Thursday, February 15, 2007

Hell Hath No Fury

Yesterday the normally stagnant waters in which the minnows of the Gaelic football swim were rendered all choppy by the 'transfer' of Thomas Walsh, star midfielder with Leinster strugglers Carlow, to near neighbours Wicklow. That the latter county's manager is Mick O'Dwyer, the legendary former Kerry boss, but also a serial snaffler of players from other counties in his subsequent jobs, has led to all sorts of conspiracy talk within Carlow.

Whether Walsh was 'enticed' by the sweet-talking man from the Kingdom or not (O'Dwyer strenously denies any such allegations), the howls of antagonism from Carlow would tend to suggest that the offending player may do well to avoid the streets of his native Fenagh, the club from whom he transferred to Bray Emmets.

Transfers within the GAA remain something of a taboo subject. Strictly speaking a player can move when his living circumstances permit it, but the idea of changing club or county for personal betterment contravenes the pervading spirit of the greater good of home parish, then county.

Although the reasons for Walsh's move are not yet clear - he stated only a few days before submitting his transfer request that he would not be going anywhere - and though he apparently now lives in Wicklow, one can only assume the opportunity to profit from the O'Dwyer dividend in Wicklow had some influence on his decision.

For soccer fans, for whom the transfer system is as intrinsic a part of their game as boots and balls, the whole idea of loyalty is tantamount to an anachronism. That knowledge, however, doesn't save some moving players from the full force of a jilted fanbase.

A few weeks ago Shaun Maloney left Celtic for Aston Villa on the final day of the January transfer window, having been involved in protracted contract discussions with the Hoops for around a year. The outpouring of hostility toward the player - ostensibly making a professional decision based on a superior financial package - amongst the Celtic support was vociferous, to the point where many have withdrawn previously-held good wishes for the success of Martin O'Neill's new venture as Villa manager.

The player's perceived betrayal replicated a similar move on the part of Liam Miller to Manchester United, the downward trajectory of whose subsequent career provided a source of schadenfreude to many a Celtic supporter.

It seems that any self-respecting support must adopt bunny-boiling tendencies when faced with being spurned by a former hero. Spurs had Sol Campbell, Barcelona had Luis Figo. Of course it didn't help that the players involved moved to sworn rivals in both those cases.

The lexicon of love applies so conveniently here because depth of affection toward football player is often dangerously parallel to directed toward a relationship partner. Fans might talk about the betrayal with reference to the amount of time and money spent making a player successful, much in the way a rejected lover might talk of the emotional commitment laid waste by the sight of a short skirt or the flutter of forbidden eyelashes.

Everton supporters had the look of frumpy divorcées when Wayne Rooney jumped into the glamourous arms of Manchester United. When they first got their hands on him he was just a scruffy lad, they turned him into.....well, you get the point. Most pointedly, there was a sense of bafflement, only they seeing why their man had left the dowdy matron for the sultry debutante.

The Wicklow football team mightn't resemble a sultry debutante much, but try telling that to Thomas Walsh's jilted former county. Next time he returns to Carlow, he might even find his sports car's headlights smashed in and all his suits cut into pieces.

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