Paddy Walsh continues his brilliant sports column in a week of GAA heartache, soccer ambition and Ryder Cup …… well you get the picture. It’s a sports column! Take it away Paddy.
A KICK OF THE BALL
Some effort when you think about it. An All-Ireland Final between Donegal and Kerry and your kick-out somehow finds a Tyrone man. What were the odds on that?
Not that big Kieran Donaghy – Omagh born but raised (and, boy, can he rise) in the Kingdom – was thinking of placing any money on it. No, placing the ball in the Donegal net was all he had in mind and he duly did. And from that moment on, the hopes of a repeat of 2012 and 1992 faded even if they ignited again in that hectic finale when a barnstorming run from – who else? – Michael Murphy set up substitute Patrick McBrearty only for his shot to be parried away by Kerry ‘keeper Brian Kelly. And still both Donegal and Kerry hearts were in mouths as a diving Colm McFadden got his palm to the ball and watched it pop off the post before finally being hacked to safety and out of the reach of a potential replay.
Dream over. But no fingers of blame to be pointed, least of all at the luckless Paul Durkan, without whom we wouldn’t have been there in the first place, his heroics between the uprights in the Championship run-in, a lesson to all aspiring goalkeepers.
Many tears shed – largely by the players themselves – in the Diamond in Donegal Town during Monday night’s homecoming attended by up to six thousand fans who can truly call themselves supporters for turning out in such numbers to hail the efforts of both Seniors and Minors.
But those same Seniors were jewels in the crown back in 2012 and while some of them may be slipping into club football without the regime of the inter-county game to occupy their every waking moments, the others will be back with as much commitment as ever to earn another crack at the ultimate honour. And they’ll be joined, have no doubt, by some of the Minor team who went close to wrestling the Tommy Markham cup from Kerry hands.
In many ways – perhaps in every way – the forerunner to the Senior game was a much better offering in terms of entertainment and skill value and while the greatest of optimists among us could never a few short months ago have foreseen two Donegal teams contesting an All-Ireland Final, it was bizarrely unfortunate that the outstanding achievements of Declan Bonner’s Minors were overshadowed to some extent by the Seniors advance into the third Sunday in September.
One statistic stands out in all the figures bandied about in the build-up and post match analysis. A statistic that outlines more than any the debt this county and its sport passionate population owes to those footballers who wore the jersey at Croke Park.
Jim McGuinness underlined it when he addressed the homecoming reception and revealed that his players had embarked on 128 training sessions to reach the All-Ireland Final. Count it up in your head – close to 130 gruelling run-outs as they primed and prepared for last Sunday in the weeks and months leading up to it. And most of them back at their regular work-stations the following morning.
Have a good belly laugh the next time you hear a Premiership footballer or manager harping on about being forced to play a match or two a week and pocketing around 200,000 sterling for the privilege.
And let’s hope our own footballers will be back for another homecoming next year with a better outcome and the same management team in place.
Your county needs you, Jim McGuinness, and, equally significantly, you must surely need to prove you’re not simply the manager who led his charges to just one All-Ireland title when you know there are a few more in you.
High up in the Davin Stand – even trees near Fitzgerald Stadium in Killarney don’t grow to this height though you can still, apparently, get a decent view of Kerry footballers from them – I, and thousands of others, are watching a dream die.
And here beside me, sharing the anguish and those moments of hope that every so often a Donegal attack would bring, two friendly faces in the guise of Mary McGonagle and Maire Matthews from Carndonagh.
Originally from Carrick-on-Shannon, Maire has been resident in the Inishowen town for the past thirty-years, more than enough time there to consider her a local and therefore entitled to wear the Donegal colours which she does with no disguised pride.
“Okay, I’m a Leitrim born woman but this is the closest to an All-Ireland Final, I’ll ever get,” she laughs, producing a well worn Donegal cap that bears the legend ‘Ulster Champions and All-Ireland Finalists, 1992’. More proof there of her affiliations to her adopted county and three sons somewhere else in the Croke Park to help back the claim.
On comes the President, Michael D. Higgins, for the pre-match rituals and introductions.
“He’s wearing the same suit he wore in Carndonagh last week,” Mary declares.
Is he really? “I’m certain he is – I’d recognise it anywhere.”
How he thought he’d get away with it and the half of Carndonagh there, we’ll never know.
Aye, the craic was good in the Davin Stand but what would it have been like had we taken home a trophy or two?
Okay, get those flags out. And drape the bunting on every available lamppost and light standard. And get spray-painting those cows and cars. Another Donegal trip to Dublin on the near horizon and another trophy lined up for the potential winning.
Not green and gold this time – come on people, time to take them down – but blue and white. For the Harps are heading to Inchicore and a date with St Patrick’s Athletic in the F.A.I. Cup Semi-Final on October 5th.
Naturally the pundits have been quick to dismiss Ollie Horgan and his team with all three panellists on Monday night’s edition of ‘Soccer Republic’ on R.T.E. previewing a Final involving St. Pat’s and Shamrock Rovers while passing lightly over the little matter of the semi-finals. Incidentally wasn’t it all neatly convenient for the national broadcaster given that it won’t have to step out of the capital to provide live television coverage of the respective fixtures on Sunday week?
Meanwhile, I spotted Ollie making his way to Croke Park last weekend to cheer on his adopted county, Perhaps, Jim could drop into Richmond Park in return and offer some of his masterful psychology before the kick-off?
Ryder Cup latest: According to the sports bulletins, Rory McIlroy is pondering on whether or not change his driver for this weekend’s tournament.
Can’t he just walk the course like the rest of them?