THE NOSE OF TRALEE (AND OTHER BLOODY SCENES)
So much for those of us who, after a tame McKenna Cup campaign, might have believed Donegal were punching below their weight.
It was difficult to see where it all started – a relatively minor scrap that was more handbags than anything else suddenly within a matter of a minute or two erupting into a furious exchange of hits and hacks, some of which might even have been outlawed in UFC rules.
It was ugly, it was mayhem gone mad, it was flashpoint after flashpoint in that opening thirty-five – and it was watched by a population of young supporters and future players. And not an ‘X’ rating in sight before TG4’s coverage of it. But how did they know that two sides with proven ability would descend into the depths and decide on an occasional outbreak of football amidst the madness of that opening half?
Blood would inevitably spill and it did – splattered around Neil McGee’s nose and mouth after shipping a hefty punch or three from Kerry’s Alan Fitzgerald, first to the body and then to the face. Fitzgerald was shown red – and rightly so. It was only afterwards when he claimed that the Donegal defender had a firm hold of his hand that we realised there might have been another side to the bloody story. But still he deserved to go.
And followed later by Donegal’s Leo McLoone, dismissed for an apparent strike on Aidan O’Mahony which, I have to say, passed this viewer by but didn’t lead to too much disputing in the visiting camp.
There were other skirmishes throughout but the second half produced the game we should have been having long before that. And when Donegal drew level at seven points apiece after trailing by four at the interval, there was a firm belief that the journey home would be accompanied by another brace of points, another Division 1 victory.
Not to be as Kerry inspired by the shooting boots of Bryan Sheehan shook off that early second half setback and put five points between them and Rory Gallagher’s men by the time referee Eddie Kinsella blew the last whistle of an eventful afternoon.
Beaten and bloodied in every sense by the time they boarded the bus home and their 100 percent record left behind them in tatters. And the full impact of those moments and minutes of frenzied rage still to be confronted.
That came yesterday when the G.A.A.’s Central Competitions Committee met to review the events at Austin Stack Park and handed out respective fines of 7,500 euro to both Donegal and Kerry. And a one match ban to Neil McGee.
How Alan Fitzgerald escaped a similar punishment is beyond belief but not everything is black and white or even red.
The defeat in Tralee – and subsequently in the boardroom of the Central Competitions Committee – won’t prevent a sell-out crowd from packing out O’Donnell Park on Sunday when Roscommon, now joint second in the table following their win over Down at the weekend, will be the visitors.
We can only hope for a return to winning ways for Donegal and an afternoon for football and not frenzy.
This team is good enough to claim top spot in Division 1 even with respective away trips to Dublin and Monaghan to come.
But it’s sweat, not blood, they’ll need to be spilling to make it there.
OLIVER’S ARMY MARCH TO OPENING NIGHT VICTORY:
“…MARTIN McGUINNESS, JOHN HUME, PHIL COULTER, FELIX HEALY, JOSEPH LOCKE, FERGAL SHARKEY, DICK TRACY AND THE GREEN DISASTER, GREGORY CAMPBELL, STORKY CARLYLE, YOUR BOYS TOOK A HELL OF A BEATING…”
Would love to be able to claim credit for the above but that goes to Letterkenny’s man of accounts, Cathal Roarty, for which glowing thanks (and not forgetting that heroic Norwegian commentator who delivered the original version complete with Maggie Thatcher etc. after another famous win).
Yes, indeed. Finn Park Friday night. Opening match of the season and an estimated 4,000 plus attendance marked with all the atmosphere you’d expect from a Harps/Derry City clash.
Before kick-off we remembered a true hero. Mark Farren, who made his name with the Candystripes but was hugely respected through the entire league, not least among those with blue and white in their hearts. The minute’s round of applause from players, officials and fans alike; the welcome to his widow, Terri-Louise; the release of white balloons into the night air to commemorate the goal scoring legend; and the chanting of his name by Harps supporters will live long.
And then the action on the field. A lively start by City and a nervy one by the home side. It could have been two or three nil to the visitors inside the opening fifteen minutes but gradually Harps worked their way back into things – inspired by first half substitute, Tony McNamee, who outshone his brother, Barry on the night – and on the stroke of half-time struck for the opener, new signing Dave Scully powering a header to the net.
A poor pitch made good football difficult but it was poor for both sides and it didn’t stop another close season capture, Ryan Curran – many’s a time we watched his father, Paul, frustrate Harps from the centre of the City rearguard – from racing through onto a rangy pass from Keith Cowan to roll the ball past Gerard Doherty for number two.
“WE’RE GOING TO WIN THE LEAGUE”, the home support chanted. And “CHEERIO, CHEERIO, CHEERIO” directed at the passing masses of Derry supporters making early exits to catch the Greyhound bus back to the Maiden City.
A handful of them had left their mark beforehand, however. Three flares thrown recklessly onto the pitch from behind the restricted those fans shouldn’t have been occupying in the first place. The only flare we saw all night, one wag in the Harps end declared. But hopefully Harps as a club won’t be made to pay for the mindless actions of that small band of visiting “supporters”.
Harps flags were also torn down and stolen at the same river end including the famous ‘FHFC The Religion’ emblem which has accompanied fans to many a visiting ground over the years. Credit to the ’54 Crew’ who acknowledged that only a small band of morons were involved in the destruction. What a tribute from those visiting thugs to the memory of Mark Farren.
Back on the pitch, City did get a goal back two minutes into the allotted four of stoppage time but Harps held out and three points were in the bag and only a second league win over Derry in thirty years.
Three points which – and Cathal Roarty would back me up on this seeing as he a dab hand at the old figures – is two more than the one Victor Fisher bet Harps wouldn’t manage from their opening four fixtures in the Premier League. Twenty euro coming my way – I’ll be dropping into the Sandwich Company one of these days to collect the winnings. To the Victor the Spoils – not!
Great start to the new campaign for Ollie’s men though the manager, as is traditional at this stage, was all for playing it down. And with champions Dundalk hosting his side on Friday and then Shamrock Rovers arriving in Ballybofey on Monday night, he’s every right to do so.
On ‘Soccer Republic’ on Monday night, Tony McDonnell reckoned that Harps could be the surprise packets of the season and predicted that they would win a large percentage of their home games. A bit early for that kind of optimism but nevertheless good to hear someone on R.T.E. actually handing out some plaudits.
At this stage unbiased greetings to two regular readers of this column all the way from Dublin (tell me about it, I didn’t know there were such beings either), Ann and Paul who, if reports are correct, are setting up the Ranelagh branch of the Finn Harps Supporters Club.
Meanwhile, there’s probably some of you out still there wondering about the inclusion of ‘Dick Tracy and the Green Disaster’ in Cathal’s listing at the start of this item. Wonder no more. For this was a Derry punk band fronted by the late and still much lamented Domhnall McDermott who had as their logo “limited talent and no ambition” and once wrote a song about former Derry City ace, Kevin Mahon who became the Candystripes first hat-trick hero in the League of Ireland when he netted three times against – you’ve guessed it – Harps in Ballybofey.
But those were back in the days when Derry used to beat Harps.
HOPING FOR THE COOKSTOWN SIZZLE:
Not for the first time this year, Saturday morning found this particular sports fan at Dave Gallaher Park – on this occasion to watch Letterkenny R.F.C. Under-18’s clinch their place in the prestigious Ulster League Final.
While the final scoreline of 27-0 might suggest different, this was as hard fought as they come with visitors, Ballyclare, putting it up to the hosts from the start. Indeed, a Letterkenny side that has thrived on playing open rugby found, through necessity, another way of winning this time out – forced to defend through grit and grime particularly in the opening twenty-five minutes of the second half as Ballyclare camped themselves in the home 22 looking to overturn a half-time deficit of 0-13.
That they didn’t is owed to the work-rate of the home side. Unfair to single out any individual but I thought Martin Molloy was immense, not just in the line-out, but all over the park.
The tension evaporated once Joseph Dunleavy went over for his second try – the air punching by many of the home players underlining the importance of that particular score. Another try followed from Matthew Faulkner just before the end to put the gloss on a sturdy performance.
On Saturday next, it’s off to Cookstown for the Ulster League final when Armagh, emphatic conquerors of Newry in the other semi-final, will be the opponents.
Hopefully the Letterkenny boys will have a decent following with them to roar them on to historic success.
The Ulster Rugby Branch made a few 11th hour alterations to the play-off structure which allowed the second placed teams in Divisions 1 and 2 enter those play-offs.
I don’t pretend to know too much about the inner workings of the rugby authorities in Ulster but you’d have to say it appears to be a case of changing the goal posts close to the end of the game and begs the further significant question – why?
RUNNERS AND RIDERS:
Well, I managed to get to the finishing line in Sunday’s Duathlon event in Letterkenny though, it has to be said, without having to go through a 3.2 k run, an 18k cycle and another 3.2k run in the Sprint event or the 10k run in the Standard competition followed by the 40k bike ride and a 5k finish.
Got chatting to a few of those who did, however, and credit to every single one of them.
Not least the young ones such as 15-year old Aisling Diver from Dungloe who was competing in her first Duathlon in the sprint category. Apart from a “nasty enough hill” on the route she got through it rightly and has the tee-shirt to prove it.
Jason Black, doing a brilliant job at both encouraging and announcing the competitors at the Aura Leisure complex, welcomed home two of his daughters, Ella and Kate, the former at sixteen years of age finishing the Sprint discipline as First Junior Lady and sixth woman overall. Not just one fit individual in the Black household.
Well-known proprietor of Speers Drapery on Letterkenny’s Main Street, Lester Speer showed he can cut it as a competitor too. “This was my first Duathlon but I had done a Triathlon before,” says the popular Arsenal supporter who also knows his way around a golf course.
Also striding over the finishing line in the Sprint was Labhaoise Maguire in tandem with her sister, Fiona (Temple). “I sent her out to do it for Mother’s Day,’ insists the former’s husband, Stephen, of this particular parish.
And who is this sweat clad face looming into view? None other than Pat Brady, proprietor of ‘The Kitchen’ restaurants who sponsored the event.
So did he do the Sprint or the Standard, I ask him? “Aw, you know me, all duck or no dinner,” says Pat. Standard reply then though to be fair, I’ve never seen duck on ‘The Kitchen’ lunch menu!
Great morning all round for everyone concerned, competitors and organiser and those of us classed in the bracket of spectators. Best place for some of us to be honest.
MARTY WINS IN DUBAI:
Marty Harley continues to impress on the racing circuits of the world. The Letterkenny man rode the Dave Simcock trained Sheikhzayeroad to victory in the Group 3 Nad Al Sheba Trophy race in Dubai last Thursday.
Two more rides on Saturday at the same track failed to place him in the top three but nevertheless, the Rathdonnell rider can add yet another significant win to his card.
GREETINGS FROM THE TOP OF IRELAND:
While former U.C.D. central defender, Tony McDonnell, was singling out Finn Harps as potential surprise packets in the Premier League, his colleague on the panel for R.T.E.’s ‘Soccer Republic’ programme was restricting his remarks to a bizarrely geographical slant.
Never one to display any degree of emotion on the show – someone please tell that man he’s permitted to smile every so often – former Ireland international, Keith Fahey, recalled his playing days in the domestic league and those “tough journeys” to what he called the “top of Ireland.”
The way the Dubliner phrased it, it was as if Donegal was located in the vicinity of Rockall.
It always amazes me how some Dubs believe we’re so far out of reach “up here”.
Had Fahey being referring to trips to play the likes of Cork City or Cobh Ramblers, you would never have heard him label it as the “bottom of Ireland.”
And some elements of the Dublin media are just as bad. “Shamrock Rovers face the long trip to Ballybofey…,” they’ll preview a game against Harps. But when it comes to Harps making the reverse journey, there’s never a reference to long journeys and the like.
Long? It’s two and a half to three hours these days – unless you’re walking – and would probably be a lot less if they’d provide us with a decent motorway.
GEORGIA ON HIS MIND:
Finally, young Brendan O’Donnell from Lifford Strabane A.C. produced another hugely impressive performance in claiming a qualifying standard for the European Youths event later this year.
His hammer throw of 64.72 metres took him well over the European standard of 63.50m and he’s now ranked among the top ten throwers in Europe.
Coming soon to a major championship near you. That’s if you reside in Tblisi, Georgia, venue for the European Youths games next July.
Here’s the Letterkenny Rovers team who WON’T be participating in the semi-finals of the F.A.I. Intermediate Cup.
Not quite sure when this pic was taken but there are plenty of familiar faces in the line-up – and most of them with hair! My guess is the 1940’s….
Can you name them all?Tags: