I’ve been on holiday from my hard life as a sports reporter with the Sunday Star for the past 10 days, an end of year break after all those exertions at the World Cup and the likes.
Normally, two weeks off at this time of year allows the exhausted reporter time for a little Christmas shopping with the wife and a little golf with the few friends I have left in the world.
Not this time. Thanks to Mother Nature, Ireland is currently in the grip of an Arctic winter that we are just not equipped to deal with. At all.
Transport chaos is everywhere. I’ve managed to get two miles down the road to Dunshaughlin just four times in the last 10 days, and on all four occasions a certain Paul Simon song about slip, sliding away came to mind.
I’ve got as far as Dublin just the twice -- once to start the Christmas shopping in the Blanchardstown Center that resembles an English High Street, and the second time after getting the kids to school on one of the few days their various schools were open.
That trip to Blanchardstown was a godsend after so many days cooped up down the lane that lies across the road from Killeen Castle Golf Club, now an ice hockey stadium and potential Winter Olympics venue.
And it did provide one light moment of relief when I passed the man-made snow globe on the top floor of the center where you can get your photo taken against an artificial background -- of snow!
So my sympathies to the promoters -- I can’t see that doing well this Christmas considering the tons of the stuff outside every door in Ireland right now.
Back at home, boredom has set in so much so that I spent most of last Friday watching the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, live from FIFA headquarters in Zurich as David Beckham and Prince William held court.
Why I bothered is still beyond me. To be fair to them, England made a very, very good presentation as to why they should host the 2018 games, but FIFA gave the finals to Russia.
Having witnessed the intimidation of the local police when Ireland last visited Moscow in 2002, and experienced the constant threat of violence that follows tourists around the Russian capital, I’m still at a loss as to why Russia won out.
What’s more baffling is that the 2022 World Cup will be played in Qatar.
Yes, Qatar, an oil rich Middle Eastern state with no football tradition and temperatures well over 100 degrees in June when the tournament is normally played, are to host the World Cup. It’s ridiculous.
Of course, both Russia and Qatar are oil rich and we all know how corrupt and impressionable FIFA are, so maybe I should draw a line in the snow with my questioning of that story.
Two other stories caught my bored mind this week.
The first concerned our old friend Stephen Ireland, who has been linked with a move to Celtic now that he’s finding it hard to convince new Aston Villa boss Gerard Houllier that he has anything to offer as a Premier League footballer.
Celtic may be struggling of late, but manager Neil Lennon would want to be out of his mind to consider bringing Ireland’s baggage to Glasgow.
Hopefully this story is as ridiculous as my Scottish sources have suggested it is, but then again I thought England were certainties to land the 2018 World Cup last Friday afternoon!
The other story I’ve followed with interest these last few icy cold days is sadly true -- Chris Hughton is no longer the manager of Newcastle United.
He was sacked on Monday, less than 24 hours after a bad defeat at West Brom but only seven months after he was hailed as a hero for leading Newcastle out of the Championship with a record number of points.
Hughton hadn’t won a game in a month, but recent results did include a win over Arsenal and a draw with Chelsea, and Newcastle were 11th in the Premier League when the former Irish defender was sacked.
The decision has been roundly criticized within the English game, and rightly so. Hughton’s record with Newcastle was too good to deserve such treatment, and the fact that he is one of the few gentlemen left in football makes it all the worse.
Sadly, it seems there is no room for decency under the Mike Ashley reign at St. James’s Park, and that is a shame.
I can only hope that Hughton is back in football before too long. He deserves to be.
And I pray that this snow is gone by the time we talk next week. White Christmas? The Bing Crosby fans can keep it!
HURLING: Cork hurling boss Denis Walsh has stamped his authority not once but twice in recent weeks, and those who want to play for the Rebels in 2011 know exactly who’s boss now, but will it come with a price? A few weeks ago Walsh shocked the hurling world when he dumped Sean Og O hAilpin off his squad and effectively pushed the great one into retirement. Now Walsh has rejected a plea to change his mind from a delegation of senior squad members and insisted there is no way back for Sean Og. If Cork do well next summer this move will be seen as a stroke of genius -- if they don’t then Walsh could well find the O hAilpin decision comes back to haunt him. Brave man.
GOLF: Rory McIlroy’s decision to base himself back in Europe next year clearly hasn’t gone down well with the authorities on the PGA Tour on your side of the Atlantic after their decision to name Rickie Fowler as Rookie of the Year for 2010. Fowler hasn’t won on tour and McIlroy was seen as a shoe-in by his peers, but still the award went to the young American. Lee Westwood, also annoyed by England’s snub for the 2018 World Cup, was so annoyed he likened the PGA to FIFA via Twitter.
SOCCER: Great story from the Yorkshire hills in England where two customers and six staff were stuck in a pub for almost a week thanks to the heavy snow in that part of the world. They gave up the heavy drinking after a couple of days and kept themselves entertained watching live Premier League soccer on the telly. Good job the pub has Sky Sports so.
SOCCER: Mick McCarthy and Roy Keane are strange bedfellows right now as they hang onto their jobs at Wolves and Ipswich respectively. Wolves are second last in the Premier League, and Ipswich have lost five league games on the trot. Keano has admitted his neck is on the line, but Mick received the backing of the board on Tuesday. That’s never a good sign!
GAA: There’s no doubt that Donegal youngster Michael Murphy was one of the finds of the Championship this summer, but asking him to captain his team next year could be a massive gamble by new boss Jimmy McGuinness. Watching the talented Murphy handle the added pressure is going to be an interesting exercise in 2011.
RUGBY: Good news story of the week? Paul O’Connell made his return off the bench for Munster against the Cardiff Blues in Limerick last Saturday night. Judging by the Autumn internationals, Ireland need him back in harness for the Six Nations so this really is good news.
HERO OF THE WEEK
The Irish Golf Writers will hold their annual awards in Dublin at the end of January, and there’s no prize for guessing that Graeme McDowell will feature prominently on the night. His victory over Tiger Woods on Sunday earned him his fourth title of an incredible year for the Ulsterman, and he won the Ryder Cup for Europe into the bargain. I reckon that’s the main award sorted so.
IDIOTS OF THE WEEK
The board of Newcastle United have never ceased to amaze with their penchant for stupidity going back over the years, and current owner Mike Ashley is a case in point. His decision to sack Chris Hughton on Monday, with the club 11th in the Premier League and just seven months after he won the Championship, made no sense at all. The decision has been slammed by all right minded people within English football and rightly so.