Paddy Walsh is back with the sports column that makes Joe Brolly look like a six year old let loose with a pen and a notepad – in a dark room. This week his targets, sorry topics include Finn Harps’ Cup run, tee time with Jim McGuinness and his err, love of couch to 5ks! Take it away Walshy.
NEXT STOP AVIVA!
It’s a stirring memory from forty years ago. F.A.I. Cup Final. Dalymount Park. St.Patrick’s Athletic against Finn Harps. And we’d hardly taken our places on the terraces when Charlie Ferry drills a free-kick to the net after just two minutes. The Dublin side draw level but the big man, Brendan Bradley, has, as he invariably did, brought along his scoring boots and his two goals settle the game and send the Cup to Donegal for the first time.
Bartley Ramsay’s extensive history of Harps recalls the homecoming and the bonfires flanking the roadways as the team bus travels through Ballyshannon, Donegal Town, Ballybofey, where a platform had been erected and speeches were delivered, and on to a victory celebration in the former Intercounty Hotel in Lifford. Ironic, in some way, given that the great bulk of the Patsy McGowan managed Harps team hailed from Derry but here was Donegal coming out in large numbers to greet the returning heroes.
With this team we’ll capture a few more and some league titles to go along with it, those of us with blue and white blood thought at the time.
Not to be and while there were subsequent European appearances and a First Division title success the Cup has remained a distant memory even if Charlie McGeever’s 1999 version of Harps came within thirty seconds of repeating the feat only for Bray Wanderers to be awarded a penalty and, two matches later, to claim the trophy.
And now come Sunday, Oliver’s Army will be within ninety minutes – or/and a replay – of another Final and another chance for Cup glory.
No scratching of heads to guess who are the out and out favourites to progress from the tie at Richmond Park and there’ll probably be some in the home crowd who, all those years on, are still smarting from that 1974 reversal and will duly welcome sending Harps and their supporters home with nothing to show for their efforts but a decent bite to eat in the Glencarn Hotel in Castleblaney (are you ready for us, Pat?).
Not just the divisional difference but the respective form books suggest a comfortable afternoon for the Inchicore side but, hey, this is the Cup and Keith Fahey & Co. could go off the boil and Ollie’s men perform like they did last Friday night in Ballybofey.
Ignoring last night’s result in Wexford – look away now if you’re waiting for the highlights -, a 3-0 defeat, that display against promotion seeking Shelbourne ranked as the best by a country mile of this, and perhaps, even last season. Quick-fire passing movements – each of Harps goals on the evening were as the result of some precise passages of play – and 100% commitment to the final whistle proved this team can perform when up for it.
Two defensive errors, punished by Shels, represented the downside of the performance but cut those out – and to be fair, Harps defensive record hasn’t been bad this campaign – and they can match up with the best of them. Only difficulty is Liam Buckley’s Pat’s might prove better than the best of them.
But hope and history will travel with us as it always does.
There are always regrets in this life and upon hearing of the passing of Hughie ‘Dick’ Doherty this week, I’ve another one to add to my own personal list.
Not just regretting his passing but regretting not having taken the trouble to visit him at his home in Buncrana after pledging to do so when I met his daughter, Deirdre, at the Donegal Sports Star Awards in February of 2013 where she accepted the much merited Hall of Fame Award on his behalf.
Ironically, just the other week I came upon a copy of the citation she had given me on that night in the Mount Errigal Hotel when we shared stories of the great old stalwart of Donegal football.
It was during my time with the ‘Donegal People’s Press’ and the ‘Derry Journal’ that I got to know Hughie when he would call in to our offices with the latest results and fixtures and other data on local footballing matters such as the Inishowen League and other competitions. It wasn’t just his enthusiasm and knowledge that made you welcome his every visit but his solid personality and good humour that prompted many a laugh along the way.
He did so much in helping to develop organised football in the county and never shirked his duties when which went way beyond what was asked of him.
Can’t say – serious age differential here! – that I ever saw him play the game but veteran supporters of Derry City, Dundalk, Glasgow Celtic, Raith Rovers and Blackpool will no doubt recall impressive performances on the pitch and playing alongside the great Stanley Matthews and Stan Morteson. Off it, he was a true gentleman and someone who is already been missed in the context of football’s family.
As for his own family, I can only extend the sincerest of sympathies to them on their loss and, again, regret that I never got the distance to engage in a trek down memory lane with one of the great characters of local sport.
BOOZE FROM THE CROWD
The Shelbourne F.C. website last week detailed arrangements for a supporters bus heading to Ballybofey for last Friday night’s fixture. It added the line: ‘Please note that this will be a DRY bus’ (their capital letters, not mine).
And so it may have been though the sight of a collection of occupied lager cans at the door of the bus just outside the Chestnut Road entrance to Finn Park before the kick-off suggested it might not have been dry for long.
And, coincidentally, here’s another booze-related story involving a Harps/Shels fixture from way back and the legendary Celtic supremo, Jimmy Johnstone.
In his autobiography ‘Jinky…Now and Then’, published in 1988, which I was trawling through recently, the flame-haired winger, who had a battle with the demon drink, recollected his stint with the Dublin club some thirty-seven years ago when he was still expressing a desire to return to Jock Stein’s Celtic.
“In Ireland I had stayed off the booze and was on my best behaviour until New Year’s Eve, 1977. Shelbourne were due to play Finn Harps in Donegal. The team were staying in Ballybofey and on the eve of the game we entered into the Hogmanay spirit. A team-mate produced a bottle of Jameson’s Irish Whiskey and some of the lads, including myself, polished it off.
“It wasn’t a big bevvy session but word reached Celtic Park and my name was ‘blacked’ again. I was shattered.” And so were Jinky’s ambitions of returning to the Hoops.
And another dry-free Shels bus.
In a county where sport plays such a huge part in our communities and so many of us have a passion for all shades of it, it was gratifying to see the Donegal League authorities suspend their fixtures on the afternoons of Donegal’s All-Ireland Semi-Finals and Final encounters. The game of soccer supporting Gaelic Games. A gesture that was much appreciated by everyone involved.
Not so the decision this week by the same Donegal League who have opted not to postpone this Sunday’s programme despite the fact that it’s up against the F.A.I. Cup semi-finals and specifically the one involving Finn Harps. The game of soccer not supporting soccer, it might just be said.
There may be a couple of arguments where the League is concerned. There was the threat of ending up with a fixture back-log and also the fact that clubs, apparently, have been given the option of changing fixture times to avoid a clash.
But it still seems unsettling that the county’s only senior club has been pushed to the fringes while the Donegal League sides were left with decisions to make on fulfilling their fixtures.
Not the only League to come in for question marks in relation to Sunday’s Cup semi-finals. Five days before the trek to Richmond Park, Harps faced that long, long trip to Wexford last night for a rescheduled league fixture – hardly the ideal preparation for what’s to come at the weekend. Derry City, too, were travelling to Bray and will also be returning to the capital for their match with Shamrock Rovers.
Harps did head south with a depleted squad with suspensions, work commitments and injuries forcing their hand but surely the League of Ireland authorities could have scheduled the game for next Tuesday even if it did come hurriedly on the back of the Cup match?
Didn’t see the hurling final but by all accounts – the Kilkenny People – the Cats were fully deserving of their victory over Tipp.
What I did see was the senior All-Ireland Ladies Final and what a Corker that turned out to be. Trailing to Dublin by ten points with under a quarter of an hour to go – and up to that point playing with all the competence of a nervous jelly – Eamonn Ryan’s Cork team somehow clawed their way back into contention to clinch a 9th title by a solitary score.
As if the Dubs didn’t have enough to put up with this year.
It seems half the Donegal senior squad were at Gleneagles for the Derider Cup along with Jim McGuinness (rumour has it the Glenties man popped into the locker rooms to advise Rory and the boys before tee-off but that’s only a rumour and we’re not here to spread those sort of things).
At least his team ran Kerry close – the U.S.A. were as far removed from Paul McGinley’s European outfit (and what outfits) as Dunfanaghy is from Detroit.
Not that I was watching any of it. The grass was growing outside.
Finally I’ve given in. All these exercise-takers out in their runners and on their bicycles have persuaded me.
I’m organizing a ‘Couch to 5k’ event for this Saturday.
But without the 5k bit…