Ophelia, Axel and fickle football…




From Sunday morning on, the warnings were stark and frequent. Nobody, bar perhaps an old bachelor happily living without Internet or television or phone in a tiny cottage on a windswept cliff, could possibly have been unaware of the imminent hurricane. And, in truth, an old bachelor happily living without Internet or television or phone in a tiny cottage on a windswept cliff would probably be well able to read nature’s small print by now, not needing The Met Office or a National Emergency Coordination Group to tell him that some serious weather was indeed brewing. 

   The handling by the authorities of everything to do with this exceptional ‘weather event’ was very impressive. Complimenting the wise counsel of the various experts was a superb media response, particularly, but by no means exclusively, starring RTE. Of course, there was some hype, arguably too an over-reaction in some quarters; but much better to be safe than sorry. If Ophelia wasn’t quite as ferocious as had been speculated, the extraordinarily detailed approach to the hurricane almost certainly saved lives. It was heartbreaking that three people lost their lives and our thoughts and prayers are with their families.

  The media coverage was simply superb, a tour de force on radio, television and online. The Oscar for ‘Best report in a storm’ goes to RTE. The constant warnings meant people were well prepared. Just about every wheelie bin in County Roscommon was placed under shed/garage arrest; loose tiles were checked, farm machinery secured, and, above all, trampolines – which seem to see storms as an invitation to visit the neighbours – were secured.

Midday, Monday

It’s shortly after midday on Monday, and those businesses that had opened this morning begin to close their doors. Roscommon town moves into slightly eerie mode. In the shops, people smile while panic buying. We’re like a doomed people about to be cut off from civilisation for at least 20 hours. People queue for bread, milk and excessive sweet stuff, their expressions alternating between bemused and deeply nervous. Slightly embarrassed looks are exchanged as bashful locals line up to pay for perceived essentials. It’s like the night before Good Friday and the night before Christmas Day rolled into one, with the promise of a hurricane thrown in for good measure. “It mightn’t be as bad as they’re saying” we all agree. With that we’re all off home to watch Come Dine With Me, Four in a Bed and Bryan Dobson.

Monday afternoon/evening

Certainly in Roscommon, Ophelia wasn’t nearly as bad as they were saying. It was stormy, but not hurricane-like. We survived fairly unscathed. Other parts of the country weren’t so fortunate. Personally, I caught up on lots of reading, peering up every now and again to glance at the impressive endeavours of Ophelia-rattled but undaunted Ciaran Mullooly in Mulranney, not to mention Paschal Sheehy, Teresa Mannion and others elsewhere…reporters perched on hills, in deserted town squares, on flooded promenades. Well done to all involved, including the snug-in-studio Bryan.

Also on Monday

The comedian and actor Sean Hughes, who died today at the age of just 51, was very talented and versatile. He may not quite have been in the comedians’ Premier League, but he was ‘box office’ for a while, bursting into public consciousness in 1990 with his Perrier Comedy Award, developing a hit sit-com (Sean’s Show) on Channel 4, and enjoying a long stint as a team captain on Never Mind The Buzzcocks. Along the way, there were writing, acting and stand-up successes. Perhaps most appealing of all about Hughes was his likeability as a person; he seemed to be the very same off-stage as on. He was laidback, deadpan and – quite unusually in the showbiz world – distinctly lacking in ego. A gentle and great talent, he will be missed. 

And Monday night…

I happened to see the tribute to ‘Axel’ Foley, broadcast on RTE tonight, one year after the rugby great’s untimely passing. It was a fine programme which gave a clear insight into just why his sudden death caused such an outpouring of grief and loss.

  The programme makers impressively conveyed how popular and inspirational a figure Foley was in the rugby world. Rugby was in his blood, no doubt about that, his father Brendan having also been a lion-hearted and greatly accomplished player. Anthony himself was a gifted player and a born leader.

  Beyond rugby, it is evident that he was a devoted family man. The most moving part of this documentary featured footage of ‘Axel’ with his young family. To the credit of the programme makers, they didn’t shy away from the unpleasant period when Foley was being abused and criticised (by commentators/the public) in his role as Munster coach. Foley’s sisters didn’t flinch from expressing their anger at how he had been treated. It was an evocative documentary which, after all the nostalgic flashbacks to great Munster feats and all the heartfelt tributes of still-shocked former colleagues, left a real sadness in its wake, sadness at the untimely fall of a warrior.

Tuesday night

Checking the football scores online, I see where Leicester City bosses have been wielding the axe again. Idiots! A few months after he led them to their astonishing Premier League triumph, they crassly sent Claudio Ranieri packing. Now his successor, Craig Shakespeare, has been sacked after just four months as ‘permanent boss.’ On a personal level, it’s a Shakespearean tragedy for Craig, who kept Leicester in the Premier League last season and led them to the last 16 of the Champions League.

  I wonder did these Leicester jesters – the club’s Board members, that is – say, even two seasons ago, in their wildest dreams ever imagine they might win the Premier League and also strut across the European stage? 

  A pretty ruthless old world, although these vulnerable managers are of course very well paid. One wonders what conversation Claudio and Craig would have if they met in a quiet bar…“Eh…just where did it all go wrong?”

  Staying with soccer this week, I may have inadvertently given readers the impression a few weeks ago that Leeds United are on the point of possibly making their long-awaited return to the Premier League. While it could well still happen this season, I wish to now confirm that where once they were winning, now they are losing. Normal service has resumed – as soon as possible.