Monumental

Argentina play Brazil tonight at home in the Monumental Stadium. It’s their first competitive meeting for six years and we`d love tickets!

We drive past the imposing Monumental twice daily on our school run along the Pan Americano Highway.  It’s the national stadium, home of River Plate and iconic venue of the 1978 world cup.

You must remember the famous 1978 tickertape final!

I remember watching the grainy scenes, beamed from Bueno Aires where Kempes scoring the extra-time winner. Those final-whistle pictures of Argentinian players collapsed onto their knees are seared into my memory.

It was Argentina’s first win and meant so much to the huge crowds who ecstatically poured onto Buenos Aires streets that night.

It was a very long time ago but it left a huge impression on this young boy and I`ve been fascinated by Argentina and football ever since.
The Monumental always provokes a reaction as we pass by. I was childlike in my enthusiasm when we first passed it, but not everyone has that reaction.

Many friends, teachers and parents have driven us along the Pan Americana and there is always a bit of drama as we pass.

Some roll up windows, blaming the terrible smell, others do the opposite and stick their heads out to breathe in the beautiful Monumental air. Some passionately honk the horn but nobody  ignores it and says nothing.

Some talk about 1978 and what a terrible time politically it was for the country.

While the eyes of the world were on the Monumental, nearby at the Navy Mechanical School (Esma), innocent people were illegally detained and tortured during Argentina’s military junta. During this Dirty War, hundreds of newborn babies were taken from mothers and ‘disappeared’.

Today the building is home to Museo Malvinas, the Falkland’s Museum.

Our drivers’ reactions of course are down to club allegiance and futbol is a religion here. There is deadly rivalry between the two main teams, Boca Juniors and River Plate.

The day we arrived River won the Copa de Libertadores, the South American Champions League and fans celebrated wildly downtown by the obelisk. Since then , Boca have won the league and cup with Carlitos Tevez in devastating form.

Tevez is building a new house a couple of blocks from our school. Darragh was so excited and immediatley googled if he had a son.  He hoped to spot Tevez calling to the school to collect the boys. But he  has two daughters so won’t be turning up at our all boys school for a while.

Messi is arguably today’s most famous Argentinian although Pope Francisco is definitely more loved. They give Messi a hard time here, the boys at school say that he walked his way through the World Cup and Copa de America Finals which La Albiceleste lost. Poor Messi! Argentinians are not good losers.

We haven`t been to any match here. It’s not straightforward. Due to ongoing violence, away fans are banned from all stadiums.

Boca fans say that River only won the Copa de Libertadores because Boca was disqualified when its fans pepper-sprayed River players in Boca’s Bombonera (Sweet box) stadium last May.

Since Argentinians are so nocturnal, matches begin late. Kick off tonight is 9pm which makes getting there and home more complicated, especially when matches are on school nights.

Football is on television everywhere. Little TV sets blare out matches in cafes and local fruit and veg shops so you`re never going to miss out.  There are endless football matches so enthusiastic commentaries are part of the daily background noise.

When the Boca-River Superclasico is on, the whole city is involved with the streets responding to every goal. Whenever a team scores, Porteños rush out onto to their balconies to scream  GOOOOOOOOOOOOL to the city skyline. It`s great fun to listen to.

Darragh plays his first Argentinian league match tomorrow and is really excited. He loves football and when his Irish friends and team mates heard that he was going to South America they told him that he would be amazing when he came back.

Just by stepping onto Argentine soil, he would soak up the footballing brilliance. Futbol Osmosis.

He is quite proud of himself this week because he scored a powerful right-foot volley( his words) to level the match during this week’s PE. It doesn’t get much better than that especially for a ciotog.

Darragh’s friends thought we would be meeting famous footballers here too and of course we have had our brushes with fame!

1        I have met the daughter-in-law of one of Maradona`s former psychiatrists!

2        I also taught a student whose father made a TV commercial with Messi.

3        Finally and best of all, I nearly met Argentinian superstar Gabriel Batistuta, scorer of fifty-six international goals.

A visiting Irish professor, who was based in Buenos Aires while researching a book on Irish Argentine relations, arranged to meet the three of us for coffee. He and his wife were wonderful company and afterwards invited us to join them later for pizza in the famous El Cuardito restaurant. We declined as it was too late on a school night.

When the professor arrived, he was seated beside Batistuta. They had a chat and their photo taken while the whole restaurant chanted ‘BatiGol. We were so so jealous and sorry we didn’t go.

We’ve visited various schools, some in poorer barrios where football can be gang related. Everyone asks which team I support but to be honest I`m uncommitted.

When cajoled, I plump for San Lorenzo, the Pope’s team. They’re good, came second in the Primera A and gave Boca a good run for their money. No doubt, the Pope was cheering them on and will be supporting Argentina tonight.

I’m so close to tonight’s match in the Monumental, that it hurts. Anyone got tickets?

 

Good Luck Argentina!

We’re backing Los Pumas all the way now!

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Darragh and I were dreading going in last Monday, but it turned out to be a lovely occasion. I spoke at assembly, congratulated Los Pumas and told the boys that we were really proud of Ireland`s effort too.

After speaking, we helped to raise the Argentine flag over the school while the children sang the anthem.  The ceremony takes place every morning but our show of support caused quite a stir especially when I told them that my Irish friends wished them well and wanted Argentina to beat Australia.

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The boys didn`t believe me. They were adamant that I should be for Australia because Argentina knocked Ireland out of the World Cup.

I’ve spent the week being the most popular man in Newman. Everybody wanted to to tease me about Ireland losing but also to ask if I was really for Argentina.

Of course I’m for Los Pumas; the three of us really hope they do it.

Tomorrow is a hugely historic day for the country. Not because of the rugby but because of the general election.  The economy is in big trouble here with serious inflation and Argentina isolated financially.

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Current President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner is standing down as she has reached her two-term limit so tomorrow Argentinians will elect a new president for the first time in eight years.

One of the leading candidates is Mauricio Macri who is mayor of Buenos Aires and past pupil of our school, Newman. He refers to his kidnapping in the early 1990s as one of the reasons he took up politics.

He is the former President of Boca Juniors and when asked about the Rugby World Cup ,he said that football in Argentina has a lot to learn from the way rugby fans celebrated together.

Here all away fans are banned from football matches because of the risk of crowd trouble. It’s a pity because football is far and away Argentina`s No 1 sport.

Video clips of the Irish celebrating with Argentinians have been shared on social media all week.  The people I speak to are impressed that the Irish, although obviously gutted by the loss, were so sporting in defeat.

I know, I’m not alone  among the Irish  in hoping that Argentina has a great day tomorrow both in Twickenham and at the poll booth.

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Nach fánach an áit a bhfaighfeá gliomach!

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My friend Gary and I exchanged a quick few words while cycling one Sunday morning in Cork. When I told him I was thinking of going to the Brothers` school in Buenos Aires, he replied that his cousin, Thady O’Brien, had been a Christian Brother in Argentina but that he knew nothing about him. He sped off and we spoke no more about it but I decided to keep an eye out.

It slipped my mind completely especially with the Rugby World Cup and the hype in the school about the Argentinian Top 14 semi-final; Club Newman play CUBA on Saturday. Newman has never won the Argentine Championship so the students are delirious at the prospect of a first national title. They bubble with enthusiasm and pride about `La Barra del Timbal` Newman`s noisy die-hard supporters.

Many mentioned Manolo, a deceased Christian Brother who was the driving force of rugby in Newman and the club’s No 1 fan for many years. He’s pictured on the club’s advertisements for the semi-final. Newman fans told me that the club’s grounds are named after him and display a plaque, written in Irish, in his honour. Br Timothy O Brien, they called him. Timothy? Thady? Manolo? The Brothers confirmed that Gary`s cousin, Thady from Cappamore, was the famous Hermano Manolo, beloved by all in Newman.

Thady came to Argentina in 1962, reluctantly. Steeped in Irish culture, sport and music, he had a great love of the Irish language and was a member of Ógra Éireann. Leaving Ireland was a huge sacrifice for him but he did so, obeying religious superiors. Argentina fitted him like a glove and the Argentines appreciated his quick wit, easy manner and sense of fun. Everybody knew Thady and enjoyed him, soon calling him Manolo, a playful moniker for his Latino ways. His beloved hurling wasn’t to be found locally so he transferred his passion to rugby, becoming a hero for La Barra del Timbal.

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Manolo had a great sense of humour, great faith and a natural way with people. The teachers here still get emotional when you mention him. One teacher showed me his picture that hangs in her home. Another took off her wedding ring and showed me the inscription that Manolo had helped her with, `Mo ghrá thú`. Manolo had prayed with them, laughed with them and taught them Irish; they loved him.

Manolo’s name lives on. My school Blarney Street CBS raised money, with Midleton CBS, for the Centro Hermano Manolo, which provides education for street children in Cochabamba, Bolivia. We`ll visit there in February.

Gary, be very proud of Thady, he’s a legend! Vamos Newman!

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http://www.clubnewman.com.ar/

#vamosirlanda

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I spend  mornings chatting to props, flankers and second rows. Towering figures with firm handshakes and broad smiles. Students from Newman’s senior classes, who enthuse about the virtues of rugby, talk tactics and teamwork and catalogue their training and injuries. They are proud, Club Newman teams  are in five semi-finals this year including the first team in the URBA TOP 14. Rugby is not my sport but I can’t help but be affected by the passion and enthusiasm of these young men.

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Every day, I am timetabled to prepare pairs of pupils for the IELTS exams, except recently classrooms are emptying. All eighty seven final years have gone on rugby tour to Ireland and the UK and are encamped in a London Hotel, waiting to roar on Argentina against the All Blacks. They won`t be alone, the student population is diminishing daily with world cup fever sweeping through the school. A sporting exodus is underway with about a quarter of senior cycle boys already enroute to Britain.

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It`s a wonderful privilege to sit down and talk to these students. Bubbly characters, with long hair and charisma. They talk freely about their lives and interests. About their large families. Their fathers who played rugby at Newman and kept in touch with the school and class mates. They talk about barbecues on their farms. About parties, polo and friendship, so important to Argentinians. But mostly they talk about rugby.  I met one boy who told me that he was jetting off the following day with his entire extended family. I was surprised because till then students had told me that the world cup trip was very much a male thing. Fathers and sons together, sometimes three generations of men travelling. When I enquired about the travelling females, he modestly told me that his whole family was excited and anxious because his brother would be playing for the Pumas. Ok, I admit it, I’m hooked and can’t wait for the matches, especially one potential quarter final: Pumas V Ireland!

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Check out Newman students` rugby tour blog here:

http://newmangira2015.blogspot.com.ar/

Mea culpa, it seems!

Listening to the opening half of the All Ireland, in Buenos Aires, on Radio na Gaeltachta was magical; SBB poetically describing Galway dictate and dominate. The imagery and beauty of his Irish words helping us believe, so too did the call to Connemara and Daideo`s optimistic prediction- Galway by 5.By half-time, with Galway ahead by 3, history beckoned; we decided to see it for ourselves. I fiddled with the borrowed laptop, connected cables, downloaded apps and finally got images on TV.
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The previous Friday, I lunched in the Brothers` residence with Br Thomas and Br Sean, Galway men with an encyclopedic knowledge of Irish sport especially hurling.  Thomas has been in South America for over 40 years, ,Seán ten years longer. Both were excited and nervous about the final. Discovering that my wife`s nephew, Jack had played football for this year`s Galway U21s. Br.Sean recounted  the final against Roscommon and Jack`s game at full-back. Comprehensive communication is instant now but years ago the Brothers would have to tune in with short-wave radios and hope the BBC World Service mentioned the All-Ireland result as a final sports item. If not, they would have to wait a week for the result. They would never dream then of making a telephone call. How times have changed!
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We had invited Thomas to watch the semi-final against Tipp with us but he was too nervous to watch, preferring to pray in church and catch snippets in city centre cafes. We too listened to the semi-final at a café on Peña, outside at a street table breakfasting in glorious sunshine. The mobile phone, onthe table next to the pastries and coffee, broadcasting wonderful words, commentary that licensed our dreams and memories. Galway won a thriller that day but today`s images on the television brought us back to reality. Kilkenny smothered Galway in the second half. Blurry figures moved like Darragh`s PlayStation players as the screen buffered and rebooted. TV images lagged the radio commentary so we abandoned words. Galway lost and it was my fault apparently.  Darragh was upset. `You should have left the radio on, everything changed when you turned on the telly. You brought us bad luck!’

Mea culpa, shílfeá.

Bhí muid faoi dhraíocht agus muid ag éisteacht leis an gcéad leath den Chluiche Ceannais inniu ar Radio na Gaeltachta, i mBuenos Aires; SBB ag déanamh cur síos fileata ar Ghaillimh agus an lámh in uachtar acu ar Chill Chainnigh. Thug a chuid focail misneach dúinn. Chreid muid go bhféadfadh siad é a dhéanamh. Ansin, nuair a chuir muid glaoch abhaile go Conamara agus nuair a chuala muid Deaideó ag rá go mbuafadh Gaillimh le chúig phointe, bhí muid cinnte go raibh againn. Ag leath-ama, agus Gaillimh chun cinn le trí phointe, bhí ócáid stairiúil ag titim amach. Chaith muid é a fheiceáil. Chuaigh me ag spochadh le cáblaí agus cnaipí ar an ríomhaire a bhí faighte ar iasacht againn go dtí go bhfuair mé pictiúr ar an teilifís.

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Dé hAoine seo caite, bhí lón agam le Br. Thomas agus Br. Seán, beirt Ghaillimheach le fios a ngnó maidir le cúrsaí spóirt na hÉireann, iománaíocht ach go háirithe. Tá Thomas théis dhá scór bliain a chaitheamh anseo, agus leath chéad bliain caite ag Seán. Bhíodar beirt ar bís agus ina gcéas faoin gcluiche. Nuair a chuala Seán gur imir Jack, nia le mo bhean, d’fhoireann na Gaillimhe f-21 sa bpeil i mbliana, rinne sé cur síos cruinn ar an gcuiche ceannais a bhí acu in aghaidh Ros Comáin. Ní tada sa lá atá inniu ann a bheith in ann coinneáil suas le chuile rud beo atá ag tárlú ag baile, ach nuair a tháinig siadsan amach anseo i dtosach, b’éigean dóibh éisteacht leis na scéalta spóirt a bheadh ar an BBC World Service ar shean-radió ag súil go ndéanfaí trácht ghairid éigin ar na cluichí CLG. Muna gcloisfidís tada faoi thoradh ansin, bheadh orthu fanacht seachtain iomlán le scéala a fháil. Ní chuimhneoidís go deo glaoch a chur abhaile. Nach h-iad na saolta atá athraithe!

Thug muid cuireadh do Thomas teacht ag breathnú ar an gcluiche leath-cheannais in aghaidh Thiobrad Árainn in éineacht linn, ach ní raibh sé in ann aige- an iomarca strusa ag baint le bheith ag breathnú! Roghnaigh sé ina áit dul ag guí sa séipéal agus píosaí beaga a chloisteáil de réir a chéile sna caiféanna thimpeall na cathrach. D’éist muide muid féin leis an gcluiche sin ag suí taobh amuigh ag café beag ar Sráid Pena, ag placadh bricfeasta agus an ghrian ag scoilteadh na gcloch. D’éist muid le chuile fhocal ag teacht amach as an bhfón a bhí leagtha síos ar an mbord againn i measc na gcupán agus na gcácaí; muid chomh ríméadach le bhfaca tú agus an tráchtaireacht aoibheann ag cur lenár stór smaointe. Rinne Gaillimh an beart an lá sin, ach inniu, agus muid ag breathnú ar na h-íomhánna siúd ar an teilifís, m’anam gur tháinig muid chugainn fein sách sciopthaí! Rinne muintir Chill Chainnigh slad orainn sa dara leath. Firíní beaga ag ritheacht thart ar an scáileán ar nós an dream a bhíonn’s ar PlayStation Dharragh. Bhí an tráchtaireacht ar an radió níos moille ná na pictiúir. Chaith muid in aer an radió. Chaill Gaillimh agus is cosúil gur ormsa a bhí an lucht. Bhí Darragh trína chéile. ” Ba cheart duit an radió a bheith fágtha ar agat. D’athraigh chuile rud nuair a chas tú ar an teilifís!” Mise a tharraing an mí-adh.

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Leagan Gaeilge scríofa ag BT
Ealaín le Darragh