April 26 – May 30, 2024

SPORT Maradona: Messi but backwards and in high heels

John Coughlan reviews Maradona’s autobiography, El Diego.

not. But we do it anyway. So how do they square up against each other, Messi and Maradona? Messi was better but Maradona was greater. That’s one way of looking at it. Or Messi was the best ever, but Maradona could do everything that Messi did, he just did it backwards and wearing high heels, in a manner of speaking. I just finished Maradona’s autobiography, El Diego. It’s the tenth book my co-host Al and I have reviewed for The Ademola Bookmen Podcast and In my opinion, it was the best one yet. It’s strange in a way because the book is not perfect. It’s translated from Spanish for one thing and some of the translation is clunky, some just plain weird. Whoever did the translation appears to have tried to make Diego sound like Jim Royle. A fairly strange literary choice. But you cannot get away from the fact that Diego is just an amazing character. Are there mediocre works of fiction that are saved by a single wonderful character? If yes, then this is the autobiographical equivalent of that novel. It would be like finding Atticus Finch in the Twilight series. This is the most astonishing thing about Maradona. He is not tevant local Jeremiah Ryan. On May 27, the Cork team arrived early in Buttevant and was left to wait six hours for their opponents to show up. The Rebels, along with their supporters, passed the time in the local hostelries. The Buttevant pitch was hard to play on; it was too long, too narrow and the grass was too high! The players also had to contend with a large mound in the middle of the field which obscured the view of the goals on either end. Cork clocked up the first point but the referee disallowed it for being out of play. He also disallowed another point for Cork in the second half for the same offence. The game turned out to be a stop-go affair as fighting between players and supporters at the sideline interfered with play and just 15 minutes before the end of full-time the crowd spilled onto the pitch. For safety reasons the referee blew his whistle, leaving Tipperary as the winners on a scoreline of 2-02 to 0-00. The rivalry between Cork

only arguably football’s greatest ever player, he may also be its greatest ever character too. Can- tona, Brian Clough, Socrates, Faustino Asprilla. These were all larger-than-life characters. They didn’t come close to Diego on the pitch. But neither did they off it really. During his career every- one agreed, he was the best. No doubt about it. And yet, other than two bad seasons at Barcelona, he spent his career at teams that were very much not the best. Or rather, not the biggest. Those two years at Barcelona ended in a brawl against Athlet- ic Bilbao in which the pint- sized Maradona roamed around the pitch after a 1-0 defeat scissors-kicking his opponents in the head. It’s worth a watch if you haven’t seen it. King Juan Carlos of Spain saw it, he was in the crowd. It was that debacle that meant no clubs came looking for him when Barcelona tried to move him on. No clubs other than lowly Napoli, a team of peren- nial also-rans in Serie A. Club execs around the world obviously didn’t fancy him. But fans did. When negotiations between Napoli and Barcelo- na hit the skids, some Napoli fans chained themselves to the

gates of San Paolo Stadium in Naples and went on hunger strike. Happily, for them and for the city, the transfer eventually went through. It is hard to say whether Maradona and Napoli was a match made in heaven or in hell. Maradona seemed to embody the city. He was gifted, undoubtedly. But he always saw himself as an outsider and an underdog. He played with ‘bronca’ (anger) so playing for a team that was spat on by the rest of Italy suited him. Together, they rose to incredible heights, winning the Italian league for the first time ever in 1987 and then again in 1990. But that is only part of the Maradona-Napoli story. From the outset, there were rumours that the 10 million dollars that the penniless club paid for him came from the Camorra, the Neapolitan mafia. What is without question is that the Camorra used Maradona, plying him with drugs, taking him out on the town for days on end, and using him to promote their various business ventures. Ultimately, the affair ended badly. After he put them out of the World Cup in 1990 in the same San Paolo Stadium, Diego became the most hated man in Italy. Beating them was one thing but by coaxing In Charleville on November 5, 1893 Cork and Limerick met for the first time. It was the Munster Hurling Final and 1,000 spectators braved the harsh winter weather to attend the match. The pitch was marred by long grass, while bunches of rushes grew freely in the cen- tre. By the end of the game the rushes had been slashed to pieces by the hurleys of the Cork men, who also swept aside Limerick. The final score saw the Rebels claim the Munster crown 5-03 to 0-00. Among those who played their part in dismantling the Shannonsiders in this maid- en meeting was St Finbarr’s stalwart Willie John O’Connell; four years later his life was sad- ly cut short when he was struck in the head by a hurley during a match in the Athletic Grounds, today’s Páirc Úi Chaoimh.

some Neapolitans to shout for Argentina by reminding them how badly they were treated by their compatriots in the north, he was pouring white powder in a painful wound. The protection that allowed him to party for weeks and beat every drug test was now gone. A phone tapping scandal in which Diego can be heard sharing drugs with prostitutes was the end. He was banned for 15-months, and his Napoli days were over. Along with the 1986 World Cup win, Maradona’s finest football moments were with the city of Naples. But maybe the city destroyed him too. In the years that followed he jumped from club-to-club – Seville, Newell’s Old Boys, Boca Juniors – falling out with man- agers and chairmen wherever he went. Truly in the grips of addiction, his career petered out. A positive drugs test during his 1994 World Cup comeback in the US and another shortly after in Argentina were the end for Diego’s playing days. A tragic end to a storybook career, just one that was more psycho- logical thriller than fairytale. He lived life with an intensity that few of us could muster for anything more than a couple of minutes. In El Diego, this really just jumps off the page. Reading the book, I was left wondering Cork and Waterford first met on a hot summers day in 1888. On the morning of the Munster Hurling Semi-Final, July 22, the Cork hurling team gathered at St Finbarr’s South Chapel. The Cork side, represented by Tower Street Hurling Club, attended 6am mass before heading across the city to catch the train for Youghal. When the hurlers, along with a contingent of giddy support- ers, arrived in the seaside town it took four wagons and a series of pony and carts to convey them onwards to Dungarvan, where Waterford waited for them at Dan Fraher’s field. Mr

how much of his skills on the football pitch were down to his unusual character as much to his physical gifts. The ending is sad, but his story is amazing. There has never been a good football movie. A film about Maradona is surely inevitable. If they can’t make a good one out of the life of Diego, out of the character of Diego, then they should stop trying altogether. His lifestyle, his charisma, and the way in which his career played out, all set him apart from Messi. The latter has pulled away from Cristiano now. Once his career has ended, it will be Maradona’s name that he is forever associated rather than Ronaldo’s. He is probably the best player ever to play football. But he is still not Maradona. You’ll find reviewers John Coughlan and his friend Al Bond of the Ademola Book- men Podcast on Twitter and Instagram, and they welcome feedback and book recommen- dations at ademolabookmen@ The Ademola Bookmen Podcast is available on Spotify, Apple, Google Pod- casts and so on. Episode 10, El Diego, was released on April 3. Fraher had the duty of referee- ing this first encounter between the Deise and the Rebels. With the wind at their backs in the first half Cork easily put 2-04 on the score board. Waterford on the other hand, represented by Carrickbeg, were unable to score at all. By full-time Cork had added four more points while Water- ford were still scoreless and the Cork contingent, in fine voice, headed victoriously in their wagons back to Youghal. From there they boarded the train back to Cork city, arriving, by all accounts, just in time for late night mass!

F red Astaire was the best dancer in the world, someone once said, but Ginger Rogers could do every- thing he did but backwards and in high heels. As they near the end of their careers, it’s clear now, Messi was better than Cristiano Ron- aldo. Winning the World Cup helped. But even before that, in most people’s eyes Messi seemed to have already won their 15-year arm wrestle. So that makes him the best ever, right? Maybe. Even better than Maradona? Does it even make sense to compare players from different eras? Probably In a short piece to mark the start of the Munster Hurling Championship – where Cork will take on its provincial foes throughout the month of May – Pauline Murphy looks back through GAA history to the first occasions that Cork met Tipperary, Limerick, Clare and Waterford. C ork and Tipperary first met on a mellow Sunday afternoon in 1888 when 12,000 people gathered in Buttevant, to witness the first ever clash of the Rebels and the Premier county. It was the Munster Hurling Quarter Final and Cork were represented by Tower Street Hurling Club, wearing green jerseys. Tipperary were represented by Clonoulty, decked out in green and gold jerseys, and the referee for the match was But-

Cork’s early sporting clashes

and Clare goes back to the turn of the 20th century when on May 13, 1900 the Bannermen took on the Rebels in Tipperary town.

The occasion was the Mun- ster Hurling Semi-Final. Clare was repre- sented by Kilnamona and Cork by County

Champions St Finbarr’s, who suffered a narrow defeat of 3-04 to Clare’s 2-09. Clare and Cork would meet again three years later, when a massive crowd of 10,000 gathered at Markets Field in Limerick for the Munster Hurl- ing Final. The groundsmen at Markets Field had not anticipated this large swell of people and, in the name of safety, opened the gates, allowing free entry to hundreds of lucky spectators. Cork won in this second meet- ing with Clare, 3-10 to 2-06.

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