Category Archives: Sporting matters

Probably rugby related but could cover any sport

Oh for ruck’s sake….

Brace yourselves, I’ve just seen the sorry excuse for a ‘women in rugby’ feature in today’s Sunday Independent (Irish Sunday ‘broadsheet’) and you know what that means…rant time!

In a week where Ireland’s women’s rugby team deservedly took over the front pages as well as the back pages of the newspapers, one might have expected a half decent attempt at a feature article. In the days after Fiona Coghlan, Niamh Briggs and their tough-as-nails teammates unceremoniously dumped the mighty Black Ferns from their ‘undefeated at a World Cup’ pedestal, there might have been incentive to focus on the enormity of the feat. When you consider that the New Zealand women’s team have one of the best win percentages in the women’s game and access to the same impeccable facilities and backroom support that their male counterparts do, then it puts what our team (formed from a senior player pool of just under 3700 women) achieved this week into mighty perspective.

But the most widely read Irish paper couldn’t focus on resources, grassroots development or female involvement at provincial level. Or even delve into the effect that the Irish 2013 Grand Slam win had on the numbers of girls and women taking an interest in the game. Nope.

Instead the women’s game was reduced to a cheap, tacky ‘Fifty Rucks of Grey’-style innuendo fest. Lowest common denominator journalism. To add insult to injury, the paper sent someone along who hadn’t even a basic grasp of the rules. I’m not saying they had to send someone who plays tag or sevens or full contract rugby but would a vague notion of what a lineout or a scrum entailed have been too much to ask? Obviously it was.

By reducing an entire sport to a couple of hundred words of lewd musings that could be set to the Benny Hill theme tune, the women who play the game at any level in Ireland have been done a massive disservice. Nice one, Irish Indo. Well done.

Every day’s a school day

So, Easter weekend is over and that can only mean one thing. Cassidy has to arm herself with a glass of wine and the remains of a very tasty Butlers chocolate bar, stick on some Leonard Cohen and tell you all about what I’ve been up to. During the past week, I have learnt the following things:

  • a lot of sporting clichés are cheesy as quattro formaggio pizza (“they say a week is a long time in sport; you’re only as good as your last match etc etc.”) but a lot of them are also true.  I had travelled home to watch Ulster put 8 tries past a battling Connacht side on April 11, had a wee on-pitch chat with man of the match Andrew Trimble and dashed across the Ravenhill turf to shake hands with Ulster captain Johann Muller (a man who is as ridiculously humble as he is ridiculously tall).

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That night Ulster looked focused, a team who had come out to right the wrongs done unto them in the Heineken Cup. However, the performance turned in against Glasgow on Friday was pretty abysmal when compared to the previous week, plus we had to suffer another refereeing/TMO decision that I can only describe as a howler. I hope the team can recover some of the grit we all know they have, cut out the silly errors and make a real statement in their last few matches of the 2014 Pro12 season.

  • what they say about public transport ticket validation in Budapest is true. It is all too easy to dismiss the sometimes hysterical sounding online descriptions of the inspector’s activities as bitter grumbling by ill-prepared tourists who got bitten. But it is true. When I hopped on a tram one evening during the week, I took out my ticket and stamped it using one of the little red punching machines inside the carriage. I knew to do this because I had googled it, read travel guides before moving here and heard instructions from co-workers. If I was depending on some friendly language free signage featuring universally recognised stick men doing a bit of ticket validation to alert me to what I needed to do, however, fuggedaboutit! The buzzer signifying that the tram was about to leave sounded and I held onto a pole as we moved off. As soon as the tram doors folded themselves closed, two girls who had been standing near me leapt into action. Whipping out ID cards from under their coats and jumpers, they went from being plain clothes commuters to full on inspection mode. They were shouting  aggressively in Hungarian and moved quickly about the carriage, demanding to see everyone’s tickets. They were both a good 6 inches shorter than me, so they would have had a fair job on their hands trying to intimidate me when I towered over them displaying my validated ticket. But I’ll admit they were quite off-putting and I wondered how I’d feel if it had perhaps been two well-built fellas doing the ticket rounds. Also it wasn’t long before the inspectors has their first victim. One girl seated across from me appeared to not have a travel pass or ticket at all, judging by the hand signalling that was going on. The two inspectors both stood over her and continued to admonish her for a good minute or two. Things quietened down when we got to the next tram stop and I thought maybe a compromise had been reached. Nope. Both inspectors escorted the girl off the tram, her eyes shining. In my opinion, the commuters’ expression wasn’t the scarlet shame of being caught out, I thought she genuinely looked rattled. As the tram moved off, I could see the party of three crossing the road and stopping at an ATM. A lesson well learned, don’t chance it when it comes to the Budapest public transport system.

 

  • On a lighter note, my achy back and this statue in the City Park reminded me today that I really need to find a English language yoga class!

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– I learnt that a langos (a Hungarian deep fried flatbread, usually served with sour cream and cheese) is bloody impossible to finish but kürtőskalács (a sugary, pastry cake) are far too easy to polish off. I was defeated by the cheesy bread yoke while trekking around Margaret Island and finished my first “chimney cake” outside the Opera House while taking shelter from my first proper Budapest rain shower.

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  • After which I gave (hopefully accurate) directions to a group of Irish ladies on Andrassy utca. There was something so cosy and familiar about their accents, floating over to me as they huddled around a map. When they found out that I wasn’t just heading home like them after the Easter weekend and was instead here for work, their reaction was a collective, unanimous, “Well, fair play to ya!

 

  • And while I’m on the subject of cakes – I discovered some amazing houses of cake and confectionery that I will be frequenting. Fell in love with the display of treats and very friendly staff in the aptly named Cake Shop. Also discovered the diabetic coma waiting to happen that is Sugar. Of course I’ll be back there on a day when I’m hit by a craving for pick n mix. Even if their choice of gift items are quite questionable…..

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  • ….But the most important thing I’ve learnt over the past few days – why it’s better to travel alone. The answer to this travel conundrum came to me in a moment of clarity when seated near to a couple eating dessert. Why is it better to travel alone? Two words: one. spoon.

Budapest’s biggest Ulster fan

It was always going to start like this. I had debated blogging for a long time and had been planning titles, compiling lists of what topics I should cover and poring over suitably artistic looking photos to upload alongside my very first thought for the day. I was being my usual, organised, list-writing, post-it filling self.

And was completely missing the point.

A blog should not just contain well crafted missives that have been scanned, edited and polished to perfection. They should also contain spur-of-the-moment posts, entries that reveal your personality (for better or worse) and the things that get you up out of your seat.

Which is why it was obvious that my first post was always going to be about rugby. For the past twenty five years, watching rugby has been a very family orientated activity for me. Usually it’s at home with my parents, surrounded by cups of tea and the sports pages of the newspapers shouting at the TV screen. Sometimes we’re lucky enough to be in the ground – so I can clutch a sneaky hot whiskey and shout my opinions at the referee in person 😉 Last night, for Ulster’s Heineken Cup quarter final clash with Premiership leaders Saracens at the newly developed and incredibly impressive Ravenhill, I wasn’t watching it in Donegal, Ulster or anywhere in Ireland for that matter. I was watching the drama unfold in an Irish bar in the centre of Budapest, where I’ve recently moved for work. After scouring  a selection of the city’s other drinking emporiums for coverage of the Ulstermen with no success, I found myself at seat right in front of two large TV screens that were filled with Ulster flegs and grown men in giant red and white onesies. Perfect (if sartorially questionable – the onesies, that is). Pint of cider in hand, Cassidy was sucking diesel.

It was all going to plan…for the first four minutes until referee Jerome Garces red-carded Ulster full back Jared Payne, thereby creating one of the talking points of the Heineken Cup season and meaning that Ulster would now have to play for over 75 minutes a man down. For anyone reading this who might not follow rugby union, this is almost the sporting equivalent of Charlie Haughey’s GUBU: grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre and unprecedented. Rugby is a physically demanding, full blooded contact sport. Teams who have players sent to the sin bin for ten minutes following a yellow card infringement can suffer a real set back and lose valuable momentum. A red card completely changes the course of the game – and a red card before the game had begun in earnest practically set Ulster’s fate in stone.

Lots of teams would have thrown in the towel at this point. Then there were the injuries to front row stalwart Rory Best and the outrageously gifted Ruan Pienaar. We had officially entered nightmare territory. No-one had told the Ulster team that though. Those boys continued to play for themselves, each other, the fans and above all the Ulster shirt. When you talk Heineken Cup, Munster are usually the Irish team that evoke terms like ‘pride’, ‘the brave and the faithful’ and ‘miracle match’- and rightly so. But last night proved that Ulster are equally full of pride when it comes to playing for the jersey and their province. Saracens, although the victors, have a massive list of questions to ask themselves after that match, but Ulster know who they are and what they are about. I walked home from the pub with my Ulster scarf proudly around my neck. While feeling deflated and dejected, I can honestly say I never been more proud to be an Ulster fan than I was on the streets of Hungary last night. Coming at the end of my first full week in Budapest, such a match was aptly timed. I’m sure over the next few months there will be days that I’m homesick. That work is tough. That I make mistakes and don’t have familiar faces around to calm me down or tell me to ‘cop on’ in person. Days that I’ll miss my dog and the comfortable familiarity of home. Those are the days you need to pick yourself up, dust yourself down and keep on going. All right, I personally won’t have to try and stop Billy Vunipola at full tilt, but the principle is the same. Keep standing up. Keep standing up for the Ulstermen.

5 April 2014

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