Putting the Boom in Bust. Ireland in Euro 2012.

Heart, Dedication, Graft. And that’s just the fans. (Pic:thescore.ie)
Recession. A time for cutbacks, political recriminations, endless dole queues, and for Ireland to qualify for a major football championship.
It seems par for the course that our football team succeed in times of financial hardship, making it that little bit more difficult for fans to travel in support of the players. Not that this deters the dedicated. Credit Unions play their part, rubber stamping “home improvement” loans to lads wearing foam hands. Technically the loans are for home improvements, because if absence makes the heart grow fonder, then when the fans eventually got home from Germany/Italy/USA/Japan and Korea, home looked an awful lot better than it did when they left.
We, the Irish people, follow the Tic Tac philosophy. We all need a little lift from time to time. Our football team has the happy knack of supplying it when our country is at its lowest ebb. Trappatoni may not do Tic Tac tactics, but he and his squad of players have grinded and grafted their way to Poland and Ukraine next summer.
Former publicans across Ireland will be cursing themselves for not hanging on another bit before closing their ailing ale houses. If they had kept the faith, as sure as night follows day and Shay Given is a good goalkeeper, they would have taken in money beyond their wildest dreams. It may indulge the traditional Irish drinking stereotype, but the feel good effect of Ireland in a major championship will mean that those pubs still open will run dry next summer.
Forget the phenomenon of the “Popes Children” Mr McWilliams. The real baby boom happened in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when a woman just mentioning Paul McGrath would have the equivalent effect of a bitch in heat. Mentioning Schillachi, on the other hand….
Ask any supporter. They would prefer Ireland to play dull football and qualify for every tournament than play Barcelona style football and never reach those heady heights. It may not be pretty, it may not awaken the senses, hell it may be nigh on impossible to watch without imbibing some form of alcohol, but it is effective. Greece won the Euros in 2004 playing largely the same style of football appropriated by Trappatoni, and if you had put it to any Greek fan celebrating on the streets of Athens the night of their triumph that the victory was devalued by the manner of play, they would have rightly laughed in your face and continued crying tears of unadulterated joy.
The similarities between Jack Charlton and Giovanni Trappatoni are well documented. Both managers stuck to their own style of play even amidst clamours from pundits and fans alike for the introduction of flair players. Liam Brady and Andy Reid are two of the most notable casualties (Stephen Ireland’s wounds were self inflicted). However, like Tardelli said (or was it Macchiavelli?) , “the end justifies the means”. Both men managed to do what many others have failed to do; lead Ireland to a major championship. There is already a statue of Jack in Cork Airport. Perhaps in the future pigeons will be able to defecate on a likeness of Trappatoni?
Jack Charlton Statue, Cork Airport (windowonwoking.org.uk)
Moving swiftly on to next year, and Ireland are fourth seeds going into the draw on December 2nd. It is unquestionably true that the overall quality of teams in the group stages of the European Championships are a cut above those in the World Cup pots. Because the Euros begin with 16 teams and the World Cup with 32, essentially the former begins with the quality you are likely to see in the first knockout stage (the last 16) of the World Cup. For the neutral observer, this leads to some incredible football. For the loyal Green Army however, it will mean nails bitten to the quick from kick off on day one.
 Ireland will have much to do to even get to the knockout stages next year. Some of the combinations possible in Friday’s draw are worthy of note. If Ireland were to draw Spain, Germany, and Portugal, then it would undoubtedly be the group of death for the boys in green. If however, the squad were to come up against Spain, Italy and Greece in the preliminaries, inevitably this would be dubbed the “Group of Debt”. For the thousands of Irish who will keep Michael O’Leary in gold leaf toilet roll next year, all groups will involve considerable debt.
So will next summer live up to all the hype it will inevitably attract in the coming months? You bet. Do you honestly think that Richard Dunne did his Paul McGrath versus Italy impression in Moscow just to be patted patronisingly on the head and sent home to a celebration of mediocrity in the Phoenix Park? Will Robbie Keane want to arrive onto the international main stage for the first time in ten years and leave without a few goals to his name? Will Damien Duff forget how to infuse confused defenders with twisted blood in the fashion he did in the Far East? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you are questioning the character and commitment of some of Ireland’s finest ever players.
Richard Dunne in Moscow (daylife.com)
It took a while to accept, but Trappatoni’s rigid system has gotten us to where we are now. The team is committed to the system and they will leave nothing in the tank in pursuit of a result. Similiarly, the fans are committed to the team and they will leave nothing in their bank accounts in their quest to be dubbed the world’s greatest fans once again. Back in 1988 Joxer went to Stuttgart by van. Next year thousands of this country’s football followers will invade Eastern Europe by air, by sea, clinging to the axles of a truck if needs be. No matter what, they will be there in droves. One problem. Christy Moore is going to have a hard time finding anything to rhyme with Gdansk.

How The Pinch Stole Christmas

Some won’t make it home for Christmas. (pic: reuters.com)
80’s Ireland. Boatloads and busloads take the return journey home for Christmas. From Dublin, from London, from New York City, they return to the fold. Press photographers gather in airport arrivals halls, both hopeful and confident of snapping some tearful reunions.
                Some do not return home. Some because they cannot afford to, either financially or legally, as many are in America as illegal immigrants and leaving will mean never coming back. Some because they don’t see Ireland as their country anymore. Politicians have failed them, their friends have emigrated too, and their parents leave them feeling nothing but a vague guilt for deserting them.
                But for those who do return, two weeks over the festive season leave them feeling like they will never leave home again. They start to feel once more that they belong in Ireland. This emotional attachment is at its most potent as the lights come on in a club, and people stagger to attention for the national anthem. Sinne Fianna Fáil, atá faoi gheall na hÉireann. Soldiers are we, whose lives we pledge to Ireland.
                But they are not soldiers, they are young Irish people living in the harshness of the 1980’s. They may pledge their hearts to Ireland, but perhaps never again their lives, because their livelihoods lie elsewhere. In the cold light of January, bags full of their mother’s cooking, jacket pockets lined with surreptitious tenners from their oul fella, they return to be swallowed up in the anonymity of the foreign metropolis’ where they have found jobs, if not an identity.
                No photographers turn up at the airports in January. There is a significant difference between tearful reunions and tearful goodbyes.
                We do not live in the 80’s anymore, but we do live in a recession that has swallowed up this country’s youth once more and spat them in all corners of the globe. Like their predecessors a generation ago, many will make the trek home for turkey this December, and like their predecessors a generation ago, many will not.
                But in this age of constant communication, is the physical absence of someone felt as keenly as it was 30 years ago? Families across this country can sit down this Christmas Day in front of their turkey and sprouts, and wave happily to their child/sibling as they don surf shorts and a Santa hat on Bondi Beach. Skype, Facebook, and Google + have made this world a smaller place, and lend a hand to lessening the impact of loved ones not being around the house this Christmas.
                But no amount of technology can ever make up for having everyone around the dinner table Christmas day. A full house may mean that – as sure as brussel sprouts will be sneakily discarded – there will be arguments, fights and fireworks. But a house full of the noise of arguments is infinitely more preferable to one where the only sound is the ticking clock, a constant reminder of time spent apart.
                There are reasons why people don’t come home this Christmas that are far removed from the reasons of the 80s. To many the recession is not a hinderance, but an opportunity to broaden their horizons and take in foreign lands before they tie themselves down in a job. The fact that there may be no job to tie them down is not something which concerns some of them unduly as of yet.
                We are in recession much in the same way we were a generation ago. But there are key differences. Ireland back then was never all that prosperous to begin with, and the 80’s recession was akin to jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. Now however, there is the feeling that for the Celtic Tiger Cubs it is out of the cotton wool and into the harsh realities of a decimated economy. Why would recently graduated Irish university students stay in this country to become government artists, drawing the dole, when they are offered the opportunities to utilise their degrees in far flung locations like Korea, Japan, Australia. The latter has always been a go-to place for the Irish in times of turmoil, the two Far Eastern countries the recent recipients of an Irish Diaspora simply because they require native English speakers who will teach them the language in return for decent wages. For many it is a no brainer to leave this island for pastures new. And why would they endure the long trek home to be reminded of the harsh realities they have left behind?
                Closer to home, there are Irish people all over the United Kingdom who cannot make the short hop across the Irish Sea because they have to work over Christmas. The UK is in the grips of a recession also, and if keeping your job means having to work Christmas Eve and St Stephen’s Day, then perhaps a Christmas spent alone in a British bedsit is a necessary evil.
                Even those who stay behind may soon find that their reason for doing so will be yanked from under their feet. Many Irish graduates undertake further study, in order to stave off the inevitable fruitless job search and to make themselves more employable to surviving businesses. Yet there are talks of cutting funding completely for postgraduate studies. What the government will save in money it will lose in talent, as some of the brightest young minds of this country will have no choice but to shine elsewhere.
                This Christmas spare a thought for those who will not be home. Spare a thought for those who will be also. For while two weeks will pass as though they have never left these shores, they will nevertheless pass quickly and then it will be back across oceans and continents for our youth. Mothers will weep, fathers will proffer a stoic handshake, then the plane will take off and take Ireland’s youth with it. This is not the country we envisaged a decade ago, but it is the hand we were dealt by those in power and those with power. All we can do is welcome back with open arms those who will emerge through the arrival doors in airports like contestants on Stars in Their Eyes, and keep in our hearts those who can’t.

Sex, Rugby, and Orthopedic Shoes!

Dead Cat Bounce
Galway Bulmers Comedy Festival
Roisín Dubh
27th October 2011
First Published November 1st in Sin Newspaper 

Ruck and Roll, Baby!
Never arrive late to a comedy gig. There will invariably be two seats left directly in front of the stage which you and whoever is accompanying you will have to take. Oh, and never bring a friend who thinks it is ok to go out in what appear to be his pyjamas in public – this will attract unwanted attention from hungry comedians. Without making reference to his size, (he does enough of that himself) Karl Spain was one very hungry MC on the night. He immediately devoured my dubiously dressed friend, and took a minute to savour the poor girl unfortunate enough to have one of those laughs. You know the one: the Peppa Pig laugh. “Do you do that all the time? I’m only asking because that’s the first time I’ve made a woman make a noise in a long time.” Spain warmed up the crowd so they were in a party mood by the time Dead Cat Bounce, ehhh…. bounced onto the stage at 10pm. The festivities were enhanced by the appearance of local favourite John Donnellan in between.

         Dead Cat Bounce is a Wall Street term which signifies a slight increase in stock prices after a severe slump. It is regarded as a mere gradual upward blip. Dead Cat Bounce is also a three piece Dublin comedy rock band. Comprising of three Trinity College graduates; bassist Shane O’Brien, James Walmsley on guitar and vocals, and “comedy drummer” Damien Fox (it says so on his business card). The band’s career could hardly be more dissimilar to the term from which they derive their name. It hasn’t been a gradual upward blip, but rather an explosion to prominence in Irish comedy circles since their appearances on RTE2’s Republic of Telly last year.
         The set list reads like something you’d find scratched on padded walls in institutes. ‘Overenthusiastic Contraceptive Lady’ is a song Durex wouldn’t like to get too popular, as it might have an effect on sales. “I just want your lovin’ girl, I don’t want your babies, so I promise to aim for your chest,” is but one of the lines from this song which had the audience rolling around beneath the bar stools. More guffaws for ‘Outsized Orthopaedic Shoe,’ an epic tale of friendship between a man with one leg shorter than the other, and his shoe. ‘Christians in Love’ portrays the carnal adventures of a newlywed couple “getting to know each other” for the first time. “Like a chimpanzee at a buffet car, they’re just grabbing at things before they know what they are, and seeing if they can fit them in their mouths”. The girl with the unfortunate laugh has reached unprecedented decibel levels by the end of this song, and many other audience members are in tears of laughter.
         However the biggest cheer of the night is reserved for the lads’ most well known song, ‘Rugby’. The video for this ditty is on YouTube and is well worth a watch or ten, featuring as it does Brent Pope and the mulleted one, former Irish hooker Shane Byrne. The song calls into question the heterosexuality of rugby, with such insightful lines as “we’re fooling the world that there’s nothing sexual, in a ball shaped like a giant testicle”. This gig was rucking brilliant.