Kerry, Bolt And The Eternal Battle Of Good Versus Evil

Living up to my name with a rambling view on the futile search for saviours in sport…

On Sunday evening in Beijing, the fastest man ever to have lived accelerated to a top speed of 29mph, stretched for the finish line and added yet another sprint title to his illustrious record. In the media gallery, commentator Steve Cram led the cheerleading for the BBC. “Bolt has saved his title! He’s saved his reputation! He may have even saved his sport”. Beside him, Brendan Foster danced a jig of delight crossed with a drunk uncle at a wedding, such was his joy at the momentous occasion. A carnival atmosphere to celebrate Usain Bolt overcoming injury and average form to retain his 100m world title and dismiss the challenge of Justin Gatlin.

About an hour later and nearly 7,500 miles away, Kerry and Tyrone took to the field in Croke Park to contest the first of this year’s All Ireland senior football semi-finals. After a cagey first half, a resilient Red Hand challenge was eventually overcome to secure consecutive final appearances for the Munster men. It was a dogged contest in poor conditions with ultimately Kerry’s game-changers from the bench and greater experience seeing them through. And strangely, the reception to this victory bore some similarities to Bolt’s gold medal.

In the reviews and analysis that followed, there were two recurring themes to the general discourse. Firstly, that refereeing incompetency influenced the direction of the contest when it was still very much in the balance. Seondly and somewhat more subtly, that if they had triumphed the Ulstermen would have been unworthy or at least unwelcome victors. Both of these should be refuted. Regardless of refereeing errors – and Maurice Deegan made a few – the simple fact of the matter is that Tyrone had numerous opportunities to take the initiative. Ultimately, several spurned goal chances and missed frees at critical times proved their downfall.

However, what really resonated was the sanctimonious air with which their elimination from the championship proper was greeted in certain quarters. Tyrone haven’t won too many admirers for their style of play this year, and I’ve previously written about the gap between this side and their recent predecessors. However their approach was effective in the qualifier run and they had reached the semi-final on merit and within the rules of the game as they had been enforced, albeit arguably with very little moral credit among neutrals. Despite these issues, the sense of righteousness about the final result didn’t sit well, as if the purists from the Kingdom had to somehow debase themselves and lower their ethical standards to achieve victory. Vincent Hogan referred to Kerry in Monday’s Independent as the “white knights” of Gaelic football, and lauded them for learning to “play dark” to meet the Tyrone challenge. If that’s true, then there were already plenty of dried blood stains on those shining suits of armour.

The biggest compliment that can be paid to Kerry football is they are the masters of evolution in terms of footballing principles. An ability to understand tactical structures which have defeated them and return with it mastered better than the innovators. To meet brawn and brain accordingly as the occasion demands. However, there is an air of romanticism attached to the national view of their football which is almost sacrosanct, as though 37 All-Ireland titles have been secured merely through decades of poetic attacking play and gentlemanly conduct. Kerry are rightly lauded for their footballing tradition, but let’s not elevate them to a higher moral plane because of their success. Whether it’s Páidí O’Sé’s left hook in response to a clip from Dinny Allen, Tadgh Kennelly’s unprovoked poleaxing of Nicholas Murphy, or James O’Donoghue’s penchant for finding the floor in opportune positions, Kerry know what it takes to win.

But of course from Beijing to Drumcondra, the common thread here is the overwhelming need for the narrative. Good v Evil. “Light v Dark”. The desire for a saviour to cure all ills. It’s only human to want to enjoy sport for sport’s sake, and set aside wider issues. Witness the championing of Chris Froome and Manny Pacquiao in the past twelve months alone, despite the unsavoury questions to be asked in both their respective codes. But if anyone is to save sport, then it lies with the guardians of the code, not the competitors. Athletes perform to the best of their abilities, but the law and order needed to ensure a level playing field rests with the custodians. Regardless of Bolt’s performance, the fact remains that an unrepentant, twice-convicted drugs cheat was allowed to take to the starting line. Had Gatlin been found guilty of his indiscretions in more recent years, he would likely have been on the receiving end of a lifetime ban. Had he not wilted under pressure from Bolt in the closing ten metres on Sunday, he would likely be world champion today. These are the fine margins of the elite, and the sole saviours are the governing bodies who can enforce and protect the virtues of fairness and equality.

No sport is perfect but is still cherished by supporters in spite of the various flaws. The prevalence of doping continues to dog athletics and cycling. A lack of refereeing consistency and transparency in the disciplinary process has drawn as much attention in this past GAA season as the games themselves. Head trauma in American Football and rugby. The integration of indigenous players in Australian Rules. Widespread fraud and corruption in soccer. All can be forgotten by the average supporter, whether it be for 9.8 seconds or 90 minutes. But beyond the fleeting moments of brilliance on the track or field, those issues and more still remain. Sport is human and these are human failings – no trophies or medals can compensate for them. But that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the achievements for what they are, and live in those moments of glory or failure. Institutionalised sport always has been and always will be flawed, but that doesn’t make it any less captivating. Overcoming those flaws as best as possible requires concerted and collaborative efforts. To seek individual saviours is to seek the divine. Alas we remain mere mortals.

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Mourinho And The Conundrum Of His Next Generation

After a few pieces about Gaelic football to kick off the blog, thoughts now turn to the start of the Premier League and why Jose Mourinho’s third season at Chelsea may see him with little alternative but to place his trust in youth…

After lifting the Capital One Cup back in March, Jose Mourinho paused to reflect on the achievements of his side in delivering what was his first piece of silverware for two seasons. Special praise was reserved from the special one for what he termed his “new generation of players”, those he had not worked with or won with in his first spell at the club. It was a theme he returned to in May once the premier league had been secured, claiming his double-winning side were “succeeding a fantastic generation”. These are players of undoubted ability like Eden Hazard, Cesc Fabregas and Nemanja Matic – all central to last season’s dual successes, built upon sparkling form in the first half of the season and given a fresh impetus with the Serbian’s arrival around the turn of the year.

However, in the closing run from spring onwards the early-season exertions appeared to have taken a toll. Draws with Southampton and Burnley, and narrow victories over Stoke, Hull and QPR all bore signs of fatigue. In particular, players like Fabregas and Oscar who had been so influential in the demolitions of Everton, Swansea (both home and away), and Spurs were now much more subdued and it was broadly left to the defensive resilience of John Terry and creative genius of Eden Hazard to secure results. While an ability to avoid defeat when not at full tilt is generally seen as the mark of champions – and make no mistake that Chelsea were absolutely worthy champions last season – it did raise concerns over how they would start this league campaign with a truncated off-season and a global, gruelling pre-season tour.

Indeed, Jose himself queried how they would evolve over the summer period. In the same breath he praised his new charges, he was already wondering how they would improve further. When the question was raised about his new-look side dominating English football for the foreseeable future, he deflected the question by expecting a much more competitive environment. “How can you speak about domination when everyone knows what will happen next summer?”

So what did happen over the summer? While Arsenal have only upgraded their goalkeeping position to date, Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool have all invested heavily with further recruits expected before the close of the transfer window. In addition to this, the vastly increased TV revenues are now shared wider among the league than ever before and this has enabled sides further down the table to attract a calibre of player hitherto restricted to the European elite. This new-found competitiveness in the transfer market has resulted in an expanding middle-class, where the arrival of international quality players such as Yohan Cabaye, André Ayew and Xerdan Shaqiri will ensure a stiffer test in encounters beyond the regular top 6. Squad depth will be critical to cope with the challenge.

The obvious hallmarks of successful Mourinho sides have been mental fortitude and unity among personnel (on the pitch at least). Central to developing those traits has been a reliance on a small, core group of trusted players. That approach can build close bonds which are conducive to success, but it makes integration of fresh talent or wider squad rotation rather more difficult. Players such as Romelu Lukaku and Kevin de Bruyne are glaring examples of prodigious talents who could not be developed within the confines of the Mourinho structure, and replacing them with players such as Loic Remy and Juan Cuadrado looks foolish at best. To compound that – although beyond Mourinho’s control – it is farcical that a talent like Matic was already on the Stamford Bridge books before being re-signed less than three years after departing for Benfica at enormous cost.

Therein lies the rub for Mourinho – reconciling his preferred approach to team development through a small number of experienced, high calibre players (more often than not clients of Jorge Mendes), with a club scouting structure that is built upon large volume intakes of some of the world’s best young talents. With 28 players from Chelsea’s youth and reserve sides spending time on loan this year, its arguable whether this represents a natural step in player development or a means to securing compliance with financial fair play regulations through a “buy ‘em cheap, stack ‘em high” policy.

The rumblings in the press thus far have been that Abramovich is focussed on balancing the books to some extent and concentrating investment on stadium redevelopment. With just under two weeks remaining of the transfer window and no established signings currently on the horizon, it may be left to players like Kurt Zouma , Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Bertrand Traore to convince Mourinho the time to really bring through the next generation has arrived.

Tyrone Not A Case of History Repeating

“History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce.”

– Karl Marx

When Pat Spillane first uttered the words “puke football” after Kerry’s defeat to Tyrone in 2003, little did we know the Pandora’s box he had opened. Several of RTÉs regular pundits are no strangers when it comes to throwaway inflammatory remarks, whether its Martin McHugh’s labelling of the Gooch as a “two trick pony” or pretty much anything emitted by Joe Brolly. But with Pat, you got the feeling he genuinely meant it. As though the performance of most of the Ulster counties in that season’s championship had deeply insulted him. The man with 8 Celtic Crosses and 9 All-Stars felt physically nauseous at the sight of these modern custodians of a sport he himself played with such distinction. And nobody drew his ire quite like Mickey Harte’s charges. So it was that an exasperated Pat felt obliged to speak out and in doing so, labelled a group of footballers that would go on to deliver three All-Ireland titles as the purveyors of a toxic brand of football. It’s a moniker that has stuck, and has deepened the siege mentality within Tyrone football since.

The passing of the sands of time allow for a certain revisionism. That’s as true for the Kerry teams that Pat graced as it is for the Tyrone sides of the previous decade. History is written by the winners. To label Jim McGuinness’ All-Ireland winning Donegal team as simply a “blanket” did a disservice to the speed of their transitions, their game intelligence and the quality of ball regularly delivered to their danger men in the full-forward line. It may not have been pretty a lot of the time, but it was certainly effective and it’s only when done badly can you truly appreciate how difficult it is to implement. Just witness Kildare’s hapless attempts this season. And only when silverware was delivered were the virtues of that team fully appreciated, and certain flaws overlooked.

That hasn’t quite been the case for the first coming of Mickey Harte’s Tyrone. In many ways they laid the groundwork for what McGuinness would further develop. Manic aggression, total commitment, hard-running support lines, spatial awareness, and several lethal forwards who could inflict damage on the scoreboard. Yet that became discounted when an off the cuff remark from Spillane became ingrained in GAA-speak. To the casual observer, it could have served to cheapen the achievements of what was a fine team that worked harder and smarter than any other they met in that 2003 breakthrough season. It’s a soundbite that has lingered, and lesser sides since then from both Tyrone and elsewhere have been grouped under that broad heading as though equals. The phrase “puke football” is indelibly attached to the Red Hand county.

Therein lies the real tragedy of that whitewash; that some of the truly great talents of the game almost became tainted by association. There were very few angels in the sides of 2003, 2005 or 2008 and undoubtedly they participated in their fair share of cagey, dour clashes. But players like Stephen O’Neill, Owen Mulligan, Kevin Hughes and Peter Canavan delivered some of the finest exhibitions of all that is good about Gaelic football en route to All-Ireland glory in those seasons. They deserve to be remembered for as much.

Now history repeats itself. Here we are at a similar junction with a Mickey Harte side in the latter stages of the championship. Yet again the old clichés are being trotted out and Pat’s phrase gets another airing. But it is farcical to suggest that this current iteration bears any resemblance to the past All-Ireland winning sides. If comparisons are to be made then it’s only fair they’re conducted on a like-for-like basis. The 2003-2008 teams physically played on the line, frequently crossed it, were never short of a word on the pitch or shy about making sure potential frees became definite ones. But allied to that they had skill, flair and could excite when the mood took them or the need arose. More physical than the Meath sides of the nineties? Hardly. “Cuter” than the Kerry teams of the late 2000’s? Unlikely.

So far there’s little evidence to suggest Tyrone version 2.0 bear any resemblance to those title-winning sides in terms of ability, particularly in terms of attacking prowess. After elimination from the Ulster championship by a Donegal side that was there for the taking, a relatively straightforward qualifier run has seen them advance. Central to that progression has been a heavy reliance on a small core of Sean Cavanagh, Peter Harte, Conor McAliskey and Darren McCurry to dig out a result and only two goals have been scored in those five games. Moments of real quality have been lacking – both in terms of football and conduct – with the Monaghan clash  undoubtedly the nadir. The diving. The whinging. The cards. The hair. Oh, the hair!

Maybe I’m doing a disservice to a team that could yet win an All-Ireland. Maybe they could spring a surprise against Kerry the next day out. Maybe there are qualities yet to come to the surface that could justify comparisons with their predecessors. Or maybe now Pat has reason to feel queasy.

Winging It: Supporting Mayo Football From Across the Irish Sea

Last weekend, the first transatlantic pilgrimage touched down at Knock airport to great fanfare. With a welcome party led by An Taoiseach and witnessed by national media it certainly was a day of great significance for a regional airport that continues to innovate and punch above its weight. Although I should correct myself when I say the plane “touched down”. As anyone that’s landed into Ireland West Airport can testify, that may give an unrealistic impression of what is sometimes a not-so-gentle landing. Not infrequently, adverse winds and fog can mean a  tricky approach and getting wheels on terra firma can be rather abrupt. And that’s not actually a bad (if slightly tortured) metaphor for the experience of following the fortunes of Mayo football. Not always blue skies and we can often end up being brought back down to earth with a bump. Not one for travellers of a nervous disposition.

Following from overseas can both intensify and dilute that experience. Even in such a technologically-connected world, being one step removed from the day-to-day conversations brings a certain sense of exclusion. Who’s going well at training. The rumoured line-ups. The challenge matches. These are just a few thoughts that might merely be easy discussion topics when bumping into a neighbour at home but they don’t usually crop up in the corner shops of Clapham. And although this may seem insignificant, it adds to the latent sense of occasion that only an extended Mayo run in the championship provides.

To compensate for this, I tend to forensically trawl through all coverage of Mayo football online. And if we’re currently spoilt with the quality of the football, then the level of coverage they receive certainly does it justice. Amateur writers such as “An Spailpín Fánach” and Willie Joe of Mayo GAA Blog fame are always compulsive reading. And I use the term amateur in the same sense of the football itself – professional in all but name. We’re also fortunate with the quality of the regional media and the digital supplements of The Western People and The Mayo News are always worth coughing up the few quid for. The Mayo News team in particular deserve extra plaudits for their innovative podcast which has been good company on several tortuous tube journeys. In addition to that local coverage, a few of the national writers seem to have a grá for Mayo football – the ever-excellent Keith Duggan at the Irish Times in particular. All are consumed fanatically.

Additionally, any calls home at this time of year invariably involve a five minute maternal briefing on any local or family matters, followed by a forty-five minute in-depth analysis with the old fella on the next championship game. Now that we’re heading for a semi-final, I’ll probably have to up that allowance to an hour. The ties might be slightly remote, but still maintain a tangible connection to the atmosphere. And anyway I shouldn’t complain. London is a great city, and I’m fortunate that it’s still accessible enough to facilitate regular trips home for family, friends…and football. Or more correctly, I’m fortunate that Knock Airport exists to facilitate it.

The relationship between the airport and those of us that travel over and back regularly can be summarised by a conversation I heard recently while queuing at Stansted. Two middle-aged Mayo gentlemen ahead of me waiting to board, returning after a week’s work on the building sites of London. I gathered it wasn’t their first tour of duty overseas. Having spent twenty minutes complaining about the cost of the departure charge at the airport, they ended up talking round in circles eventually praising its value compared with the cost of travelling to Britain in the eighties. By the time we were ready to board, a general consensus had been reached that for the convenience of having an international airport on their doorstep, donating all their worldly goods at the gate wouldn’t be outrageous. (For any airport staff reading I’d disagree – a tenner is plenty!) In summary: we shouldn’t take Monsignor Horan’s landmark achievement for granted.

And to flog that airport metaphor to death, we similarly shouldn’t take the achievements of this current Mayo team for granted either. For that reason, I had sufficient confidence prior to the Donegal clash to go ahead and book flights back for the semi-final. A gamble on meeting the Dubs in Croker on the last weekend of August. Another flight, another trip to headquarters.

Expect some turbulence.

This post first appeared on the “Mayo Club 51” site. Club 51 is an excellent independent supporters club for all fans of the green and red. If you want to get involved, check out their website at http://www.mayoclub51.com or join the conversations on facebook or twitter.

5 Things We Learned About Mayo Football This Weekend

Pointless lists aren’t just for the Daily Mail and Buzzfeed…

A particular bugbear of mine in the never-ending rise of online clickbait is the seemingly endless amount of spurious lists. “27 things you never knew about the Kardashian’s ankles”. “43 things we love about Andrea Pirlo’s beard”. And so on.

But they’re clearly popular for a reason and if you can’t beat them, join them. So here, in no particular order, are five things we learned from the victory over Donegal. Or at least five things that occured to me.

Lesser lights can shine just as bright

Attention in the build-up to the game almost exclusively centered on the blazing beacons of Cillian O’Connor and Aidan O’Shea. 23 points between them in a Connacht final tends to draw focus. And although we witnessed another Breaffy barnstormer in his tussle with Neil McGee, it was arguably his other colleague in the full forward line who was the next most effective performer. Jason Doherty kicked three points from play, was in hard luck for a goal opportunity when put through by O’Shea’s quick thinking (although did well to recover for a point), and was generally a constant menace all over the pitch. Continuously putting pressure on advancing Donegal defenders, his aggressive and intense approach from the front set the tone for a physically imposing team performance. There’s always the risk of damning with faint praise with a “most improved accolade”, but I’m hard pressed to think of another player in the country who has worked so hard to develop his all round game. In addition to the effort which was always there, he’s now added serious athleticism and a clinical edge. A vital name on the Mayo team sheet, but don’t expect his performances to attract the headlines.

Attack the best form of defence – defence the best form of attack

Gaelic football lends itself well to clichés. The Cultured Left Foot. The Game of Two Halves. But one that can now be added to the lexicon is the “Marauding Mayo Half Back”. It can usually be applied to any or all of the Keegan/Boyle/Vaughan triumvirate but in truth, there was no more suitable word to describe the performance of the Westport man this weekend. To corral Odhrán MacNiallais so effectively and still drive forward to kick a goal and two points was an outstanding display, and there was no hyperbole in Jim McGuinness’ remarks after the game that he is now the best half back in the country. Regardless of the intention behind the goal, both points were things of beauty and delivered at crucial times when the game still ebbed and flowed. After a diligent man-marking display on Michael Lundy, this was a reminder of some of his strongest attributes. And with the defensive pressure applied by the forward unit, it was also a reminder that curbing the natural attacking instincts of the Mayo half back line may be leaving one of the most potent weapons on the shelf.

Could two heads be better than one?

Let me preface this observation by declaring my undying admiration for James Horan. He took over a team that had been eliminated by Longford (never forget!) and brought Mayo senior football to a level that most couldn’t have foreseen in terms of skill, physicality and consistency of performance. Save for landing the big one, no individual will ever have such an important impact on a team’s style and attitude. But even with the successes he delivered, no doubt James himself would admit there are things he would have changed if he had his time over again. A minor tactical tweak. An earlier substitution. On such small margins are histories reviewed. Whether or not the collective expertise of Connelly and Holmes can take the final step remains to be seen, but the tactical approach on Saturday was certainly something new in trying to get there. After delivering a tailor made game plan to exploit the Sligo weaknesses, this was a completely different setup but still one perfectly aligned to dismantle the opposition without losing sight of their core strengths. Delivering something as effective for Dublin will be a big ask.

Fitness a key weapon in the Arsenal

Strength. Stamina. Speed. However the challenge of the Dubs will be met, supreme physical fitness will be a prerequisite. Fortunately that is one area in which this squad of players won’t be found wanting. The development of the team over the past five years has been founded upon elite-level strength and conditioning. It’s little wonder that S&C coach Barry Solan has been recruited to the premier league.

Intelligence more important than philosophy

A couple of commentators in the buildup to the game stressed the importance of employing some form of a blanket defence to counteract Donegal, but almost simultaneously queried if Mayo could change their “philosophy” at a whim to suit a certain opposition. The performance of Barry Moran in particular answered this question. In an unfamiliar withdrawn role he shielded the full back line, made a couple of crucial interventions and still contributed as an auxiliary midfielder. At various times Colm Boyle and Keith Higgins stepped in as acting sweeper in what was a fluid but tactically cohesive performance. Perhaps philosophy plays second fiddle to footballing intelligence.

Mayo Rocking into the Semi Finals?

“You better stop, look around
Here it comes….
….Here comes your nineteenth nervous breakdown”

– The Rolling Stones, “19th Nervous Breakdown”

“Me nerves can’t take this. I’ve to go for a walk”. A direct quote from my 85-year-old grandmother who can no longer stick the pace of a Mayo match in the knock-out rounds. And who could blame her. August in the wide open plains of Croke Park isn’t for the faint-hearted. And it certainly doesn’t make for safe television viewing for Octogenarians. But to borrow from a group of lads who are pushing eighty themselves, sometimes you have to stop and look around. Look around at exactly where Mayo football is right now, and how excellence at senior level has become the norm. How consistency of performance has resulted in a fifth consecutive Connacht title. How unflinching discpline and unmatched desire has delivered a crack at a fifth straight semi final appearance.

These truly are heady times for supporters of Mayo football, and it’s been a privilege to witness their development and evolution as a unit. They’ve certainly come a long way from that dark afternoon over here in Ruislip when they were dragged to extra time by a feisty London outfit. From that point on we saw the real stamp of the James Horan era and the emergence of All-Star talents like Lee Keegan, Cillian O’Connor, Aidan O’Shea, Keith Higgins and Colm Boyle. Just that snapshot of the squad highlights the quality which we’ve been spolit with over the past half a decade. Excellence the norm, and yet…

And yet, facing into Sligo in the Connacht final there were a few murmurs of trepidation. Not loud, and certainly not drastic enough to expect a loss, but a fear of getting “caught cold” rattled around the back of one or two minds. Sligo had disposed of a much vaunted Roscommon side. (Well, at least by those east of Ballyhaunis). The dangerous full forward line. The bad pitch. The high ball. The lack of hunger after a fifth year on the road. And yet…

And yet, the performance in the Hyde was more of the same provincial dominance. More of what we had come to expect but were fearing was going to become less frequent. The old cliché “champagne football”, didn’t do it justice. This was hard liqour. It was swigging Jack straight from the bottle. It was speakers to eleven. It was rock and roll, and the man in number eleven was hogging the spotlight. Swagger of Jagger, creative chaos of Keith Moon. 26 points to spare in a provincial final. And yet…

And yet here we are again. Thursday before the game, nerves are jangling. A very fine Donegal team on the horizon, one we’ve had a couple of memorable battles with over the past few years. One more memorable than the other to each set of fans, for obvious reasons. As the first clash of two of the generally accepted “big four”, it’s arguable that Saturday’s encounter is the first of any genuine substance in this year’s championship. Murphy, McFadden, McBrearty, McHugh and the bros McGee. Higgins, Keegan and the bros O’Connor and O’Shea. Hard-edged competitors. Outstanding talents. Mayo’s “all court press” – a term I believe Billy Joe Padden may lay copyright to, although he’ll no doubt owe a royalty to Liam MacHale – versus the entrenched defence and swift transition of Donegal. It should prove to be a fascinating tussle, and one I’ll unfortunately be watching from afar as I play tour guide bringing a group of English friends on their inaugural tour of the Atlantic coast this weekend.

The bookies may edge us slightly, but I objectively couldn’t split the margin between the two. Heart says the green and red will prevail. Just don’t rule out 19 nervous breakdowns between now and the final whistle. You might want to go for a walk.

Throwing in a Tuppence Worth…

“I am so clever that sometimes I don’t understand a single word of what I am saying”

– Oscar Wilde, The Happy Prince and Other Stories

A blog. Another blog. Just when the medium seemed to be dying away in a flurry of podcasts and other means of connecting idle thoughts with idle hands (or ears), along comes another one.  And shur what of it? We’re well into the red in the online credit union of opinions and views – what’s another tuppence drawn out at very low interest.

So I’m opening the ledger. A starting point at collecting my own invariably rambling thoughts in some sort of coherent and documented format. As an Irishman living in London, I find plenty of time sitting on tubes, buses, planes, or just generally walking the streets of this great city with my thoughts to myself. But no longer. Now they’re here. I’ve always enjoyed writing – not so much note taking, letter writing or anything of actual use. But from national school essays to dabbling as a part-time, zero-use sports journalist in university, the written word has always fascinated me. So in an effort to keep up some sort of practice and hopefully offer the odd entertaining or useful insight, I’ve decided to set up this blog. And as a Paddy abroad, what better way to open the account than by borrowing from one of Ireland’s most celebrated writers and emigrants.

It’s all downhill from here.