Did we really think he was snookered? Turns out Joe Brolly didn’t even have to play this one off two cushions.
There was a certain glee in the air this week as a queue formed to pronounce Brolly a hypocrite for presenting himself as an eir Sport pundit, not long after his promise to never work for eir Sport or any subscription TV service that stood as a betrayal of GAA volunteerism.
Joe’s escape? That argument was lost, bring on the next argument.
What did we expect? That he would take himself to task with the catchphrase of the domestic punditry age, ‘What do you think of that, Joe Brolly?’
Instead, Joe told us how much he loved the telly. He explained his great fear of irrelevance. And he transported us briefly to that place where he comes alive: “Five, four, three….”
When the camera light goes on, Joe Brolly has always been utterly present. In the moment. Like Eamon Dunphy, this leaves him vulnerable to the audits of those who keep track of opinions and u-turns.
And it occasionally sees him lapse into unkindness that doesn’t tally with the acts of kindness in his real life.
Perhaps that’s just one more central contradiction. An acute awareness that none of it is real, that it is showbiz, baby. But that it is desperately important all the same.
This week Brolly warned us about the scourge of ‘permanence’.
“Like, in 10 years who is even going to remember any of this?”
All we want is consistency? Turns out we don’t even want the consistency VAR has given us with offside.
Oscar Wilde warned us long ago about consistency and not long ago Gary Neville added his own reservations.
Neville spoke of his growing sense that he has said whatever he has to say.
He hides it well, Neville, whatever restlessness he must feel at being imprisoned by consistency.
You can only detect that restlessness during his irregular appearances on one of those roadshows, which is where he made those remarks.
On these occasions, another Neville is evident, a slightly more alive version. Joe, on the other hand, never appears more alive than when he’s on the box. At least, in that sense, he’s consistent.
Paul Merson also comes alive on the box.
He’s one of the most complicated souls of our time, the Merse. A fragile man.
He was a wonderful footballer, with a way of looking at things differently. He didn’t easily fit any mould.
His was an unintuitive approach that might take him the long way round a defender. Or dig out his pass with the outside of the foot. His appreciation of angles made him a reliable source of chips and lobs.
If he and David Rocastle decorated George Graham’s glory years, Merse also lit up the latter, meaner years. Brought a humanity that was keenest felt when he wasn’t there. Much like last weekend, when he was missing from Soccer Saturday.
On TV, Merse also lives, unselfconsciously, in the moment.
That brings about a certain amount of inconsistency. Earlier this season, he took controvassy to the next level by hitting out at himself for being too harsh on Harry Maguire.
“I thought I was very critical of him on Saturday, if I’m being honest,” Merse said, on a Tuesday.
Traditional profundity isn’t necessarily Merse’s thing. Yet he can lay claim to one of the great catchphrases of our time, a poignant warning of promise unfulfilled: ‘Next year don’t come’.
Merse has also brought the left-field improvisation of his football career to his place in the punditry age. From audacious chips to repurposing of ’80s pop classics.
“They are solid as a rock, Jeff. They are Ashford and Simpson.”
And when you consider his childlike joy at reeling off endless rhyming slang for post — beans on toast, Norfolk coast, Sunday roast, Casper the friendly ghost, gameshow host — it is impossible to reconcile that this is a man who has known such despair.
It is, as Merse says so often, scary.
But then this is not real life.
This week the powerful words of Ireland international Clare Shine brought real life crashing into our sporting arguments.
A couple of weeks ago, Paul Merson told us about the same dark place he’d been in, about how he had also considered taking his life.
He has spent nearly three decades grappling with his addictions. Yet there must, along the way, have been a certain amount of denial.
We often heard how he had beaten the drink. How he was now able to enjoy one or two.
But this time, the man whose football career became associated with a drinking celebration, sounded surer than he ever has before.
“For me, it’s always been the drink. When you start drinking, everything goes out of the window. You don’t care about anything. You don’t even care about yourself.
Happily, Clare Shine seems to have taken a shortcut to the wisdom of Merse at less than half his age.
“Once I conquered the alcohol issue — because I had become so dependent on it — I was able to see life from a different perspective. I always thought drink was going to cure everything when it was really the devil on my shoulder.”
In their humanity and vulnerability and remarkable honesty, Paul and Clare remind us there is no such thing as permanence, only one essential truth.
Next year don’t come, but today has. And tomorrow can.
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