A lament: The joylessness of top-level Gaelic football

As he laments the state of modern-day Gaelic football, Frank recalls the days of ‘long chats with the corner-back while the ball was up the other end’; Frank celebrates the reunion of Paul McCartney and his long-lost guitar; Muses on some ‘heart research’ findings… and Daniel Wiffin ‘makes waves’….

It’s Sunday afternoon as I write, and for more than half an hour I find myself wondering yet again what has happened to Gaelic football. My own county, Galway, are playing Tyrone in the National Football League – and if there is a better cure for insomnia out there I don’t know what it is.

Two sides – with huge backroom teams including psychiatrists, nutritionists, statisticians, physios, doctors, physical trainers, and coaches of every kind from goalkeeping to kicking – are hell-bent on making sure they don’t lose. Neither of them are hell-bent on winning. And so we have a never-ending series of backward and sideways passes. By half-time, I couldn’t wait to get to Creggs, where our local seconds rugby team will definitely go out to win their afternoon game against Ballina.

As I ponder on the massive number of people involved with modern GAA county teams, and on the millions of euro it costs each year to prepare inter-county teams – which also includes Maor Uisces and Maor Foirnes – my mind went back to the 1970s, when one of the most important jobs would have been that of Maor Tabac.

Mikeen Roarke tells me of his job as a young lad for the local football team, which involved minding packets of cigarettes for the players so they could have a half-time smoke – as nearly every member of the team would be a smoker back then. As there would be Sweet Afton, Carroll’s, Gold Flake, Major, and Woodbine smokers (among others), it was a highly taxing and very responsible job for a young lad. God help him if he mixed up the packets, or worse still lost one!

Back in those days, teams would get half an orange as well at half-time, and as the pall of smoke went up and lads chewed on the oranges, there was very little tactical talk during the break. As it happened, there was no need for tactical talk, as teams very simply went forward at all times, and there was no such thing as sweepers or extra defenders. Everyone stayed in their positions. Many was the long and interesting chat I had with corner-backs while the ball was up the other end of the field. Neither of us had any interest in going looking for the ball; from our point of view action would only resume as soon as the ball came back up to our end.

Nowadays, corner-backs go forward at a hundred miles an hour and then when they get within shooting range of the opponents’ goal, they apply the brakes and play the ball all the way back to where they came from in the first place. I listen to managers explaining how important it is to win, and they outline how this is the modern game… and how that’s why they have to follow the same plan as everyone else. I sort of understand why results are so important. But I can’t come to terms with our superbly conditioned, talented inter-county footballers being happy to play no-risk passes over and back across the field for minutes on end.

I am an arthritic old-age pensioner, with two new hips, a number of heart stents and a pacemaker, among other things. And if I could still swing my leg (I haven’t tested it for a while), I think I could pass the ball to an unmarked teammate as well as anyone. Padraic Joyce take note!

As I expected, the rugby game I attended afterwards was the complete opposite to the Galway-Tyrone match. Our lads played with the abandon and freedom of youth, scored some spectacular and outrageous tries, and you could feel how much the players were enjoying themselves.

Of course both teams wanted to win, but maybe it’s the ‘win at all costs’ syndrome that’s the problem – wouldn’t it be nice if teams played sport just for the fun of it? I suppose it’s too much to ask.

Love Me Do… Paul reunited with his special guitar!

Way back in 1972, a van that was parked in Notting Hill in London was broken into and a bass guitar was stolen from it. Now there would be nothing more about this only for the fact that it was owned by one Paul McCartney and was used on some of the Beatles’ biggest hits, including Twist and Shout and She Loves You.

Anyway, nothing else happened about it until 2018, when something called the Lost Bass Project was launched with the express aim of finding the guitar and reuniting it with the now 81-year-old billionaire. Hofner, the company that made the guitar, came on board, and after loads of media attention they received more than a hundred leads.

One said the guitar was sold to a landlord in the Notting Hill area, and ended up in the attic of a terraced house on the south coast of England. At some stage, the houseowner realised that they had the sought-after guitar and last year it was returned to an “incredibly grateful” McCartney.

However it was only confirmed last week that he had it back, and according to one estimate, the guitar is now worth up to £10 million! There is no mention anywhere of how much, if anything, the ex-Beatle paid for its return, but I feel sure the words of his own song ‘We can work it out’ would have summed up whatever financial transaction might have taken place.

Anyway, it’s a happy ending to a long, long wait for Macca to get his guitar back, and well done to everyone who helped to bring it about. More Beatles’ lyrics – ‘It’s been a hard day’s night’ – spring to mind.

Heart to heart…

For all of my 70-plus years, I have considered myself to be a reasonably happy type of fellow with more of a positive outlook than a negative one on life’s ups and downs, my glass more half full than half empty – particularly on a Saturday night.

However, despite all that, on this Monday evening (as I write) I am faced with a bit of a quandary, because on today’s papers I read that ‘miserable people’ have greater chances of damaging their hearts than happy people do. As a man with multiple heart problems (see earlier piece about modern football), I wonder have I been a misery guts all these years and has my life been consumed with hidden worries?

I don’t actually think so, but 36,309 hearts were scanned by a team from the Queen Mary University of London and the people who had ‘neuroticisms’ such as unstable moods, anxiety, irritability and sadness, had poorer-performing heart chambers, more scarring on heart muscles, and more hardening of the arteries. Funnily enough, all the recognised causes of heart disease like smoking and obesity didn’t affect the participants at all, so after all this time, maybe my early years of hard drinking and heavy smoking had nothing at all to do with my ‘later life’ health problems.

That news makes me very happy, but maybe it’s too late for me as it could be that whatever the cause, the damage is already done. For all of you younger folk who are still in the whole of your health, the advice is cheer up, lighten your outlook, and go around with a smile on your face – and you may never have to visit a cardiologist! How easy is that?

And finally…

As we basked in the reflected glory of the two gold medals which swimmer Daniel Wiffen won for Ireland in Doha, my mind went back to 1996 when Michelle Smith electrified the country by winning three golds and one silver medal in the Atlanta Olympics.

I can clearly remember the unbelievable excitement as the Rathcoole woman won her medals, much to the annoyance of the Americans, who insinuated that she used performance-enhancing drugs to help her achieve such dominance in the water.

Subsequently, Smith was banned for four years on a different charge (tampering with a sample), but allegations of doping in the Olympics were never proven and she remains our most decorated Olympian to this day.

Sadly, there can be no doubt that the allegations damaged Smith’s reputation and she never returned to competitive swimming after her ban, instead carving out a career for herself as a barrister.

As a nation, we don’t make many waves in the swimming pool, so let us all rejoice in Daniel Wiffin’s success and hope that he can bring more gold medals home in this year’s Olympics – wouldn’t that be something?!