|Alex Ferguson promoting his new book in London last week.|
There's a soccer man from Donegal who knows a thing or two about close scrapes on and off the field, a political footballer if ever there was one.
The man in question goes by the name of Jimmy Harte – or Senator Jimmy Harte to give him his full title.
A few weeks ago we met by chance in a Dublin pub, introduced by mutual friends on the night Manchester United played Liverpool across the water in England.
As is always the case on such occasions, we got talking soccer. And Jimmy, a genial Letterkenny man, knows his soccer. He also plays a bit of football, the leather type as well as the political type.
Last Friday night Jimmy was one of a number of politicians who beat a media team 4-3 on penalties in a charity soccer match at the Aviva Stadium. Like all good politicians, I’m fairly sure Jimmy will let the journos know about if for a few weeks to come.
The night we met over a few pints, Jimmy had a different challenge to worry about as the very Senate he sits in was faced with extinction.
The Irish public voted just over a week later to keep the Senate and keep Jimmy in his seat despite opinion polls that suggested victory for Enda Kenny’s Fine Gael and Jimmy’s own Labor Party in their bid to abolish the Senate.
The fact the Senate is alive and kicking will help Jimmy’s plans to honor of the great names of world football, a former Manchester United manager called Alex Ferguson.
Jimmy and some fellow politicians in Leinster House have invited Fergie to Dublin to receive an honor from the Irish houses of Parliament in recognition of his services to the beautiful game in general and Manchester United in particular.
It’s a good idea for the simple reason that United have what seems like millions of fans in Ireland, and Irish players have played a huge part in Ferguson’s success.
Some of them have fallen out with him – Paul McGrath set the precedent in that regard. Some of them were treated unfairly by him – Kevin Moran knows how that feels.
And some of them served him so well that they deserve a special place in his heart – stand up Denis Irwin from the parish of Togher in Cork.
One man, though, did more for Alex Ferguson in his United career than any other Irishman, but it is doubtful that Roy Keane will be around when Fergie is serenaded by our politicians.
Events last week removed any doubt that the relationship between the manager and his former captain will ever be healed.
As regular readers of this paper will know from last week’s edition, Ferguson torments Keane in his new book, an updated biography.
He belittles the player at the end of his United career, called him out of order in Saipan despite backing him at the time, and ridicules his efforts as a manager.
It wasn’t enough to cause Keane to lose any sleep, in his own words, but it was enough to annoy the Corkman’s many fans in Ireland. It also upset his mum and trust me, the last thing Alex Ferguson wants to do in this late stage of his life is to upset an Irish mammy.
I have to say I agree with the Keane supporters on this one. Ferguson has to have more money than he will ever need and as Roy told his mother Marie, they don’t do pockets in coffins.
He never needed to write this book and the suspicion that he is settling scores with Keano, among many others, is hard to argue with. He should never have written the book, never mind called our Roy to task in the manner in which he did.
All of which should make for a very interesting press conference if and when Fergie accepts the invitation from Jimmy Harte and his colleagues to visit our political chambers and accept their honor. That’ll sell a few newspapers for us lot and maybe even a few more books for Fergie!
By the way, Jimmy told me a fascinating story that night about a Donegal man from the village of Kerrykeel called Billy Gillespie who left the north east for English football in the early 1900s and went to become a great for Ireland and Sheffield United.
Billy was the first ever Irishman to captain a FA Cup, winning team when the Blades beat Cardiff City at Wembley in 1925. He also played and scored two goals when Ireland beat England for the first time in 1913 and on his international debut at that.
Derry City play in red and white stripes because Billy brought a set of Sheffield United jerseys with him when he became the boss at the Brandywell at the end of his player career.
The good football of Donegal honored Billy when a plaque was unveiled in his honor at Rabs Park in the village earlier this year.
I’m sure Jimmy Harte and his political colleagues will honor Alex Ferguson just as well in the coming months. And they might get a bit more publicity!
(Cathal Dervan is sports editor of the Irish Sun newspaper in Dublin)
HURLING: So how did the band Arcade Fire and the Kilkenny hurler Matthew Ruth get together? Well, Matthew was one of only two people to gain pre-release access to the band’s new album Reflektor when it mistakenly went on sale two days before its scheduled worldwide release at the Kilkenny shop Roller Coaster Records. Ruth tweeted a photo of the album cover which went viral and the band made contact and pleaded with him to return the disc and not to upload the songs to the net. He obliged and later that day received a very grateful phone call from lead sing Win Butler, an apt first name for a new Kilkenny hurling fan don’t you think!
ATHLETICS: I’m sure you know the old story about waiting ages for the bus, then two come along at the same time. Well, Irish athletics fans certainly know that feeling after Monday’s record breaking Dublin marathon when over 14,000 men and women took to the streets of our fine capital and local heroes Sean Hehir and Maria McCambridge took the honors. No Irish runner had won either of the big races since Sonia O’Sullivan in 2000, while Hehir is the first Irish winner of the men’s race in 20 years. A good day all round.
SOCCER: You may have seen this elsewhere in the paper but it’s still worth a second glance as the quote of the week. Asked if there was any change in the Ireland situation late last week, Mick McCarthy replied, “No it’s still in the same place. It’s just across from Liverpool and Manchester. If you’re going to go and visit it then you can fly from Stansted or Southend on Aer Lingus or Ryanair.” You got to laugh as Cilla Black used to say.
RUGBY LEAGUE: The World Cup for rugby league players kicked off on Saturday and Ireland’s campaign began with a defeat against Fiji on Monday night in Rochdale of all places. Not that anyone I know really cares about the sport or the tournament. They will, however, if Ireland can somehow beat England in Huddersfield this Saturday. That’s how to make an impact as a team, whether you’re playing soccer, cricket or even rugby league. Beat the Brits and we’ll all take notice lads.
SOCCER: Good news from Moscow where Spartak have resigned themselves to losing Aiden McGeady in the January transfer window when his contract expires. McGeady has the talent to make it as a world class player, but he needs the challenge of top grade football in England, Spain. Germany or Italy to get there. No doubt he made loads of money in Russia, but now it’s time for McGeady to kick on as a player.
GAA: The Croke Park suits and the Aussie Rules chiefs are trying to save the Compromise Rules series after a lopsided win for Ireland in both the recent tests against an indigenous Australian side. Why are they bothering? Less than 50,000 people paid to watch the games and the contest for the Cormac McAnallen Cup was over after the first leg. It’s a made-up game going nowhere fast.
HEROES OF THE WEEK
WHAT a performance from Donegal’s Jason Quigley at the world boxing championships in Kazakhstan. He didn’t win the gold medal and he was disappointed at first to only take the silver, but many great men who know their boxing, including my old pal Gerry Callan, tell me a world medal is harder to win than an Olympic one, so well done Jason. Silver will do you – and us – for now. And the Rio Olympics aren’t that far away.
IDIOTS OF THE WEEK
UEFA are trying to take action over the racist chants aimed at Manchester City’s Yaya Toure by CSKA Moscow “fans” during last week’s Champions League clash in Russia. CSKA officials are in denial it even happened which is part of the problem, but until a referee takes the players off the field and really punishes the team responsible for the racist fans, this is going to continue. The fight against racism needs real action, not token gestures a week later.