A farewell
to the writer and the Rebel

IT’S BEEN a tough week for the greats. John Updike passed away a few days ago at the age of 76. He might be well known as an unfeasibly prolific essayist and reviewer, to say nothing of a couple of dozen novels, but Updike was also a sports fan and an accomplished sportswriter.

One of his novels, ‘Rabbit, Run’, features the best description of a golf shot this column has ever read (“Very simply he brings the clubhead around his shoulder into it. The sound has a hollowness, a singleness he hasn’t heard before”). The title character, Rabbit, has made perfect contact, and watches the ball ” . . . recede along a line straight as a ruler-edge. Stricken: sphere, star, speck”.

In his half-century writing for the New Yorker, Updike also wrote one of the great sports feature articles of all time, on the retirement of baseball great Ted Williams.

Updike watched Williams’ last game for the Boston Red Sox, during which the player, improbably, hammered out a home run in a real-life Hollywood ending.

As he rounded the bases, Williams was beseeched by supporters to doff his cap, the traditional baseball acknowledgement of praise, but he didn’t, in keeping with a career-long distrust — and sometimes open hostility — towards the Boston media and supporters.

Updike summed up the player’s remoteness perfectly: “Gods do not answer letters.”

A MAN who occupied a role not far distant from Williams’, though not in Boston, died also this week: Connie Buckley, better known as Sonny, of Glen Rovers and Cork, was 92.

He captained Cork to the All-Ireland hurling title of 1941, when he scored the Leesiders’ 11th and last point from centre-forward in a comprehensive defeat of Dublin.

That year he had also picked up his eighth consecutive county senior hurling championship medal with his club, and though his intercounty career ended with that ‘41 triumph, his brother Jack picked up a Celtic cross in 1942, and the third brother, Din Joe, collected four All-Irelands from 1941 to 1944, and added a fifth in 1946.

Before his death he was the oldest surviving All-Ireland senior hurling captain, which was hardly a surprise.

He hardly seemed to age in the 20 or so years in which he was a familiar figure to this column, out strolling with his dog through Ballyvolane and Dublin Hill, a quiet man with a cap, dressed just as formally as you would expect from someone who came of age in the 1930s.

Given the toxicity of the atmosphere these days in Cork, this column was half-inclined to leave this to one side as a topic.

The relentless parsing of comments that have marked the last few months meant we hesitated a little in case anything might be construed in the wrong way.

A comment on Sonny Buckley’s career or achievements might be misinterpreted or twisted to suit an agenda, and the last thing we wanted was to poke open a can of controversy where it wasn’t needed; there’s quite enough of that to go around these days in Cork.

Then we thought it would be unfair not to mark his passing. The GAA is 125 years old this year, and its legend was built on men like Sonny Buckley and thousands like him — men who came from farms and little villages to Croke Park and led their colleagues out of the dressing-room and into immortality.

I only knew him as an elderly gent, but even in his 80s there were traces of the clear-eyed captain looking out over the heads of the photographers in a picture taken before the All-Ireland final 68 years ago: the hair short and tousled, the jaw set, game face on. Ready to score that 11th point, to watch the sliotar change as he strikes it: sphere, star, speck. Then the cup, and the long journey home.

We might even venture to say that a mention of his passing at tomorrow night’s all-singing, all-dancing celebration ahead of Dublin versus Tyrone would strike a chord in a way that, say, half a million euro worth of fireworks wouldn’t.

By the way, Sonny shared a pithiness of expression with John Updike, if not Ted Williams.

Some years ago he was looking down on a club match which featured all the skills of the modern game. Stirred to comment, he simply murmured: “What happened to standing into your man?”

Then he nudged his trusty dog and they headed off down towards Spring Lane and Blackpool.

Well, it wasn’t quite Updike. But it wasn’t bad either.

Ar dheis De go raibh a anam uasal dilis.

Contact: michael.moynihan@examiner.ie

Doug Howlett feature

January 12, 2009

Howlett still
relishing northern
AFTER the razzmatazz of his arrival died away, Doug Howlett had to settle in. A tally of 49 tries for the All Blacks is about as armour-plated as playing credentials can get, while posts and pitch markings in Cork are the same dimensions as they are in Auckland.

Life on the field wasn’t a problem. But life in civvies was different. Take the accents, for instance.

“My wife and I came over with an open mind,” says Howlett. “We didn’t have any preconceived ideas about what it was going to be like. The toughest thing was uprooting everything and leaving family behind to come here. Obviously I’d have a ready-made network of friends in my teammates, but for us as a couple it’s been a case of building friendships the longer we’ve been here.

“It was a challenge, but we’ve enjoyed it. Initially I found the accent quite tough, particularly some of the true-blue Corkonians like Tomás (O’Leary). I was surprised by the diversity of accents, from Northern Ireland to Dublin to here and everywhere in between. But that’s really enjoyable, it’s all part of the experience.”

His teammates helped. Frankie Sheahan invited him along to a Farmer’s Market in Cork, and Howlett and his Kiwi colleagues made it a regular gig. On weekends off he, Monique and son Charles did some exploring.

“I’m a boardie man, so it’s probably safe to say I’m not really a surfing man, but I like Garrettstown, it’s probably the nearest beach to us.

“We enjoyed the Ring of Kerry – that kind of ruggedness in the scenery reminded us of home — the Cliffs of Moher and places like Galway and west Cork. It’s nice to hop in the car and explore, but then that was one of the reasons we decided to come in the first place.”

Players like Dan Carter have mentioned the goldfish bowl effect of living in New Zealand, and the attractions of relative anonymity in Europe. Howlett sympathises.

“You’d have to understand New Zealanders, with rugby being the number one sport they feel they can come and talk to you about what you’re doing in games. Of course, Munster supporters can be like that, too.”

Munster supporters discussing Howlett’s performances can have few complaints. He was an integral part of the side which captured a second Heineken Cup back in May, and has been uniformly excellent in the red jersey.

Then came New Zealand last month. The lengthy build-up could have been crushing, but both sides
responded to the occasion, and the Munster haka which preceded that
encounter is already part of the mythology of Irish sport.

“It was emotional. I suppose we put it to the back of our heads all year until the week of the game, but when it came to it, performing the haka to my mates in the All Blacks was emotional and special. It’s something that may never happen again. For us to go through that, performing it, we wanted to be sure we had the support of the Munster team, management, everyone — it wasn’t just about us, it was important to have the support of everybody because at the end of the day we were representing Munster.”

The fact that the game actually lived up to those supercharged preliminaries was almost a bonus.

“I had all these thoughts running around my head — the day of the game we had lunch with the ‘78 team, and they’re a very tight group, even now. They spoke about their experiences, how they approached their game.

“At the end of the day, when Munster take the field, regardless of who they’re playing, they have a chance. We weren’t too concerned about the result as much as playing a good game — the result would look after itself.

“We took the first ten minutes, we had a sniff … then another, then it was half-time and we were right in the game. We went into it wanting to win, it wasn’t as if we were going to roll over. It was heartbreaking when we didn’t win.”

And yet that game on its own has sparked a debate on whether touring sides in the professional era should play midweek games against club or combined sides. Does Howlett support that argument?

“I do, but as far as people are aware that a lot of front-line players can’t play in those games. Week-to-week Test games are tough, but as the All Blacks did against us, there’s a tier just below those front-line players who need game time. A lot of those All Blacks would have grown in leaps and bounds for that game, while the Munster players benefited as well — it’s still an All Black jersey you’re playing against, it doesn’t matter who’s in it.”

There are other, more immediate considerations for the Kiwi. Connacht in the Magners League. The little matter of defending the Heineken Cup.

“We were quite happy to get through those back-to-back Clermont games, they’re an exceptional team. We’re looking forward to the Sale game and our destiny is in our own hands, which is great. Winning is a habit and it’s good to keep the
momentum going, but we have to be focused on the Magners League as well.”

The move north is one Howlett would encourage his countrymen to emulate.

“I’d definitely recommend it to other players back home. It (Europe) seems so far away when you’re playing in New Zealand but it’s hugely exciting. You’re playing different rugby in different grounds, you don’t know anything about your opponent.

“In ten years playing in New Zealand I got to know the opposition, the grounds, the weather conditions, everything. But it’s really refreshing here — even having my first game in Ulster snowed out — everything’s new.”

So is Christmas in the northern hemisphere. Their friends are rubbing it in — “I’m getting calls and texts from them, they’re all on the beach having barbecues,” – but the Howlett family is enjoying a festive season that’s more fireside than beachside.

“Ah, it’s exciting being in a winter climate. It’s great — and it’s probably even better this year because I have a son who’s one and a half, so he’s just getting to grips with Santa. So it’s special — and my mum managed to make the trip up for this year, so we have some family around us, which is great.”

Well settled in, all things considered

The day the boy warrior
Canning’s star sang

REMEMBER your Yeats.

It wasn’t a great hurling year by any means. It won’t linger the way 2007 does.

Kilkenny were deserved All-Ireland champions, but their obliteration of Waterford in the final had a sheen of efficiency and ruthlessness that you could admire but hardly love.

It didn’t have, for instance, the
poetry of a boy warrior in Thurles, performing heroics as the summer sun began to set.

The great WB slips a passing reference to “golden-thighed Pythagoras” into Among School Children, a
glittering phrase that stays bright for you long after the fog of your
schooldays disperses. It suggests power, skill and riches in one quick image, and if the by-heart stanzas of 20 years ago weren’t what we had in mind on that late July evening in Thurles,
immortal comparison soon was.

It was the game in which Joe
Canning announced his arrival, and golden didn’t seem treasured enough a comparison for him.

Beforehand there were questions. Canning impressed in Galway’s run to the league final. Having blithely cut sidelines over the bar in Croke Park as a minor, he proved against Cork in a league clash in Limerick that pitch
dimensions are the same for minor and senior.

The flight path of one sideline cut, taken from the shadow of the covered stand in the second half, was extraordinary: it wandered off-course initially before settling on a pitiless trajectory directly over the Cork crossbar.

It also reconfigured the rules,
signalling to every other county that a sideline in their own half against
Galway was a likely score conceded.

There had been a goal against
Tipperary in the league final — with his hurley fully extended, Canning beat Brendan Cummins while relying totally on his wrists. Lucky enough, Canning said afterwards. Luck is right.

But Galway manager Ger Loughnane had advised the Portumna teenager to mimic his clubmate Damien Hayes’ industry, and pace has always been present on the Canning charge sheet. Some suggested the trench warfare of Fitzgibbon Cup campaigns doesn’t compare to the
cavalry charges of high summer, and by the time July rolled around Galway had played Laois and Antrim before taking the field against Cork.

In Thurles. Where else can these kinds of questions be asked? Where else can they be answered?

Canning wrote the first chapter of his senior intercounty career in
lightning that night with a tally of 2-12.

His first goal was a triumph of strength, holding off an uncharitable Diarmuid O’Sullivan as he bore down on goal, and of deftness, improvising an emphatic forehand smash to the net.

Just before the break Canning helped to free Alan Kerins near the Cork goal, and when Donal Óg Cusack floored Kerins, the keeper was off for a second yellow card.

Canning took the resultant penalty. Ring always said he aimed at the funkiest player on the line, but
Canning picked the coldest: substitute keeper Martin Coleman was just on the field and the Galwayman stitched the ball past him. Galway, or Joe
Canning, 2-5, Cork 0-9.

After half-time Canning added three of the first points of the second half and Galway were four up.

The pace question didn’t arise. The Galwayman worked at his own speed, creating a force field any time the ball came near him to operate on his own clock: Canning time. He gathered the ball and tilted to lean away from his marker, flexing those golden wrists to put the ball exactly where he wanted.

Even the fact that it was a summer evening added to the occasion. Rather than the harsh spotlight of an afternoon throw-in, there was a memorable tint to proceedings, players bright on one side, facing the sun, and long shadows stretching away on the other.

It wasn’t just about Canning that evening, after all. One observer thought the Cork display was one of the greatest displays he’d ever seen,
isolating a second-half incident when ball came down into Cork’s right corner — right out of the sun — and fell between Cork’s Shane O’Neill and Galway’s Ger Farragher.

Farragher lost the ball in the sun but O’Neill didn’t.

“He caught it and he was snorting like a bull as he was driving forward,” said the observer, one Ger Loughnane.

Ben O’Connor and Joe Deane drove Cork to an improbable lead, but as the effort told, Canning joined brawn to accuracy. He hit three points into the Town End as time ticked away, but Cork survived. Deane won a late, late free out on the left wing and the game was up.

After the final whistle that evening in Thurles, delirious Cork supporters
invaded the field. They had massed on the sidelines and surged on to celebrate victory rather than, as it looked at half-time, line up for a wake. The players in red struggled into the dressing-room area one at a time, and each shook a fist at the crowds hanging over the entrance to the Semple Stadium tunnel, each of them lauded in turn.

For much of that time Canning was out on the field, signing autographs, not all of them for kids in maroon. Then he came back to the stadium tunnel, and he passed us, sweat still rolling down his face. An enterprising photographer took a picture of him trudging to the Galway dressing-room.

The shoulders are slumped and the head is down, while Thor’s hammer drags along the ground. The great melody is still.

But while he was on the field … it was what a star sang, Yeats might have said. What a careless muse heard.

John Riordan
Pádraig Harrington who says he plays better when he’s in good humour and Roy Keane who rarely smiled on the pitch.The changing faces of Irish sport

GIVEN the time of year, we’ve decided to put away, with massive self-restraint, the urge to come up with a list of new year’s resolutions for various sporting figures.

(Use it next week when you’re desperate — Ed).

Before casting 2008 on the scrapheap totally, however, something struck us about two of the most
famous Irish sportsmen and their
fortunes last year.

Pádraig Harrington had an
unforgettable year, with victories in the British Open and the USPGA, lending considerable weight to those arguing that the Dubliner is now
Ireland’s greatest sportsman.

Roy Keane had a slightly different year. His Sunderland team exceeded expectations in the Premier League last season, but following a bad run of results and plentiful rumours of unrest, he resigned as manager recently.

It’s fair to say Keane still divides opinion, six years after his departure from Saipan. You’ll find plenty of
passionate advocates of his cause and matching numbers of opponents. However, what’s always interested this column is the number of sportsmen who cite Keane as an influence, or a hero; it’s not for his skill, or his goal-scoring, but for his winning
attitude, that combative desire which meant no cause was lost on the field of play, and which was usually
articulated in his body language by a particular pose — trunk leaning forward, one arm flagging his displeasure, roaring at his teammates.

The evidence of that influence is everywhere. Plenty of GAA players name Keane in those match programmes as their sporting icon, for instance. This column had occasion to ring a current Irish rugby international on the day Keane left Manchester United, and the rugby star spent 10 minutes dissecting Keane’s attitude.

It’s hardly surprising: Keane’s ferocious will to win is shared by most top sportspeople. Some readers will have received sports biographies for Christmas, and one common feature is the subject’s confession that he or she has always been competitive, even if it’s a game of tiddly-winks/first onto the team bus/holding onto the television remote control as a small child.

(This column’s favourite in this genre is a yarn about Michael Jordan losing to a team-mate when playing an amusement arcade video game; Jordan installed an arcade-standard video game in his house, and practised until he could defeat the team-mate).

FEWER people cite Pádraig Harrington’s attitude, and yet the golfer’s record stands comparison with any sportsman’s. Perhaps the critical difference is the demeanour: clearly golf isn’t a game that lends itself to telling an opponent before teeing off that you’ll “see him out there”, as Roy Keane did with Patrick Vieira before a game. But Harrington is conscious of attitude, all the same. He is regarded with fondness by Irish sports fans for his easygoing image on the fairways, and generally revered as the world’s humblest mega-star.

In a recent interview with this column, he dealt with that point — how he’s regarded — by saying he plays better when he’s in good humour.

“I play better when I’m smiling, because I’m not thinking. When I’m brooding, with the arms folded and looking down at my shoes — that’s when I’m starting to think about what I’m doing.

“I work hard to enjoy my rounds of golf. I work hard to smile on the golf course, because I know when I do I play better golf. If I thought I played better when I looked grumpy on the course then I’d look grumpy.”

Harrington’s last sentence is telling, and perhaps there’s a lesson there for sportspeople. Instead of opting for a default position of aggression and confrontation, going deeper into oneself to get the mental side correct may turn up an attitude to sport that’s truer to one’s own nature.

Harrington did, finding that a positive demeanour was more productive for him. Perhaps Keane did as well, but that doesn’t mean what works for him will work for every sportsperson. It’s interesting to read about athletes in various disciplines being empowered to think for themselves and to make their own decisions, yet many of them cite one particular individual’s attitude as one they aspire to, rather than thinking for themselves and arriving at their own ‘game face’.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that we’re looking forward to 12 months of broad smiles and happy faces. But that approach might work for some; why isn’t it tried more?

Next week, those resolutions…

contact: michael.moynihan@examiner.ie

Question: What now for the Cork County Board?

Answer: Administrators in the Rebel County look to be holding the best cards. They have the backing of club delegates and told the recent county convention that they re-appointed senior hurling manager Gerald McCarthy correctly, in accordance with the guidelines laid down by Labour Relations Commission (LRC) chief Kieran Mulvey last February.

Yet there have been significant reversals for the administration.

Fr Bernie Cotter’s thundering condemnations from the pulpit before the county convention aroused resentment from many people, and the board has not publicly disassociated itself from Cotter’s inflammatory call for confrontation, leaving themselves open to charges of tacitly endorsing his sentiments.

The Cork footballers’ boycott of their medal presentation was another bloody nose for the board. Whatever the footballers plan for the new year, it was an ominous reminder of other potential problems for administrators.

And as we mentioned operating in accordance with those guidelines . . .

Q: What about that Kieran Mulvey document?

A: The departure of Teddy Holland was for many the most significant development after the LRC chief got involved, closely followed by his
recommendation that two players be involved in picking the new senior manager.

The fact that Cork were to return immediately to the hurling and
football fields meant few people paid attention to his memorandum of understanding.

At the recent convention, county board secretary Frank Murphy and then-chairman Mick Dolan stressed the board had been faithful to the decisions and spirit of the agreement Mulvey hammered out.

But were they? Murphy, for instance, told delegates that Gerald McCarthy’s reappointment was in
accordance with normal appointment procedures in the county for “quite a number of years”, wherein the
best candidate, according to the
appointment committee, is approached for a management job and offered the post; if that candidate
accepts the post then that acceptance brings the process to a close.

That doesn’t sound like the procedure Kieran Mulvey painstakingly put together in February, now famous for its two players and five county board representatives on the appointment committee. So which
procedure was used? Then there’s the new committee, chaired by solicitor Olann Kelleher at the invitation of Cork GAA President Derry Gowen. . .

Q: What can that committee do?

A: Good question. While the prospect of getting all sides around a table was, naturally, hailed as a breakthrough when first announced, the powers and terms of reference of that committee are unknown. If it cannot enforce any decisions or conclusions reached, then what value does it have? And a committee already exists with representatives from board and team.

Kieran Mulvey’s recommendations included provision for a consultative committee to be made up of board members and players, which would meet on a regular basis throughout the season to discuss matters of interest to both sides.

What has happened to that committee? Does it supercede the Kelleher/Gowen committee? If so, can it make recommendations and why has it not done so?

Q: What about Gerald McCarthy?

A: Given what has been said on both sides in recent months it looks unlikely that Gerald McCarthy and the Cork hurlers could ever share a dressing-room again, despite McCarthy’s recent letter to 2008 squad members inquiring about their availability.

The manager has obviously learned from Teddy Holland’s experience last year. Holland’s media silence meant he never became an identifiable figure in the public eye. By contrast, McCarthy has been willing from the outset to counter the players’ comments with statements of his own.

Some of his interventions have been costly, however: his response against Seán Óg Ó hAilpín’s attack was one example.

At the recent county board convention a delegate proposed McCarthy be moved upstairs to a ‘director
of hurling’ post within the hurling development academy he mooted some time ago, a suggestion
which drew applause from the
floor. It could be a way out.

After the 2008 season ended,
McCarthy told one senior player that he would only be back as manager if the players wanted him back, while following the All-Ireland semi-final defeat by Kilkenny one of McCarthy’s backroom team told players that he had advised the manager not to go forward for 2009: two discussions which informed the player representatives’ approach to the re-appointments process.

Q: Will he be the last manager in that situation?

A: Notwithstanding the understandable weariness in the country at large with this, the third edition of a stand-off in Cork, there are serious implications for the GAA as a whole, and for managers in particular.

There have been attempts to link any controversies involving the Cork players to the Gaelic Players Association (GPA).

However, those making such connections would be better advised to look at examples such as the Waterford hurlers, whose manager Justin McCarthy departed the scene as soon as it became clear his players had lost faith in his management skills.

The GPA didn’t get involved in Waterford. It didn’t have to. The pressure on players to perform has had an unexpected dividend because, unlike the antsy directors of a Premier League team, the stakeholders directly affected by poor inter-county performance are players. Much as conservatives may not like the prospect, if those players are unhappy with management then action will be taken, which looks likely to become more frequent in the future.

Seeing as we mentioned players . . .

Q: What about them?

A: The 2008 panellists are neither angels nor saints. Few All-Ireland medal-winners are. But, going back to October, they have consistently stressed their problems with the
process by which Gerald McCarthy was re-appointed. The focus on
procedure may not be sexy enough for many followers, but that process needs to be re-examined.

Despite rumours of division among the players, two of the youngest
panellists – Shane O’Neill and Cathal Naughton – rejected those suggestions to this newspaper recently, while it may surprise some to learn that in November 2007 one of the senior players now regarded as leading the opposition to McCarthy persuaded other panellists, who wanted to oust the manager, to continue under him into 2008.

Q: And as you mentioned 2008….

A: That year is over, but all in all, the emotional toll of this dispute on every participant, on all sides, is considerable, and clearly is not the optimum preparation for an inter-county season which begins for the Cork hurlers next weekend with the Waterford Crystal League. A week is a long time in politics. It could be a lot longer in hurling.

Bringing sex and spice to
the sliotar
and splice

JASMINE gasped as she saw the centre-
forward soar above his opponents on the 65-metre line. Her heart fluttered like a little bird’s might if it was being chased by an enormous dog as the faraway player landed with the sliotar, turned and struck it high and true over the crossbar.

“Who … who …”

She could barely speak, and when the centre-forward took off his helmet to reveal blue-black curls and penetrating blue eyes, she thought she was going to swoon, right there in the Old Stand in Semple Stadium just at the Kelly’s of Fantane sign —

Stop interrupting. You are coming
between this column and its new meal ticket, the as-yet-untapped potential of Irish sport as a backdrop to
commercial bonkbuster books.

We are deadly serious.

Our venture into the world of tall, dark and handsome heroes and even taller, darker and, er, more beautiful heroines comes hard on the heels of this week’s announcement that Mills and Boon are specifically focusing on rugby as a backdrop for a new series of their romantic novels.

“Our mission statement is to do for rugby what Jilly Cooper did for polo — to give it an air of sexiness and glitz and glamour,” series editor Jenny Hutton was quoted as saying during the week.

The company’s sales and marketing director, Clare Somerville, added: “You don’t have to like rugby to like the books.

“They have all the elements of a quintessential Mills & Boon romance: jet-set locations, hunky alpha-male heroes and hot sex, but in a rugby context.”

Information on the rules of rugby, along with tips on what to wear at matches, will also be included in the books.

In and of itself, this might solve a lot of sartorial disasters one sees on the terraces of sportsgrounds
everywhere, but that’s only a minor detail.

Not to be confused with the major detail: as Ingrid Bergman said in Casablanca: “Are those the German guns or my heart pounding?”

The wind picked out Tremenda’s delicate curls as it wound its way from one end of Turner’s Cross to the other, flapping flags, flattening grass, and bringing a flush to Baron Dynami’s cruel but irresistible jawline.

“Damn you,” he said to himself, unable to concentrate on the throw-in as one of Tremenda’s dimples winked at him, “How am I going to creel that Sligo Rovers
centre-forward when I must have that
imperious swan sitting level with the 18-yard-line at the old Shed End?”

The good people of Mills and Boon are, of course, taking on the master, or the mistress, in trying to emulate Jilly Cooper when it comes to mixing sport with an air of sexiness and

Having visited many a post-match dressing room, this column can
confirm that the air of Head and Shoulders Damage Rescue or Lynx Shower Snake Peel are far more
common fragrances when it comes to elite and not-so-elite sport.

Fear not, however.

As everybody knows, packaging is everything, and Mills and Boon launch their series with The Prince’s Waitress Wife — in which one love scene takes place in the president’s suite at Twickenham — on February 1, just before the start of the Six

A forthcoming book — The
Ruthless Billionaire’s Virgin — the heroine sings the national anthem, suffering a “wardrobe malfunction” from which she is saved by the chivalrous hero.

With titles like that, The Passion of the Third Midfielder, or Steamy Nights on the Drift Defence are
surely just around the corner (back). Or just around the corner if we could only be left back to our compositions. Now, back to our story!

Stonechest, the brawny yet oddly
sensitive and poetry-quoting prop, gulped back his whiskey to cool his raging nerves. Why, after facing down Il Gropa, the
Italian axe-murderer/full-back and
Carnivoreux, the child-eating number eight from Toulouse, was this slip of a girl causing him to lose his concentration?

He cast his mind back once more to the scene: the thunder and lightning at Tom Clifford Park, her unforgettable cheekbones, that blessedly brief gouging incident on the opposition 22 …

Hold everything. Back up the truck. There’s no such thing as a “slip of a girl” in this genre, but a “mere slip of a girl”; that’s better.

I think we’re onto something.