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Dublin: 6°C Saturday 8 May 2021

Remembering Michael Robinson, what we're missing from the Last Dance, and more of the week's best sportswriting

The best sport may be on pause, but the best sportswriting continues.

Image: EMPICS Sport

1. From the Premium Level bar, they’d then watched the mounting commotion, pints in their hands and feeling detached up there, bemused almost. The protest bore their colours, but not quite their indignation. Not yet, at least.

Now, though, back in the Spa Hotel, talk was filtering through of a rematch because of Jimmy Cooney’s early whistle.

After maybe 20 minutes of discord flickering towards anarchy, Billy Dooley got to his feet. “Michael, I’ll be there tomorrow evening anyway,” he declared, walking out of the room. With him, Billy seemed to take any surviving energy for a row.

Offaly, the “sheep in a heap” of ‘Babs’ Keating’s midsummer anger, still had a candle of hope here.

And it was time to start cupping hands around it.

They were the subversives of that summer, two teams plumbed to routinely strident shows of independence.

Vincent Hogan looks at the fall-out and the legacy of Jimmy Cooney’s infamous timekeeping error. (€)

2. Michael had this theory, which he expressed only half-seriously, that he was Spanish really. He had traced his roots to County Cork in 1732. There, almost everyone is fair, with freckles and ginger hair. Only 2% of the population are dark like me, he said. That 2% are descendants of the Armada washed up on the way home after defeat, sailors from Galicia or Cádiz. “I reckon I must actually be from Cádiz,” he concluded. Well of course: a city full of life and laughs that he loved; one he described as spontaneous, open, humble.

In the Guardian, Sid Lowe pays tribute to his late friend, Michael Robinson. 

3. “The past five years have been a shit storm. When I met you in October 2018 the biggest shit storm was just starting.”

So it got worse? “It certainly did,” he says softly. “It certainly did.”

He looks bereft and, in a normal situation, I might reach out and touch him lightly on the arm. It would be a small gesture to offer some comfort. But all I can say is how sorry I am.

Cole looks up with a little smile. “I’m still here. That’s the most important thing. But people don’t understand what you go through with this illness. They look at a transplant patient and say: ‘You’re OK. You look really well.’ Externally that can be true. But, internally, many things are going on. You’re dealing with the medication and your moods. I’ve been very fortunate I’m never angry about it.

 Also in the Guardian, Donald McRae speaks to Andy Cole as he recovers from a kidney transplant. 

4. We know that The Last Dance ultimately only proceeded on Jordan’s say-so and that thus he must have some editorial influence. But we have also been assured in its pre-publicity that he is asked the hard questions about aspects of his life he has previously circumvented. The aforementioned omission raises doubts about whether we’ll get this in the remaining episodes.

There’ll likely be more from Thomas in the next episode dealing with the 1992 Dream Team but it’s not as if they’ll be delving more into what led to the Walk Off, only its consequences. In episodes three and four there wasn’t a single clip of his extraordinary skill. And while it can be said that he already has told his side of the story in a 30 for 30 with Bad Boys, Hehir can hardly reach for that excuse here. The Last Dance may not be the last word or final word on the Walk Off, but as the biggest word and audience on it, it will be the loudest and therefore the longest in Thomas’s lifetime. He deserved a better and fairer depiction than the portrayal of him in episode four the other night.

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Oracle of Irish Basketball Kieran Shannon explains what we has been missing from the opening few episodes of The Last Dance. 

5. The old man’s name is Jack Roland Murphy, better known in 1960s headlines as Murph the Surf (though he always preferred Murf). As a sunglasses-and-swimsuit-wearing, bronze-bodied daredevil he won a slew of competitions—enough to be included in the East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame’s inaugural class—while in his spare time participating in brazen robberies of increasing violence.

His infamy peaked in ’64 when he and two accomplices broke into the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and stole $3 million worth of precious stones (in today’s dollars). That jewel heist remains one of the largest ever in the U.S., and it has long been the wellspring of Murph the Surf’s mythology. The murders, meanwhile, are routinely rendered a footnote, or disregarded altogether. In news accounts. In his own book. In the eyes of the legions of people who love him.

In Sports Illustrated, Brian Burnsed tells the extraordinary story of the man best known as Murph the Surf.  

6. As your body and mind develop, he continued, particularly in your central position, and if you are wise and lucky, you will get a sweet spot in your career when your body can carry your developing footballing mind, and your mind will in turn push the body beyond what you thought possible, creating new positions, new patterns, new time, he said, with rain pouring down his face, and you will feel this moment for a brief period in your life, son, and you must remain limber enough to feel it, to act and expand on it. This sweet spot, he continued, will happen during a game when the contours of adrenaline, exhaustion, familiarity, daring, and a recent history of good physical condition coincide, and you must treat that moment, or these moments, with a cavalier preciousness, and make them your own by making them memorable for those looking on, and if you can do this, son, even once, truly, then, he said, you will have achieved something as a footballer.

He is sitting in the stand now under a sky-blue-and-white hat. He looks old and cold. My stomach turns. My knee trembles. I think how wrong he was. I think how foolish I have been too, for believing for years in that crap and for believing too that that moment against the team from Cologne was the high point of my vocation, when in fact, I realise, jogging across the centre circle of the pitch, barking orders at our left-winger, that it was my lowest point. Throughout my career I’d so focused on moments in games when the aesthetic effect took precedence over the pragmatic decision, that I’d failed to realise through watching Prosinečki, for all of those hours, that it is the pragmatic that serves the aesthetic—that it is only from the core of good service that any beauty can bloom.

And finally, some fiction published by Stinging Fly: Prosinečki, by Adrian Duncan. 


About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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