When I tapped Sean Óg on the shoulder to begin our interview, his attention was consumed by an article about sex in the Olympic village, of the sort that pop up at this time every four years.
The way the papers tell it, the last days of Rome were a buttoned up, prudish affair when set alongside two weeks in the Olympic village. It even makes the seminary in Maynooth look relatively chaste by comparison.
The article he was reading concerned the amount of condoms being delivered to the village, a number which seems to grow exponentially with every passing Olympic Games.
This story first surfaced in the Olympics in 2000 when the Sydney organisers mistook the village for a monastery and ordered a mere 70,000 condoms. This disgracefully short supply duly ran out after a week, necessitating an emergency re-order.
If Gay Mitchell’s dream ever does come true and Dublin grows big enough to host such an event, then the cost on the condom-front will surely bankrupt the country.
Sean Óg appeared to be genuinely embarrassed to be crept up on at this moment, the first time he ever displayed such an emotion. We briefly thought about initiating a discussion on all matters sexuality. But something in his demeanour told us Sean Óg is firmly of the view that the public has limited interest in hearing him discuss his sex life or whatever remains of it.
Thus far, in our conversations, matters have rarely turned to the question of Sky Sports and their exclusive rights to fourteen Gaelic football and hurling matches. This has surprised some of our readers.
They presumed, not unreasonably perhaps, that a man of Sean Óg’s age and temperament would be all in a lather about something as controversial as the Sky deal.
Sean Óg, lest it not be obvious by now, has never had any qualms about watching a game in a pub. Indeed, it is watching a game at home that holds far more fear for him. So, it makes little difference to him whether the game is on Sky or RTE.
But he does have very definite opinions on why all the current GAA players seem to love Sky.
He took particular note of Aidan O’Shea’s interview after the Mayo-Kildare game. O’Shea told Damian Lawlor of Sky Sports that the reason he’d received such a pasting after the Mayo-Fermanagh game was because the national broadcaster hadn’t brought enough cameras down to McHale Park, comments which struck Sean Og as an unnecessary buttering up of the host broadcaster.
— Shane Walsh (@shane147walsh) June 21, 2014
All this stuff about selling the games to foreign audiences is bullshit. All the non-Irish people who are watching GAA matches on Sky could be comfortably fitted into the old Nally Stand. And you’d probably still have room for at least one bus load of U14s from Roscommon. I’d say that Indian playground sport that goes on straight after is pulling in bigger numbers (Kabbadi).
Sky have damn all else to be showing during the summer anyway. I reckon once the deal runs out, they’ll cut their losses and go back to banging on a couple of Premiership Years episodes instead. Most of the time when you turn on Sky now, they’re showing a Liverpool match from 20 years ago anyway.
Obviously, the suits in the GPA are going to be on board because their grants are tied to commercial revenue. It’s all commercial revenue now. Every second county player nowadays is a brand ambassador for this or that (non-sequiter). But this isn’t the main reason the players are all in love with Sky Sports. TV3 paid almost as much for the rights as Sky. Money isn’t the reason.
It’s validation. That's what at the heart of it.
They get a kick out of the fact that they’re being shown on the same channel as Premiership football. Rather than plain old Raidio Telefis Eireann.
Sky Sports glamour. They’re bedazzled by it.
On the hurling, Sean Óg went out on a limb for this weekend and announced that he had placed a significant amount of money on Kilkenny to win the replay against Waterford on Saturday.
This is an unusual move from Sean Óg who usually only informs us of his wagers in retrospect. According to his own account, Sean Óg has a truly incredible strike-rate, hovering somewhere in and around the 100% success mark. Though, as is the case with all gamblers, we must factor in selective reportage here. Even more so with Sean Óg, who has usually kept ostentatious displays of humility to the absolute minimum.
Going by his own telling, he has cleaned the bookies out of it to the tune of thousands over the years. We’re tempted to conclude he is single-handedly responsible for Ivan Yates going out of business. He also does none of his gambling online meaning he was as likely to throw money on in Celtic bookmakers as anywhere else.
But he was in the mood to be bullish. There are certain iron rules that Sean Óg adheres to in his GAA commentary. You don't win All-Irelands without having two of the best forwards in the country. A belief in the enduring worth of 'quick ball'. You don't win anything unless you have 'formidable' mental strength. And you don't beat Kilkenny in replays.
We must warn here. Even by his own exacting standards, Sean Óg was remarkably harsh on Waterford. We have noted before how fond he is of the word 'chokers'. It carries just enough abusive force to satisfy him. Better still, it is a way of avoiding tedious technical explanations for what went wrong. He will seek to deploy the word wherever and whenever possible.
The amount of whinging and hand-wringing from people, tossing their hands in their air, wondering what you have to do to beat Kilkenny. I'll tell you one thing that will help you beat Kilkenny. Not hitting about 9,000 wides in the last ten minutes would be a start.
They had the match won. 3-4 points up heading into the last ten minutes. And they succumb to that defensive poison again. That's weakness, that's what that is. They'd been shooting well all day and that starts going shaky with the final whistle coming. Lads panicking and hitting potshots from the halfway line under pressure.
They start clogging up their own defence with bodies, surrendering the Kilkenny half of the pitch. Done to avoid conceding a three-pointer, no doubt. Well, they hadn't conceded any playing the way they'd been playing. They hadn't even offered up a sniff of a chance.
And then they retreat into their shell, make a mistake in clearing, and Walter Walsh rustles up a goal. They got what they were asking for.
All these bleeding hearts talking about well they'd played and how they gave it everything. Is no one prepared to say it? They choked. Choked! With the finishing line in sight. As for all this keening, cry-babies don't beat Kilkenny. In fairness to Ken McGrath, he didn't fall for all that.
As ever, Brian Cody will have a word. Sean Óg has incredible belief in the restorative power of Brian Cody's words after events like yesterday.
People are deluding themselves if they think Kilkenny are going to play as badly again. Brian Cody will have a word with them.
They're going to thunder into the game so hard next week that Waterford won't know what's descended on them.
Elsewhere, Sean Óg gets it very hard to praise the acknowledged man of the weekend, Lee Keegan. (At least until Austin Gleeson got going).
Not only did Keegan succeed in nullifying Sean Cavanagh, henceforth thought to be an almost impossible task, but he sallied up the field to kick two points, including the winning point. A staggeringly influential display. Given the game's importance, it has to rank as the performance of the season.
Alas, Sean Óg has a long memory (at least, on this matter). Not only did he note that this is the second year in a row Keegan has gotten the star man on the opposing team sent off, but he saw fit to dredge up his actions at the end of last year's Connacht semi-final in Salthill.
Galway won a free in injury-time. They were looking to take a quick free and get up the field. And Keegan just picks up the ball and dives on the ground. Just picks up the ball on dives on the ground!! You wouldn't mind but there was more than one score in the game at that point. It was plain unnecessary. Damian Comer, God love him, did his best to wrench the ball off him. He was fairly vigorous about trying to wrestling the ball free but, considering the nature of the provocation, I'd be inclined to praise him for his restraint.
In vain, we tried to point out that practically all teams engage in such antics and that Lee Keegan is one of many. Could he not praise one of the outstanding performances of the season? Sean Óg didn't answer. He shifted from the seat and went outside for a fag, taking his paper with him.
(*Sean Óg O'Kneekerk was in conversation with Conor Neville)