I will admit to never having seen The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, but John Ford’s western has provided a solid maxim by which a lot of the newspaper industry has lived by: “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”
A while back, we examined the veracity of a few GAA ‘curses’ surrounding teams that failed to win silverware and, unsurprisingly, found no evidence of any existing. Similarly, the proliferation of cameras at games of all levels has made us wonder if perhaps some of the tales of heroic feats of yesteryear should perhaps be re-evaluated and checked for injections of exaggeration.
Generally, there is so much happening in Gaelic games – best exemplified by the fact that a club team going all the way to All-Ireland glory will have a 15-month season – there isn’t any room for parallel universes, but even so, hurling and football tend to lag behind other sports in terms of fictional output (barring the favourite of the crafty manager, dummy teams).
For example, there is a large body of novels based around the world of horseracing – though one might suggest that there have been a few examples recently of the truth being stranger than fiction – but then authors such as Dick Francis generally crossed the sport of kings with crime to provide some excitement.
GAA-wise, the pickings are rather slim for anyone looking to get their fix in a way that doesn’t involve watching matches from bygone days. There is of course Denny Fitz, whose musings appear here every month or so, though he’d surely be offended if the goings-on in his area were slapped with the ‘fiction’ tag.
There are two problems with trying to create on-field sporting action – actors can’t play and players can’t act. That generally means that what you see on the field is slow and unrealistic, or else you’re left with a character who is unable to deliver his or her lines in a manner that isn’t stilted.
Notwithstanding that, there have been some attempts. In Rooney, a 1958 film based on a Catherine Cookson novel, the title character, played by John Gregson, is a rubbish collector during the week and a keen hurler at the weekend. To be fair to the film-makers, they made a strong attempt for authenticity as Gregson marched behind the Kilkenny team in the parade prior to the 1957 All-Ireland final against Waterford. Wicklow hurler Eamon Murray was tasked with coaching Englishman Gregson in how to hurl but, when that proved unsuccessful, Murray stepped in to play the character for the hurling scenes.
Three decades later, Liam Heffernan – better known as Glenroe’s Blackie Connors – starred in Clash of The Ash, which won the Best Short Film award at the Cork Film Festival. It being the 1980s, the story was bleak, with the dispensing of on-field justice resulting in the revocation of a job offer in a bank and subsequent emigration.
Perhaps because it’s less romantic than hurling, football doesn’t receive as much attention from the arts. When Glenroe finished in 2001, a kind-of successor in the post-news slot on a Sunday night was On Home Ground, which had two series. Set in the fictional Kildare village of Kildoran, it revolved around the local football club but sadly, the sporting plotlines were full of holes – as an example, a local radio presenter bemoaned the club’s failure to get a high-profile sponsor, when in real life such sponsors are literally that, in that they buy the set of jerseys. It did at least bring Amy Huberman to a wider audience.
The written word
On the literature side, Donal Ryan’s writing to date has hinted at there being a frustrated wing-back in there somewhere and one of his short stories, A Long Puc, tells of an Irish priest introducing hurling to Syria. Perhaps he will deliver a great GAA novel at some stage in the future.
In 2001, former Sunday Tribune sports editor PJ Cunningham penned a short-story collection called AN Other – there is a mix of quality but it’s still worth seeking out. Similarly, Tadhg Coakley’s 2018 novel The First Sunday in September is actually a series of stories, all based around an All-Ireland hurling between Cork and Clare. They’re not all sports-focused but that doesn’t make them any less compelling.
When it comes down to it, the main reason for the dearth in GAA fiction is probably the fact that no scriptwriter can ever match the drama we see before our eyes – all we can do is hope and pray that its return isn’t too far away.
Despite being two decades old, the TV show The Office retains a timeless quality and, while Ricky Gervais has some strong credits to his name since, it remains his best work.
One infamous episode features a table quiz, where Gervais’ character of David Brent and his bullying friend Chris Finch lose but can’t accept defeat. Instead, they decide that ‘the real quiz’ is whether or not Chris can throw one of the winners’ shoes over the pub. He does, so they ‘win’.
Having got back on track against Italy, now Ireland face a more genuine ‘real quiz’ against Scotland this weekend. Up for grabs is the Centenary Quaich (a quaich is an ancient Gaelic drinking vessel), which has been contested since 1989, but this year’s game at Murrayfield should be called the We Lost to Wales After Having A Man Sent Off Cup.
Certainly, both sides were left ruing the numerical disadvantage in their respective matches, but the history books have no room for asterisks and, assuming they beat Italy, Wales will travel to Paris next weekend with a chance to win the Grand Slam.
It’s proof of how quickly a perception can be altered and, similarly, an Irish Six Nations campaign that finishes with consecutive victories over Italy, Scotland and England would be viewed as something of a triumph.
Conversely, if Gregor Townsend’s Scottish side were to win on Sunday and then Ireland also lost to England, the picture would be very bleak, indeed. Still, no point getting ahead of ourselves. The Scotland game is a winnable one, but it’s just as easily loseable.
As good as the original Office was, the later American-made version was just as funny, but in a much different way. Similarly, there is more than one method of winning a rugby match – Ireland just need to find an effective one.