Irish Examiner Column, March 6 2009

March 6, 2009

Rugby success would be last word

L AST night some of you may have caught ‘Red Riding’ on Channel 4, a new drama based on the novels of David Peace.
‘Red Riding’ is a fictionalised
account of police corruption, the Yorkshire Ripper murders and general north-of-England grimness.
To be honest, after the last six months covering the Cork GAA
dispute, it felt like light relief.
Coincidentally, this column was talking to David Peace — clang, as the name drops on the floor — a couple of weeks ago about another new screen adaptation of one of his books ‘The Damned United’, which covers Brian Clough’s ill-fated 44 days in charge of Leeds United in 1974.
In the course of our phone conversation — he lives in Tokyo, which is a full nine hours ahead of us if you ever need to ring someone in Kabukicho — Peace casually mentioned that American writers — arty novelists and sports hacks alike — seem to have a far greater appetite than their Irish and British counterparts for relating sports events to wider social issues.
It’s a fair point. Peace mentioned well-known English writers like
Martin Amis, who wrote ‘London Fields’ about a darts player trying to break into the professional ranks, but one such book doesn’t come close to the likes of American giants like Don DeLillo and Philip Roth, who splice baseball and American football into their novels without making it look like an anthropologist’s first encounter with an interesting but backward tribe.
You can over-egg the
social relevance pudding, of course (pardon the metaphor). In Ken Burns’ ‘Baseball’ — the greatest sports documentary ever made — the writer George Will makes a telling contribution about writers reading too much significance into baseball, pointing to the profusion of authors and intellectuals living in New England in particular, who tend to weigh the Boston Red Sox down with all sorts of symbolic baggage.
“These writers were neurotic enough to begin with,” says Will, “But then it’s ‘why, baseball reminds me of life, death, the Federal Reserve, whatever.’”
Sometimes, of course, that wider socio-economic picture is something everybody is looking to detach themselves from altogether rather than a phenomenon people want to get more involved with.
At a recent press conference, Ireland rugby forward Jamie Heaslip acknowledged the fact that in an economic downturn that’s beginning to look like a black hole, people are taking a closer-than-usual interest in how the Irish rugby team is doing.
“People are focused on it to take their minds off things,” said Heaslip at the time. “It happened, looking at Ireland at the soccer World Cups; that took the focus off things at the time.
“If people want to do that, do it.”
Everyone in the country seems to be hanging onto the rugby team for a bit of good news at the moment, but we’re here to sound a sober note of warning, because if there’s one thing that international rugby success appears to herald for Ireland, it’s complete economic meltdown.
Far be it from us to pour cold water on everyone’s hopes and dreams, but our last Grand Slam came just in time to usher in the hungry fifties, when we were exporting 50,000 emigrants per year.
The next championship came in 1982, as the country plunged into a eye-watering recession so severe that Charlie Haughey told us we were living way beyond our means.
And right now we have late-capitalism teetering on the brink of extinction as an economic system just as Brian O’Driscoll rediscovers his try-scoring touch.
By contrast, when we couldn’t beat the Italians in the nineties the country was going like the clappers, with everyone’s house increasing in value by 322% per week.
Back in the early sixties, when we were winning about one game per year in the Five Nations, the rising tide was coming in that would lift everyone up out of squalor and into mohair-suited prosperity.
In that context, would defeat in Murrayfield be all that bad?


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