UCC Express

This article originally appeared in the UCC Express.

Been up since 6 am. Two bananas and a cereal bar for breakfast, it’s my day. I can feel it. Find my gear bag and pull back the zip. The smell stings my nostrils, sweet perfume. The smell of Sunday mornings. My smell. Tough game today, crucial game. Home to the league leaders. Haven’t lost in eight games, champions-elect. Due a loss. Mustn’t think about that yet. Concentrate on my preparation, same routine. Walk the dog, clean my boots. Which boots to wear? The black pair? Steady, reliable, nothing too flashy, do the job. A defender’s boot. Not for me, not today. The red pair? Silky, bright, dazzle the defenders, classy. A goalscorer’s boot. That’s the pair. My pair. They’ll all remember me.

Fill the bag and double check everything. Out to the car and put on the CD I made last night. My favourite songs. Inspirational. Motivational. Mentality is everything. I’m ready. Clouds disappear as I drive. Beautiful day. My day. There it is. The club gates. The outline of the prefab dressing rooms. Nerves kick in, only natural. Nobody else here yet, I’m always first. Time to get changed, prepare for battle. Bicycle shorts, check. Team shorts, check. Shin-pads, check. Under-armour, check. Flashy boots, check. Team socks, check. Over-socks I saw Torres wear last weekend, check. Pull socks above my knees like Henry, look the part. Team-mates are here now, so is the manager. The gaffer. Knows all about me. Knows my game. Trusts me. I look into his eyes. Not giving anything away, a slight glint as he sees me. I’m in the team. I can feel it.

Time to warm up. Walk over to the pitch. My pitch. Big crowd building, at least twelve. Biggest of the season. Extra pressure, more nerves. Could be some scouts here. Off to England, ad deals, sponsorships, fame. Matter of time. Go through the stretches, got to be thorough. Clubs don’t want injured players. Back to the dressing room for the team-talk. Barely hear a word, in the zone. Focused. Gaffer names the team. On the bench, gutted. Gaffer is smart though, wants to keep me fresh. Ran myself into the ground in training. I’ll win it late on. Secret weapon. Jerseys handed around, number 22. Kaka’s old number, big boots to fill. I’m ready.

Game starts, come on lads. Don’t watch it; too busy dribbling past the gaffer with the spare ball. Keep in his mind; he knows I’m eager to play. Only twelve players today so alone on the sideline. More room to warm up. Know I’m better than the other lads but they need a game too. They go a goal down, doesn’t look good. No leader on the pitch, no touch of class. No flashy boots. Half-time whistle. I bring the ball to the far goal and practice my finishing while the lads get the team-talk. Bottom corner. Top-corner. Precision. Class. I could get a hat-trick today. Easy.

Second half. I move up and dribble next to the fans. They’re impressed, must be wondering why I’m not on the pitch. They deserve to be entertained. I think about my celebration, practiced a few in my room last night. Can’t wait to get on. Time running out now. Ten minutes to go and I’m still on the line, the lads are still losing. Getting anxious, keep glancing at the gaffer. He trusts me. Five minutes to go, I get the shout. Finally. Sprint over and make sure my socks are pulled up fully. Gaffer doesn’t give me any instructions. Doesn’t need to, I know what he wants from me. Trusts me. Run onto the pitch. My pitch. Take my place up front and start making some runs. Screaming for the ball, eager. Ball comes into my feet outside the box. Back-heel first time, without looking. Out for a goal-kick. Stare at my strike-partner. Not on my wavelength. Torres would have read the pass. Time running out, game slipping away. Our winger gets down the left and crosses the ball. Defender clears to the edge of the box. Right in front of me, perfectly timed run. Think about my celebration as I run to the ball. Bounces up perfectly. Time to take a touch. Don’t need one, go for the spectacular. Swing my leg back as the ball bounces up. Catch it clean, on the volley. Ball rockets off my foot, sweet strike. But no, keeps rising. Keeps rising. Well over the bar and onto the main road. Damn! So unlucky, tough chance. Did well just to connect at all.

Full-time. Heartache. Shake hands, gracious in defeat. Not my day, nothing I could do. Didn’t have enough time, should have started. Gaffer knows. Sure to start next week, I know it. Back into the car. Hate losing, still bottom of the league. Doesn’t matter, I’m in form. Best player on the pitch today. Bring on next weekend!


This article originally appeared in the UCC Express as one of my late-night ‘oh shit, is that the time?!’ editorials.

Another fortnight, another editorial. I’ve decided to hold back on the shameless flattery I offered last week in the hope that we’re now close enough that you chose to read this regardless of whether it offered your crumbling self-esteem a welcome boost or not. For the handful of you (I’m being hopelessly optimistic here) that have continued reading, I shall do my best to reward your trust and patience.

This week has been interesting; when I wasn’t giggling childishly at the clever headline I thought of for Sean O’ Se’s magnificent article about Irish GAA stars heading to Australia (Going Down (Under) to Get Ahead), I was being shouted at by drunken strangers. While walking back to a house late one night by the gates of the college, I was spotted by some inebriated young scholars who took exception to my eyebrow-length and generally awesome hair and decided I was clearly a raving homosexual who thought Gaelic football was a kinky sex act involving tongues, testicles and a foot fetish with my ‘life-partner’. They commented on said stylish locks and questioned whether I’d ever seen a hurley or football in my life, never mind actually played a sport. It briefly crossed my mind that it could be fun to go back and shatter their misconception by explaining my sporting obsession as well as my various work as a sports reporter for this and other publications, but I settled on just telling them to f**k themselves.

This encounter did make me think however. Sport has evolved to an almost unrecognisable level over the years due to increased media coverage, money and celebrity-status athletes amongst many, many other factors. But there are still a few traditions which are central to people’s perception of sport in general. The idea of tough, uncompromising men playing hard but fair, with no quarter being asked or given for the duration of a match, and then shaking hands with the opposition afterwards – it’s many people’s enduring perception of what it means to play any sport. Competition, testing yourself against your fellow man/woman, striving to achieve your physical maximum. Soccer is the sport which has most deviated from this traditional premise in modern times. The sport still retains that sense of pride, mutual respect and fair competition but it only takes one glance at Match of the Day or any professional match across Europe to see how much it has changed through the years.

There are still plenty of tough, unrefined, short back and sides type players around but almost every team has at least one player who takes to the field sporting a dainty hair-band or similar accessory. The modern footballer will often line up wearing gloves, neck-warmers, tape, wrist-bands and even leggings. It’s mostly a sign of the evolution of culture, convention and fashion but it’s interesting to observe the impact it has on the traditional, manly-man’s world of football. The type of player I have mentioned is usually a winger/striker or an attacking player of some diversity. These are the most glamorous positions on the pitch and the ones charged with putting the ‘beautiful’ into ‘the beautiful game’. It’s easy to see why these positions attract these kinds of players. Aside from the natural negativity that comes from the perceived feminine and ‘weak’ influence these athletes bring into this alpha-male world, there are also negative connotations that stem from the phenomenon of ‘diving’ which is corrupting the sport. These forward players are the ones who will often be found rolling around in apparent ‘agony’ on the floor or waving imaginary cards at the referee – in other words, they are seeking to cheat and bring unfairness which will destroy the noble idea behind competitive sport: respect and fair competition.

I have a friend who, among her various dispositions, loves delving into amateur psychology when she hears about my problems – apparently it’s rubbing off. That’s enough of my attempts at observing the human condition, I hope you found it at least mildly interesting (there’s that hopeless optimism back!).


This article originally appeared in the UCC Express.

A supremely talented footballer, from Cork, a midfielder, head and shoulders above most of his peers, controversial, playing for one of the top clubs in the Premier League and exiled from the national side during one of its most successful periods in years. It’s almost as if we’ve been here before. I am of course referring to the curious case of Stephen “I’d rather head down to the gym than play for” Ireland. When Roy Keane was sent home from Saipan in 2002 frustration was rife with Irish football fans, but at least we knew why our best player would not be playing for our national side. With Ireland, the player that is (this could be rather confusing), however, nobody seems to be fully sure as to why he spends his international break kickboxing rather than kicking a football. Reports have ranged from him simply wishing to concentrate fully on his club career to allegations of bullying aimed at his former team-mates. Ah lads, play nice! Whatever the true reason(s), there is something very unusual about a 23-year-old actively choosing not to play for his national team.

The Manchester City man’s most recent quotes make for pretty depressing reading. He claims that he doesn’t think he’ll ever come back to the side and accuses manger Giovanni Trapattoni of being ‘arrogant’. Ah Steve, say it ain’t so. Amazingly the player was no stranger to international exile even before his first senior cap – talk about warning signs! Ireland fell out with then under-18 manager Brian Kerr after being left out of two consecutive squads. Kerr of course went on to reinvent ‘total football’ with the senior side shortly after and young Stephen was out in the cold until the FAI’s shoddy attempts at faking competence were finally abandoned altogether and the Staunton era began.

The more I think about this situation the more it seems to remind me of a marriage on the rocks. Stephen and the national team were teenage sweethearts; he first represented his country at under-15 level. It was smooth sailing for the first few years and then, under Kerr, the relationship became strained. A trial separation followed, during which time he contemplated footballing adultery with England or Italy, for whom he was also eligible to play. He decided to give things another try however and came back to Ireland’s delighted embrace. Things initially looked to be better than ever but soon the relationship reached a new low and divorce was imminent. The pair have now been apart for two years and while the player seems to have moved on, we are still left feeling empty – hoping he will come running back to us and casting jealous eyes upon his performances at City. It’s impossible to say if the two Irelands will ever be reunited in footballing matrimony; we can only hope that he will one day remember why he loved us in the first place and we can get back together before both our best years are behind us. Until then we must carry on, not happy but content at least, with our steady, reliable new midfield. It may not be much of a looker but at least we know we won’t come home one night to find it’s pulled a runner.

This article originally appeared in the UCC Express as one of my late-night ‘oh shit, is that the time?!’ editorials.

You know those moments when you see something that makes you so embarrassed you want to immediately climb into the shower and cleanse the feeling from every pore of your being? They’re a strange occurrence, as usually the embarrassment is felt on behalf of somebody else and it’s an odd sensation to try to explain. Well I had one of these unbearable cringe-fests just a couple of days ago while browsing through my e-mail inbox. I came upon a link for a course being offered by this very college, not just any course you understand, but a sports course – so naturally I was intrigued to find out more. Looking back, I wish I had read no further.

The course is titled ‘Rugby for the Un-initiated’. It costs 160 Euro and spans what I imagine must be 6 weeks of awe-inspiring ‘spoofing’ by the people in charge. The course covers various aspects of the sport including ‘Rugby from a Coach’s perspective’, ‘Rules of the Game’ and of course it wouldn’t be complete without the chance to test your new knowledge at an actual game, ‘The Field Trip’ is the conclusion of this abomination unto sport. Questions must be asked and heads must roll. I shall be seeking the resignations of whoever devised this poorly disguised attempt to profit from the unthinkably self-conscious and deluded members of our society. I jest of course, but you get my point.

The first line of the course description is comedy cold. ‘Everything you wanted to know about rugby but were afraid to ask’, it reads. Are there really people out there who would rather pay 160 quid and sit through a six-week course to save the ‘embarrassment’ of just asking a friend? Jesus wept! There are other lines of similarly inspired comedy, for example, ‘Next time you are out with your rugby friends surprise them with your expertise!’ I can picture the scene…

“Hey lads, I know I didn’t know a line-out from a ruck a few weeks ago but it suddenly occurred to me that while Stringer is very solid at the base of the scrum, O’ Leary offers more attacking flair and mobility.”

“Jeez Paul that’s a good point, you’ve really gone up in my estimation. I can’t believe I ever thought you were an annoying waster, wanna come to this cool house-party I’m throwing later?”

There’s no shame in not knowing as much as your friends about a sport. The way to learn is to watch the game more and ask them about things you’re unsure of or read a book on the subject. What you most definitely should not do is pay 160 Euro to learn about it in a lecture hall. This may seem like stating the obvious but the very fact that this course exists suggests that people out there are interested in it. If you still don’t know what to do with that extra cash you now have lying around, I plan to get a small group of people together in a pub in the city every week and, for a nominal fee, I’ll run you through the finer points of whatever sport is on the TV. Classes, I mean ‘get-togethers’, will start at around 7 and you should bring a pen and paper as well as money to cover your round. For more information get in touch at the usual address.

See you soon my new students friends.


This article originally featured in the UCC Express as one of my late-night ‘oh shit, is that the time?!’ editorials.

For as long as competitive sport has existed, people have sought to profit from it. I’m not talking about your average multi-millionaire who takes over a club, asset strips it and looks to sell it on; nor your run of the mill leeching agent with the national newspapers on speed dial and dollar/euro/pound signs in his eyes. I’m referring to the humble, betting punter. It’s a curious past-time gambling on sport, you tend to lose at least as much as you win but people (including myself) continue to do it religiously. We’ve all had those days when you analyse a team’s form, opposition, availability of key players or whatever it may be and place your bet convinced that only an incomprehensibly cruel God could prevent you from winning. But the major factor preventing me from fully embracing atheism is the weekly proof I receive that such a God does exist.

Despite these Biblical set-backs and regular promises to myself that I’m done with frivolously wasting my money, I find myself returning the next week with an unjustifiably renewed optimism. I’m sure many people would call it selective memory but I am convinced that every time I bet big on an apparent ‘sure thing’, it fails miserably. For example, if I make a bet on Friday for a team in great form, playing against relative no-hopers who are on an appalling run of form (such as Chelsea – Wigan last weekend), I don’t think you need to guess the usual outcome.

To combat this I have experimented with some of the classic betting routines, such as sticking with a hopeless team in the knowledge that they have to get back on form eventually. My case study for this recently has been Roy Keane’s Ipswich™. Touted as promotion candidates at the start of the season they are yet to win a game thus far and sit second-bottom of the Championship with a princely return of two points. I would now like to hold my hands up and apologise to Ipswich fans everywhere as clearly my regular betting on their team has prevented them from winning. The fates’ refusal to allow me to make money has had a knock-on effect on other people in a different country. As soon as I discovered this powerful phenomenon I decided to try and use it for my own benefit and so, I will now be focusing all this anti-luck of mine on one of my main bogey sides, Aston Villa. Villa have long been a chronic annoyance to me due to their unerring ability to be the one team that makes a balls of my accumulator. My plan from now until the end of the season is to lump a considerable portion of my weekly income on Villa to beat whomever they are playing that weekend, thus relegating them from the Premiership. Vengeance will be sweet my Brummie friends. I am of course aware that this is likely to cost me quite a lot of money over the course of the season so your contributions are most welcome. You can get in touch with me about the Relegate Villa Fund by e-mailing the Express Sport address at the bottom of this piece.

I wish to thank all of you lovely Express readers in advance for your generosity and look forward to hearing from you soon.


This article originally featured in the UCC Express as one of my late-night ‘oh shit, is that the time?!’ editorials.

I was sitting on my bed staring blankly at the laptop in the wee small hours of the morning as I began writing this piece. The perpetually annoying, criminally unfunny and generally piss-poor ‘comedian’ Ed Byrne humourlessly subjected an unfortunate audience to his rambling shite on my TV; the remote was nowhere to be found. I drowned out the noise and began to reflect on the previous months in sport. The summer is often the climax of the sporting year, the Olympics and most sports’ World Cups take place in these months. This year was somewhat barren in that regard; last year we watched Usain Bolt glide to gold in Beijing at tremendous speeds while in the pools Michael Phelps achieved unparalleled glory. This summer the main sporting event on paper was most likely The Ashes, the most famous competition in world cricket. We were treated to the usual arrogance (not without reason) from the Aussies while England once again began their seasonal worship of the talented all-rounder and second-coming of Christ, Andrew ‘Pedalo’ Flintoff. The pageantry and tradition of the Ashes make it a fascinating spectacle but I’m yet to build my endurance to watching a 50-over game – I can barely manage half a Twenty20. Given this cricketing impairment I was forced to turn my focus elsewhere, and there was one place that seemed impossible to escape from.

Football’s summer transfer window is an enthralling time for any fan. The endless speculation and media-induced excitement can be hard to bear. Many of us supporters spend our summers hunched over a computer screen playing private investigator over some South American starlet that the Colombian Daily Star has insinuated could be possibly thinking about being interested in a transfer offer from our club that may or may not exist. This is all fuelled further by shit-stirring agents out for a quick million. So there we sit, voyeur-like, scouring YouTube for highlights of these players who are sure to live up to their ‘next Messi’ or ‘new Zidane’ titles. The ratio of linked players to actual signings is probably akin to the amount of laughs Ed Byrne gets per joke. So why do we put ourselves through it? The answer would seem to be that we have a perverted lust for disappointment. Each summer we have our hopes built up only to be spectacularly torn down; leaving us sobbing at our desks in September, a spent husk.

Of course not all fans have to suffer through this. As mentioned in this issue by our chief opinionist, SureShot, Real Madrid and more recently Manchester City have championed a daring ‘buy whoever we’ve heard is good and to hell with formations, balance, team spirit and all that bollocks’ business plan. Fans of these teams rarely have time to become excited about potential signings in between unveilings of their newest commercial assets, I mean players. Yes the transfer window really is an amazing phenomenon; our eyes remained glued to it in the same way that we’d look at a train-wreck., it’s a terrible sight but we just can’t look away. Truly it is a curious perversion.

There was some actual football played this summer however. The Confederations Cup took place in Seth Effrika as a dress-rehearsal for next year’s World Cup and we were all treated to a preview of what it will be like watching the greatest tournament in international football played to the sound of a giant bee hovering over the stadium. Televisions around the world were put on mute for 90 minutes as the home fans chose to introduce us to the ultimate atmosphere-killer: the Vuvuzela horn. The sound of tens of thousands of people blowing into the melodically-challenged horns for the duration of a match made the tournament much more of a chore than it needed to be. Indeed we were treated to some great moments, most of which came from the surprising progress of the USA team. The handful of Americans who have even a passing interest in ‘sawker’ celebrated the team’s performance wildly before settling down and preparing for the planned lynching of David Beckham upon his return from Milan.

Other sports scarcely featured something to match the controversy and intrigue of football but they did try their level best. The swimming world was rocked by a mind-blowing debate on the unfair advantages created by the improved technology in swimsuit design. This issue provided a rather interesting subtext to the World Championships of the sport which were held in Rome. This event saw Phelps actually beaten by a creature that didn’t have gills. Swimming’s favourite stoner did pick up some gold at the meet however and we are assured that once the swimsuits are standardised in the New Year, the sport will return to the one-sided Phelps-fest we all crave.

It may not have been spectacular but this summer did allow us to realise how spoiled we were last year while giving us some spare time to acknowledge the people in our lives that exist outside of TV screens and all-seater stadia. Thank Flintoff it’s over!