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Dublin: 1°C Friday 7 May 2021

The comprehensive story of the Super League debacle and the rest of the week's best sportswriting

Breakaway from your Sunday routine to enjoy some super reads.

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1. The drumbeat of rumors continued, and Ceferin felt he needed to be sure. So as he slid into the front seat of his Audi Q8 on Saturday to start the eight-hour drive from his home in Ljubljana to his office in Switzerland, he decided to get to the bottom of things. He placed a call to Agnelli. His friend did not pick up.

Ceferin — the godfather to Agnelli’s youngest child — texted the Italian’s wife and asked if she might get the Juventus president to call him urgently. He was three hours into his journey when his cellphone rang. Breezily, Agnelli reassured Ceferin, again, that everything was fine.

Ceferin suggested they issue a joint communiqué that would put the issue to rest. Agnelli agreed. Ceferin drafted a statement from the car and sent it to Agnelli. An hour later, Agnelli asked for time to send back an amended version. Hours passed. The men traded more calls. Eventually, the Italian told Ceferin he needed another 30 minutes.

And then Agnelli turned off his phone.

Tariq Panja and Rory Smith of the New York Times tell the comprehensive story of the astonishing debacle that became of The Super League. (€)

2. The GAA’s problem was that keeping clear was all very well as an official stance but it didn’t hold water at a local level. Throughout the back half of the 1970s, the association had tried to find ways of keeping its distance from the conflict in the North, while at the same time being careful not to make its members in the six counties feel abandoned. It was an impossible needle to thread.

The hunger strikes ratcheted everything up. Of the 420 protesting prisoners in the H-Blocks in 1981, 104 were GAA members. Outside the prison walls, GAA people and clubs in the North made it their business to show their support in public, regardless Croke Park’s desire to steer clear. It became common practice for GAA clubs to take out ads in newspapers declaring their support for the hunger strikers. Others walked in protest marches carrying club banners. Still more staged protests at matches.

Malachy Clerkin of The Irish Times recounts the GAA’s intersection with the fraught summer months of 1981. (€) 

3. “For about two years, I used to wake up every day and say, ‘I’m just going to kill myself today. I just don’t want to be here,’” she says.

“I have a dog, Bailey, a big golden retriever. That dog kept me alive. I used to say to myself, ‘Who’s going to mind him when I’m gone?’ I used to get angry with him, ‘You’re the only one that’s keeping me here’.

“I woke one day and was like, ‘I can’t do this any more’ but said I’d walk the dog one more time in the Curragh.

“I met an old man who didn’t say anything special, he just said, ‘Oh, he’s a gorgeous dog, where did you get him?’ I was chatting to him, and that small social interaction made me think, ‘I won’t do it today’.

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“The next morning, I didn’t have a drink. That was the routine: The minute I got up, I was getting something into the system to drown out my head. I said, ‘I have to ask for help or I’m going to end up in a grave’.”

Mary Hulgraine tells her story to PJ Browne of 

4. Perhaps the ultimate failure lay in just how ordinary this extraordinary moment became. The Super League announcement on Sunday night was light in detail. The clubs told the world there would be 15 founding members, yet only 12 had signed up. They told us there would be five places available for mortal clubs but gave no information on how these clubs may qualify for the tournament. They inserted one paltry line on plans for a women’s equivalent tournament but few details on how it would aid the women’s game, and it did not include Lyon, the winner of the past five Champions League titles. We expected elucidation in the following days. We waited. And we waited. And we waited.

And, soon enough, it became clear there was no strategy. Could billionaires really be this average? The owners of the “big six” clubs and their respective CEOs lost their tongues. They did not articulate their vision to the world. They did not even attempt to win hearts and minds. They spent time squabbling among themselves, trying to decide who would be best placed to make the pitch, before realising all six clubs lacked a figure with the combination of charisma and clout to command the nation’s attention.

The Athletic’s Adam Crafton explains why the Super League foundered as gracelessly as it did. (€)

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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