Archive for the Sport Category

On the GAA

Posted in Biographical, History, Sport with tags , , , , , on November 22, 2020 by telescoper

Since moving to Ireland almost three years ago I have (somewhat unexpectedly) become a fan of GAA and regularly watch both hurling and Gaelic football on the TV, which is quite often.

Ireland is very keen on sports generally, with big followings for both rugby and soccer but, at least in terms of attendances, hurling and Gaelic football are by far the most popular sports in Ireland. That’s quite remarkable because these are entirely amateur games. One of the great things about the GAA is that it’s a real grass roots organization, where even games between local clubs can attract very big crowds. (I’m talking about the pre-Covid era there, obviously.) The players tend to be local and there’s a strong involvement of the community in the local clubs.

Hurling is my favourite GAA sport – the level of skill on display is truly awesome and it’s played at an amazingly fast tempo – but I do watch the football when I can too and am more gradually getting into it. Incidentally, these two sports are played on the same pitches with the same goals and the same number of players on each side (15) and have basically the same rules – with a player’s hurley (stick) in hurling being in one-to-one correspondence as far as the rules are concerned with a player’s foot in Gaelic football. The ball of course is bigger in football; the small one used in hurling is called a sliotar. Scoring is the same in both: 1 point getting the ball between the two posts over the bar as in rugby and a goal (3 points) for getting the ball into the back of the net below the bar.

I took a break in the early afternoon yesterday to watch the All Ireland Quarter Final match in the hurling between Galway and Tipperary, an entertaining match played in fine weather which was won by Galway 3-23 to 2-24. Later on, I settled down to watch the Leinster provincial final between Dublin and Meath live from Croke Park in the evening. Given that this match was on the same day as Bloody Sunday it was preceded by a solemn commemoration of those that died a hundred years ago which I thought was beautifully done. Here’s a video tribute made by the GAA itself, played at the end of the pre-match commemoration along with specially-composed music.

After the match there was a wreath-laying ceremony involving the players which was unfortunately spoiled on the television broadcast by a commentator who talked all the way over it.

The match itself was a very one-sided affair, which was effectively all over by half time (when the score was Dublin 2-12 Meath 0-2). It ended Dublin 3-21 Meath 0-9, which is a margin of 21 points: quite a thrashing for Meath. I’m not an expert, but the Dublin side were far more mobile and inventive than Meath and thoroughly deserved their win.

There wasn’t a crowd of course. I think the commemorative event would have been even more emotional if there had been. Watching the actual match though it struck me that we’re all getting used to watching sport in an empty stadium. It’s probably going to take some getting used to the noise when (if) live audiences eventually return.

UPDATE: Tipperary beat Cork in Munster final this afternoon to win it for the first time in 85 years. The team were wearing replica jerseys of those worn by the Tipperary team that played Dublin in 1920.

After all the provincial finals, including a surprise win for Cavan over Donegal in Ulster, the four teams in the semi-finals of the All Ireland Senior Football Championship in 2020 is exactly the same as it was in 1920. The final, between Dublin and Tipperary, was not played until 1922.

(The match played on Bloody Sunday was a Challenge Match not part of the Championship.

Domhnach na Fola

Posted in History, Sport with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 21, 2020 by telescoper

In the days before lockdown I would often travel past Croke Park on the train from Maynooth into Dublin Connolly station. It’s a magnificent stadium, with a capacity over 80,000, its stands towering up on all sides of the playing field which is used for major sporting events organized by the Gaelic Athletics Association (GAA), chiefly hurling and gaelic football. It’s located quite close to Drumcondra Station, the last stop before Connolly on the way into Dublin. I’ve never actually been inside the ground, and you can’t see much of the interior from the train because of the stands, but I do hope to see a match there one day.

Croke Park looked very different a hundred years ago today, on November 21st 1920 (which was a Sunday).

Croke Park, looking towards Hill 16, taken on the day of November 21st 1920.

Incidentally, the low hill you can see in the background is Hill 16. There’s a story that this was built up using rubble from buildings destroyed during the 1916 Easter Rising, but this seems to be apocryphal.

Anyway, as you can see, there wasn’t much in the way of buildings around the playing field in those days, and not much to give spectators cover if they were trying to flee from gunfire.

A Gaelic football match between Dublin and Tipperary started in Croke Park at 2.45 pm on November 21st. About ten minutes into the game, armed police (including members of the regular Royal Irish Constabulary, Auxiliaries, and some Black and Tans) suddenly arrived at the southern end of the park, panicking some of the spectators who tried to run away. Without warning the police opened fire on the crowd. The first to die was 11 year old William Robinson who was sitting in a tree outside the ground to get a better view. Overall the firing lasted about 90 seconds. Thirteen people were killed outright and another died of his wounds later. Others were injured either by gunfire or in the crush resulting from the panic.

Among the dead was Tipperary’s star player Michael Hogan, who was shot dead on the playing field as he tried to find cover. Information from post-mortems released many years after the event revealed that most of the victims had been shot in the back.

Michael Hogan, star player and Captain for the Tipperary team at Croke Park on Bloody Sunday. He died that day.

The massacre could have been even worse had the British forces at the other end of the ground, who had an armoured car with a machine gun, shown more restraint. The machine gun was fired above the heads of the people running towards this contingent. They didn’t shoot anyone but they did force the crowd back towards the gunfire from the other end of the ground. Had they opened fire at the crowd there would have been a massacre on the scale of Amritsar, where hundreds died.

Witnesses also said that while the security forces let all the Dublin players go, they lined up the entire Tipperary team against a fence and were preparing to shoot them all when a junior officer intervened and ordered them to be released. Tipperary was perceived to be a hotbed of IRA activity. Michael Hogan was in fact a member of the Irish Volunteers.

So what on Earth had happened to trigger this indiscriminate slaughter, on the day known now as Bloody Sunday (Irish: Domhnach na Fola)

The overall context is the Irish War of Independence which started in 1919 and was largely a guerilla campaign waged in rural areas. There had not been large-scale eruptions of violence in Dublin. That changed on November 21st 1920. That morning, members of the Irish Republican Army under the direction of Michael Collins, had carried out an operation across Dublin intended to eliminate the ability of the British forces to gather intelligence on the IRA. Hit squads entered the homes of known or suspected British intelligence operatives across the town and shot them. Fifteen people were killed that morning, including at least two innocent civilians in the process.

The IRA members responsible for the killings on Sunday morning melted away into the city. Once again the police and security services seemed to be fighting an invisible enemy. However, knowing that there was a football match going on that afternoon, and that at least some of those involved with the GAA had strong Republican leanings and may indeed be active IRA members, they decided to search all the spectators at the match of which there were over 10,000. The hope was, presumably, to find in the crowd at least some of those responsible for the morning’s assassinations. Instructions were given that anyone who ran away when the search operation began should be presumed guilty and shot.

News about the morning’s events had spread through Dublin that morning and it was widely anticipated that the British would carry out reprisal killings, probably in their usual indiscriminate fashion they had employed previously. When armed men arrived in vehicles outside the ground, the instinct of many spectators was therefore to run even before the searching began. Nervous and trigger-happy police deployed in a harebrained plan to make the slaughter inevitable. Nobody has ever been brought to justice for the murders at Croke Park.

Later that day two members of the IRA were caught by the security services, taken to Dublin Castle, beaten and then shot under the pretext that they were trying to escape. These killings brought the death toll past thirty. Bloody Sunday indeed.

The events in Croke Park handed a major propaganda victory to the IRA and also sparked an escalation of the violence. Just a week later, at Kilmichael in County Cork, the IRA ambushed two trucks carrying a total of 18 Auxiliaries, killing 17 of them and leaving the other for dead. On December 11th the British burned down a large part of the city of Cork in retaliation against another attack on their forces. And so it went on into 1921 to the point where the British eventually realized that Ireland had become ungovernable (by them) and a process was started that brought about independence (at least for part of Ireland).

As you can imagine there have been many commemorations of the grim events of a century ago. I watched a very interesting documentary on the TV earlier this week and there have been many articles in the newspapers and elsewhere about it, taking different angles. Those I found the most moving were those that dealt with the memory of the innocent lives lost. One very poignant idea was to stage 14 very short plays around Croke Park about each of the victims.

Here is a sort of trailer, featuring the heartbreaking story of Jane Boyle – the only woman to die on Bloody Sunday. Her death was particularly tragic as she was due to marry her fiancé Daniel Byron the following week. The couple went to mass at St Kevin’s Church on Harrington Street on Sunday morning and proceeded to Croke Park afterwards. When the firing started, they fled. In the scramble for safety, Daniel felt Jane’s hand go limp; she had been shot in the back and died instantly. She was buried later that week in her wedding gown.

Stormy Samhain Super Saturday

Posted in Biographical, Covid-19, Maynooth, Rugby with tags , , on October 31, 2020 by telescoper

So we have arrived at October 31st, Hallowe’en or, in pagan terms, Samhain. This, a cross-quarter day – roughly halfway between the Autumnal Equinox and the Winter Solstice represents the start of winter (“the dark half of the year“) in the Celtic calendar.

Incidentally, Samhain is pronounced something like “sawin”. The h after the m denotes lenition of the consonant (which in older forms of Irish would have been denoted by a dot on top of the m) so when followed by a broad vowel the m is pronounced like the English “w”; when followed by a slender vowel or none “mh” is pronounced “v” or in other words like the German “w” (which makes it easier to remember). I only mention this because I hope to be starting Irish language lessons soon, something I always wish I’d done with Welsh when I lived in Cardiff.

Anyway, it’s a wild blustery day with the wind howling down the chimney of my house in Maynooth sounding like a ghost. At least thanks to the present Level 5 restrictions I won’t have to endure trick-or-treaters this evening. Or will I? Should I sit quietly at home with the lights off again?

Today’s schedule will revolve around the final round of matches in this year’s Six Nations championship. The settled order of nature having been disturbed by Covid-19 back in March it has only just become possible to finish the competition with three games today. Ireland travel to France for the last game this evening, after England play Italy and Wales play Scotland. Ireland currently head the table, but they have a difficult task in Paris: they need not only to win to secure the Championship but to do so by a bonus point because England will almost certainly get a bonus point against a poor Italian side. The Irish press are talking up the national team’s chances of winning handsomely, but it seems to me rather unlikely especially because France too have a chance of the title if they beat Ireland and get a bonus point. Both sides clearly have to attack, which should make for a good contest.

For what it’s worth, my predictions are: Wales to beat Scotland, England to beat Italy (with a bonus point) and France to beat Ireland (but no bonus point). That combination would make England the champions, with France second and Ireland third.

Update: 16.05. Wales 10 Scotland 14. My predictions are not off to a good start. Scrappy, error-strewn game with Scotland’s try from a maul that shredded the Welsh defence the highlight of the game. Bad result for Wales but it is good to see Scotland back as a force to be reckoned with.

Update: 18.45. England improved dramatically after a poor first half, and eventually ran out winners by 34 points to 5. That means their points difference is +44 compared to Ireland’s +38. Ireland need a win by 7 or more points (or with a bonus point) to win the Championship.

Update: 21.00. Half-time France 17 Ireland 13. France leading without having played particularly well, thanks to two big Irish errors. Ireland need to score 10 points more than France in the 2nd half.

Update 22.00. Final score France 35 Ireland 27. France won with a bonus point but not by a sufficient margin to win the Championship, which goes to England, with France second and Ireland third. It didn’t go exactly as I predicted but I wasn’t far off!

On the Coronavirus and the Cricket

Posted in Covid-19, Cricket with tags , , on July 29, 2020 by telescoper

Yesterday the UK Government reported that there were 119 Covid-19 related deaths in the United Kingdom:

Between

In other news, it was also announced yesterday that Stuart Broad and I have now taken 500 Test wickets between us…

Endgames

Posted in Football with tags , , , , , on July 26, 2020 by telescoper

Today sees the last round of games in this year’s strange Premiership season. All ten games kick off at 4pm.

I last commented on the relegation situation when there were six games to play. Now, with one game left to play the bottom of the table looks like this:

Norwich City are already relegated and all the teams above these four, including Newcastle United, are safe; Brighton are in 16th place on 38 points.

It is possible for any two of Aston Villa, Watford and Bournemouth to go down though Bournemouth have to win and hope both Villa and Watford lose. Bournemouth are playing Everton away from home. I’d say the combination of them winning and other two relegation candidates both losing is rather improbable, but you never know.

One of either Watford or Aston Villa must get relegated. The team that gets the better result of the two will stay up.

If all three of these teams lose (which is by no means unlikely) whoever goes down with Bournemouth and Norwich will be determined by goal difference. Villa have a cushion of only one goal which means that if Villa and Watford both draw then Villa stay up. If they both win then the survivor will be determined by goal difference.

Aston Villa are away at West Ham and Watford are away at Arsenal. I’d say Watford has the tougher game so I’d say they were favourites to go down with Bournemouth.

The bookies seem to agree with me. Here are the best odds on teams to be relegated:

These are the odds on survival:

Bournemouth’s odds look a bit miserly to me, so the best price is Watford to stay up at 11/4 although even that isn’t enough to tempt me to have a flutter.

Of course these odds will change during the course of the games.

Half-time Update:

The key scores at half time are:

  • Arsenal 3 Watford 1
  • Everton 1 Bournemouth 2
  • West Ham 0 Aston Villa 0

As things stand, Villa stay up; Bournemouth and Watford go down. That will change if Villa concede a goal.

Full-time Update:

  • Arsenal 3 Watford 2
  • Everton 1 Bournemouth 3
  • West Ham 1 Aston Villa 1

Bournemouth did what they needed to do but despite their efforts that draw for Villa sends them down along with Watford.

Newcastle United unsurprisingly lost their final match against Liverpool and finished in 13th place, 10 points above the relegation zone.

Three Funerals and a Cartoon

Posted in Biographical, Football, Maynooth with tags , , , on July 21, 2020 by telescoper

I was later than usual coming to the office today as I had to arrange some things to do with the house I’m buying in Maynooth. It was mid morning when I walked up towards campus. I was a little bit confused to see a large crowd of people walking along Main Street, but when I got closer I realized they were all walking behind a hearse on their way to a funeral service at St Mary’s Church. I followed the procession all the way along Main Street and up Mill Street where another large group of people was waiting outside the Church. I don’t know who had passed away but judging by the attendance they must have been popular in the community.

This is the first time I’d seen such a procession here in Ireland, though I was of course already aware that the Irish treat funerals very differently from the English. Coincidentally, though, today saw the funeral of Jack Charlton which began with a procession through the streets of Ashington, the cortege led by piper playing the Northumbrian pipes. Many hundreds turned up to show their respects.

Because of Covid-19 restrictions, only about 20 people could attend the funeral service, which was held at the West Road Crematorium in Newcastle upon Tyne. As it happens, that was where the funeral of my Mam took place about 9 months ago. There were no Covid-19 restrictions then, which makes it seem like a different age altogether.

Anyway, going back to Jack Charlton, I saw last week marvellous comic book tribute to him called The Life and Times of Jack Charlton by David Squires in the Guardian. The poignant last panel is beautifully done.

The people who do things and what they do

Posted in Art, Cricket, Football, Opera, Television with tags , on July 19, 2020 by telescoper

It’s a tough lesson to learn in life that the people you admire or idolize for their contribution in a particular arena (whether that be sport, art, science or something else) turn out to be people you can’t stand in terms of their character or political views.

You have to separate, for example, having a high regard for Ian Botham’s cricketing prowess from having a high regard for his personal character. In fact I can think of few sportspeople whose company I’d enjoy socially.

The same goes in many other spheres. Richard Feynman was a truly great physicist but I’ve never bought into the personality cult surrounding him. In fact I doubt I would have liked him very much at all if we’d ever met in person. They say you should never meet your heroes. They’re right.

Another example is Richard Wagner, a brilliant composer but really horrible man, who brings us to this clip from the end of Twilight of the Gods (the last episode of Series 7 of Inspector Morse, first broadcast in 1993).

I won’t spoil the plot if you haven’t seen it but it involves a famous opera singer, Gladys Probert, who visits Oxford to perform and receive an honorary degree. On the way to the ceremony she is shot, but was she the intended victim?

Opera-loving Morse is a huge admirer of Gladys Probert but in the course of his investigation he uncovers some unpleasant truths about her private life. He solves the crime but the case leaves him dispirited.

Here is the ending. John Thaw is Inspector Morse and Kevin Whateley is Detective Sergeant Lewis.

R. I. P. Jack Charlton (1935-2020)

Posted in Football with tags , , , , on July 11, 2020 by telescoper

Sad news today of the death at the age of 85 of legendary footballer and manager Jack Charlton.

The tributes to Jack Charlton here in Ireland focus on his time as manager of the Republic of Ireland national team, during which he produced many great results, including qualifying for two World Cups (in 1990 and 1994). Ireland got to the quarter-finals in 1990, which was an amazing achievement. Jack Charlton created some marvellous memories and became like an adopted son in the hearts of Irish folk, spending a lot of his time here in his retirement. He had a house in Ballina (County Mayo) and enjoyed going fishing. I suspect he rarely had to buy a drink in the local pubs! As a fellow Geordie living in Ireland I can understand very well why he loved it here.

He gave up the house in Ireland a few years ago when his health started to fail and moved to Stamfordham in Northumberland, the County of his birth. Jack was actually born in Ashington and was the nephew of legendary Newcastle United centre-forward Jackie Milburn.

As a player he was an old-school centre half: tall and tough and not prone to try anything fancy. He knew his limitations as a footballer and concentrated on what he could do well. He spent his entire professional playing career of 21 years at Leeds United. He wasn’t capped for England until he was 29 and a year later he was a member of the team that won the 1966 World Cup, as was his brother Bobby.

I remember an interview with Jack Charlton during which he recalled asking manager Sir Alf Ramsay why he had been picked for the England team when there were many better players than him around. Ramsay’s reply was that he didn’t always pick the best players, he picked the best team. What I think he meant by that is that he saw Jack’s steadiness as a providing an ideal blend in the centre of the defence balance to the less conventional Bobby Moore.

My own memories of Jack Charlton are dominated by his time as manager of Newcastle United between 1984 and 1985; see the picture, which is from this time, including Peter Beardsley (left) and Chris Waddle (right). I was a student at Cambridge at this time and there was quite a large Newcastle United Supporters’ Club of which I was a member. We travelled to quite a few games in the 84/85 season. The Club Secretary wrote a letter to Jack Charlton inviting him to visit us for a dinner and speech. We couldn’t even offer him travel expenses so I assumed he would just ignore the request, but he didn’t. He actually wrote a very nice letter politely declining the invitation but thanking us for our support and good wishes. He also reminded us not to neglect our studies because of football as he regretted not having had “much of an education”.

It’s worth mentioning that 1984/5 was the time of the Miners’ Strike during which Jack Charlton was a staunch supporter of the Miners. He even lent his car to help miners on flying pickets. He was rather left-wing generally, actually.

Jack Charlton brought to football management the same approach he had brought to his own playing. It was by focusing on doing the basics well that he was able to get outstanding results using limited resources. He wouldn’t have been a good manager of a huge club full of luxury players, but in his niche he was superb.

As a person Jack Charlton was as strong-minded and uncompromising as he was as a player and a manager, but he was also down to earth, completely unpretentious, funny and self-deprecating, and as honest as the day is long.

Rest in peace, Jack Charlton (1935-2020)

Cricket Lovely Cricket!

Posted in Cricket, Music with tags , , on July 8, 2020 by telescoper

How great it is to see the return of Test Match cricket to England and the comforting familiarity it brings of sitting around not watching any play because of the pouring rain and Stygian gloom.

There may not have been much cricket at Southampton today (lovely or otherwise) but I couldn’t resist sharing this bit of West Indies cricketing nostalgia in calypso form, vintage 1950, by Lord Beginner..

Football Roundup

Posted in Football with tags , , on July 2, 2020 by telescoper

By way of a diversion this lunchtime after a morning of Microsoft Teams, I thought I’d comment briefly on another kind of team, by looking at the state of play in the Premier League.

Liverpool of course deservedly won the title last weekend when Manchester city lost to Chelsea. To have won the Premiership with seven games left to play is a remarkable achievement. All credit to their excellent manager Jürgen Klopp, who actually seems a thoroughly decent fellow as well. Although based in the English Midlands, Liverpool have a strong following here in Ireland so there were many celebrations here when the Premiership race was sealed.

The absence of any football for many weeks at least removed one usual cause of springtime stress, namely Newcastle United’s struggle to avoid relegation. Since the return, however, Steve Bruce’s team have done pretty well, with seven points out of a possible nine, though they did get knocked out of the FA Cup. Last night they beat struggling Bournemouth 4-1 away from home which leaves them on 42 points with six games left to play. They’re not mathematically safe from relegation but it’s very difficult to see any of the bottom three teams getting more than 15 points from their remaining games so I think relegation is extremely improbable. Norwich look relegation certainties, but who will go down with them? Based on last night’s poor performance at home, I’d say probably Bournemouth and one other.

The Bookies odds at the moment are:

  • Norwich: 1/100.
  • Bournemouth: 1/6.
  • Aston Villa: 1/4.
  • Watford: 2/1.
  • West Ham: 6/1.
  • Brighton: 28/1.

Watford or West Ham might be worth a bet. There are still six games to be played, after all.

I’ve only seen bits and pieces of the games since the season restarted. Playing in an empty stadium makes football very strange to watch, and the artificial crowd noises make it even stranger. It problem reduces home advantage not having supporters in the ground, but I haven’t looked at the statistical evidence whether or not this is the case..

It’s worth mentioning the situation in League 1:

Here the season has been declared closed. Wycombe Wanderers finish in third on the basis of points per game despite having fewer points than the team in fourth. Wycombe’s 35th game would have been against Coventry…

I’ll just mention in passing that Sunderland will not be promoted. Tragic.