Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Manchester United?

Supporting Manchester Utd has always been a dramatic edge of the seat kind of ride, thankfully much of this was down to the period of unprecedented success as a result of swashbuckling attacking football that dominated the premiership during the 90's.
However lately, the edge of the seat rush has taken a very different focus moving away from the pitch and back into the boardroom. Unrest at the club has gone hand in hand with the downturn in the clubs on the field fortunes as Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal have wrestled the crown from the once king of English football.

The decision taken by David Gill and the board to sell to the Glaziers has rightly or wrongly led Manchester United down a path of which there is no return. This has led to the formation of breakaway club Manchester FC and in many respects has taken the spotlight of the teams repeated failure on both the domestic front and more alarmingly on the European front.

A lifelong supporter of the Red Devils, I find it difficult to sit and watch as my club begins to destroy itself from the inside out; the keystone to Alex Ferguson’s reign has been the clubs sense of self…Manchester UNITED. Us against them, it fostered the fortress Old Trafford mentality and as a result the success that came with it. These days the storm clouds seem to gather on a frequent basis as our friends from across the Atlantic struggle to get to grips with the concept of this great football club.

A quick look at the recent headlines demonstrates this…and begins to beg the question is Manchester UNITED???

MANCHESTER United marketing director Peter Draper will leave Old Trafford this week after six years, the second high-profile departure from the club's management side in the past week. The departure of the marketing manager will come as a surprise to many in the game, given that the club has just last month put the ink on a major new sponsorship deal. In April the club signed a new agreement with insurer American International Group (AIG) worth £56.5m (€80m) over four years. The deal replaced a £9m-a-year sponsorship with Vodafone which ran out at the end of the season just finished. Draper's departure comes days after United's doctor Mike Stone announced he was leaving, following a bust-up with Sir Alex Ferguson.

A number of senior Old Trafford figures have now left the club since the takeover by Malcolm Glazer. His sons were installed as boardroom directors in June last year while plc chairman Sir Roy Gardner and executives Ian Much and Jim O'Neill resigned. In August, 25 backroom jobs were shed after a "structural review" following a drop in TV revenue. Off and on the pitch, United have undergone something of a wobble in recent years. Apart from being overtaken by Chelsea on the home front, the club has been eclipsed on the global stage by its Spanish rival Real Madrid, which leapfrogged United to become the world's richest football club.

On the playing side of things, Alex Ferguson has released eight members of his playing staff as he prepares his squad for next season’s assault on the Premiership title. The most high-profile of these is South African international Quinton Fortune, who was told before the end of the season that he would not be offered a new deal. Reserve team captain Markus Neumayr has also been released, as have youngsters Mads Timm, Eddie Johnson, Phil Picken, Tommy Lee and Mark Howard. Speculation continues to surround both 'Ruud van Nistelrooy and Cristiano Ronaldo as AC Milan and Real Madrid track their moods and more importantly their relationship with Fergie respectively.

As any true Red will tell you, you can just never predict where the next twist in the road will lead Manchester Utd. How long will the Ferguson Reign continue? How long will the Glazier restructuring continue? But one thing is for certain with each passing development the club slip further and further away from its once imperious position and for now is no longer Manchester UNITED!

Monday, May 29, 2006

Emmet in Oz - Praying With Pagan’s

It has taken me a week to summon up the courage to write. I join at the end of the que. Every word and cliché has been used up ad nausium at this stage – ‘The holy grail’ ‘The Crusade’. I’m sure somebody somewhere has spat out ‘The D’Kidney Code’. The overriding two words in the papers seem to be ‘emotion’ and ‘relief’. Peter Bills wrote that no team in living memory had collapsed in such fashion onto the turf after battle. The truth is closer to the fact that there are no words to describe this Munster team. The only reason we’ve been able to write about them at all so far has been the pathos of the story that surrounded them.

The ink that formed the articles and chapters and play scripts leading up to last Sunday in Cardiff was squeezed out from the spaces between the lines; the spaces containing the real story - the rabid determination, the gut wrenching need, the silent hunger that only the really starving possess. Paul O Connell and Anthony Foley, or John Kelly or Shaun Payne for that matter, didn’t have the words to express these things. We just knew they were there because what else drive’s men in such fashion? And when the final whistle went, as the ball that left little Peter Stringer’s boot reached its maximum flight path, the kicker and his team mates were already on the ground. Pouring months and years of silent yearning into the holy turf of Cardiff.

That the game should have happened in a house built for a red team, and turned into a cathedral of red was only proper. As a young boy the Arms Park was the place that always caught my imagination. Lansdowne Rd was wet, windy and noisy until the inevitable glorious defeat set in and drunken spirits were drowned. Parc De Prance had its cockerels and bands, but was too fickle with its baying crowds and on/off stars. Twickenham had its chariots and at that time they were wont to run over us regularly, with Rodber and co the carthorses. Murrayfield too was far from a field of dreams in those days, and Rome wasn’t even on the map. In Cardiff however, there were dragons on flags and towering anthems. There was great joy backed by a great need. There was always something special about the Arms Park; it was a rugby ground true and true. That something special lingers in the Millennium Stadium. Thomond’s pilgrims travelled o’er the sea and spray last weekend and there are no words I, nor any, can write to describe it. Nor are there words that can describe not being there.

I watched the game on the red soil of Australia, Insideat Coelis Animo Sed Corpore Terris as my old school’s motto said: with my head in the clouds and my feet on the ground. What the old Roscrea lexicon left out was the heart in my hands bit. Western Australia is Aussie Rules country; it was pretty much simply mining country before the West Coast Eagles and The Fremantle Dockers came alive in recent times. God bless the Australian’s. They might be able to beat us at our national game, but they have no idea of what a Munster day means. It simply does not translate. Their sport is a pagan sport, a hothc potch of bastardised codes that jumps and trickles hither and thither and to and fro. Games of power and skill yes. But games of chance more so. There is no more beautiful and true thing in my mind that two rugby teams battling it out, muscle for muscle, but more importantly (Stringer being the glorious example) brain for brain. Hence my utter joy was coupled my utter despair shouting at a little tv in a house in Margaret River. In a beautiful wooded and gloriously beach laden corner of the world; misunderstood by bemused friends; my head in the clouds, feet on the ground, heart in my hands, but my soul and longing in Cardiff.

To the men of Munster I can only apologise that I wasn’t there. I’m sure you will forgive me, but I never will. At the whistle’s cry, and the heroes’ triumphant fall to torn turf, I shed a tear both for your win, and my own loss. European Champions..It will never be a cliché with those boys.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Savage Tom - The 16th Man

Am fed up listen to all this manure about that shower from Munster and their followers. Jaysus sure there was 60,000 of them rugby boyos over in Cardiff..how the hell could it not spur the team on to victory. But ya cannot tell me that this was a 16th man, bollax to that. Its easy when you have hapes of fellas roaring you on. Can you go on and play after someone has shouted out so everyone at a match can hear – look at that windy bollox, he’s afraid to run through a field of daisies.

No no…

I’ll tell what a real 16th man is. I know because he plagues me when I trundle on to the pitch for a Junior D league match. He’s been plaguing me since u-10s. It’s that one oul fan who follows his team around everywhere, home games, away games, training sessions.

He's not always there to support, after thousands of miles travelled and hundreds of ham sandwiches eaten en route to games he has earned the right to criticise and curse the useless shower he supports whenever he feels like!!!

Sceal amhain - In the 40’s he once cycled from Ballivor to Croke Park with his friend – the Meath Goalie Paddy Dixon to Leinster Final Meath were playing in. (That’s right the Meath goalie had to cycle fecking 27 miles before the match, in the boots probably, tog out, screal a load of Dubs during the match, win, have a rake a pints and then cycle home. Them were men!) They arrived at Croker to find that the 16th man couldn’t get in. So he promptly turned the bike around, cycled to Blanchardstown to the only pub he knew had a telly and would show the match.

Every club has a sixteenth man, you know the sort, family holidays are planned are squeezed into the first two weeks in June as there is no league or championships games during the leaving cert. Although it you ask him he cant figure out why young fellas have gone so soft that they cant play and do the exams, sure didn’t the brothers always say to go out and kick a ball before ya did your lessons!!

He's the sort that is critical of all players equally, although never to the clubs one county players face..he is saving that for the big day out in Croker. Best of all you know he always has is own young fella, football skipped his generation and now is son plays every match like his life depends on it….and it does..cause he gets nothing but abuse for three days solid if he so much as puts a foot wrong. God help him if he drops a ball!!

The funny thing is that, this fella becomes an integral part of the club, people rely on him, there's a weight of expectation that he has knowledge and that he is needed as a mascot of sort to ensure the teams success.

He has legendary spakes – like the time one of my teammates in the auld Junior D went to the sideline for a mouthful of water, the sixteenth man shouted out to the water-bottle woman – “Don’t give him none of that water, he’s hasn’t done anything yet. He’ll get water when he wins a ball.” The crowd erupted in laughter. Mary, the water-bottle woman, didn’t know what to do and hesitated. The player did as well and then sheepishly turned and pretended to be interested in the ball at the other end of the pitch.

The 16th man is particularly prominent in the Junior D matches I’ve been playing so far. There isn’t a sinner on the sidelines – so his heckling isn’t drowned out any other supportive voices of the crowd.

He might cut you to the quick but you know it comes from his passion for the club.

You only have to look at him when you win a championship – he’ll be the drunkest man in the pub and he’ll be whispering in awed tones behind the rim of his pint about what a mighty player you are and how if you’d be on the county team if those bastards in Navan didn’t have the whole thing sewn up.

So a salute to the real 16th man.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Munster - A state of mind!

Bono once wrote a ballad called 'One', in it he speaks of how we all have "one life, one love, for each other, sisters, brothers, were not the same but we carry each other", now I don't know if Bono or any of the lads in U2 are Munster fans but I don't think anyone could have failed to been moved by the emotional outpouring that took place in Cardiff and across all of this lovely green isle during the last three days.

Im not going to try and sway you with my opinions on the match, nor will I try to out draft the many scribes who have covered and will cover this famous occasion but what I will try and due is explain what it was like to be there - to experience what I can only encapsulate as spiritual.

Despite the provincial origins of the team, the Munster team and its loyal band of followers has transcended these borders. Munster supporters come in all shapes and sizes, cut across all social strata, men women and children from every corner of Ireland have embraced the Munster mindset, many have direct links with the rugby capital of Ireland, some don't, but all are 'ONE' together as part of the immovable sea of red.

Sitting, standing, jumping, screaming, cursing in the stand in Cardiff as part of the red wave I was struck by a thought..What is it the appeals so much about Munster, the demi-god that is Paul O'Connell summed it up in one word - HONESTY..it prevails throughout the team and its supporters. It has to be honesty..only honesty could allow perfect strangers to hug each other and cry with delight as the mighty men of Munster lifted the holiest of grails aloft and with it Irelands greatest ever sporting achievement.

The game almost seems lost to me now, the emotion of the occasion dominated, there will be plenty of time for refection in the days ahead. And then we partied..and oh how we partied - never has Cardiff seen a party like it and in all honesty probably will never see its like again. We didn't leave the stadium for a good hour!

I don't know if anything can ever top this - for now I must suffer the emotional hangover of all hangovers - safe in the knowledge..I am but 'One'

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Savage Tom

Savage Tom

An Smuigin would like to introduce the latest addition to the site. A personal friend of An Smuigin, he is a man of few talents, 4 cows, 2 hens and one dawg. He shoots from the dodgy hip that he injured when he made his fourth comeback in the Junior D championship last week and his views on life are well lets just say Ross O'Carroll Kelly fella would probably get a bit of a hiding if he ever showed his face down this neck of the woods. Yes folks, An Smuigin is proud to present…SAVAGE TOM…

Say hello Savage….

Well, aon scéal for me a chára. I am fierce delighted to be givin this opportunity. For too long those shower of feckers in the big smoke have been talking shite but the broadband has reached me and now I am going to use the interweb to tell ye tales that will make the hair stand up on your back, give ye updates on how the Championship is goin and maybe just maybe give ye an glimpse of the goings on in Savage Tom's social life!!......

Stay tuned!....

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

BIG BROTHER - The insanity of the mundane….

3 days left before Channel 4 and every tabloid newspaper in the western world becomes fixated with the latest set of housemates to be plucked from obscurity and descend upon the Big Brother house. Seven series ago..it started off as a niche reality show now seven horrible years later we have Big Brother's Little Brother and Big Brother's Big Mouth and this year latest addition Big Brother's Big Brain: a brand new live psychology show.

My first question while slightly naive is nonetheless relevant, how oh how can you possibly fill 3 shows talking about a show which films a house full of nobodies in real time!! But I appreciate that for some people the summer just wouldn’t be the summer without Big Brother and its house full of societies rejects/freaks and plain old weirdoes.

The Gods smiled down on me as I was travelling the first summer it was aired and as such never became one of the millions of captive audience. Captive is an apt word given the idea behind the show, and in theory I too find the concept interesting, however after 7 uneventful years (yes people shagging under a duvet is uneventful!!) surely today's producers need to take some drastic measure to transform this insanity from the mundane drivel it has become. And NO…the bloody tasks they are made complete are not in any way shape or form interesting.

So in an attempt to provide Channel 4's producers with some insight full suggestions An Smuigin has prepared some thoughts below and would also welcome some contributions…

Eviction -Quite simple approach, 2 nominees, one backgarden, one knife…fight to the death or at least until submission. Then we would see who really wants it most!

Tasks -
I really like the idea of challenging them with having to escape!!...Armed Guards with stun guns on duty..Anyone who successfully escapes gets a cash prize.

Diary Room -
Lie detectors mandatory, chair electrified. Then we will see who really likes who..false bastards!!

Sleeping Arrangements - What sleep..don't let them!!….no beds…lights always on…then watch the freaks come out to play…

Friday, May 12, 2006

The Keane Factor – A legacy of lasting impact!

Almost 70,000 fans packed Old Trafford to say goodbye to United legend Roy Keane. The Reds beat Celtic 1-0 in their former skipper's testimonial on an emotional night in Manchester. It was the perfect way to bid farewell to a man described by Sir Alex Ferguson as his 'best ever player'.

After the game, Keano admitted: "I'm grateful to both clubs, the players and of course the supporters. It surprised me how much I enjoyed it! Coming back finished things off nicely and it was a great occasion."

And with that it was over, Roy left to a standing ovation as every man, women and child stood up and applauded arguably Manchester United’s greatest player and Irish sports greatest export.

Strangely Keano’s reputation is greater in his adopted home then in his native land. There is certainly a generation of Irish soccer fans who were never and will never be able to forgive him for walking out in Saipan.

Personally, I have always stood behind him, I supported him in Saipan and I supported him in October when he tackled his Manchester teamates mediocre efforts. Whether in the grand scheme of things Roy was right or wrong when he walked out of the World Cup it was his actions during those crazy hours that have defined not only Roy as a man but is has defined his legacy to sport.

I could wax lyrical about the many many fantastic performances Keano put in for Ireland and Manchester Utd over the last decade but that would be doing him an injustice. Roy Keane is a winner, a competitor for whom winning is the only result that matters. None of us will ever know why exactly he did what he did in Saipan but I firmly believe that for Roy Keane to walk away from the World Cup he must have reached a breaking point that many of us don’t even possess.

As Alex Ferguson’s commander in chief during the last decade, the demands placed on Roy Keane to achieve were monumental, he in turn demanded perfection, and drove standards at the club to an all time high. For Ireland, this was always going to be a conflict, the shambolic operation that is the FAI were never going to be in a position to even come near matching Keane’s standards and as such it was always a matter of time how long the natural competitor would stand such mediocrity

By saying NO and walking away, Roy Keane screamed at Irish people to wake up and stop playing the content paddy. Why shouldn’t he demand the best from the players and from the Association in charge. Whether people like it or not this created a ‘Keane Factor’ which is evident today in teams across the whole spectrum of sport and across all ages. Players who are individual enough to know their own minds and brave enough to speak them have latched onto the gesture made in Saipan and as a result players and teams are pushing themselves further and higher to achieve success.

This is Roy Keane’s legacy.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Why I love been Irish...

Its one of the funny things about been Irish, we are required by our birth right to always look for the advantage over the ould enemy! For some reason or another, as an Irishman, I cant help it, you always support the team playing England whether it’s the All Blacks in rugby, Pakistan in Cricket or my personal favourite Sweden in soccer, no wonder everyone loves the craic mad IRISH.

Unfortunately in a cruel twist of fate we as a sporting nation seem destined to always fall short…our sporting achievements have never really gone beyond the dizzy heights of Italia 90 when Packie saved the penalty from the guy named after a shampoo.

But all is not lost…no no England will always have a role to play..and boy do we enjoy it…just got their provisional World Cup squad…I think it is fair to say we are safe for another four years!!!

Sven-Goran Eriksson's provisional squad for the World Cup finals in Germany:
Robinson (Tottenham) - solid keeper..but needs to stay away from the dodgy hotel food

James (Manchester City) - …ah calamity…I just hope Robinson gets injured and we can all watch the fun begin...

Green (Norwich) - Ah yes the only other English goalie in England..apart from sicknote

G Neville (Manchester United) - Good old Neveiller…..solid..but he cant cover for Rio all the time...

R Ferdinand (Manchester United) - Consistency in a world gone mad..ha ha ha ha ha

Terry (Chelsea) - Blood & Guts..but you watch his lack of pace will be exposed...A

Cole (Arsenal) - just back from injury..crap defensively

Campbell (Arsenal) - Whats the ditty about Humpty Dumpty….

Carragher (Liverpool) - Best centre half in England..but no chance of a game for the scouser

Bridge (Chelsea) - Totally useless..what is he doing there…maybe he walks Erikissons dogs or something..

Beckham (Real Madrid) - Im still waiting to see what the World Cup haircut will be..will either get sent off or miss a peno!!

Carrick (Tottenham) - Ah Jamie Redknapp reborn..the king of the sideways pass

Lampard (Chelsea) - Quality player..but knackered after a long two seasons

(Liverpool) - Quality player..but maybe one more dodgy backpass in him?

Hargreaves (Bayern Munich) - WHO? Watercarrier

Jenas (Tottenham) - View above

(Middlesbrough) - Untried but clearly about to be the darling of the McClaren era (all ten months of it)

J Cole (Chelsea) - ah the trickster..could be a star…but will be track back when it counts?

(Tottenham) - England better hope its not windy in Germany….

Rooney (Manchester United) - Still Englands best player even on one leg

Owen (Newcastle) - Whats he up to..its almost like he doenst want to go?

Crouch (Liverpool) - View Lennon..confirms that Niall Quinn was in fact skillfull

Walcott (Arsenal) - Thank you David Dein...