Have your cake and eat it

WELL, it’s nothing if not entertaining.

At the last count, the past fortnight has provided GAA events as diverse as Parnellgate 2: the reckoning and the exclusion zone around Croke Park for parking.

Our inner Einstein can’t help trying to draw such apparently unrelated events together in a kind of unified field theory of everything way – the brawl in Parnell Park a non-non-violent demonstration against the two-kilometre exclusion zone around Jones Road.

Probably a stretch, that one.

Events in Parnell Park defy belief. Dublin boss Paul Caffrey outlined last week why he didn’t feel his team was a dirty one, only for those same players to make him look rather foolish last Sunday. Either he doesn’t know his team or those players aren’t listening to him.

Isolated sendings-off such as those involving Mark Vaughan against Monaghan are one thing – a manager can explain those away. He can explain away his backroom staff running onto the field to assault opposition players if he sees fit, even if nobody’s buying it. Certainly a generalised dislike of the county team he’s in charge of isn’t something a manager has any great control over.

But a 29-man brawl, coming on the back of the last few weeks of Dublin’s disciplinary record?

It takes two to tango, or rhumba, or foxtrot, or whatever some of the participants last Sunday were up to, and Meath share the responsibility. What’s sharpening the knives of observers
everywhere is that Dublin have been getting nearer and nearer to crossing the line all season, and stepping over it so decisively and unambiguously is like a Christmas present for the commentariat.

What caused it?

It may be over-egging the pudding somewhat, but Meath had a tame exit from last year’s championship, and Dublin went under meekly to Armagh the previous week in the league. As a fixture to show you have hairs on your chest a clash with traditional neighbours and rivals is hard to beat. Maybe that was at the root of it.

As often happens, the associated commentary this week was almost as interesting as the incident itself. We were intrigued to hear Eugene McGee talking about the hatred that can exist between GAA teams and the mistaken idea that two teams can be all pals at the final whistle and put an hour’s combat behind them.

That sounds a bit extreme to us. If it were an hour or two, or maybe a week or two, it’s quite conceivable that the bile could still be tasted. But judging from Michael Foley’s excellent Kings of September, an account of the 1982 All-Ireland football final between McGee’s Offaly and Kerry, even mortal enemies can find peace eventually.

Still, the mere fact that a respected commentator like McGee floats the idea means it has to be given credence. His handle on that loosely defined creature, the culture of the GAA, means attention must be paid, and perhaps ‘good-natured rivalry’ is a loose term covering real enmity.

The most hilarious non-insight into the brawl and its surrounding mushroom-cloud of discussion came on Sunday Sport last weekend, when RTE’s Michael Lyster invited analyst Coman Goggins to comment on the festivities, saying “the media and the newspapers” would be full of the fight for the week ahead – while showing the brawl on national television.

If the papers and the media are on this side, are Michael and his colleagues handing down tablets of stone from the archbishop’s pulpit (The Diocese of Having Your Cake And Eating It)?

Anyway. To judge from Caffrey’s comments to this newspaper yesterday, hatred isn’t at the root of the trouble between Dublin and Meath. He said he rang Meath boss Colm Coyle after the brawl and they ended up laughing.

However, Caffrey said he felt the 16 players who faced suspension were being hung out to dry and the reaction since last Sunday has been over the top . . . while also saying the incident shouldn’t have happened and that Dublin are under scrutiny.

That being the case, he surely understands that that scrutiny comes in a context – that of Dublin’s performance this season so far. Accepting that you have a problem in the first place is the first step towards real change. But that raises another couple of questions: are Dublin in the mood for change? Do we want them to be any different?

And finally, we have to ask: was anyone done for ‘contributing to a melee’?

Contact: Michael.moynihan@examiner.ie

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COOL DUDE:
Examiner journalist
Michael Moynihan with Rachel Maguire (top left) at the Cryotherapy chamber at White’s Hotel in Co Wexford. Temperature in the chamber plunges to minus 110 degrees centigrade, more than 20
degrees colder than
temperatures faced in the Antarctic.
Pictures: Des Barry

Sixty degrees below zero is a dull thump that reminds you why God and travel agents invented sun holidays, as Michael Moynihan found out this week

You should be looking forward to it, it’ll be some experience,’ says the
professor. ‘Like your wedding night

YOU know your place when you spend Thursday morning in
minus 100 degrees celsius.
Wearing your swimming togs.
Nothing shrinks the ego like a sub-sub-Arctic chill. As I trudged around the cryotherapy chamber, several questions jostled for attention in my mind: is this the coldest place on earth? Why does the boss hate me so much? And when in the name of
Jesus am I getting out?

Cryotherapy is based on the same principles that suggest ice is good for injuries, lowering the temperature to help the tissue recover. White’s Hotel of Wexford, which has opened the only cryotherapy chamber in Ireland, brought over Professor Winfriend
Papenfuss to explain the science.

“It’s used more for chronic diseases in Germany and Austria,” said Papenfuss, a dapper German in his 70s.

Cryotherapy is used to treat
chronic pain in the joints, skin
diseases, muscle problems and so on — as well as to treat sports injuries and to improve athletic performance.

“Cold has a distinct effect on the nervous system compared to heat. Generally speaking, heat reduces the activity of the central nervous system while cold increases activity. If activity is low, cold increases it, while if activity is unnaturally high, cold reduces that activity. For instance, people suffering chronic sleep disorders because of over-activity in the central nervous system sleep much better after cold therapy because activity levels in the system are reduced.

“That’s one reason, but there are others: you can’t treat chronic inflammation with heat, that’s widely accepted, and that’s why we use ice packs on injuries. Heat would inflame those injuries even more, while cold reduces the inflammation. For elite athletes who are injured with muscle and joint problems — not broken bones — and who want to rehab, then two or three sessions a day for two weeks immediately afterwards will get the best benefits.”

Dr Liam Hennessy, fitness advisor to the IRFU, was also on hand to show how the Irish rugby team had been using cryotherapy for the last six years in their training camps in Spala, Poland. He acknowledged that it had required a change in attitude: when the cold chamber had first been mentioned, the IRFU medical committee had asked who’d be responsible if one of the players ended his days as a
human Choc Ice out in Poland.

Which brought me back to the good professor. Clearly nobody could survive for prolonged periods at minus 110 degrees, not even super-fit professional athletes, so how long should an out-of-shape journalist spend in the chamber? “Elite athletes can spend five minutes in the chamber, while most people spend two to three
minutes.”

Clearly I didn’t look convinced.

“You should be looking forward to it, it’ll be some experience,” says the professor. “Like your wedding night.”

Invited to compare my wedding night with a sub-freezing hell-hole of cold and discomfort, I declined.

THERE are three chambers involved in the cryotherapy experience. Two of them warm you down for the deep freeze: you enter and head left through one little room which is –10 degrees, into another room which is set at –60, and then you hit the cryotherapy chamber proper, which is –110 degrees. To put that in context, the
coldest recorded temperature on earth occurred in Antarctica: 89 degrees
below zero, or ‘moderate to fresh’ as we cryo-veterans describe it.

Before entering there was an
interesting exchange with Rachel Maguire, who works in the spa.

“Take off the wedding ring, that could freeze to your skin.”

“Okay. The glasses?”

“Those as well.”

“How about if I had an earring?”

“That’d have to come off as well.”

“I was told not to shower, why’s that?”

“If there’s moisture on your skin it’ll freeze and burn.”

“Okay.”

After having my blood pressure taken it was down to the swimming togs, boots, gloves, face mask and weird headband. I almost refused the headband until I remembered the not-very-funny-at-all sensation of freezing ears and stuck it on. I could live with the Bjorn Borg comparisons.

Then it was time to go in. There was another vic- er, patient, Sam, but we didn’t get into second names. You can’t get too attached when you’re heading into deep freeze, not when there’s a chance one of us may not come back.

Melodramatic? I’d have thought so until I saw the ice lining the window looking into the coldest chamber, which made me feel like Tom Crean just before he pulled on his boots for an Arctic stroll.

The first nasty shock comes in the –10 degrees chamber. You’re so focused on the big chill two doors away you forget that if Ireland suffered temperatures of 10 degrees below zero the entire nation would grind to a halt. Minus 10 is not nice. Minus 10 hurts.

But if minus 10 is bold, like a cheeky teenager, minus 60 is humourless and bullying, like the teenager’s older brother. Who knows kick-boxing.

Sixty degrees below zero is a dull thump that reminds you why God and Joe Walsh invented sun holidays.

But even after all that, minus-110 degrees is still like nothing else. There’s a complete physical shock: when you dive into a swimming pool you’re immediately aware of being immersed in another element, and the cryochamber is like that. The cold is palpable, like a live thing in the room with you, a
giant with a dainty touch idly lifting every hair on your arms and giving each of them a little tug upwards — while also pressing your shoulders down towards your chest. There’s a conscious effort required to stop yourself heading back out the door to the tropical heat of minus 60 degrees.

An even more immediate sensation is awareness of your lungs like you wouldn’t believe, as if you just swallowed a bag of frozen eels. Though the attendant will tell you to take deep breaths, it’s a struggle: you’re as conscious of the furthest reaches and crannies of your lungs as if they’d just been installed, and the overwhelming message being sent up to the brain is to keep that freaky weird air out at all costs because it’s TOO COLD TO BREATHE, OKAY?

THE CHAMBER is small – four people would be a crowd – but you’re advised to walk around, so we started moving, and once you start moving you notice something: it’s a dry cold, just like you’ve been told.

On the face of it, the news your -110 degrees is a dry cold sounds about as comforting as the news the shark about to eat your foot is on the endangered species list. But the fact it’s dry means while it’s bitter enough to get between your ribs, it doesn’t make you sodden and miserable.

By the way, the above all entered my mind within the first 30 seconds of arrival in the chamber. Time hasn’t been that elastic since I had occasion to sit through Charlie McCreevy’s budget statements in a previous job, but unlike those occasions, I didn’t play great LPs in my head to pass the time (It’s difficult to remember the third song on REM’s first album when you’re shouting “JESUS!” or “AAAAAH!” or “I mean, JESUS!” every 10 seconds. Which I was).

I was also worried about Sam, trudging ahead of me. If he fell down I didn’t think I’d be able to drag him out. Hard lines, I thought, he knew the risks coming in here. With my eyes beginning to close up — I think the eyelashes were starting to freeze together — I wondered if Scott of the Antarctic had felt like this when he and his men got lost. What cheered me up immensely was the thought that the temperature was over 20 degrees colder in the chamber than anything Scott had ever faced (Ha! In your FACE, Scott of the Antarctic!).

Then I glanced down and realised that even though he’d been notoriously unprepared for the South Pole, at least Scott and his colleagues hadn’t tried to survive the harshest
environment on the planet in a pair
of red and white Marks and Spencer
swimming togs.

This plunged me into such gloom, I was glad of the face mask; anyone looking in would have seen my delight turn to misery so quickly they’d have dragged me out on hard evidence of cold-induced mood swings.

Three minutes isn’t long, of course, and eventually we heard ‘30 seconds’ being announced through the intercom. Not before time, too. I wasn’t losing the will to live, but I was losing the will to shout obscenities at the top of my voice, which as an indication of my state of health is pretty foolproof.

BACK OUTSIDE the air was warm. I didn’t get a rush of endorphins or
anything, but the faint prickling along my arms and chest wore off very quickly. We were told not to have a shower for at least 40 minutes, as our skin was so cold we might overcompensate with the hot water and burn ourselves.

On the way out, Des the
photographer made a face.

“The light’s not right with some of these pictures. Do you think you could hop back in for a minute or two?”

My answer wasn’t couched in
language Scott of the Antarctic or Tom Crean would have approved of.

But they would have understood.

Postcard from a blue tracksuit
By Michael Moynihan
A BIG hi there to everyone back home! Sorry I haven’t written before, but it’s been all go here.
America’s been great. I just came back from the laundromat with Liu and Yao, we had to drop off our blue tracksuits and get some of that blood out (those Tibetan monks, one little nick and it’s like a geyser, I tell you).
Coming back up to our rooms in the hotel lift a guy asked if we’d seen any of those “thug Chinese guys with the Olympic torch.” Liu is still picking teeth out of his knuckles.

Protests shmotests! Despite what you may have heard, we’ve gotten a good reception in just about every country we’ve been to so far.
Apparently sticking a middle finger up to visitors is regarded as good manners in England, while spitting into someone’s face is a frank invitation to sexual proximity in France. That’s what we told Yao anyway. He’s still pining for that gendarme with all the tattoos.
The odd time, fair enough, you know someone’s not being friendly. I don’t think anyone could see a throat-slitting gesture as ambiguous, despite everything the interpreter was saying to us in San Francisco. The hippies were ever into that kind of sign language, right?
To be honest, I don’t know why they’re so annoyed with us. What we do in Tibet is our business. And the Tibetans’ business, to a certain extent. At least we don’t go poking our noses into Iraq or these other places. I mean, they’re giving out about a few Tibetans having a tantrum, but you know where I’m writing from today? Islamabad! Hello! This is Mr Pot, paging Mr Kettle! Then next week it’s on to that other bastion of human rights, Jakarta in Indonesia.
After that we’re heading to Canberra. Which is in Australia — translated from the Aborigine by Liu as land-of-the-glass-house-where-nobody-should-throw-humanitarian-stones.
(That Liu. Always thinking. I’ll have to report him for indoctrination classes when we get back).
I think it’s jealousy, to be honest. The more I see of these westerners the more scared they look. Could be that one of them understood Liu when he was shouting at them from that bus in London, of course: “Soon you’ll be sewing footballs for us, the whole lot of you!”
Great laugh. Of course it helps when you’re six feet two and have a face like a broken elbow, like Liu. He could be shouting the phone book at some guy and he’d go weak at the knees.
This London Olympic boss Sebastian Coe has been complaining about us, according to Yao, who says the English press is full of him moaning about us pushing him out of the way or something.
He calls that pushing? Try getting on a rush-hour train in Beijing.
Coe also said we don’t understand English. What a crock. Just because we’re not asking for cucumber sandwiches in the Savoy with these idiots they think you’re a simpleton.
For instance, one of us has to stay up with the torch all night when we’re on the plane, and it’s usually Yao. He’s onto Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban already. In the original, I might add!
Of course, I saw that some idiot reporter said we’d done special courses in physics to make sure we could keep the flame lit. Yeah, right: flame and fire course 101: to keep a flame alive, keep a box of matches handy at all times.
Good thing that guy Coe couldn’t understand what Yao was shouting at him in Chinese back in London. Though I thought he’d be able to make out the words “Steve Ovett rocks da house”. Not to worry. He’ll change his tune when there are scumbags running around London in four years’ time.
He’ll want to know us then. If he’s not too busy sewing footballs.
Your son,
Xiu.
contact: michael.moynihan@examiner.ie

The men in the iron masks

IS THERE room in hurling for two princes? Alexandre Dumas would probably have disagreed, consigning either Joe Canning of Galway or Cork’s Paudie O’Sullivan to life in an iron mask, but yesterday the Gaelic Grounds proved big enough for both of them.

Canning’s incredible underage and club career — five All-Ireland medals at the age of 19 — mean his was the most keenly-awaited senior debut in living memory. He didn’t disappoint, either. The big Portumna lad scored four points but he had a hand in both Galway goals and could claim at least two assists no matter how you judge your player stats.

The coming of Paudie O’Sullivan hasn’t been as heralded, but his early departure from the Cork panel last season with a cruciate ligament injury was described by a selector, aptly enough, as crucifying — for his own sake and for Cork’s chances in 2007.

Canning began on Shane O’Neill and O’Sullivan on Conor Dervan, the Cork man playing as an orthodox corner-forward while Canning seemed to have licence to roam. Neither exploded into the game: O’Sullivan won a ball and burrowed through for a point on six minutes, at which stage Canning had yet to enjoy clean possession.

O’Sullivan involved Ben O’Connor later for a free which the Newtownshandrum man pointed, but Canning answered with a similar flick to Niall Healy for a point and then he came into his kingdom.

He pointed himself, set up Ger Farragher for a point, and on 25 minutes he won the ball near goal and had the vision to pick out Iarla Tannian lurking behind the Cork defence: goal. Early on the sizeable Galway contingent had been urging the new man on almost in an undertone, but his fine assist persuaded them to cheer con brio.

Five minutes after that Canning won a clever free 21m from goal; when it was moved into the centre he and Farragher had a discussion as to who’d take it. Farragher did, and goaled.

Canning’s first half report card read as follows, therefore: involvement in two goals, assists for two points, and two points scored himself.

A gusting wind aided Cork after the break, and O’Sullivan benefited, scoring two more points and winning a couple of frees, including one of the 20m efforts which Cork tried to goal from. He was at full-forward then, with Canning at centre-forward, and those may be their championship berths.

Canning wasn’t as busy as in the first half, but he managed a fine point and gave the killer pass for Galway’s insurance point. In general terms it’s worth pointing out that Galway were the better team for longer periods yesterday, which helped the Portumna club man.

Cork will be happy with the return they got from O’Sullivan. Four points from play and a nose for the direct path to goal will leave manager Gerald McCarthy happy enough. It may be a result of O’Sullivan’s underage apprenticeship as a rampaging half-back, but he was a good first line of defence for Cork, winning one of the 21m frees from which Cork tried for a goal.

Canning, however, looks to have bypassed any apprenticeship to announce himself as a full-formed menace to defensive society. His manager certainly thought so.

“Beforehand the game Joe was the same as if he was playing a challenge for Portumna,” said Ger Loughnane. “The first few balls didn’t go for him, next thing he lays it off for a goal.

“People look at what Joe scored, and they might say ‘he got 2-14 from frees, he was brilliant’ — but it’s what he does off the ball, bringing them into the play with his vision, those are characteristics that people underestimate.”

True enough. But if you want to talk scores… when Canning had an energetic tussle on the sideline with two Cork defenders in the second half – ‘exchanging pleasantries’ is the usual term — he needed attention for his right hand. There was a fine sense of occasion after he recovered and asked for the ball to take the sideline cut.

That he put the ball well over the bar from over 50m never seemed to be in doubt, and when the umpire dived for the flag it set off the roar of the day from the followers in maroon.

Alexandre Dumas never heard of hurling, but he’d surely have applauded young Canning’s flair for the dramatic gesture.

Fawning and yawning: The Masters to a tee

THE MASTERS. Even the word catches in your conversation like a fishhook.

Play the word-association game and what do you come up with? Treacly Southern-states accents; snore-inducing TV shots zooming in on … flat lawns; the usual nonsense being spouted about Tiger Woods; a green jacket assembled from the covering on a snooker table.

All this dewy-eyed hyperbole is about what, exactly? An exclusive
suburb. A bastion of middle-class ideals dangled in front of the masses like a carrot. Creating an ambient respectful hush before the skull-warping boredom that is a professional golf tournament.

As you can probably guess, this column does not live for nine quick holes on a Friday morning before lunch.

THE Masters doesn’t occupy a particularly elevated/depressed position in the circle of hell this column reserves for golf. But it does help to crystallise an often unfocused dislike of the game.

The last time this happened was around the time of the Ryder Cup when the sports editor, in his wisdom, suggested an opinion piece outlining why this column would not be tuning in to the proceedings.

If memory serves, he questioned the description of Tiger Woods as a
corporate glove puppet; our response was that he should have seen the term we used in the first draft. He was
holding the second draft at arm’s length with a pair of tongs.

That was two years ago, when the country was a very different place. The boom had us all by the throat and it was clear to everyone that it would continue forever, the arrival of a couple of dozen well-known golfers copperfastening our arrival in the global
middle class. Their clash would be an enthralling fight to the end we’d all carry with us forever.

About all that anyone remembers of the Ryder Cup tournament in 2006 now is the quickfire drinking of a few pints of stout by some of the winners afterwards. It turned out the bitter end of the glass was all that they were
flailing their way towards.

Nowadays there’s a certain level of economic nervousness within our
happy land; it’d be very interesting to see how much interest people would now have in seeing preening
millionaires sauntering around a golf club. That nervousness was symbolised neatly and unfortunately with the
closure of a golf club in east Cork.

THE MASTERS is not to blame for falling house prices in
Ireland, of course. If it did, this column would be the first to dish out the blame. As it stands, it’s like all golf events — only more so.

Which is to say full of false
reverence, arbitrary rulings, fossilised decisions, ersatz traditions, inane
commentary, overhyped heroes, masked commercialism, smug congratulation and eventual wheezing achievement.

You may feel that’s overstating
matters, but we don’t think so. In fact, to see a supporting strut for this particular stance, consider David Feherty’s recent comments on the event.

Feherty, who played in the Ryder Cup himself, is famous for being a mythical creature on the same level as a unicorn: an interesting commentator on golf. The main evidence is his
description once upon a time of Colin Montgomerie as looking like a “warthog licking piss of a nettle”, thus offending warthogs everywhere.

But even Feherty feels compelled to rein in his own tongue at the Masters — to the extent that nettles remain unlicked, no doubt. He’s not his usual self at this tournament because … “I behave differently at the Masters
because it is such a great American
institution, with its own particular
traditions.

“The good thing is you don’t have to worry so much about saying anything at all because the pictures are so good they pretty much tell the story for you.”

That they do, Dave. That they do.

contact: michael.moynihan@examiner.ie

Uncomfortable
bedfellows, but politics and
sport do mix

POLITICS and sport, eh? They just don’t mix. Only they do, as you
can see elsewhere in the newspaper
today.

Whether it’s Waterford hurlers Ken McGrath and Michael Brick Walsh supporting calls to upgrade Waterford IT to university status, or India soccer captain Bhaichung Bhutia refusing to carry the Olympic torch as a protest against Chinese activity in Tibet, sports and politics have always mixed. Maybe as uneasy bedfellows, or even as squabbling bedfellows, each trying to hog the duvet, but they’ve been rambling around in the same four-poster for a long time.

Your correspondent in fact, once sat on the headboard of this particular piece of bedroom furniture (note: bed metaphor comes to an abrupt end here). In a previous life this column worked in Leinster House, where sport and politics got entangled
together many a time.

There was the occasion, at a parliamentary committee, at which then Minister for
Finance Ruairi Quinn got impaled on an extended football metaphor which rambled on for several minutes: various Exchequer initiatives were compared to covering
centre-halves and overlapping full-backs
interacting in a sort of Dutch total football way, but with taxation strategies, until the economic geniuses of the Department of
Finance behind him were flicking through back issues of Shoot to work out what he was saying.

There was another occasion when your correspondent had a lengthy debate with a person now quite senior in the current
cabinet about intercounty U21 hurling teams of the early eighties.

The debate took place in an establishment neither of us, frankly, would wish to be
associated with now that age and sense have made cowards of us both, but if you have never had a man noted for his political acumen explain how Offaly lost the All-Ireland U21 hurling final of 1992 over a bottle of white wine that would blind a water buffalo then life’s rich pageant is a little duller.

THE ABOVE exchange occurred
after a Christmas function in Leinster House run by one of the main
political parties, though an ageing memory bank can’t verify whether it was the same function at which a former Minister of
Justice suffered a leg fracture during a
complex dance manoeuvre.

There was one such Christmas function, however, at which your correspondent buttonholed the man all over the newspapers yesterday. Having received a slab of tickets to sell for his GAA club, this column decided to approach Bertie Ahern TD, then leader of the opposition, to buy one.

A little context: the tickets were then £30 each, and for ‘then’ read ‘1996’. Emboldened by a lot of rapidly emptied little green bottles, your intrepid reporter approached Mr Ahern and asked if he’d ever heard of the club in question.

Yes, was the response, followed by a swift listing of some of the club’s more illustrious players.

Any chance, then, of buying a ticket?

Sure, said the man from Dublin Central. How much?

Thirty notes.

No problem, what’s your office number and I’ll have it over to you in the morning.

Fast forward to the next day. When Kingsley Amis described a character’s hangover as someone’s mouth being used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum, he was underplaying the
desolation experienced by this column.

However, the gloom lifted when an
official messenger knocked on the door of the office in the middle of the morning with 30 quid and a little note: Best of luck to
everyone in Cork, your friend Bertie Ahern.

No doubt it would be neatness personified if the money had come in a brown envelope, but neatness and politics are stranger bedfellows than sport and politics have ever been.

contact: michael.moynihan@examiner.ie