Frank Brandon’s Column

Jacinda shows up Boris and Donald…


I have never set foot on New Zealand soil, and it’s highly unlikely now that I will ever do so. All my life I have felt that there is something different about New Zealanders.

Maybe it’s the constant and continual brilliance of the All Blacks at rugby, maybe it’s the way they perform the Haka…the absolute and total commitment they show to what is really only a ceremonial dance. But more than anything I think what impresses me is their pride in their country, and their undying love of their home land.

If I had met you a while ago, and you asked me what I thought of Jacinda Ardern, I would have looked at you with a blank expression on my face (nothing new there) and responded ‘Jacinta who?’

Today, the 39-year-old New Zealand Prime Minister is known all over the world, widely praised for the excellent leadership she has shown in handling the fall-out from a mosque shooting incident, and even more so for her decisive and firm handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Immediately after the mosque attack in Christchurch in March 2019, she introduced two rounds of stringent gun laws to ensure that such an incident would be much more unlikely to happen again. But it was the way she immediately locked her country down at the first sign of the pandemic that set her apart from nearly every other so-called leader, especially those two clowns, Donald and Boris.

Now I am fully aware that figures and statistics can be misleading, but even to a former pass maths student, in countries of almost identical populations, the figures speak for themselves. Ireland has, at time of writing, had 25,303 cases of the disease and 1,706 deaths, while New Zealand has had 1,154 cases and 22 deaths.

Critics point out that they are a remote enough island people, but so are we. Whatever the reason for it, they are effectively now Covid-free.

The upshot of it all is that on Saturday morning, rugby, in all its normality (with full contact and full houses) returned to New Zealand.

And so at 8 am I was parked in front of the TV to see much more than a rugby match, but something that would show the whole world that there is light at the end of a very long tunnel. The opening game was a really top class affair, and had a big Irish interest. That’s because Warren Gatland, a man who many believe was very harshly treated by the hierarchy in Irish rugby when he was sacked in 2005, was back home as coach of the Waikato Chiefs, his first game being against the Highlanders.

There was an amazing twist to the tale at the finish as the Chiefs took the lead with a drop goal with just under two minutes to go, only for the Highlanders to do the exact same thing on the stroke of full-time – to win by a solitary point. The amazing thing is that it was Gatland’s son, Bryn, who kicked the goal to win the game, so I imagine the atmosphere between them after the game might have been a bit strained.

The following evening, 43,000 supporters packed in to Eden Park to watch the Blues beat the Hurricanes. That was the biggest crowd at a game there in 15 years, which shows how much people want to get back to normal.

So maybe we too can look forward to the reopening of sport, hotels, pubs, restaurants and other things that we all took for granted in the near future. Who knows, maybe we will have a 2020 Connacht final.

Anyway, I have never been to either America or New Zealand, but based on the behaviour of their respective leaders, I know which one I would like to go to if my lotto numbers ever come up. And it’s not America.


Civic-minded Marcus on the mark


For a number of years I have written about the ridiculous money that Premier League soccer players earn in England, and how a lot of them have little or no respect for the supporters who contribute to their enormous wages by turning up game after game to cheer on their team and support the prima donnas.

Lots of these players spend their time on the pitch diving – trying to win free-kicks or penalties, or worse still get an opponent sent off (trying to con the referee by so doing) – and generally showing little regard for old-fashioned values like fair play and sportsmanship. Then Marcus Rashford comes along and restores a lot of my faith in footballers and humanity.

At the tender age of 22, and already a Man. Utd. legend, an English international, and a very wealthy young man, Rashford could very easily live the pampered life of a professional footballer, lap up all the glory, and forget all about his own family’s struggles against poverty and deprivation.

However, to his credit, during the pandemic he teamed up with a food charity (FareShare) which provided meals for children, who, if they were still at school, would have been receiving free meals. Because of the closure of the schools many of those children – who live in poverty – would not have been fed at all. Over three million children availed of the meals provided by Rashford and the charity.

Now the young footballer has gone a step further and sent an open letter to all British MPs, pleading with them to continue with the free meals for all needy schoolkids over the summer, and being quite open about the fact that he and his family often relied on such help in his younger days to keep them from going hungry.

At a time when boxing is once again embroiled in controversy with the emergence of Daniel Kinahan in his role as a major power broker in the murky waters of that sport, it’s marvellous, heartening and inspiring to see that there are still real heroes, even in professional football. Well done, Marcus. I look forward to seeing you in action on the field some time in the near future, and maybe you might even get to meet me. If you do, you can have a picture taken with me!


Latest in my top

sporting moments


On now to my top ten sporting moments and memories, and, once again it’s back to 1985, and back to Mikeen’s, where in the early hours of Bank Holiday Monday, 29th of April, we nearly took the roof off the pub as we watched Dennis Taylor win his one and only world snooker championship by beating the red-hot favourite Steve Davis.

Imagine the scene (not in Mikeen’s, but in the Crucible). Davis had stormed into an 8 frames to nil lead, only for the unfancied Taylor to pull it back, and it was 17 apiece as they came to the last and final frame.

More than 19 million people were tuned in to the final in the UK, along with a nice few in Mikeen’s, and even though closing time was 11 o’clock there was no way we could be thrown out as the excitement reached a crescendo. The final frame lasted 68 minutes and went to the black ball, which Taylor sank to clinch an amazing and extraordinary victory.

Mostly because of that, and partly because of the late hour, Dennis Taylor is very well worth his place in my top ten sporting memories. (It proved to be only a blip in Davis’ career as he was to win three in a row between 1987 and 1989, ended up with a total of six world championships and is rightly regarded as one of the best snooker players of all time). For Taylor, while he was never to win another one, it guaranteed him a deserved place in sporting history.


And finally…

amorous Diego


Finally for this week, spare a thought for Diego, a giant Galapagos tortoise, who has been put out to pasture after almost single-handedly saving his once-threatened species. Aged 100, he has reportedly fathered 800 ‘babies’ during his long and busy life. In all fairness, if any one deserves a rest he surely does.

At one stage there were only two males and twelve females of his species left, and they were too spread out to reproduce, so Diego was sent for – and he certainly didn’t disappoint. I wish him a long and happy retirement, for if ever someone (or some animal) performed way above and beyond the call of duty he did. So well done Diego!