Tuesday, June 02, 2020

I’VE been a journalist for 21 years and by God it’s been fun. I’m also just a few days away from my first anniversary with the Waterford News & Star, a move my friend Danny McGrath, now incredulously buried in Affane, humorously described as the “biggest since Denis Law”.

Thus far I’ve had just over eight very enjoyable months in the office with my new colleagues, while the past three or so months have represented a different but equally rewarding challenge: reporting and editing from home.

From one end of the operation to the other, I feel we’ve made a great fist of things throughout this pandemic. Indeed, the manner in which we’ve gelled together in spite of being under many different roofs has made it plain to me that switching jerseys was the right thing to do.

I was drawn to journalism while in primary school. I can recall ‘Reading Time’ in Sixth Class at Portlaw National School, producing Eamon Dunphy’s weighty ‘A Strange Kind of Glory’ from my schoolbag. I bought it with my own money in The Book Centre on Monday, December 23, 1991. I know this because I signed that book at the time (inscribing date and all) and I’ve kept on a variety of shelves ever since.

To my 12-year-old self, Dunphy was ‘your man off the telly’, the fella who didn’t seem to like Jack Charlton all that much and appeared to be angry about, well, pretty much everything. But boy could this fella write, I thought, as I consumed each and every page with glee, Dunphy’s words singing to me.

He loved the game, more than people or possessions. Through his love he rendered professional football in England more beautiful than any other man. Yes, Frank OFarrell was right, Manchester United was Matts fantasy world. His greatest achievement was to create the illusion of beauty in a craft wretchedly deformed from the beginning. As it decays now, the plaything of spivs of merchants, the glorious memories of Matt Busbys United serve to soothe the pain. His has been a strange kind of life. A strange kind of glory.

“I’d love to write something like that when I grow up” is a thought I had more than once while reading a book which now merits re-reading on my behalf.

By the time I visited Old Trafford for the first time, just a few months after reading Dunphy’s masterpiece, I’d started secondary school, having spent much of my 1992 summer holidays sat at my bedroom desk, writing. Cobbling paragraphs together transported me to another world, one I was only too pleased to inhabit – the best one-way ticket I ever took.

A poster I drew of 1992 European Soccer Championship winners Denmark, which accompanied my 42-page review of the tournament.

I treated both the European Soccer Championships in Sweden and the Barcelona Olympics like full-on assignments; the latter regularly seeing me sat before a TV screen from 8am to 9pm with maybe an hour or 90-minute outdoor break at parental request. I’ve yet to rediscover my Olympics dossier, which I kept in a ring binder, resplendent with statistics, reports and drawings. ‘Sports Illustrated’ was on offer in our local newsagents at the time and I was well and truly hooked by then. This journalism lark looked good to me.

Thankfully, I’ve still got my Euro ’92 review, all 42 copy book pages of it, which includes a two-page report on the final between Germany and Denmark, the latter called into the tournament following Yugoslavia’s late expulsion.

“A winner’s medal made up somewhat for Peter Schmeichel who saw the League title slip through his hands and for winning goalscorer Kim Vilfort who’s (sic) six-year-old daughter was discovered to have the leukaemia disease. In the past week, Vilfort had been flitting between team and hospital, making it hard to concentrate on his game.” The human interest angle was not entirely lost on me by then, a fortnight after my 13th birthday. An inquisitive seed had been sown.

Before my second level education began, I knew I wanted to be a journalist. That is, if my other plan, to captain the Irish soccer team and sign for Man United didn’t work out. In hindsight, I’m glad I had a contingency in place. It’s served me pretty well in the interim.

“No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money,” mused Samuel Johnson – and it’s hard to argue with that. But when I picked up ‘A Strange Kind of Glory’ in the Book Centre as a 12-year-old, I certainly wasn’t thinking about money. I was thinking about reading, and the idea of someone else reading something I’d written. And here I am, a fortnight shy of my 41st, and here you are, taking a few minutes to read this column. The Portlaw kid from 1992 feels very, very grateful for that.

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