Munster final (local) rag week

I’d love to be a journalist, but would I be able to cope with having to work for a provincial newspaper rather than having my own column in the New York Times? Yes, without hesitation. Even reporting on the rubber chicken circuit is better than not writing at all. And you have to admire the hacks in these papers, most of them eking out an existence in a world with the life expectancy of a soccer club in Cork. You often read people online saying that such-and-such could do as well as any journalist, a school of thought that had An Fear Rua acidly observe that this was a philosophy propounded by those who hadn’t the ability or the courage to make it in a cut-throat world.

Such admiration for provincial newspapers doesn’t extend to actually buying them on a regular basis. I’m just not that interested in the world immediately around me, something demonstrated by how few people I recognised among the hundreds of Waterford supporters pictured in the papers (I recognised one person, and I don’t know her). But they’re great souvenirs of great days like last Saturday.

The News & Star features the looniest man in all of County Waterford. No, not Phil Fanning, although we’ll get to him in a moment. After our win in 2002 everyone in every part of the paper had something to say, with one notable exception – the columnist known as ‘Phoenix’. Phoenix is an extraordinarily angry man (he must be a man), convinced that anything and everything is a conspiracy to do down Waterford. Now, there may be some merit to his belief that Waterford is treated badly by the powers-that-be and suffers from proximity to some extremely short-sighted and vindictive neighbours. But to not mention the county’s greatest sporting success in nearly four decades, not even in passing, takes some doing. I’d have been gutted if he had changed to the point where he mentioned it this time around and he didn’t let me down, chundering on about university status for WIT for the umpteenth time. Consistency in a world gone mad – with delight.

Moving on to more positive people and we arrive at Phil Fanning and his, er, embittered rant about the pundits on RTÉ being less-than-complimentary to Waterford. As with Phoenix he may have a point. The idea that people in Kilkenny, Cork and Tipperary only humour the minnows has a lot going for it – Babs Keating once memorably said that hurling needed a Tipperary-Kilkenny final, something akin to saying that Scottish soccer needs a Celtic-Rangers final. But in the aftermath of a thrilling win that could and should be allowed speak for itself it comes across as mean-spirited. It’s also interesting to see how much he loathes “Cork stars such as Tomas Mulcahy and Donal O’Grady . . . [who] tend to provide viewers with a lopsided view of a game”, while lauding “coverage in the Irish Examiner [which] was very much up to its normal high standard”. No prizes for guessing what newspaper group owns the News & Star.

Jeez, someone has got to have something good to say in De Paper’s pup. Paul Flynn was disappointingly bland, a column coming from the Kenny Cunningham school of describing the events, as if we couldn’t see it for ourselves. An interview with Davy Fitz contained the shocking revelation that he doesn’t care what people think of him. Fancy that! Adrian Flanagan had a much more interesting interview with Shane O’Sullivan. Having being a bit-part player in previous successes it must have been immensely satisfying for O’Sullivan and he provided a good balance between delight at the win and acknowledgement of the task ahead. Phil Fanning had the obligatory score-by-score account, something that is simultaneously anachronistic in an era when we have instant access to video footage and heartening to see that these things are still being committed to paper, especially when video can go wrong – damn you Sky+ for not adjusting to the extra time! Finally in the News & Star, Ger Lawton will have earned the undying enmity of Waterford United Ultras for criticising Sepp Blatter for “playing a soccer match after a hurling match . . . I told him that if he played the World Cup final after the Munster final then it would show up his game in a very bad light – and so it proved”. Mentioning stickball in a socc . . . football piece? Hanging is too good for him.

The News & Star has always had one striking advantage over its counterpart on the Quay. It’s always felt more professional than the Munster Express, probably a consequence of the influence of the Irish Examiner.  The souvenir poster in the News & Star is the kind of thing you can’t see the Munster being able to fork out for. So what does the Munster bring to the table?  A columnist like John O’Connor is a good start, a profound contrast from the negativity of Phoenix. O’Connor’s musings after 2002 were enough to bring a tear to the eye of the most hardened cynic, so I turned straight to him to see if he could repeat the magic. The answer is no, as O’Connor’s ‘Tales of the Tellurians’  – something to do with earthiness; why that is peculiar to Waterford, I’m not sure –  only contained hurling in the context of a light-hearted story of hurley being seized by Toronto police as an offensive weapon during the recent G20 summit.

They had to do better in the sports section and lo! they did as it didn’t take long to locate the excellent Enda McEvoy. McEvoy has the happy knack of being critical without ever being nasty. His analysis of Waterford’s new model army was penetrating, “built . . . to defend leads and be tight and compact and difficult to break down”. He also gave a believably positive spin on Davy Fitz’s accomplishments with Waterford – one Munster title in two attempts and three All-Ireland semi-finals on the bounce. Reasons to be cheerful. Dermot Keyes managed a refreshingly thoughtful 10-point list (there’s rarely ten points of note from any game), his point about “goodwill towards Waterford being endemic” being particularly apt. My brother watched the match in a pub in Dublin and was swamped by well-wishers, so it’s good to see the campaign to demonise Waterford pushed by Tom Humphries, while he was simultaneously hailing the Cork strikers as latter-day martyrs, has not gained any traction. Indeed, Humphries seems to be drawing a veil over that period of his career, mentioning our players in the same breath as his beloved Donal Óg. I hate to admit it but I like being liked. All other things being equal you’d rather be feared than loved, but all other things are not equal so I’ll take the hopes of a nation that we’ll be next.

Flicking through the rest of the Munster, it was less comprehensive / repetitive than I expected it to be. No score-by-score article, for example. Getting back to the notion of a professional feel, one of the things about the Munster back in the day was a lack of quality control. Everything made it in, to the extent that you wondered whether that was why the ink never seemed to be dry. This was much more rigorous. Yet dare I say that it had lost some of the charm that made it the paper it was back in the day of JJ Walsh? Did I just mention ‘Smokey Joe’ and ‘charm’ in the same sentence? Better stop now.

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