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Irish Eyes

By Mattie Lennon


"There's nothing worth the wear of winning, but laughter and the love of friends" (Hilaire Belloc)

You are wondering whether to take a few sick days or apply for holidays. While the rest of your family are getting their anti World-Cup-Fever shots perhaps you could ask yourself, is sport all that necessary? Great thinkers, writers and philosophers, down through the centuries didn't think it was.

Patrick Kavanagh reminded us: "I have noted that in Ulysses, that compendium of common-place emotions and goings on, only the punter speculating on the result of the Ascot Gold Cup comes into the theme. So sport can't have been very vital, for Joyce had a mind like a sieve."

Kavanagh proved his sincerity in this matter when he was playing in goal for Ennisjkeen Grattens. He deserted his post (s) to go for lemonade and the Grattens lost the game. He would, no doubt, have been aware of Lao Tzu's warning; "The way of the sage is to act but not compete."

Of course two and a half thousand years later Bob Geldof said, of the sixties: "sex was a competitive event in those days." (But it's not really a spectator sport).

While Kipling would probably advise David Beckam to; "treat those two impostors just the same" he referred to; " ....the flanneled fools at the wickets or the muddied oafs at the goals."

So he mustn't have considered a penchant for balls to be indicative of cerebral superiority.

There are many actions of sports followers, which would not qualify the perpetrator for Mensa membership. A reverse-charge call from Tokyo pleading with the spouse to sell the washing machine to finance an extended stay comes to mind?

George Orwell saw sport as having nothing to do with fair play but: "....bound up with hatred, jealousy boastfulness and disregard for all rules."

There's a conspicuous absence of fair play in our microcosmic Capital City where defective thinking gives the Bertie Bowl precedence over roofs for the homeless.

R.S. Surtees spoke of sport as ; "....the image of war without the guilt" and the Bard saw it in an even more sinister light (even when played by gods) who; "....kill us for their sport."

It would appear that William D'Avenant was thinking along equally grim lines when he referred to the Sport of Kings as; ".... increasing the number of the dead."

Arthur Conan Doyle's famous character confessed that; " My ramifications stretch into many sections of society, but never, I am happy to say into amateur sport."

Losing, even in amateur sport can have a devastating effect on the loser ( a hardship not experienced by non-sporting types). Professor Brendan Kennelly said: " You can overcome a bad marriage, you can grapple with and overcome alcoholism, but you'll never get over losing an All Ireland Final. I cried for weeks afterwards. Bill Jackson was the referee, from Roscommon, and I often wake up in the middle of the night, still, shouting 'F**k you Jackson' ."

That's what losing can do. But (maybe like Ireland coming first in the Eurovision) winning can be worse. It's a long time since Polybius said; "Those who know how to win are much more numerous than those who know how to make proper use of their victories."

People who claim that an interest in sport kills all artistic tendencies in a person get branded as begrudgers and knockers. But poet, Sir John Suckle was not indulging in self-approval when he described himself as one; " ....who loved not the muses as well as his sport."

Will Rogers did concede that; "Income tax made more liars of the American people than golf."

T. S. Eliot (probably because he worked in the Bank) left the Taxman out of it but felt sorry for anyone whose only monument is: ".....the asphalt road and a thousand lost golf balls."

If you contribute to the Irish Taxman you may not be opposed to the vote-catching, funding of sporting organisations...Unless, of course, you are an octogenarian victim of an underfunded health service, lying on a trolley, in the draughty corridor of one of our hospitals.

I'm not sure what Surtees meant by: "No man is fit to be called a sportsman wot doesn't kick his wife out of bed on haverage once in three weeks." But if his analogy with war is accurate, then Neville Chamberlain's statement; " In war, whichever side may call itself a victor, there are no winners, but all losers", should apply equally to sport.

A journalist recently described the GAA as; "A tinpot organisation with a coveted sportsfield." He didn't do himself or his newspaper any favours but for generations cynics have classified Gaelic football with "blood sports".

And Irish sporting records would appear to endorse that sentiment. Which adds weight to William Cowper's description of a ;".....detested sport that owes it's pleasures to another's pain"

You may not agree with any of the above. But whatever you do don't give up any interesting pastime, to sit shouting at the telly for two weeks and then expect to take up where you left off, with impunity.

Remember the words of Peter Osgood: "Women are around all the time but World Cups only come once every four years."  

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Reader Comments

Name: jeffrey macnair Email:
Comment: Attitude is everything. What one gets from sport or life comes down to attitude. I have felt the sense of being in that grove that allows the flawless play. The mind and body act as one to do what others say cannot be. The score is not the proof. The moment of having done and knowing it was you. Gathered round and hear you were awesome on the net and yet I saw nothing for it was in that magic moment when all was pefect flawless fleeting. I will return to play looking inward to be better . Play as life in the moment to the personnal best. Leave it to others if sports reflect life or life mimics sport.



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