Reeling in the Road

I turn the corner and get my first glimpse of the summit, less than 500 metres away now.

A quick glance over my shoulder tells me the road’s my own, there’s no pursuant in sight. I stand up in the saddle, and hammer down hard on the pedals.

I climb quickly at first, gliding up the more forgiving inclines, before the final stretch kicks up suddenly. My breathing is heavy now, ragged as my shoulders slump towards the handlebars and my arse towards the saddle once more.

Get to the top, I tell myself, and you can have a sip of water and open the zip of your jersey a crack.

The thoughts of these scant mercies spur me on, and with a renewed sense of urgency I surge forward and up. The last 100 metres are torture on my legs and mind but every revolution of the pedals sees me reeling in the road just a little bit more.

“Reeling in the Road” would be the perfect name for my autobiography, I surmise in a head clouded with exhaustion.

I crest the summit at last and sit back in the saddle, freewheeling as I reach behind me to grab the water bottle from my jersey pocket. That first glorious sip leads to a few more generous gulps. Bottle safely slipped back into the pocket, it’s time to open the jersey as I had promised myself.

I scan the road ahead. 100 metres until the next turn. Plenty of time. I take one gloved hand off the handlebars and then, cautiously, the other. Still upright. Gaining in confidence, I grip my collar with one hand and the zip with the other.

The zip’s teeth have become misaligned, and so I give it a good jerk. The sudden change in equilibrium causes a wobble, and that turn that seemed a safe distance away is now upon me.

I’ve yanked too hard at the zip and so now my jersey is open down past my chest. The wobble sends me veering blind around the corner and across to the other side of the road. I drop my hands to the handlebars and tug left, narrowly avoiding the jeep I hadn’t heard coming against me but sending myself careening into the briars in the ditch on the other side.

The farmer in the jeep glances in the rearview mirror at the 14 year old boy, pigeon-chest showing under a half open lycra cycling jersey accessorised with a helmet, fingerless cycling gloves and mirrored wraparound shades, paired with Adidas tracksuit bottoms and a mountain bike.


Before a charity cycle in 2006.

“That young fella of the Keanes is at it again, think’s he’s in the fecking Tour de France,” the farmer mutters as he drives away down the hill past my house.

With that, the spell was broken for the day. This rural secondary road in North Tipperary was no longer Mount Ventoux in my head.I pulled myself and the bike out of the ditch and turned towards home. I’d already done 3 laps of the road that day anyway, and it was time for lunch.

While I ate, I switched on Eurosport. It was the final week of the 2004 Tour de France, and my idol Lance Armstrong was well on his way to his 6th successive victory. He dominated

I sat transfixed as the Texan dominated the final week, winning two key mountain stages and two individual time trials. A cancer survivor, so dominant in one of the toughest sports on earth, he was a hero to me. I had every book written about Armstrong, as well as posters adorning my walls and, of course, the yellow Livestrong band around my wrist.


Hindsight is a great thing…


I wasn’t alone wearing that silicone band, but I kept wearing it long after the gloss wore off for many others. I was the ultimate Armstrong apologist. I knew deep down (and not so deep down) that he was a drugs cheat, but to me his battles with Jan Ullrich, Tyler Hamilton, Ivan Basso et al had defined my summers as much as any GAA Championship, World Cup or Wimbledon.

It’s easy to look the part when you’re a passionate football fan. Buy the kit (not if you’re over 12 years of age though, kit w*nker) and possess a football, and you’re there.

It’s slightly more difficult to emulate your cycling heroes. For one thing, even for an active teenager such as I was, 6% body fat was unattainable. As was EPO in North Tipperary in the innocent days before the dark web.

I tried my manful best however. My bike wasn’t the Trek racer I coveted from bike magazines, but it was a shiny metallic blue, and had an Italian sounding name, which made it incredibly European in my eyes and therefore perfect for my Tour de Castlecranna.
I had bought the gloves and helmet in Lidl, in that fortnightly sale of cycling gear that still occurs. The jersey, to me, was a thing of beauty. I had bought it in, of all places, the Nou Camp, the home of Barcelona FC. It followed the colour scheme of the football team which I loved, but the clincher was that it had three elasticated pockets on the back for water bottles and energy bars. It didn’t matter that the only route I took allowed me to pop into my kitchen to grab a glass of water and a snack (like the Tour de France cyclists a century ago who would stop in pubs en route), I simply had to have the jersey to appear a little bit more like my heroes.
Time went by, and following Armstrong’s retirement, his 2009 return, subsequent second retirement and admissions of being a drug cheat, as well as the revelations surrounding other successful cyclists, the sport lost its lustre for me. I no longer religiously followed the Tour each July, and unless I needed the bike for transport from A to B, it remained in the shed.
(Side note, the closest I ever got to Lance Armstrong was in the summer of 2009. I hopped on a bus down to Cork to watch a stage of the Tour of Ireland, which Armstrong and the ensuing media circus were a part of. The stage consisted of a few laps of Cork City, a route which incorporated the ascent of the notoriously steep Patrick’s Hill. On the first loop, Armstrong passed by me so close I could have touched him. On the second loop, he was nowhere to be seen. He gave up before the second ascent of Patrick’s Hill. Cork people can be proud that Patrick’s Hill broke Armstrong in a way that no Hors Category climb in the Tour de France ever did, although maybe he was off the drugs by then.)
Nowadays, i’m back cycling again. When the weather is agreeable, I throw my work clothes in a backpack and pedal the 10km or so from my home out to the office in Dun Laoghaire. There are days when I love it, and more days when I’m buffered by strong winds and my guttural expletives startle nearby pedestrians.
It’s a lovely cycle, that offers spectacular views over Dublin Bay if it’s safe to take your eyes off the road for a second. Sometimes, an old lady passes me on an electric bike and my sense of competition kicks in. I stand up in the saddle and hammer the pedals until I’m ahead once more. In moments like this, I’m transported back half a lifetime to the mindset of a skinny, awkward, slightly eccentric teenager who has grand dreams of reeling in the road before him.


Old Friendships: Maintenance Required

“Isn’t that going to be weird?”

That’s the first question asked by your most recent circle of friends when you’re meeting a comrade from days long gone by. And no matter how much you’ve been trying to tell yourself that it won’t be weird or awkward, you know there’s some truth in what they’re saying.


That’s not to say old friends should be jettisoned like rocket boosters as you hit your mid-20s orbit. Rather, it’s about managing expectations. The party animal who you shared so many nights you’ll never forget and more that you’ll never remember? Chances are that if he’s in a 9 to 5 by now, he may have calmed down somewhat.

The fact is that none of the friends you had at 17 are the same as they were back then, and more importantly, neither are you. Particularly true of arts students, you enter your university years with all sorts of plans and good intentions. You’ll study English literature and in ten years time be the youngest ever editor of a national broadsheet. You’ll master Spanish and Japanese and travel the world working for the UN. You’ll learn how to iron a shirt properly, and cook sausages without the fire brigade being called. You’ll get 7 McNuggets when you ordered 6. All far from unattainable, but much more difficult that the optimistic 17 year old you were had you believe.

So, when you leave university, degree in hand, and go about establishing yourself in the adult world, (let’s not kid ourselves, for the majority college acts as a buffer between teenage years and adulthood), it’s unreasonable to think that this change in parameters won’t result in a change of attitude and personality. It may be slight, even imperceptible, but it’ll be there.

A lot of this is a physical necessity. When you look back at Rag Week carnage you put yourself through in college, you wonder how in the name of Dutch Gold you managed to survive at all. By your mid-twenties, the mere thoughts of the Tuesday fear after a bank holiday weekend is enough to fill you with dread. The very idea of drinking Sunday through to Friday is enough to make you reach for a spice bag and a lucozade.

So, if you’re a different person to what you were when you started college, you can be damn sure so are the friends you made in orientation week and kept ever since, even if you only see each other on a Facebook newsfeed. When you do finally meet in person again, sure it’s a bit awkward at first as you each try and suss what’s changed.

But the beauty of the meeting is how the conversation segues from stilted pleasantries to reminiscenses and forgotten in-jokes. Old friends know more about you than many new acquaintances could ever hope to. They were there for the terrible fashion choices, the questionable hairstyles, the first loves and the first break-ups. You may think you’re a big city slicker now, and you may even be able to get away with that with recently made friends, but that holds no sway with old allies. They saw those frosted tips.

So embrace old friends, meet them as often as your busy lives will allow. Book five days off and re-create rag week, and have another 5 days booked off for recovery. Be interested in what’s going on in their lives and be interesting about what’s going on in yours. Introduce them to new friends, take a step back and watch the web of connections that is your life grow stronger and more beautifully complicated.

But don’t you dare resurrect those frosted tips.

Everton v Arsenal: As it happened

Welcome to coverage of a game that will go a long way to deciding who takes the last Champions League spot. Everton host Arsenal this Sunday lunchtime and whoever wins will have fourth place within their grasp.

If Everton win today, they move to within a point of their opponents with a game in hand. If the Gunners win however, they’ll go seven points clear and feel they’ve probably done enough finish in the top four yet again.

The home side have not beaten Arsenal since March 2007, but they are second only to Liverpool in the Premier League form table. The Toffees have won their last four league games, while Arsenal have won just once in their past five away fixtures.

Ross Barkley should be fit for Everton after being substituted with a calf complaint in the win against Fulham. Republic of Ireland midfielder Darron Gibson is nearing a return to first team training after a serious knee injury.

Arsene Wenger can name Aaron Ramsay in his match-day squad for the first time in 2014. The Welsh midfielder had an incredible first half to the season before being sidelined with a thigh injury.

Team news:

Everton- Howard, Baines, Distin, Stones, Coleman, McCarthy, Barry, Osman, Naismith, Mirallas, Lukaku. Subs: Robles, Hibbert, McGeady, Deulofeu, Barkley, Garbutt, Alcaraz.

Arsenal- Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Monreal, Arteta, Flamini, Rosicky, Cazorla, Podolski, Giroud. Subs: Viviano, Jenkinson, Bellerin, Kallstrom, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ramsey, Sanogo.

You may have to refresh the page to update content. New posts will appear at the top. Comments on the games can be posted underneath or tweeted to me at @AlanKeane23.


Full time thoughts – It’s advantage Everton in the race for the final Champions League spot. They remain one point behind Arsenal but they have a game in hand. The two Manchester clubs still have to come to Goodison Park so it’s a difficult run in for Roberto Martinez’ men but based on today’s performance they should fear no one. They have two of the finest full-backs in the league, a solid midfield and real attacking threat. They have six wins in a row in the league, a club record, and if they can play in the same manner for the rest of the season they will be mixing it with Europe’s elite next season.

Arsenal were ten points clear of today’s opponents at the start of February. However a downturn in form has cost them dearly at the stage of the season when they usually kick on. The past few seasons it has been their performances in the run in that have allowed the Gunners to clinch a spot in the top four after underwhelming results early in the campaign. This year looked different and Arsenal fans dared to hope of a first title in a decade. However yet again it is the lack of consistency over the course of a season which has cost Arsene Wenger’s men dear.

The visitors never really looked like scoring today, with Olivier Giroud unable to convert the few half-chances that came his way. Creative influences like Santi Cazorla couldn’t get possession close enough to the Everton goal to threaten. The introduction of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain gave Arsenal a bit more potency in attack but it came after Everton had wrapped up the game with their third goal. The only bright side for Arsenal today was the return from injury of Aaron Ramsay. Their season stuttered once he got injured in December.

93  mins – Sanogo found by Sagna and the substitute finally beats Howard. But… He’s offside and it doesn’t count. Howard takes the free-kick and the final whistle goes.

90 mins – Three minutes added.

88 mins – Barkley shows great strength to hold off Arteta and takes umbrage to an arm to the face. He shoves Arteta and Baines has a go too. Capping off a torrid afternoon for Arsenal, Arteta is the one who gets a yellow card in the aftermath. Not a happy day for the midfielder at his former club.

85 mins- Substitution for Everton as loanee Lukaku makes way for loanee Gerard Delofeu. Lukaku caused problems all day for the Arsenal defence.

85 mins – Oxlade-Chamberlain with a thumping shot from 25 yards that Howard tips onto the crossbar and out for a corner.

84 mins – Oxlade-Chamberlain hip checked by Gareth Barry in the box. I’ve seen them given but the referee waves play on.

81 mins – Ramsay threads a pass into space for Cazorla to run onto but the Spaniard didn’t read his intentions and the ball rolls out of play. Sums up Arsenal’s day.

80 mins Substitution for Everton as former Aiden McGeady replaces goalscorer Stephen Naismith.

75 mins – Sanogo called back for a dubious offside. He dragged his shot across the goal and wide anyway.

 72 mins – Seamus Coleman really enjoying his afternoon. Another sublime bit of skill to make a fool of Monreal on the right. It’s not just Coleman though, every single Everton player looks supremely comfortable on the ball right now.

70 mins –  Substitution Final throw of the dice for Arsene Wenger as Sanogo comes on for Olivier Giroud. The French striker huffed and puffed today without really creating any chances of note.

68 mins – The visitors finally in possession and Cazorla gets a shot away that doesn’t really trouble Howard.

67 mins – Cheers following every Everton pass now as Arsenal can’t get near the ball.

65 mins – Substitutions for Arsenal. Ramsay and Oxlade Chamberlain on for Flamini and Podolski. Might be too little too late from Arsene Wenger.

62 mins – This could be a rout if Arsenal don’t regroup quickly. Coleman showboats down the right, doing keepy ups at full pace. He finds Lukaku whose pass reaches Barkley and the youngster shoots straight at the goalkeeper.

60 mins – GOAL! No sooner have I said that and Everton score on the counter attack! Mirallas surges forward in midfield and attempts to find Naismith. Scezny gets to the ball but pushes it back in front of the goal where Arteta seemed to get the last touch ahead of the on-rushing Mirallas.

60 mins – An hour gone at Goodison Park and while Arsenal have been brighter in the second half so far, they still don’t look much like threatening Tim Howard. Everton are looking to exploit the visitors on the break.

55 mins – At the other end Vermaelen does well to stop the ball from getting to Naismith who had nipped in behind the Arsenal defence.

53 mins – Mirallas is pressured by Sagna and brings the ball back into his own six yard box. Howard has to rescue the situation before Giroud pounces. Thirty seconds later Stones loses out to Cazorla on the left and an excellent Distin intervention is needed to stop Flamini from finding the target.

50 mins – Podolski finds some space on the left but John Stones comes across to cover. The 19 year old does well to get the tackle in and win a goal kick.

48 mins – Monreal sends in a dangerous cross after good build-up play from Arsenal, moving the ball across the field. No-one there to take advanatage of the ball in.

14:33 – Second half begins.

14:32 – Arsenal are back out early for the second half, talking among themselves. They need a big effort in the second half. Everton just emerging.

Half time thoughts – Arsenal have  lot to do if they are to overturn the deficit in the second period. Everton are getting joy down both flanks as the Gunners attempt to play through the centre. Baines has threatened down the left on a number of occasions and Lukaku had all the time in the world to come in from the right and pick his spot for Everton’s second goal. If Arsene Wenger doesn’t direct Cazorla to stay out wide, or bring on Oxlade-Chamberlain to give Baines something to think about, then it’s difficult to see Everton losing this. They looked very comfortable in the first 45 minutes.

45 + 2 mins – Howard gathers a cross with Giroud lurking. The half time whistle goes.

45 mins – Two minutes extra to be played at the end of the first half.

43 mins – Yellow card for Flamini who will miss the next two games. The French midfielder mis-controlled a pass and took out Barkley while trying to retrieve the ball.

39 mins – Two saves in a minute for Howard. First he parries a Podolski cross away from the on-rushing Giroud, then reacts acrobatically to tip away a Podolski drive.

37 mins – That was Lukaku’s 13th goal of the season and he tries to add to his tally almost immediately. He drags a similar effort to the left and wide.

33 mins – GOAL! Lukaku receives the ball in space on the right. No Arsenal player comes to meet him and the Belgian makes his way to the edge of the box and dispatches and unstoppable effort beyond the goalkeeper’s outstretched arms.

32 mins – Arsenal’s first corner of the game. Stones uncharacteristically shaky so far in this game and the young Everton defender miskicks the ball close to his own goal. Giroud unable to pounce before Everton clear.

30 mins – Scezny down smartly to stop a Mirallas effort creeping in at the near post. Everton’s movement causing Arsenal problems in the first half hour.

27 mins – Everton very comfortable at the moment. They’re making inroads down the left as Santi Cazorla is playing narrow and allowing Leighton Baines space to get forward. If Kevin Mirallas can get into the game more then Arsenal will need to shore up the right side of their midfield.

23 mins – Mirallas tries to find Naismith behind the Arsenal defence. A clearance from Mertesacker goes back to the Belgian who doesn’t trouble Scezny with a tame effort.

20 mins – Naismith gets on the end of a low McCarthy drive across the box but can only divert the ball into the arms of the keeper. At the other end, Giroud fails to connect properly with a searching Sagna cross.

17 mins – Good play from Everton results in a corner which Mirallas overhits.

13 mins – GOAL! Naismith finishes coolly after Lukaku’s initial shot is blocked by Scezny. This just after John Stones put his own team under pressure with a poorly executed pass across his own goal. Howard did well to rescue and set up the move that led to Naismith’s third goal in two games.

12 mins – Naismith with a dangerous tackle on Arteta. The forward escapes a booking. Arsene Wenger looks furious.

11 mins – Nice link up play between Mirallas and Baines but the full-back is judged off-side before he can find someone with a ball across the six yard box.

10 mins – Flamini tests Howard with a shot from distance after Distin fails to control a long ball.

8 mins – Substitution Ross Barkley on for Osman as the Everton captain is unable to continue. The captain’s armband goes to Leighton Baines.

6 mins – Early chances for Everton. Naismith fails to find Lukaku with a cross, Seamus Coleman eventually whips the ball in from the right and but it’s cleared to Sagna. Leon Osman takes the full-back out and gets a yellow card and a knock to the head for his troubles. He goes off to receive treatment.

5 mins – Podolski with another attempt which goes out of play even further from the goals than the last.

4 mins – Boos for former Everton midfielder Arteta.

2 mins – Lively start here. Podolski with Arsenal’s first shot. Wide to Howard’s left.

1 min – Close! Leon Osman lets fly with a volley from just outside the box. Narrowly sails past the top right-hand corner with the keeper beaten.

13:30 -And they’re off.

13:29 – Ross Barkley and Gerard Delofeu on the bench for Everton today. Kieron Gibbs is injured and Nacho Monreal takes his place at left full-back for Arsenal.

13:27 – They’re almost ready to kick-off on Merseyside. Remember a win for Everton would greatly increase their chances of finishing in the top four for the first time since the 04/05 season. A win for Arsenal will see the North London side put a near impossible distance between them and their opponents today.

13:25 – The teams are out. The tunnel in Goodison Park is barely big enough for the two sides.

13:20  – Everton’s on loan midfielder Gareth Barry has been talking up his team-mate James McCarthy this week, saying he’s one of the best midfielders he’s played alongside. High praise indeed, considering he’s played in teams with Steven Gerrard, Yaya Toure and Marc Albrighton.

He is Zlatan – Greatest goals and incidents in Ibrahimovich’s career

Zlatan Ibrahimovich was surprisingly humble before tonight’s Champions League clash with Chelsea, calling Jose Mourinho’s men the favourites to progress to the semi-final.

It’s not often you see humility from the Swedish striker, but then with a goal catalogue like this why should you?


He has  been one of the best strikers in Europe for nigh on a decade, and has played at some of the greatest clubs on the continent. Ajax, Juventus, AC Milan, Internazionale, Barcelona and now a PSG side intent on becoming a European superpower.

His goal-scoring record is phenomenal, averaging out at around a goal every 2 games throughout his career. He has never won the Ballon d’Or, but has a wealth of other accolades to his name. In these years of Messi and Ronaldo dominance, only Ibrahimovich can claim to have been as consistently brilliant. Such is his reputation in the game that the World Cup playoffs between Portugal and Sweden was a mere side show to the main act, Ronaldo vs Ibrahimovich.

His supreme confidence is backed up by his ability on the pitch, as seen above. However sometimes that confidence goes beyond scoring goals… This video shows what happens when Ibrahimovich loses his temper on the field, when journalists question his ability, and when he has to play second fiddle to a certain Lionel Messi…


What a man.


Liverpool vs Spurs as it happened.

Liverpool Suarez Sturridge

This season’s most potent strike partnership

Welcome to coverage of today’s game between Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur. After fellow title-chasers Chelsea and Manchester City dropped points yesterday, Brendan Rodgers’ side have the opportunity to top the Premier League table by 6pm this evening. Tottenham have been in underwhelming form all season, but a last gasp victory at home to Southampton last weekend was a timely boost to morale.

It will take more than morale for the visitors to leave Anfield with three points today. Liverpool start as firm favourites following seven consecutive league victories, the most recent being a hard fought win over Sunderland in midweek. The strike partnership of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge has produced 48 league goals so far this season, and if Spurs play to the same level they did in the reverse fixture in December, they may well reach the half-century.

That 5-0 defeat before Christmas was Andre Villas Boas’ last in charge of Spurs, and while a similiar result would be unlikely to cost successor Tim Sherwood his job on Monday, it would do serious damage to his chances of holding onto his position beyond the summer. Louis Van Gaal has been heavily linked to the club, and fellow Dutchman Ruud Gullit has said this weekend that there has been contact between Spurs chairman Daniel Levy and the veteran manager.

Updates will appear throughout the game, with the most recent on top. If nothing’s happening just hit refresh. Have your say on the game by commenting underneath or tweet me @AlanKeane23


17:54 – Thanks for following the game. Leave your thoughts below, or tweet me @AlanKeane23

93 mins- The final whistle goes at Anfield. An easy day at the office for Liverpool as Spurs were never at the races. A goal in the first minute set the tone. Spurs head back to London with their season well and truly over, while Liverpool head to the top of the table. A terrific end to come in this Premier League season.

91 mins – Liverpool players still working hard. Everyone wants to impress the manager and consolidate a starting place for the run-in.

90 mins – 3 minutes added at the end of the game. To compound Spurs’ misery, Soldado is taken off on a stretcher after landing awkwardly.

88 mins – Suarez flagged for offside. Doesn’t look like he’ll be adding to his tally today but you never know…

86 mins – Spurs players look like they wish they were anywhere else. Dawson comes close with a header from a corner.

82 mins – Substitution Sterling makes way for Victor Moses.

78 mins – Of course Spurs were up against it today considering their main source of goals against Liverpool the past few seasons retired in the summer. Jamie Carragher is watching from the stands today.

77 mins – Chadli and Sigurdsson have chances for Spurs which come to nothing.

72 mins – GOAL! 4-0 Liverpool Henderson assumes free-kick responsibility and whips one in from the left. Luis Suarez lets it run and so too do the entire Tottenham defence. Suarez makes sure everyone knows it was the midfielder’s goal by running directly too him.

69 mins – Substitution Gerrard makes way with Liverpool fans applause ringing in his ears. Lucas on in his place. Brendan Rodgers will be pleased his captain didn’t pick up a yellow card today. It would have kept him out of the next game.

67 mins – Sturridge nearly gets gets on the score sheet with a cheeky back-heel.

65 mins- Suarez picks up a slight knock. Rodgers may consider taking him off soon with this game wrapped up.

61  mins- Coutinho hassling and harrying in midfield. The difference in desire is plain to see, Liverpool are up for this game and the chance to win the title. Spurs are on already on their summer holidays and, in the case of Tim Sherwood, they could be long ones.

59 mins – Substitution Bentaleb and Lennon make way for Dembele and Townsend as Tim Sherwood rings the changes.

57 mins- Liverpool fans singing “Wer’e going to win the league.” Manchester City and Chelsea still have to come to Anfield though… An interesting end of the season coming up.

54 mins- GOAL COUTINHO! Spoke too soon! Coutinho allowed too much room at the edge of the box and he drills a right-footer beyond the despairing dive of Lloris into the bottom left corner. Good finish but the Brazilian was allowed far too much time to pick his spot by the Spurs defence.

53 mins – Henderson fluffs his lines after a beautiful one-two between Sterling and Sturridge. Sterling squares the ball to the former Sunderland man and with the Tottenham defence in disarray he fails to find the target. Spurs lucky to still be within two goals of their hosts.

51 mins – Flanagan almost plays in Suarez but Dawson manages to intervene. Down the other end. Soldado shows pace to outrun Agger but the Dane gets back and wins the goal-kick.

48 mins – Roberto Soldado has been kept quiet all afternoon. While his goal-scoring record has been poor this season, he has shown promise in his link-up play. However Skrtel and Agger have him well marshalled. Spurs miss the physical presence of Adebayor. Any long balls played so far today have been eaten up by the Liverpool defence.

46 mins – Sigurdsson booked for a drag back on Coutinho.

17:03 – And we’re off again. No changes to either side.

17:00 – Suarez is 6 goals from the Premier League record for goals in a season. Could he do it today? If Spurs continue defending the way they have done, he could get a few more anyway.

16:47 – The half time whistle goes and the teams go down the tunnel. Their two goals have come from mistakes but Liverpool are well on top in this game. A stunning save from Lloris in the closing minutes of the half have kept Spurs somewhat in it but they’re going to have to be bolder going forward second half if they are to rescue anything from this game. And that’s going to leave room at the back for Liverpool’s pace to exploit.

45 mins – Two minutes added. Spurs want the whistle and the chance to regroup.

44 mins – Naughton slips and handles the ball at the edge of the Spurs box. Suarez curls the resulting free-kick agonizingly wide of the far top corner.

40 mins- BIG CHANCE! Oof! A mistake from Rose down the left and Sterling’s cross reaches Suarez at the back stick. He thumps a header which Lloris punches against the crossbar and somehow Spurs clear.

39 mins – A prolonged period in the Liverpool half for Spurs. Soldado gets  the ball on the left of the box and aims a shot at the far top corner. Parried by Mignolet and Liverpool clear their lines.

37 mins – A hopeful long-range shot from teenager Nabil Bentaleb is easily gathered by Mignolet in goals for Liverpool.

34 mins – Spurs just can’t string two passes together, and that’s largely due to the intense pressure Liverpool are putting them under. Brendan Rodgers’s side are playing a high-tempo game and the visitors aren’t able to keep up.

32 mins – Kaboul is booked for a late tackle on Sterling at the edge of the box. The central defender is having a nightmare and with Vertonghen gone and the technically weaker Dawson now alongside him, he might be wishing this game was over already

31 mins – Ian Rush and Kenny Dalglish are interested onlookers today. Bet they’d like to have played along-side Suarez.

25 mins – Spurs almost pull a goal back immediately. Eriksen’s shot well blocked by Skrtel.

24 mins – GOAL Suarez! No sooner has the substitution been made and Liverpool double their lead. Dawson horribly misjudges the flight of the ball, Suarez out-muscles Kaboul  and shoots hard and low across Lloris into the bottom right hand corner. A new Liverpool league scoring record for Suarez. 29 this season.

23 mins – Suarez blasts the free-kick over the bar. Vertonghen’s race is run. Dawson comes on in the Belgian’s place.

21 mins – Free-kick for Liverpool in a dangerous area following a dubious Sigurdsson hand ball. Spurs players have an emergency meeting while Vertonghen gets treatment from the physios.

20 mins – Chadli and Eriksen have both made surging runs in the past few minutes but couldn’t execute the final ball into the runners.

15 mins – Liverpool sharp on the ball. Some trickery from Sterling down the right leads to a cross. Kaboul clears but from the throw in Suarez gets on the ball and picks out Couthinho. The Brazilian volleys just wide from 12 yards.

12 mins – Spurs just can’t get on the ball in these opening stages.

9 mins – CHANCE! Suarez glides beyond Naughton on the left and whips in a cross that is just too high for Sturridge on the back post.

7 mins – Just before the goal, I was about to say Spurs hadn’t scored a goal in the first 15 mins of any league game this season. I guess they have now. Wrong end however.

5 mins. The Liverpool crowd smell blood. Spurs haven’t spent any time inside the Liverpool half yet.

1 min – GOAL! Kaboul OG. A Glen Johnson cross hits the French defender inside the 6 yard box and trickles in. Disaster for Spurs. 1-0 Liverpool.

16:00 – And we’re underway!

15:58: It will be interesting to see if Cristian Eriksen or Nacer Chadli start behind Roberto Soldado today. Chadli is a more natural winger with Eriksen a creative presence at number 10. That’s not how they lined up last week however, and Sky Sports graphics suggest Eriksen will once more find himself out on the left.

15:57 – The teams are out and Anfield is rocking.

15:55 – The teams are in the tunnel. Spurs defender Jan Vertonghen looks relaxed, considering he’s about to come up against the 48 goal strike partnership of Suarez and Sturridge.

15:50 – Ten minutes to kick-off at Anfield. @OptaJoe has a stat that shows just why Liverpool are favourites today. Liverpool have won 11 and lost none in their last 12 league games at home.

15:48 – Tim Sherwood on Sky Sports now. Says he hasn’t watched the video of the 5-0 drubbing Liverpool dished out to AVB and Spurs in December. Pays tribute to Suarez and Sturridge, calling them the best strike partnership the Premier League has seen in a long time.

15:45 – Both sides have named attacking line-ups today. No holding midfielder for Tottenham and that has to be a worry for Spurs fans as Jordan Henderson has been doing damage through the centre in recent weeks for Liverpool.

15:42 – Brendan Rodgers being interviewed on Sky Sports now. Says supporters can dare to dream of a first league title in 24 years but the players must remain calm. Also mentions Spurs’ high line, which could be a source of much joy for the home side today.

15:40 – Raheem Sterling makes his first league start since the 3-0 win at Old Trafford two weeks ago. Joe Allen drops to the bench for the home side.

15:25 – The final whistle has just gone at Craven Cottage and Everton come away with a 3-1 win. They are hot on the heels of Arsenal now for the fourth and final Champions League spot. Fulham meanwhile are in serious trouble. 5 points from safety with 6 games left, and with the worst goal difference in the league. A whopping minus 42!

15:15 – A blow for Spurs before kick-off as Emanuel Adebayor fails to even make the bench. Gylfi Sigurdsson is rewarded for his late winner last week with a start in midfield.

15:10 -Team news just in.

Liverpool: Mignolet, Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Flanagan, Gerrard, Henderson, Coutinho, Sterling, Sturridge, Suarez. Subs: Jones, Sakho, Cissokho, Lucas, Moses, Allen, Aspas.

Tottenham: Lloris, Naughton, Kaboul, Vertonghen, Rose, Bentaleb, Sigurdsson, Lennon, Chadli, Eriksen, Soldado. Subs: Friedel, Dawson, Dembele, Sandro, Townsend, Winks, Kane.


Does leaving Ireland make you more Irish?

A year ago today I stood in the arrivals hall of Dublin airport, impatiently checking the blinking board to see whether my sister’s flight  had landed. When confirmation finally came, I turned my attention towards the sliding doors.
It was simple enough to separate the returning emigrants from the casual travellers. The smiles and sobs that accompanied their entrance through the doors gave it away. Some waiting family and friends would scream in delight and run towards their loved ones. Others would stand motionless with tears streaming down their faces, hesitant as though they weren’t sure this moment  -this wonderful moment they had dreamed of since they had said their goodbyes years or months previous – was actually happening.
Amanda arrives home
It was a lovely few minutes. Then my sister arrived. As she chattered about the time of her life she had had living in Potsdam on Erasmus (the second time of her life that year after living in Southern Argentina for 5 months), I pondered on what defines an emigrant. I didn’t categorise my sister as an emigrant, because she had left Ireland as part of her university degree.
Three years previous I returned home after spending a few months on Erasmus in Prague. I certainly wasn’t a returning emigrant then either, though it was fun to pretend while gallavanting around the Czech Republic that I was part of the true diaspora, tragically cast out of my homeland due to a lack of jobs and hope. In reality I studied some poetry, drank cheap beer, wrote some essays and came home in time for the Christmas dinner.
Joseph O’Connor – one of Ireland’s most prominent writers- wrote a passage in an article about Irishness which I first read a few years back.
                “Being Irish abroad is a fine thing for a writer to be. It means you probably won’t get shot                   in the event of an aeroplane hijack, and it certainly helps you understand just how very                      Irish  you are. Indeed it sometimes seems to me that you almost have to get out of Ireland to                be Irish at all, in some important sense, that those who stay turn out to be the real exiles,              whereas those who go are the natives.”
By O’Connor’s reckoning, up to March of this year I was an exile in my own country. Not that it stopped me writing about the experiences of others abroad. So many of my friends had left Ireland for work that it was a source of endless fascination to me how they coped with the changes in environment, weather, culture. I wrote my MA thesis on perceptions of Irish emigrants.  Emigration was my never-ending source of material and I hadn’t even stepped on an aeroplane.
The night before I left for Korea, amid all the last minute rushing, O’Connor’s words popped into my head. I fished out the book and took a picture of the passage to bring with me. My reckoning was that if I hit a rough patch of homesickness in the Far East I could use the words as a soothing balm. They’d be there to tell me that now I was really Irish.
In reality, ten months into my time in Korea and I’ve had little use for the words. There have been moments of homesickness of course, and moments of doubt. That fear of missing out you have on nights when all your friends are somewhere and you opt to stay at home? Triple it and you’ll be some way towards realising the terror that can strike when you see friends at home getting their foot on their chosen career ladder. You’re happy for them, but there are times when you wish it was you who had the guts to wait it out in Ireland.
Nevertheless, these 10 months have been a joy. There’s a lot to recommend about Korea. It’s not a harsh lifestyle, the cities are vibrant, the work is plentiful and the money decent. The amount of ex-pats over here might surprise you. Even in Gwangju, a relatively small city by Korean standards, there is a sizeable foreigner community. Ubiquitous as we are, naturally many of the community are Irish.
There were two Irish stalls at a recent international day in the city, there’s an Irish-run bar, and one of the biggest nights of the busy summer months was a traditional music session held there. Sometimes there are moments when it’s difficult to comprehend just how far we are from home. When O’Connor wrote that article, a long time before I read it in an anthology, Ireland and Irish emigrants were different. If you left Ireland, save for a scribbled letters or long distance phonecalls, that was the end of you. You couldn’t really keep in touch with home and home couldn’t really keep in touch with you.
Irish stall, complete with stew and brown bread, at a recent international day
Did O’Connor and his contemporaries understand their Irishness more because it was something which was under threat in their new homes from home? Did every pint of Guinness in a dingy London bar mean more because it was a tenuous connection to Ireland? Possibly. Did every tattered photo of a loved one held in an Irish wallet in New York have extra significance? Perhaps.
Today’s technology, well, you know the drill. Photos flitting across the globe in seconds. You might know more about last night’s party in Galway than the participants do. You’re in your office viewing the pictures as they’re uploaded in real time, while the subjects of the photo might be a tad under the influence.
Where then can today’s Irish emigrants derive a heightened sense of Irishness? There is still something to be said for meeting another Irish person in the middle of nowhere, thousands of miles from home. It’s said that you can link any person to any other person in the world through 6 people. If the two people are Irish, you can probably cut out at least 3 of the links. We’re everywhere and that’s something we get great pride out of. It’s a majorly defining aspect of Irish culture, is emigration. We all know someone from every generation of our families who left the country in search of work and a better life. Some returned, some didn’t.
Maybe emigrants become more aware of how Irish they are when they encounter something that at home they would take for granted. It’s well documented the importance of the GAA in local communities at home, but sometimes it’s easy to dismiss it as just a sports organisation. In Korea it’s hard to describe just how popular it is. People from all corners of the globe come together to play for one of the three clubs in tournaments that run throughout the summer. It’s certainly one of the most popular imported sports in terms of members. When you line out in a Korean soccer stadium with an O’Neill’s jersey on your back, playing gaelic football alongside and against people from every walk of life, it’s hard not to feel an intense surge of pride in your country. And post-tournament, when the drink is flowing and Irish accents are heard all around the bar, that pride only increases.
Korean Gaelic Games in Seoul
There is no right or wrong when it comes to emigrating. The people who remain in Ireland deserve recognition for keeping the country going in the face of adversity. Hard work on their part ensures that there’s still a country to come back to for Irish emigrants. However those of us who have left are just fulfilling the quota. It wouldn’t be a proper generation of Irish which didn’t see half its number leave.
This 25th of December, every family in Ireland will think of a loved one far away. Meanwhile on Australian beaches, in London flats and small Korean apartments, Irish people will gather and think of home and everyone in it. Maybe Joseph O’Connor was right and maybe emigrants do feel a heightened sense of Irishness sometimes. Ultimately we’re all from the same tree though. It’s just that some leaves fall farther away than others.
Happy Christmas.

Like We Never Left (First Published in The Irish Times 18th Dec 2012)

On the 28th of December, a group of young Irish will meet in a Limerick bar a stone’s throw from the University from which they graduated in August 2011.
 This will be no chance encounter. A Facebook invite has taken the place of the Star of Bethlehem in this modern Christmas tale. We’ll come from near and far. Dublin and Edinburgh, London and Korea, even Clare.
 It will be more than a meeting of old friends, however. It will be one in the eye of the recession that for 364 days of the year keeps us apart.
In small groups we’ll arrive, seeking familiar faces in the crowded bar. The joy of reunion will be displayed in all its forms. Tears, laughter, hugs and pats on the back. We’re home.
 The warm glow felt after the first few pints will prompt the storytelling. Ten stories will be told at once, many which have already been told via Skype or Facebook, all of which mean more when told face-to-face.
At no point during the night will we forget friends half the world away. Friends who are spending their Christmas in the Far East, on Australian beaches, in Canadian cities. Our sorrow at their absence will ensure we are as aware of them as we would be were they there with us.
I’ll sit there smiling among my friends and inwardly I’ll wonder. What does 2013 have in store? Will I spend next Christmas half a world away from the homestead, or will I be one of the lucky ones in gainful employment within the confines of these shores?
I’ll shrug away these questions as I shrug on my jacket. There is a far more pressing matter at hand. Which bar next?
The night will hurtle toward its inevitable conclusion, and as closing time approaches it will be as though the last 16 months never happened. None of us have joined the rat race, the dole queue, or the masses leaving this country in search of a better life.

Morning will bring with it cold reality and hot tea. Friends will slip away from the hotel one by one. No goodbyes.. There is more promise in “see you later.” We can’t predict how 2013 will pan out, but we’ll content ourselves with the knowledge that we’ve ended 2012 in good company.

A Nou Perspective on Celtic after heroic failure

Plenty to ponder for Neil Lennon after tonight’s game

When the final whistle blew in the outer reaches of Barcelona tonight, Messi et al could be forgiven for looking surprised.

Not because they had eked out a late victory over Celtic, they’ve won enough games at the death for that to be a non-issue. But if they were expecting a clamour for their jerseys from Neil Lennon’s charges they were sorely mistaken.
It’s not as if there won’t be another opportunity for the sides to swap shirts, they meet again in a fortnight’s time when Celtic entertain the Catalans at Celtic Park. But you get the feeling that the Scottish champions have decided they aren’t in awe of their illustrious opponents anymore.
You hear it all the time. Visiting teams taking tours of the Camp Nou, starstruck players striking deals with the marquee players to secure their jerseys when the formalities of football are finished.
Not so Celtic, as this current crop of players are built in the mould of their manager. Neil Lennon never feared Barcelona as a player, and in the build-up to this game he was instilling that mindframe in his players.
Lennon looks upon these consecutive games as an opportunity for points on the board, or at least points proven. 
For almost 94 minutes tonight it looked like both ambitions would be realised. Unfortunately, “almost” is the key word. Jordi Alba crept in at the back post to send Celtic home empty handed. The left-back cost Barcelona €15m during the summer. Neil Lennon’s squad is likely to have cost less.
But what value can you place on heart? In truth, nothing, unless you add tactical nous and a bit of luck. Celtic’s ploy of playing the full-backs close to the two centre halves prevented Barcelona’s attackers from darting inside on one of those all-too-familiar and utterly devastating runs.
Granted, luck played a part in keeping Celtic in the game until the final foray forward by Tito Vilanova’s side. Minutes earlier, sub David Villa had struck the base of Fraser Forster’s post. The big keeper too had a major part in keeping his side in the game, saving twice from Messi in the second half. 
A momentary lapse by James Forrest in the last 15 seconds was all that cost Celtic an historic point. To blame the youngster for the defeat would be unfair however. Countless experienced defenders can empathise with the winger this evening.
A glum journey home to Glasgow then, but Lennon and his side can take heart in their overall defensive performance. Along with the victory against Spartak Moscow a few weeks back, this game may go some way towards convincing the footballing world to sit up and take note of Celtic. A 2-1 defeat to Barcelona on their own turf is nothing to be ashamed of. Xavi and his feted teammates will find an atmosphere like no other when they arrive on the outskirts of Glasgow in two weeks time. Celtic Park will be rocking. No bookie will be brave enough have Celtic at 45-1 to win this time around.

Irish fans deserve better

Robbie Keane applauds the best fans in the world ©INPHO/Donall Farmer   

Let’s face it. Roy Keane doesn’t make life easy for himself. He says he’s over Saipan, then harks back to it. He sneers at punditry, then makes a nice little arse groove for himself in the studio chairs at ITV. Everytime he opens his mouth, quills are sharpened and broadcasters clear their throats.

But the ex-Ireland captain should not be criticised for what he said following Ireland’s drubbing by Spain last Thursday night. Keane gave a withering assessment of the Irish performance, and said that these tournaments should not just be a sing song for fans.

This was immediately taken as “Keane takes a pop at fans”.

He didn’t. He just thinks they deserve better. And he’s right.

There is no doubt that Irish fans are the best in the world. Our sporting teams are never under-represented in the terraces, no matter where on the globe they might be playing.

This morning (Irish time) in Christchurch Ireland came within a whisker of a momentous result against the All Blacks. For the majority of the game, Irish voices rang loudest around the 21000 seater AMI Stadium.
When captain Brian O’Driscoll muttered dejectedly through the post match on-field interview, Ireland fans cheered their approval of Ireland’s performance.

Plucky, but ultimately (as O’Driscoll pointed out) ending in failure.

Fans cheering as Ireland lose. Twice in less than 48 hours have our flagship teams lost to World Champions. Twice Irish fans back their team despite the bitter taste of defeat.

Celebrating failure.

This is not the fault of the fans. If anything it shows the supreme dedication of those who follow Irish sport. We demand heart from our teams, and anything else is a bonus.

But why should we be content with heart? Keane is right. The fans deserve more than a singsong and the honorary title of the best supporters in the world. The main reason they are being dubbed that in the first place is because the international media can’t understand just why the fans aren’t booing the soccer team.

Houghton 1988. O’Leary 1990. McGrath 1994. Robbie Keane 2002. All great memories. The abiding memory from Ireland’s Euro 2012 campaign? A fan sucking on a Croatian tit.

Irish fans have flocked in their droves to Poland to support the Boys In Green. Many will spend years paying off the loans they took out to get them there. And the team have given them nothing in return. The stalwarts of the team have made mistakes that they never make with the Irish shirt on their back. In two excruciating games they have given away horrendous goals just after the first and second halves have gotten under way. Lapses of concentration have let them down in a way that all the heart and desire in the world could not rectify.

Ireland’s fans sang the Fields of Athenry as their Euro 2012 dreams unravelled before them. Faultless support, and Roy Keane’s message was that they deserved more. The Italy game has now been reduced to a chance to restore some pride in the jersey.

We are a small nation. The high level of interest in sport sometimes ironically causes us problems as oour small population is divided between soccer, rugby and GAA. No one sport gets unrivalled attention in the way that rugby does in New Zealand or football in Spain. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t put it up to the biggest teams in the world on occasion. We should always strive for excellence, and not be content to sing in the pouring rain as another defeated Ireland team trudges off the field.

Here’s the crux of the matter. Irish teams know that no matter how they perform, the fans will stick by them. This is particularly the case with the football team, as the rugby team is at a level where they are expected to be competitive on the big stage.

If fans were more demanding, would it help to change the mentality that we are just in major tournaments for the singsong? Maybe.

Murray Kinsella wrote today about Ireland having the players in rugby to compete with the world’s best, and  that perhaps that’s not the case in football. He’s right. We don’t have nearly enough quality to cope with the likes of Spain. But neither did Greece in 2004. Neither did Switzerland in 2010 when they beat Spain in the World Cup.

Ireland need to be more than just cannon fodder for nations in big tournaments. They need to be in big tournaments more often. And they need to shed that “happy to be here” mentality that leads to every other country in the world running stories about plucky Paddies having the craic. There is no greater insult to our sporting pride than those stories.

Brian O’Driscoll and co will be absolutely gutted after the narrow loss this morning. It will be hard to pick themselves up after a performance of such high standards led to nothing but another defeat against the All Blacks.

But we expect them to pick themselves up. We expect them to give a good account of themselves and push New Zealand all the way next Saturday. We expect all this because this is a generation of Irish players that has given us so much, and proved that they can beat anyone on their day. Our expectations are high, and Kidney’s men deliver.

There’s a line from a Kanye West song; “Reach for the sky, if you fall you land on the clouds.” Aim high. Do not be content on getting to a tournament. Go out to win the damn thing.

 Expectation breeds success which in turn breeds expectation.

It’s a vicious circle, but it’s gold-tinted. Ask the All Blacks, ask the Spanish footballers. They are expected to perform every time they take to a pitch. The pressure is immense. But so is their record.

No team should ever be slaughtered for playing with heart and coming up short. But criticism – like Roy Keane’s – of poor performances should not be criticised. The fans deserve better than having to dine out on nostalgia.

The Emigration Chronicles: A Personal Note.

It started with a class assignment. Told to do a feature piece on emigration, I did what any lazy journalism student would. I asked my my friends to help me out via Facebook. The response was overwhelming.

Upwards of twenty people got back to me to regale me with their experience of emigration thus far. There was an eclectic mix of stories. Some had prospered abroad, some found the going tough. Many have made themselves a home from home, and will find it hard to return to these shores. Some could not get on a homewards plane fast enough. I could not even begin to tell all of these stories, so I apologise for anyone who I have omitted from the chronicles.

It’s a sign of the times we live in that The Irish Times has an emigration blog which is afforded the same billing as their news and sports coverage on their website. Ireland is leaking its youth (and many older people) at a staggering rate. Rural GAA clubs are literally being decimated as their players leave in search for a better life abroad. I was lucky enough that the editor of Generation Emigration, the amazing Ciara Kenny, took one of my pieces for the blog. The rest of The Emigration Chronicles you will find posted below.

It is important for those abroad to realise that we at home have not forgotten you. While you may get homesick, we here get awaysick. You remain in our thoughts every single day and we toss wreaths at the feet of Mark Zuckerburg in reverence of the fact that we can maintain contact with you in a way unfathomable even a decade ago.

Family Photo. (L to R) Alan (me), Shane, Kevin (kneeling), our friend Kieran, Mike.

In August 2010, I moved in with Michael Considine, Shane Clifford and Kevin Bourke for our final year in the University of Limerick. Personally speaking, it was the best year of my life. Now, Kevin and myself reside in Galway undertaking masters degrees while Shane and Mike are half the world away in South Korea. This recession has made maintaining friendships that little bit harder, and has made me realise that the four years we all spent as a giant community or even family in and around Castletroy were that much more precious than we realised at the time.

Beneath The Irish Times article, some people have commented that the only reason many of Ireland’s young people leave is for life experience, not because they could not find a job here. That may be a fair point, but fails to take into account the undeniable fact that a chance to escape the nay-sayers and nihilism prevalent in this country is far too tempting for many. If you suffered from Seasonal Affected Disorder, wouldn’t you attempt to drag yourself to sunnier climes for the benefit of your health? In the same way, if you suffer from the recession blues, aren’t you well within your rights to spread your wings and escape?

In saying that, I have a deep and profound respect for people like Catriona Delaney. People who see it as their patriotic duty to remain within the confines of this island nation and see to it that it will be a country that emigrants will be happy and proud to return to. You can have nothing but admiration for those with the guts to see out these harsh times and drag Ireland out of these dark times.

As for me? It remains to be seen whether I’ll be among those who choose to escape, or among the resolute few who stay behind. The next few months will tell a lot. Either way, like all those I spoke to, I will never turn my back on my country. Like Ross and Rachel, myself and Ireland might take a break.

Thanks again to everyone who contributed. And for the love of god do yourself a favour and visit Cian and Suzi’s food blog! Our Quirky Kitchen. Your stomach will thank you.