Paul Healy’s Week

Thursday

Breaking news tonight…Italy won’t be in the next World Cup, not now that North Macedonia – hardly an elite football nation – have sensationally defeated them in the play-offs.

  Fair play to North Macedonia, but we’ll miss Italy. A World Cup without the Italians will be like Christmas without the decorations, the turkey, or The Fairytale of New York. A World Cup without Italy and Ireland? What is the world coming to (and what will those of us who’ve been known to pass through Norio’s in Roscommon do for banter?).

  I’ve been thrilled by this football fiesta since 1978 (the first World Cup I really engaged with). Mind you, I have a fond memory of the day of the 1974 final. Our family owned the Crew’s Inn Bar in Rooskey at the time, a pub that was frequented by tourists holidaying on boats on the River Shannon.

  Looking back, I honestly don’t think the fact that it was World Cup Final day registered that much with the locals. In those days, pubs were legally obliged to close for two hours on a Sunday afternoon (2 pm to 4 pm).

  Unaware of the tradition of the so-called ‘Holy Hour’, four big German men arrived into the Crew’s Inn off a cruiser just before 2 pm…anxious to see the World Cup final between West Germany and The Netherlands. While not exactly a soccer fan, my father granted them a ‘Lock-in’ – promptly welcoming the visitors, then closing the blinds, and the door. West Germany won 2-1 and the Crew’s Inn till sang sweetly on that Sunday afternoon.

  The 1978 finals were held in Argentina, and are still fondly remembered for their colour, excitement and drama. I’ve enjoyed all ten World Cups since then, and await the 2022 version – controversially being hosted by Qatar – with expectancy. Sadly, the nation of Baggio, Maldini, Rossi, Zoff, Tardelli, Pirlo and so many other compelling players, will not be gracing football’s greatest stage this time. We’ll miss the Italians.

Later on Thursday

“I may seem like the perfect bachelor boy” said some guy on First Dates (Channel 4) tonight (presumably popping into the restaurant on his way to collect a Modesty Award). Actually, he was a nice chap.

Friday/Saturday

In this glorious weather, a reminder to all motorists currently savouring the sunshine by slowly driving their convertibles (cars with no roof) around the place that the rest of us are unlikely to be entirely happy/excited about their seasonal jaunts until (if) we actually own one ourselves.

Sunday

After a very enjoyable afternoon at Hyde Park, I watched Allianz League Sunday, with an odd glance at the golf (Match Play Championship). Then I was torn between calling it a night or taking one more channel-hop. That’s when I realised that the 94th Academy Awards (the Oscars) was on.

  I stuck with it for a fairly dull hour. The setting was more intimate than usual (but a touch gaudy). Hosts Amy Schumer, Regina Hall and Wanda Sykes had a few good one-liners, but I’m no fan of the trend towards mean-spirited material!   

  There was a nice tribute to 60 years of James Bond, and a couple of decent acceptance speeches, and that was about it. While wondering about the fate of Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast, and the destination of the ‘big prizes’, the morning was beckoning. I’m a big fan of great Oscars’ speeches – from witty to emotional to controversial – but shortly after 1 am, I decided that it was time for bed.

  I mean, it’s not as if Will Smith was going to storm the stage and land a haymaker on Chris Rock, was it?

Monday morning

Apparently Will Smith stormed the stage and landed a haymaker on Chris Rock (at the Oscars). You may have heard…

  

Later on Monday

The underage football resumed recently, and make no mistake about it, something new is afoot.

  They’ve moved up to U-12, our son and his friends, and suddenly the stakes appear to have been raised!

  Of course this transition – from kids all haphazardly chasing the ball, to a more disciplined, competitive approach – has been evolving for at least a year or so.

  A few months back I marvelled at how the boys were now showing a greater appreciation of their positions on the field, how their anticipation of potential attacking threats had developed – likewise their intuition on attacking possibilities – how teamwork and tactics were now beginning to inform their thinking. Footballing intelligence is fascinating to observe. Throughout County Roscommon, coaches are doing marvellous work across the various sporting codes.

  For parents like me, it is quite the experience to see your own child transition from the ‘All players chase the ball’ phase to the structured, more serious, competitive, but still joyous world of U-12 football.

  Our son loves the GAA, and is playing soccer too. This evening, returning from soccer training with Roscommon Town FC, he casually remarked: “We’re playing offside now”.

  I immediately knew what this meant. A few things…that they were no longer running around like zealous ‘headless chickens’, as they did before Covid. I knew it meant there was no more ‘goal-hanging’, not now, now that offside has been introduced. Instead, it’s now moving to just the right level of seriousness. As if to drive home the point (that the U-12 level is a ‘different ball game’) our son next began to talk the tactics of the defender who is trying to set an offside trap.

  As he articulated his view on the emerging tactical challenges, I focussed again on what had happened, which was this: The U-12 Gaelic footballers appear to be moving into relatively serious combat, the U-12 soccer team are now playing offside, and the haphazard/headless chicken days are basically over.

  In a nutshell, the football’s really getting real…and our young boy is growing up!