Enda sends in seasoned professionals to take the hard tackles on field of dreams


POLITICAL FOOTBALLS and political footballers do not make for a beautiful game.

But as a punishing referendum campaign enters the final quarter, it’s all about pushing the lads forward for the win.

(Despite the best efforts of sideline-sitter Shane Ross, there will be no extra time. So it’s all to play for until the referendum blows up on Thursday.)

Enda Kenny has been covering the hard yards with remarkable energy in his midfield general role, but continues to skip shy of the hard tackles.

His opponents have identified this as his weak point. Yesterday, Sinn Féin intensified their efforts to draw him into the physical man-to-man marking of a televised debate.

Enda responded by sidestepping their brawny impact sub and sending in the fresh legs of some very seasoned professionals.

At a photocall in Merrion Square Park, Monaghan United manager and An Phoblacht columnist Roddy Collins togged out for Sinn Féin and the No squad.

The party also took the opportunity to launch its latest poster, which is a blatant attempt to piggy-back on the Republic of Ireland’s European Championship campaign.

It features an image of what appears to be the national team (no faces) lining up for the national anthem.

Underneath, in big letters, it says “Euro2012”. And beneath that: “Support Ireland”. You’d nearly be fooled into thinking the FAI had lined up the Boys in Green to support the anti-treaty side, for the rest of the poster is taken up by a very large exhortation to “Vote No”. Look closely though, and you see a very small “Sinn Féin” signature in the bottom left-hand corner.

All credit to the lad Collins – he gave 110 per cent for the team, calling for a rejection of the treaty because he fears the prospect of further austerity.

He said the Taoiseach should go on the Vincent Browne show and debate with Gerry Adams.

“You have to be a man. Man up I say! Man up, face people, be honest, be transparent and look into your own soul!” He believes Ireland should face down Europe and demand a better deal.

The pundits asked if he isn’t worried about what might happen if there is a No vote and Ireland doesn’t have access to emergency money.

“Well, I’m worried both ways, I’m worried both ways . . . I see a terrible decline. And I’m in fear now, I’m in fear now before we even go to vote. I’m in fear because the austerity has already kicked in. All I’m saying is be transparent with the people and I say to Enda Kenny and all the leaders: just man up, you know. We’re ordinary people walking the street. We just want to hear what’s going on . . . ” And how would passing the referendum make the hardship he speaks of worse?

“You see, I don’t know. All I can say is, I’m in fear. I’m not an expert on the No or the Yes vote, but I see the No vote maybe will get more attention to the circumstances we are living in.”

The former professional footballer mused “At the end of the day, how bad is it going to get?” That’s the question, and one which wasn’t going to be answered.

So we left Sinn Féin’s impact sub and went to another field of dreams to watch the Taoiseach continue the sporting theme.

He joined a host of sporting greats on the immaculate sward of the Aviva stadium. They included champion jockey Barry Geraghty; rugby greats Fergus Slattery, Tony Ward and Denis Hickie; snooker legend Ken Doherty, Dublin GAA hero Jason Sherlock; Olympic boxing gold medallist Michael Carruth; and Ray Moylette, World and European amateur youth champion.

Young Moylette is from the Taoiseach’s home village of Islandeady in Mayo. Enda gave him a playful thump when they met and waved his fists in his face. Then he gave Carruth a wallop on the arm. “Fair play to you!” He was lucky to escape with his teeth.

Enda had come from a tour of Tipperary, Carlow and Kilkenny. His way – if not Roddy Collins’s way – of “manning up” and facing the people.

Senator Eamonn Coghlan arranged the photocall. He said he was always asking his sporting friends “for help in charity work” and they never refused.

Enda calmly took possession of the ball. “This actually isn’t about charity, it’s about helping ourselves . . . what you are doing on Thursday, irrespective of any political affiliations you might or might not have, is a statement about ourselves as a people and about our country.” Then the Taoiseach and the boys – not a female sporting heroine among them – posed for a team photo.

A finishing tape was unfurled – “Sports People Say Yes” – and the sportsmen raced through it.

With that, Enda raced back down the tunnel to his car, on a mission to redress the gender balance. He was off to Bray to meet world champion boxer Katie Taylor.

Alas, Katie was detained at a photoshoot for a commercial sponsor, so the Taoiseach chatted to her father, Peter, about his fabulous daughter’s Olympic prospects.

If the Taoiseach was disappointed he didn’t get to meet Katie, he didn’t say it. Even an inveterate thumper like Enda knows his limits.

“If you got a belt off her, she’d take the head off you.” And he grabbed his political football, manned up, and left for a round of engagements in Wexford and Waterford before rounding off his day in Cork.