Author Archive

Picks For 10th Instalment Of Electric Picnic

Electric Picnic makes its tenth appearance this weekend and it’s bigger than ever.

One weekend a year the Stradbally estate is transformed for the Electric Picnic festival and that pays Tomas Cosby’s bills for the rest of the year. The Picnic is a sell out in 2013 with 35,000 people reportedly descending on Stradbally over the weekend for a carnival that is much more than the sum of its big names. There are no controversial Killers in the line-up this year and the bill has the stamp of eclectic excellence that has brought EP from what was humble boutique beginnings in 2004 to its present position as the biggest festival in the country in 2013. Michael Franti put it succinctly saying that Electric Picnic managed to strike “the perfect balance of hedonism and social consciousness.” Continue reading

Longitude Guide – Schedule, Picks And Site Map

The forecast is perfect for Longitude’s debut this weekend in Marlay Park, 53.2775° N, 6.2697° W.

So as the sun shines on this urban festival who are the ones worth catching and which clashes have left you dejected since the timetable was released on Tuesday? This line-up is full of indie heavy-hitters and must see dance acts so there are bound to be some tough decisions, last minute darts and groups sent their separate ways only to converge in the Bacardi Tent – yes the trappings include an Oakheart Bacardi Bar where good tunes are guaranteed for the weekend – afterwords to boast and gloat about each others respective right choices. Continue reading

O’Driscoll Dropped as Gatland Reverts to Welsh for Decider

Brian O’Driscoll’s anguish after the final whistle in Saturday’s 16-15 defeat in the 2nd Test in Melbourne has been further compounded as he is dropped for the deciding test in Sydney on Saturday. Gatland’s decision to omit O’Driscoll from the 23 man squad for the final Test was announced in the Irish am and this country awoke to the news that their heroes’ Lions career has ended ignominiously. Sport is rarely sentimental; Gatland never is as he drops O’Driscoll for the first time in his career.

Continue reading

Lions Ready To Break The Force

 

The Lions Tour to Australia officially kicked off last Saturday in Hong Kong as the Lions comprehensively defeated a lacklustre Barbarians side 59-8 in a match that fulfilled their commercial obligations en route to Oz. This was as far removed from a Test match as they will experience and the real opposition in the Ex-Pat citadel was the weather with temperatures as high as 30 degrees during the game and with unbearable humidity to boot. This was a training session conducted in extreme conditions – think literally the polar opposite of the cryotherapy chambers that the Welsh team have trained in previously under Lions Head Coach Warren Gatland to get some sort of idea of the extremity of it. Now that everyone seems to have come through unscathed and having run in a number of tries we can move onto the real business. After the Test series this chapter will either be lauded as great prep or pure madness; only hindsight really knows. Hong Kong was the prelude and with the Lions reaching Perth, the most Westerly city in the Australian continent and home to a booming mining industry, this much anticipated tour Down Under starts in earnest when they meet the Western Force this morning (11am kick off Irish time). Continue reading

Double Proves Fitting Send Off For Leinster Greats

Leinster 24 -v- Ulster 18

Leinster, the dominant force in Europe for the last five years, have landed a domestic title that has alluded them for three seasons in a row and in doing so completed a famous double. For this extraordinary group of players no less would have done.

For the last two years Heineken Cup hangovers and primed opposition have tainted what was meant to be their European champions’ party. This year was different. After bowing out in the group stages of the Heineken Cup, because of two defeats at the hands of the majestic Clermont, Leinster’s focus switched to the domestic title that had escaped their greedy grasp at their zenith. Last week’s European victory in the Amlin Cup took on a secondary importance. They enjoyed Friday night’s celebrations but didn’t allow them become weekend long sessions as they licked their Parisse induced bruises and returned to training on Monday setting their sights firmly on Ulster and the difficult task ahead. This was unfinished business. Their opponents for the final had completed a home and away double against them during the regular season and the game would demand the standards that have epitomised Leinster during the Joe Schmidt era, this technically away final in the RDS was his 99th and last game in charge of the province. However, the Ulster defeats earlier in the season were not the main motivating factor for Leinster instead it was the fact that they have been runners-up for the last three seasons in this competition that really irked them. For this uber successful bunch those defeats lingered through the Summer months. All talk this week was about completing the job, finishing the season off to their lofty standards and not leaving a sour taste, and that meant victory – the only fitting send off for Joe Schmidt, Jonathan Sexton and Isa Nacewa. Continue reading

The Irish News Review Lions Squad

Lions

The Lions squad to Tour Australia will be announced by Warren Gatland and his lieutenants tomorrow at 11am – Tuesday April 30th – and 38 players will Tour. The announcement will end the speculation that has been rife since the start of the Six Nations. The European semi-final weekend just gone was the final chance for the players to audition for the trip Down Under. Most of the plane is filled at this stage, but last weekend the coaching team split up for the final time to cast their eyes over proceedings in the RDS, Montpellier and Twickenham and the players in contention had one last opportunity to squeeze their way into the famous red jersey. Akin to the  attention paid to tennis player’s Wags  during Wimbledon, the cameras honed in on the faces of the Lions coaching staff at each break in play in order to spot a giveaway look, or nod of approval, that would signal someone had done enough. But further speculation was all that could be garnered from the steely expressions and early exits. Now the playing is over and it’s an agonising wait for those involved in marginal calls. Gatland and his henchmen will come together again today to finalise selections before facing the media and breaking the squad tomorrow – Tuesdays are rarely this exciting. After it’s announced the difficult work begins as they hope to become the first Touring side to record a Test series victory since Ian McGeechan’s men in South Africa in 1997. The Lions, as a sporting brand, needs to win but they face an Australian side that will be bolstered by their club’s best domestic Super rugby form in years , all their stars are fighting tooth-and-nail for a Test spot against the visiting Lions. What a Summer Down Under awaits! Continue reading

{Awayland} By The Villagers

{Awayland}

The Villagers’ second album brings fans further into the creative mind of the prolific Conor O’Brien.  However, after two years of touring the last album the Villagers are no longer a solo act masquerading as a band.  This offering is much more layered than its predecessor and the collaborative band effort has led to a fuller sound which will have wider reverberations in the music world. Continue reading

Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit Of Lance Armstrong By David Walsh

laOn October 22nd 2012 Lance Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour De France titles and he received a lifetime ban from cycling.  The International Cycling Union (UCI) accepted the findings of the 1,000 page United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) report and issued sanctions banning Armstrong from the sport and stripping him of his seven tour titles.  One man knew Armstrong was a fraud from the start and here is his account titled Seven Deadly Sins.

For David Walsh, chief sports writer for the Sunday Times, the curtain came down on this saga on the day his son John would have turned thirty – October 22nd.  However, John died seventeen years before in a tragic bicycle accident.  He was aged only 12.  In his short life John inspired his father with his inquisitive nature.  John asked questions about things that others took for granted.  Walsh spent 13 years in pursuit of the truth about Lance Armstrong and he frames this quest as one that honours his son’s memory.  The crusade went on longer than John’s short life but Walsh’s determination never wavered.  From 1999 to now, he painstakingly sought evidence to build a case that started out as a gut instinct. With this book, Walsh has written his definitive take on the story that has dominated his life since Lance Armstrong crossed the finish line to win the 1999 Tour De France.  On that day, the Sunday Times correspondent kept his hands by his side refusing to applaud this fairytale comeback.  By then he was no longer a ‘fan with a typewriter’ he had seen cycling’s drug-fuelled dark side and he knew that Lance was its greatest incarnation.  So Walsh devoted himself to the task of debunking this sporting messiah.  By doing so he “put himself in Armstrong’s bad books, the library from which there is no escape.”

Walsh got this book to press with a similar speed to the Peleton descending from the peaks of the Alps during the Tour.  He has obviously had the bulk of it written for a number of years, at least in his head.  He gets across the story with an ease that speaks of a life immersed in the topic.  Walsh juggles a large array of characters throughout the book and is determined to acknowledge the major role they played in unveiling the deceit.  Over the years he has picked up various insiders who have put their professional lives in jeopardy to go on the record and tell their stories.  He manages to jump deftly between these characters without losing his reader, “Here’s Betsy Andreu.  She was on the inside.  Now she’s on my side.” Walsh witnessed the determination of those who had been close to Armstrong and their willingness to go on record with their accounts and risk their livelihoods, which were more entwined in cycling than Walsh’s, and this convinced him that he was doing right.  In order to repay them for the risks that they took and the slander that they endured he names and gives them a voice in this gracious account.

In the book we see Walsh acknowledge his beginnings as a naïve observer before morphing into the sceptic who is unwilling to ignore sports biggest pharmacist in the room – it’s a journey for the sportswriter who is determined to be more journalist than fan.   Initially his innocence is seen when he is unable to question his hero Sean Kelly after hearing pills rattle in his pocket moments before a race. In hindsight it was seminal; his first glimpse at the reality of professional cycling and the shedding of his blind fan-dom.  But he still wrote an unquestioning biography of his then hero and he failed to raise questions that that moment should have posed.  Walsh looks back on that with dismay seeing a fan unable to see the obvious.  Through watching his friend Paul Kimmage’s brief and unfilled stint as a pro cyclist he was awoken to the effect that drugs would have on riders who choose to ride clean.  Kimmage never stood a chance in a cheaters’ race.  The cycling careers ruined by a dirty peloton acted as a spur.  He began asking questions.  Guys like Kimmage and Christophe Bassons whose dreams never soared because of the prevalence of drugs in their sport buoyed Walsh for the long-haul fight.

During the book Walsh gives insights into his profession.  One is an anecdote of how he convinced his then editor Vincent Browne from the Sunday Tribune that Kimmage was a perfect fit for journalism.  Kimmage had been dictating his thoughts to Walsh who would compile a column from them but soon it became clear that Kimmage thought in fully formed pieces and once Walsh managed to impart this to Browne he then offered Kimmage a job the next time he touched down in Dublin.  Browne was responsible for giving many young sports writers a start as editor at the Tribune.

Walsh uses W.B. Yeats as a device to tell his story.  It mostly works but at times he succumbs to terribly simple clichés and that is something that should be eradicated from sports writing when the transition is made from column to book form.  It can be somewhat forgiven with deadlines looming but a definitive account of cycling’s biggest scandal should have been freed from this by an editor.   Twice Walsh mentions that “things had changed, changed utterly.”  I’d like to say that the ‘terrible beauty’ that Yeats ushered in with that line in the poem ‘Easter 1916’ was the birth of the most used sports writing cliché.  Perhaps the race to press hampered this as it’s the only complaint one can have about the Walsh’s writing.  He uses Yeats more aptly in rounding up the book as he sees his debt as naming and giving a voice to those that he has worked with over the thirteen years to uncover the scandal.  The closing pages allows them to give their final words on a huge chapter for each of them.  Armstrong has silenced them for years with his legal machine and bullying tactics but now they can tell their stories more freely as before these revelations Walsh was the only one listening.

Walsh’s account is not about Lance Armstrong, although he is the frame, instead it is about those that pursued him.  It is a look at sports journalism itself and the role that Walsh and his colleagues play in cycling’s drug scandal and drugs in sport in general.  It is about power and the questioning of it from a man who has done so for his whole career.  On October 22nd Lance Armstrong became “history, another ageing story of cheating and lying and doping and bullying and sport that wasn’t sport.”  For Walsh, this book is more personal than that – it’s for John.

Villagers Wave Goodbye To Intimate Gigs at Whelans

Conor O’Brien and the Villagers take to a familiar stage in front of a packed house in Whelans:  “We’ve played here two million times.  This is our two millionth-and-first gig, but this place is always special – it’s home.”  Villagers have just completed a long tour opening for Grizzly Bear around Europe.  They are finally home and ready to focus on promoting their second album Awayland which is due for release in January.

Their loyal fan-base is out in force to welcome them back.  It has been a long wait for the follow up to their phenomenally successful debut album, Becoming a Jackal, a Mercury prize nominee in 2010.  Those who have attended gigs in the interim have been treated to snippets of new material and over the last year the number of new songs featured in shows has grown and with it anticipation.

O’Brien opens within his comfort-zone with ‘Set the Tigers Free’, ‘Home’ and ‘The Pact’ all tracks from the bands first offering.   The Villagers toured the album for two years almost non-stop.  O’Brien’s mastery of these songs allows him to toy with them; he experiments by taking them in new directions.  For some, like ‘That Day’, he pares them back completely delivering them alone with just his guitar, but with others he invites the contribution of his band.  The latter is the new direction that the Villagers are taking on their forthcoming album.

Becoming a Jackal was O’Brien’s in all but name.  For the album he played all the instruments, wrote the lyrics and the music himself.  The band joined him on stage to perform the songs because there are only so many instruments one person can play.  However, things are different now.  O’Brien is one of the most complete musical talents on the Irish music scene but with the few years maturity he is not afraid to enlist the help of his band in the making of the new record.  In doing so he is embracing the contributions of his talented band members as he seeks a fuller sound.  He still has control of the lyrics but the musical monopoly that he commanded over the first album seems to have been relinquished.  In a short note on the bands website he describes the direction taken for Awayland, “I sure as hell don’t want to lose any intimacy in the music, but I need to take this intimacy into a more vibrant place.  The furrowed-brow vocal seriousness which I used to engage with has no place here.”  O’Brien is venturing into unknown territory.  He knows that releasing Jackal mark II would placate his fans but in terms of his development it would be pointless so he is embracing the band cooperative in order to take his music forward.

O’Brien, in his characteristically reserved way, gives the audience warning of what is on the menu, “Tonight we’re going to do lots of new material.  I hope that’s ok.”  The tightly packed crowd whoops its approval and he replies, “Good, because that would have been awkward if it wasn’t.”  The new album’s songs still bear the hallmarks of the first with his penchant for a sharp lyric and his enchanting vocals remaining centre stage but they are no longer alone as the furnishings have been worked on with extensive in-put from band members: Cormac Curran, Danny Snow, James Byrne and Tommy McLaughlin.  They join him for backing vocals on ‘The Bell’ giving it a more layered sound.  They turn punk for ‘Earthly Pleasure’.  They strum guitars together for ‘Nothing Arrived’ with Conor howling the vocals, banging drums while strobe lights flash.  The tough touring schedule has clearly taken a toll on O’Brien’s voice as he coughs between songs and drinks plenty of water but his enunciation is still immaculate when needed on the more intimate and familiar sounding ‘My Lighthouse’.  The crowd slips easily under his spell.  O’Brien gives us the title track from his first album and there is a warning held in one of its lyrics, “So before you take this song as truth/ You should wonder what I’m taking from you/ How I benefit from you being here/ Lending me your ears while I’m selling you my fears.”  Clearly this involves give and take as O’Brien tests the new material on his audience.

The new single ‘The Waves’ mixes light electro-funk beats with O’Brien’s bouncing lyrics and epitomises their exciting new direction.  The audience is warming to the new track as it builds towards a loud crescendo with the bands new, more united, sound washing over the audience.  Based on tonight’s performance the album will be worth the wait.

As O’Brien salutes the adoring crowd and mentions a special thanks to family and friends of the band who are up in the pew above saying, “We’re glad to have you here.  It’s been a while but we’ll be with you soon” before launching into the last song of the night, a familiar one, ‘On a Sunlit Stage’.  The intimate setting of Whelans may not be able to house this band for much longer.  January, and their second album, will see another surge in their popularity.  Their next Dublin date is March in the Olympia and by that stage fans will be equipped with a copy of Awayland and smaller gigs will be talked about with reverence.  They are no longer a solo act.

Setlist:

Set the Tigers Free

Home

The Pact (I’ll be your fever)

Grateful Song

Passing a Message

The Bell

Becoming a Jackal

My Lighthouse

Rhythm Composer

The Meaning of the Ritual

Memoir

Earthly Pleasure

Judgement Call

Nothing Arrived

The Waves

Ship of Promises

That Day

In a Newfoundland You Are Free

On a Sunlight Stage

Autumn Internationals Round-up

Scotland 22 –v-  New Zealand  51

Dan Carter guided World Champions New Zealand to victory against Scotland in front of a full house in Murrayfield.  Carter is peerless in world rugby and today he showed all his skills as he orchestrated three of the All Blacks’ tries and amassed 21 points with his boot.  Before kick-off, a fiery Scottish side marched forward to meet the haka, signalling their intent.  Throughout the match the Scots endeavour could not be faulted but the gulf in class was always evident as New Zealand never looked troubled.

It only took two minutes for the All Blacks to register points in this game courtesy of Carter’s boot.  Then Scotland struck.  In what was his only mistake of the game, Carter threw a pass that was picked off by Scottish centre Matt Scott.  He galloped free but had the presence of mind to pop a pass to his flying winger Tim Visser on his left shoulder who outpaced Corey Jane for the first try of the game.  It was converted and Scotland had the lead 7-3.  An aberration?  Indeed.  Minutes later Carter was making amends; with two breaks in quick succession he tore the Scottish defence asunder.  Each time he realised he was up against a forward – a mismatch – and stepped inside.  On the second occasion he fed Israel Dagg who crossed for the try. Carter converted, and normality was resumed 7-10.

In a ten minute spell from the 30 minute mark, scoring three tries in quick succession, the New Zealanders showed why they are the best team in world rugby at present.  Led by their captain Richie McCaw’s example they got their hands on the ball, rucked mercilessly, passed deftly and ran at space; no other team combines all these skills as they do.  The second try summed it up.  It was quick hands all the way across the field but each man, no matter what number was on his back, especially Adam Thompson, displayed the hands of a first class centre.  It is the simple skills but they have mastered them and they do it at such pace.  Scotland could not live with them as Piri Weepu displayed the same deft handling down a narrow channel before Andrew Hore crossed for the try.  With three hammer blows this game was effectively won and with panache.  It threatened to get ugly with the All Blacks scoring at will but Scotland fronted up again and they were rewarded deep into first half injury time with a score of their own.  After a number of quick tap penalties, Geoff Cross slipped under Richie McCaw’s tackle for the try that did not need the TMO.  Scotland went in 17 – 34 down.

In the second half the All Blacks were down to 14 men when Adam Thompson stamped a Scottish player in the head while he was lying prostrate in a ruck.  He will be cited for the offence and could miss the remainder of the tour.  Scotland took advantage of the numbers as Visser went over for another try.  Warren Gatland got proof today that Visser is a test level winger.  Visser and Richie Gray could be the only Scottish players on the starting Lions team when Gatland’s men tour Down Under at the end of the season.  New Zealand received a penalty shortly after this try and they elected to kick for goal this was a measure of the resilient Scottish performance.  Two further All Black tries inevitably came to put a gloss on the scoreboard but Scotland will take pride in their resolve and the fact that they scored three tries and 22 points – more than any other team has put on the board against New Zealand in the last two years; moral victories are made of such.

These Autumn Internationals will showcase the All Blacks in the first stage of transition towards the 2015 World Cup in England.  Their squad is a mix of fresh caps, new combinations, experience and excellence.  Hanson and his coaching team know that in three year’s time they will come to the Northern hemisphere to defend their World Cup.  The All Blacks’ conveyor belt looks as healthy as ever and the transition appears seamless – it doesn’t bode well for the rest of us.  Next year, Captain McCaw will take a six month sabbatical from the game which will see him miss the whole Super Rugby campaign.  This is in order to increase his longevity in an attempt to have him play until 2015.  It’s a long shot but Hanson is willing to do whatever he can to keep his inspirational leader, together with his playmaker Dan Carter, on the international paddock for as long as possible.

France 33 –v- Australia 6

 

France were the only Six Nations team to beat their Rugby Championship opponents this weekend and they did so convincingly.  Warren Gatland will bemoan the fact that he can’t select any of the Gallic men for his touring squad at the end of the season but he will draw comfort from the weak state of Australian rugby.

The Wallabies have to select from a smaller pool of players than their fanatical neighbours New Zealand as a result of the sport being the fourth most popular code in the country.  Yet in the face of this they have always managed to produce attacking players of the highest calibre but with an injury list including most of their marquee names their strength in depth will be tested on this tour.  The Wallabies have failed to cross the whitewash in their last two tests.  This doesn’t signal a crisis for coach Robbie Deans but he will know that England will be targeting next weekend as a chance to put one over on the Wallabies.

French intensity at the breakdown and scrum-time blew away a callow Australian team.  The men in blue were led by Freddie Michalak – plying his trade in Super Rugby with the Sharks franchise – he kicked two penalties, three conversions and a drop goal for a total of 15 points from his boot.  The mercurial fly-half has been out of favour with the national team. This was only his third test in so many years but with current form he looks ready to guide this team.  The French at home are hard to live with but the Wallabies will need to re-group and fast or this will be a long Autumn tour.  They will be boosted by the return from injury of their captain David Pocock and winger Digby Ioane.

Wales 12 –v- Argentina 26

 

Argentina have emerged battle hardened from their first year in the inaugural Rugby Championship competition and this showed in their defeat of Wales in the Millenium Stadium.

It was a gruelling encounter as is always the way when the Argies are involved.  The game saw the re-introduction of Felipe Contepomi to the test arena but this was short lived as he came off injured only fifteen minutes in after tackling George North.   Welsh centre Jamie Roberts, who has become the latest Wales international to announce that he will leave the Cardiff Blues for the lucrative French Top 14, also came off injured after 25 minutes because of a head clash.  He was replaced by James Hook who is already playing his club rugby in France.

All the Welsh points in this game came from the boot of Leigh Halfpenny.  Argentina were 9 – 6 down at half time but they came out in the second half and scored two tries to take victory.  Argentina more than matched Wales throughout the game and their reward came on 55 minutes when Juan Imhoff beat Leigh Halfpenny to score the first try.  Gonzalo Camacho also scored in the corner.  Both these tries were converted by out-half Nicholas Sanchez who also added a penalty that gave them the deserved win.

The Welsh team were bereft of attacking ideas during the game and the home fans showed their dismay at the final whistle by booing the team.  Rob Howley, who is interim coach with Warren Gatland on Lions duty, has now presided over four defeats in five games in charge.  Perhaps the Welsh team’s gruelling Polish training camp has them a little flat on the field or maybe the mass exodus of players is having an effect on the international side.

In the other games on the weekend England hammered a weak Fijian side – England 54 –v- Fiji 12  and Italy narrowly defeated Tonga –  Italy 28 –v- Tonga 23.