before we tucked into the very full Irish, turned on the telly and tuned into Ireland AM with Simon Delaney and Anna Daly.

Seldom, if ever, have I regretted turning on any programme as much. The presenters (whom I normally like) had a guest psychotherapist on the couch, and she was doing her best to pour a bucket of cold water on my high spirits.

She told us about the heartbreak being suffered by so many mothers all around the world, the loneliness and isolation they were suffering because of Covid, the sense of desolation because their children couldn’t visit them on the special day. You would swear everyone was suffering from depression, and mothers everywhere were getting ready to spend the day in floods of tears. She was giving advice on how to cope with the loneliness and the sadness, and I turned it off just in time to stop myself sinking into the self-pity trap.

I turned on the country music channel Spotlight, where the sight and sound of a new Lisa McHugh track restored my good humour. As you know by now, myself and Lisa have a long distance love affair going on – it may be a bit one-sided right now, but you never know. It is good to see her back on the scene after a long absence, and please God she will be performing on stage again, whenever things return to normal.

Now, I often see Paul writing about the misery that the Late Late inflicts on us every week, and he is dead right about that, but at least it comes on at night, when we have a full day behind us. Why we have to be met with misery first thing on a Sunday morning beats me. I just wonder why the producers or directors couldn’t let our poor mothers enjoy their big day.

I always thought certain shows, like the Late Late and the morning breakfast ones, are there to entertain us and help us escape from reality, but I’m beginning to think I was wrong – they are really there to depress us. Monday has always been regarded as the black day of the week, so why not run their sad stories then? God forbid some mothers might’ve actually been happy for one day, or have we reached the point that as far as the telly is concerned, we are not allowed to have any fun? Roll on the long summer evenings, when the telly can have a well deserved rest.


England calling: Farrell must be ruthless in team selection

As I write these words on Monday, I am just wondering how our Irish rugby team continues to be so infuriating to watch. Despite our win over a poor Scottish team, I shudder to think what England might do to us this Saturday.

The funny thing is that we have some players playing out of their skin – in particular Athlone’s Robbie Henshaw, and also Tadhg Beirne – but unfortunately our head coach Andy Farrell doesn’t seem to be watching the same games as everyone else in the country. How James Lowe (who is very good in attack but appalling in defence), Gibson-Park (a very mediocre scrum-half), and Garry Ringrose (who has regressed at a huge rate since his injury last season) are commanding places on this Irish team beats me, and those three at least must be benched for the weekend’s battle with the English.

I don’t want to get into the residency debate, but two out of those three are rugby imports – both were born in New Zealand and qualified to play for Ireland because they’re here for three years or more. It seems to me that unless a player is miles better than his competitors – which Gibson-Park and Lowe clearly aren’t – we should be looking after our own homegrown talent.

Anyway, we will wait and see, but if the English see that Lowe in particular keeps his place, I would imagine Anthony Watson will be licking his lips. Surely someone somewhere could teach Lowe to tackle, and then he would be an international prospect, but as of now he has been partly, if not wholly, responsible for five tries (against us) so far, and should be released back to the comforting surrounds of playing with Leinster.

Staying with rugby…one thing I seldom do is read my emails, which of course means I don’t reply to a lot of them. However, by some quirk of fate, the other day I spotted one that came to me from Jim Keating, a former schoolmate of mine from my Roscrea days.

Jim told me that another lad from our year, Brian Grogan, had enquired as to whether or not I had been the scrum-half on the senior schools rugby team in our final year of 1968.

As it happened, I had been – which was quite remarkable in itself as I wasn’t really into rugby at that time. However, just as with the Junior Cup two years earlier, all the other available scrum-halves were injured. So as a last resort, I found myself elevated to playing in the Leinster senior schools competition, and we actually made it as far as the semi-final, where we were narrowly beaten by De La Salle, Churchtown.

Back in those days, Roscrea was known for rugby, hurling, and athletics. There was no Gaelic football team, which – having been brought up in Gaelic football country – was sad for me. So it was natural for me to be drawn towards soccer, the game I’d predominantly played during my school days. In fact, my soccer team (the Creggs Thunderbolts) were school champions that same year of 1968.

Jim Keating was himself an All-Ireland schools champion Javelin thrower, a triumph which brought the whole school to a standstill when he was introduced with his winner’s medal to the entire school assembly.

My out-half on the rugby team was none other than former Labour Party leader and Tánaiste, Dick Spring, who went on to play for Munster and Ireland, and had a long, successful club career with both London Irish and Lansdowne. The funny thing about Roscrea, and the fact that there was no Gaelic football team there, was that the same Dick Spring also played underage football for Kerry, while Roscommon’s Tom Hunt also played inter-county football for his county. I often wonder, when you look at the top Gaelic football schools like St. Jarlath’s in Tuam, St. Brendan’s in Killarney, and St. Mel’s in Longford – among others – how would Roscrea have fared if Gaelic football had been on their programme? However, it wasn’t then and still isn’t now, so rugby, hurling and athletics still rule the roost.

I suppose I am grateful to have had the chance to play in a Schools Cup’ semi-final. My immediate opponent that day was a lad called Aidan Anderson, who went on to quite a bit of success with Bective Rangers and Leinster, while my career continued in the same vein. I was never first choice for any club until there was an injury to their scrum-half. Dick O’Toole again propelled me up the list, and in 1973 I finally got first team rugby with Corinthians.

Anyway, it was good to hear from Jim, and while it’s a bit late for New Year resolutions, I have come up with mine at last – I am going to read all my emails from now on.


And finally…

Finally for this week, as we head into longer days and shorter nights, and with the start of the silage season soon approaching, a reader contacted me about an old bugbear of mine: the number of young lads we see driving huge tractors and trailers on our public roads. The reader wondered how strict the rules are about giving these lads’ licences.

Like me, he has no issue at all with lads of sixteen years of age being allowed to drive these massive vehicles that can go as fast as a lot of cars, but he wonders are they all properly trained to handle them. Do they all have to undergo specialist courses, as truck and bus drivers do? For all our sakes, I hope they do.

The road is a dangerous place at the best of times, but if one of these beasts was in the hands of a young, inexperienced driver, God help us if something went wrong.

Lastly, you may remember that a couple of weeks ago I wondered about the price increases in petrol and diesel. At that stage, diesel had gone from €1.07 a litre to €1.27 since November. This morning, a friend of mine told me it is €1.37 a litre in Dublin. I just wonder where will it all end? And more importantly, am I the only one who cares?