For a man who used to shout handball when he saw Barney Rock slot over a free for the Dubs on the Sunday Game, Paddy Walsh is watching his fair share of GAA these days. Donegal’s favourite sports columnist is back and writing about everything from the no-show by James McCarthy to why a Letterkenny Garda could have made the difference at Celtic Park against Scotland. Take it away Walshy.
SEE YOU JIMMY (OR NOT AS THE CASE WAS…)
So DID James McCarthy pull a sickie? And will he be skipping out on to the Goodison Park pitch next Saturday afternoon with a Lourdes medal round his neck and a starting place in the Everton line-up for their match with West Ham United?
Chances are he will – though probably minus the medal – and we’ll all be nodding our heads in belated agreement with Roy Keane. We might never know – at least until the Scottish born midfielder’s autobiography hits the shelves – but is there a part of us that might share his possible apprehension at having to turn out at Celtic Park knowing that his every touch was going to be greeted with a blue chorus of animosity?
Did his conscience stick in his throat that here, he would be, lining out for the native country of his grandfather against the nation where he was born and brought up? Perhaps. Or, perhaps, he really was carrying that injury and was in no fit state to face the Scots.
No such problems for Aidan McGeady who, left to confront the barrage on his own (though the Irish fans did counter all the jeers on his behalf by chanting his name) turned out on the soil of his birthplace even if his performance wasn’t as solid as it had been in recent outings for the Republic.
But then which Irish player could honestly say they had risen to the occasion on the night? Well, here’s one viewer and fan who didn’t think the overall display was as bad as some – Liam Brady, for instance – were making out?
Not a classic game by any stretch of the Gorbals and certainly not the entertaining encounter that the I.T.V. highlights panel of Slaven Bilic, Glen Hoddle and Tony Pulis, might have had us believe. But I did agree with the latter trio that both teams had contributed equally to the derby atmosphere and the pitch battle.
Would Martin O’Neill’s men have earned a point had that header not crashed off the crossbar at the end (the late, late show as George Hamilton, described it before switching back to Dublin for the Slate, Slate Show)?
The onus was on Scotland to make home advantage count and it’s true to say that they did produce any of the better passing movements of the evening but you couldn’t say that this was a significantly below par performance by the Republic even if the subsequent comments in the R.T.E. studio and the following day’s newspapers might have convinced you otherwise.
That being said, had the team only played with some of the verve shown by the eleven replacements – including Shay Given who pulled off a couple of top drawer saves – who lined up against the U.S.A. last night, we might have come home with something from Scotland. Indeed, perhaps had Robbie Brady being on from the start in Glasgow – what a peace of a free-kick he scored at the Aviva – the visiting team could have caused their hosts a lot more problems.
Some promising young talent coming through in the Irish ranks as was evident against the Americans. Hope hasn’t, after all, been eradicated by that defeat in Scotland.
BANKS IN BALLYBOFEY
A brief reference to a goalkeeping great in last week’s column prompted me to go rooting through the old book shelves in search of a publication that came out in 2006 entitled ‘Gordon Banks – A Hero Who Could Fly’.
Written by lifetime fan – or at any rate a fan as soon as awareness of the footballing world made him sit up and notice – Don Mullan, it’s a tribute to the man who kept goal for England and plied much of his club trade with Stoke City when they played out of the old Victoria Ground.
One of the chapters recalls the author arriving home from school on a June day in 1970 to find a message written in lipstick on the sitting room mirror of his Derry home. ‘Don, see Journal, Gordon Banks coming to Donegal,” Mullan’s sister, Deirdre had scrawled. On the table she had left a copy of that day’s ‘Derry Journal’ with the back page facing up and revealing the main story: ‘GORDON BANKS WILL PLAY AT BALLYBOFEY.’
Having never seen his hero outside television, books and magazines, Mullan read and re-read the headline and no doubt pasted it and the story into the scrapbook he kept. Yes, it was true, Banksy was coming with his Stoke team to face Finn Harps – then managed by Patsy McGowan – in a pre-season friendly on Sunday August 2nd of the year in question.
His father, he writes, wasn’t much into soccer but the younger Mullan didn’t have to ask him to take him to Finn Park for the game and so off they went.
“My father had an inkling that the Stoke team would be staying at Jackson’s Hotel, Ballybofey, hometown of Finn Harps F.C. He pulled into the car park and told me to wait. I paid no attention as he went to the boot of the car and somehow managed to conceal from me the fact that he was carrying my scrapbook into the hotel. A few minutes later he emerged, elated and excited, beckoning vigorously. Puzzled, I followed him into the hotel lobby and immediately spotted my prized scrapbook with a tall man leafing through it. “Here he is, Mr. Banks,” my father said. And with that Gordon Banks turned around. Words cannot describe the meaning of that moment. To me, it was like being granted an audience with God.”
The Stoke player’s “sensitivity and respect towards this Irish kid” was, Don Mullan maintained, a cherished memory that remained with him even as all hell broke loose around him in the city of his birth as the Troubles ignited. Indeed, they had already ravaged lives – four days after the ‘Journal’ had revealed the pending arrival of Gordon Banks, five people, including two children, had perished in a house fire in Dunree Gardens where petrol bombs were being manufactured.
And on the very day Stoke were facing up to Harps, the first rubber bullet was fired in Belfast. Don Mullan also wrote extensively on the horrors of Bloody Sunday to which he was a witness. But an English goalkeeper had, as the flames caught hold, given a 14 year old boy some leverage away from what was unfolding all around him.
As a young boy, myself, and living in the relatively peaceful surrounds of Letterkenny, I can remember Banks trotting out on to the Finn Park surface in that particular game and receiving a hero’s welcome, no more so from a teenager who could now boast of having a scrapbook signed by him.
Stoke won 3-0, I recall, with Jimmy Greenhoff – who, along with brother Brian, would later go on to play for Manchester United – scoring twice.
And no future boasts for a Harps player at the time to say that he had put one past the world’s greatest goalkeeper of that era.
THE BURN IDENTITY
Somehow the words All-Ireland Final and Termon Ladies seem to settle comfortably in the same sentence. Destiny is another term for it.
Having spent a few afternoons or evenings on The Burn Road watching my own young girl take part in blitzes and matches, I’ve seen at first foot the dedication and enthusiasm for the women’s game in this particular neck of the woods.
Don’t they even place billboards on the nearby Letterkenny to Creeslough main road featuring large scale photographs of their successful teams – passing motorists knowing for sure that this a club that continues to go places.
And where they’ll be going on the last day of this month is to Croke Park for the ultimate challenge following that two point win over Kilkerrin-Clonberne in last weekend’s semi-final in Galway.
A couple of years back, when tuning into TG4 one Sunday afternoon, I got my first glimpse in the colours of Donegal of a 17 year old prodigy who looked as if she owned the ball on the field of play and appeared to possess a pair of magical boots. She, too, belongs on the big stage and in the context of an All-Ireland Final, it doesn’t get any bigger.
Not just a hugely talented individual but a hugely talented individual who knows the precise whereabouts of the opposition goal and how to get there.
Geraldine McLaughlin’s tally of four goals and an equivalent number of points in the Ulster Club Final win over Donaghmoyne merely underlined the pedigree of the Termon girl but we’re almost not surprised anymore when she notches up those volumes of scores.
In Galway she grabbed two goals and three points from her team’s total of 3-11 but contributed to all the remaining scores.
But don’t, however, run away with the impression that this is a one woman band – this Termon outfit comes in many different influential parts and each of them merit the plaudits for getting this far in the competition.
Francis Friel will bring his team to Croke Park for that showdown with Cork opponents, Mourneabbey, with the opportunity to claim their first ever All-Ireland title. More about it closer to the time.
ANOTHER ULSTER EXIT
For St. Eunan’s senior men, the Ulster semi-final is where their ambitions ended.
Too many mistakes represented their downfall last Sunday and, some might suggest, too many matches but as they showed strongly in the closing twenty minutes of the match with St. Enda’s, that appeared to put the lie to that.
But no disgrace to fall to the team that disposed of the kingpins of Ulster club football, Crossmaglen.
PHILIP RIDES INTO TOWN
Due to circumstances beyond my control – and, no, I wasn’t recycling a Saturday morning sleep – I missed Philip Deignan’s appearance at the An Grianan Theatre where, by all accounts, he played a starring role alongside his equally accomplished partner, Elizabeth Mary ‘Lizzie’ Armistead.
Not too often you get two highly acclaimed cyclists under the one roof in Letterkenny but there they were – Jason Black and Sean McFadden!
Seriously, as Jason pointed out, Philip who has never, despite his success on the international circuit, forgotten or ignored his roots, represents an inspiration to all of the budding young pedal pushers who were present.
Last year, I paid a visit to the Deignan home on Letterkenny’s Ramelton Road where his parents, Gerry and Kathleen, were lending out some materials for a sporting exhibition that was subsequently staged in the County Museum.
The pride in their son’s achievements was self-evident but more than that you could see, why and how, he has remained a fully grounded individual.
No, I haven’t been watching it and won’t be any time soon. For here’s one television viewer who just hasn’t got it where ‘I’m A Jungle – Get These Celebrities Out Of Here’ is concerned. Extreme cruelty to cockroaches, I call it.
But you’d have to be living in the garden shed and cut off completely from the world if you didn’t read or hear something about it – such as the fact that one Jimmy Bullard has been Tarzaned into this particular jungle.
Remember him? Decent striker of a ball with a few goals behind him but never rising above the ranks of your Fulhams, Wigan Athletics or Hull Citys. Still it was with the latter team that he probably led one of the funniest incidents ever seen in the English Premiership.
Hull were facing Manchester City away from home and after going in at half-time trailing by four nil, manager Phil Brown kept his team out on the pitch and, with the players seated in a circle, wagged his finger and his tongue at them (it appeared to work as they drew 1-1 in the second half).
Anyway, precisely a year later in November 2009 at the same venue, Hull were losing by the only score of the game when they were awarded a penalty. Up stepped Bullard to rifle the ball home, prompting the team to repeat the incident of the previous season – with Bullard playing the role of Brown complete with wagging finger etc. Even the Manchester City fans lapped it up and, to be fair to him, so did Brown.
And now here he, Bullard, is destroying all his credibility from that priceless moment by swinging into the jungle.
Look out for Joey Barton in next year’s series – I certainly won’t – or has he already been in it?
And the camera pans around Celtic Park before the kick-off and there’s O’Neill, Keane, Strachan, O’Shea, Naismith….and Dorrian?
The eagle-eyed among you will have clearly spotted the popular Letterkenny Garda, John Dorrian, in the crowd at Friday night’s big game.
Sadly, he couldn’t, nor could the Irish defence (and after all that’s what THEY were there for) put the shackles on Shaun Maloney before he netted that winning goal.