Posts Tagged ‘GAA’

FBD Connaught League: Leitrim v Mayo, Ballinamore, 2pm, Ref: S. Hehir (Galway)

BALLINAMORE in January. Is there a more a glamorous phrase in the English language? For die-hard Mayo and Leitrim fans, the answer is probably not.

The excitement around tomorrow’s game and the inter-provincial leagues in general seems slightly more heightened this year, maybe due to increased coverage (mainly online), the host of new managers on the scene or possibly a certain interview that was published during the week.

Whatever the reason, this is the time of year for optimism whatever county you call home. Judging from the results of the MayoGaaBlog poll on Mayo’s prospects this year, we are not lacking in that department.

A continuation of this optimism will be partially dependent on the emergence of two or three realistic challengers for starting positions before the trip to Salthill in May.

This time last year Colm Boyle hadn’t featured for Mayo in nearly three years. Renewed by Davitts run to the Intermediate All – Ireland, he got his chance against Leitrim in Ballyhaunis and went on to be one of the stars of the championship. This is the kind of opportunity the FBD league provides.

Here are just four of the players who will be looking to make a similar impact tomorrow.

Keith Rogers –The Ballaghderreen man was named in the line up to face Leitrim in the FBD league last year but didn’t start that game. The 2009 minor should get his opportunity this year on the back of his driving performances from centre-back for the county champions. Kept Alan Dillon quiet in the county final and still had time to get forward and kick a point. Not too shabby at all.

Michael Walsh – James Horan’s inclusion of the likes of Walsh, Micheal Forde (Sligo IT) and Conor O’Shea in the squad over the last two years will hopefully start to reap some rewards in 2013. A former champion boxer from Ardnaree, you could say Walsh is conditioned to play with a slight competitive edge, whether from corner back or in a more advanced position. His inspirational performance in the drawn Junior County Final was proof, if needed, why Horan thinks so highly of him.

Evan Regan – Regan is another of the young brigade who will have benefited from his involvement last year, especially in terms of strength and conditioning. He will certainly get his chance in an attack that is a crying out for a free scoring forward. A relative veteran for his age with nearly two years of senior football behind him, this could be the year his talent reaches the county stage.

Barry Regan – After the injury to Andy Moran, fears that Mayo would struggle without a genuine ball winner in the full-forward line became a reality in the All – Ireland final; a player with a physical presence like Barry Regan could be an option. Well able to win his own ball and with a huge boot, the top scorer in the Mayo championship certainly deserves a shot.

Who do you think will be the players to force their way into the reckoning this year? Feel free to comment below.

waterlogged-pitch

THE inter-provincial leagues started last night, while the majority of county teams are making their first appearance of the year today. Managers are talking about new players, gym programs and preparing for the league. But far from the headlines, ordinary club players across the country are returning to churn up their local pitches and in some cases, the contents of their stomachs.

In the club November and December is a time for reflection and usually weight gain. While players are wintering, the off-season provides the local power brokers and bluffers with the chance to satisfy their egos at the annual display of big talking and posturing better known as the AGM. These boys of summer will reappear in late June, license to pass judgment in hand from the hazy memory of that meeting and the session that followed.

In the meantime the majority of players minds must be reprogrammed. For most a short-term memory is a necessity; bitterness, frustration and memories of disappointment don’t make for good training numbers.The annual wiping of negativity completed, the buzz words are now hard work and optimism. The first night of training brings with it the buzz of excitement and fear.

What’s he going to do to us?

The text appeared encouraging, just a light run with a talk about the year ahead. Sounds very pleasant altogether, might even catch some of the football. The prodigal sons must be encouraged they say, welcomed back into inviting arms and coaxed with admiring glances at their fancy new predators. Can’t do that by flogging the poor boys on their first night. The risk of them stumbling home with their bellies between their legs, promising never to venture to far from the bar stool again is too great. Surely they’ll go easy on us, sure it’s only January for fuck sake…surely.

Cut to two hours later and the unmistakable, yet reassuringly familiar sound of the local fun time Frankie puking behind the stand. There must be something about this sound that brings some sort of sadistic pleasure to managers. It’s usually greeted with a smug smile, followed closely by a jibe about activities in the local hostelries over the festive period. Cue token laughter through gritted teeth, the jokes on all of us though. Turns out by talking, management actually meant sprints; hate it when they mix those two up.

There’s always the exception to the rules. Talk of gym programs and the like have got through to some, probably the boys left waiting for the showers as the majority made a charge for the door come season end. Then there are the young gazelles who gaze in wonder at the anguish on the faces of their supposedly older and wiser team mates. These men in their 30’s, the equivalent of Methuselah in GAA terms, promise it will happen to them one day too.

The college boys who arrived full of swagger hours earlier could tell them. They entered the damp environs of the dressing room, their heads filled with the heady days of summer and years gone by when fitness was a constant, conveniently forgetting that the new constant in their lives is six cans and a naggin of something barely above the standards of bleach.

“Another lap lads.” “Just the one” replies the voice of youth and stupidity. “Two so” is the reply, closely followed by groans and mental promises to nail the little bollox when the chance comes around. He may as well have said, “You’re gone soft boss.”

The words, “That’s it for tonight lads” barely register through punch drunk senses. The retreat begins back to the sanctuary of the dressing rooms. Someone cracks a joke at the expense of Frankie and all is good again as tired but happy faces get there bearings in this old home. What else would you be doing, what else would you rather be at.

These first few nights capture perfectly the madness and addiction of the GAA when expectations have yet to be dampened by loss of form, a tight loss or injuries. Everything that’s great about the  GAA is in evidence on these nights and they have never been so important to those left behind in dwindling communities. Christy O’Connor described it beautifully in his book, ’The Club.’

The nights that capture that lovely madness of hurling and feeling a part of a group sharing the same goal. Sport at its most visceral doesn’t have to involve cups or medals. It has to do with a group sharing experiences until such times as those experiences turn them into something else.

So as inter-county teams prepare to do it all again for another year, keep in mind all those club teams beginning the long road to their own less glamorous version of the nauseating excitement of high summer, hard ground and championship. Chances of success, acknowledgement or even appreciation remain slim, but the message is keep the faith boys, because at this time of year anything is possible. Now ten more laps.

MOST years are defined by a moment, a player or a team, rarely is it defined by a manager. 2012 was the year of Jim McGuinness.

The cult of the manager has been on the rise again in the last few years. Brian Clough was the original of the species when he took Derby County and their neighbours Nottingham Forest from modest footings to unimaginable heights in the days when things like that were possible in professional sport. Clough was seen as an enemy of football by many at the time for his outspoken ways. One of his modern day counterparts Jose Mourinho, has followed a similar trajectory of controversy matched only by success.

In the GAA there have been managers who were cult figures within the game. Mick O’Dwyer brought the game of football to new heights with the unparalleled fitness of his great Kerry teams. He was the master of deflecting pressure away from them too. However, those Kerry teams contained stars in every line, generational players who left a legacy in the game. O’Dwyer never had to be the real star of the show.

Sean Boylan, John O’Mahony, Paidi O’Se, Joe Kernan and Mickey Harte won All – Irelands and in the case of the last two, broke the mould in terms of ways to play the game. None of them though ever garnered more attention than their team or their star men. This year Donegal weren’t winning matches, Jimmy was.

Maybe it’s his tactics, his youth, talent or the controversies, it’s likely that it’s all four combined in a new age of GAA coverage. In the last year there has been an explosion in the amount of coverage given to Gaelic Games; about time too because the need is there. Blogs, podcasts, online sports sites and Newstalks GAA coverage has given RTE’s the kick in the arse it so badly needed.

This modern age of coverage needed a modern manager and they found its poster boy in McGuinness. Villified by the press after the semi – final defeat in 2011 for crimes against Gaelic Football, he then dropped his captain Kevin Cassidy after an interview he gave to Declan Bogue during that campaign. Nobody likes a loser and especially not an ugly, disloyal one. The press and the online masses had their enemy and as in all classic sporting stories, cue the comeback.

As Donegal steamrolled their way through Ulster and set their sights further south, their new more adventurous style of play was gathering admiring glances. The man vilified twelve months ago was now being hailed as the Messiah and Donegal, almost inevitably in the end, went on to claim the ultimate prize.

Their achievement is unique in GAA terms in that it was not on the back of an exceptionally large and talented new generation of players, but rather a bunch of players young and old who wholeheartedly and unconditionally bought into Jim McGuinness’s way of life and football. This is what makes it one of if not the greatest managerial achievement in the history of Gaelic Football.

As like most cult managers, he too has a muscular ego and unfortunately it came to light in a not so flattering way. The refusal to begin the post match press conference until Declan Bogue had left the room, smacked of wrong time, wrong place. Like Mourinho taking his medal and then walking of the pitch after Porto’s Champions League victory, it served only to take away from his players achievements.

His appointment by Celtic is recognition of the impact he has made in just two years. It’s difficult to imagine it happening to any other manager in the GAA. Considering the commitment he demanded from Kevin Cassidy and the rest of his players it’ll be interesting to see what impact it has on his involvement with Donegal in 2013.

What his appointment means for the GAA in general is minimal. As a national and mainly Irish organisation we are insecure about our footing within the wider sporting world. This is why we get a warm fuzzy feeling when Alan Shearer tweets about how mental hurling is or finding validation in the mighty Celtic seeing one of our own worthy of appointment. The game of Gaelic Football is worthy to take it’s a place beside any field sport in the world.

As worthwhile an exercise as Eugene McGee football review committee was, it does show the insecurity there is about our game. Aside from the clarification of the advantage rule and the increase in the penalty for descent, the rest are unnecessary and born out of misty eyed sentiment of a bygone and not so glorious era. There needs to be a realisation that the game is evolving naturally as every other.

2012 was also the year Seanie Johnston realised his dream of playing club hurling in Kildare and all of Mayo got very mad at Joe Brolly when all we really want is his approval. It was a good year for Ballaghderreen, Charlestown and The Neale, while few had as cruel a finish to a year as Ardnaree. Next year has to be theirs.

We lost a GAA icon in Paidi O’Se who was always a believer in Mayo football; unfortunately we fell just short again. Was it a missed opportunity or stepping stone to what will be the greatest day of all? One or two new introductions might be all it takes. Here’s hoping.

SO one month and two days since that day in Croke Park, a line will be finally drawn under Championship 2012 with the naming of this year’s All-Stars. Since way back in 19-dickity-2 when Johnny Carey (what a name) wrote his name into Mayo GAA history by becoming Mayo’s first All – Star, people have questioned the rationale behind the selection process.

The critics out there point to the exclusion of some of the greats of the game who were never acknowledged as one of the reasons to question the merit of the All-Stars, and there have been cases in recent times of players being picked on criteria only known by the selection committee.

If the rumour mill is correct, Dillon, Cafferkey, Higgins and Keegan will be the Mayo players to pick up awards. If this proves to be correct and Kevin McLoughlin and to a lesser extent Barry Moran are not honoured, then those critics will have a fairly compelling argument.

Whatever happens shouldn’t detract from anything that rewards players (think Christy Ring and Nicky Rackard All – Star winners) who deserve every accolade they get and much more.

So let’s see what happens before we get too riled up and for the winners I say cars, women and drugs (not the bad Lance Armstrong ones) for everyone; no money though, must keep things amateur.

Here’s my selection;

 

Paul Durcan – David Clarke undoubtedly made the save of the summer  from Bernard Brogan, but it was Durcan consistency and pinpoint kickouts throughout the summer that set him apart and gave Donegal such a strong platform.

Keith Higgins – He always had the pace and the attacking instincts but this year the Ballyhaunis man added a physicality that has brought him to a new level. One of the main reasons Mayo managed to recover their composure in the final.

Ger Cafferkey  – You might say it’s strange to pick two of the full back line that was so brutally exposed in the opening moments of the final but Caff deserves to be there. Only when you see him live do you appreciate what a tight marker he is. Classy footballer, hopefully will be there for years.

Neil McGee – Great year for the Gweedore man who’s been om the scene since 2005. Huge physical presence, his direct opponents rarely troubled him all year.

Frank McGlynn – Could have just as easily stuck him in the full forward line. A player who sums up the McGuinness era and who without the Donegal style, would never have flourished the way he has. Great defender, he also scored a not so shabby 1-4 in the championship.

Karl Lacey – The man who held the ball at the final whistle of the final game. He’s been on the scene for a long time; centre back has allowed him to exert the influence on the game that his talent demands.

Lee Keegan – A tossup between Keegan and Boyle. Scored a crucial point in the Connacht Final and came back from a horrific semi-final injury to inspire in the final.

Neil Gallagher – When everyone was talking about Aidan Walsh and Alan O’Connor in the build up to the semi – final, Gallagher thought them both a lesson in mid-field play and he continued that form into the final. Gallagher led the renaissance in high fielding this summer.

Barry Moran – Three man of the match performances against Leitrim, Sligo and Down. Was exceptional against Dublin where a big catch near the end lifted the siege. Disappointing in the final but should have done enough in previous games.

Kevin McLoughlin – Mayo’s best player all year. His importance was highlighted even more with the loss of Andy Moran. Work rate, intelligent use of possession and a lethal finisher. One of the most natural footballers in the game.

Paul Flynn – In a flat and un-motivated side Flynn was the stand-out performer. Scored heavily this year, his point in the second half of the semi – final was a highlight.

Mark Mc Hugh – McHugh is the pin-up boy of McGuinness’s regime. His foraging back in front of his own full-back line was the catalyst for so many of Donegal’s attacks. His immense fitness also allowed him to contribute handsomely to attack.

Michael Murphy – All the talk last year was of Murphy sacrificing his star quality for the sake of the system. This year he was back nearer to goal and realised his star potential in the All – Ireland final.

Colm McFadden – The Championship’s top scorer with 4-32. McFadden was a constant threat all year and performed on the biggest days. Should deservedly win player of the year.

Colm O’Neill – Recovered from last year’s injuries to show again what a brilliant player he is. In a year where Cork promised so much, a probable return of just one All – Star sums up a disappointing year.

Player of the Year: Colm McFaddan

Young Player of the Year: Paddy McBrearty

 

And Finally…

While presumably the Donegal team have been single-handedly raising Diageo’s share price, the relentless world of the GAA keeps moving on. From all accounts, Donie Buckley seems like a real addition and will give the squad a boost after the initial disappointment of Cian O’Neill’s departure. It’s Kerry in the first round of the league and before you know it we’ll be below in Salthill with the wonderful hope of a long summer spread out in front of us.

Donegal v Mayo, Croke Park, 3.30, M Deegan (Laois) * Live RTE

 

AT this stage rational and impartial thinking is a commodity that’s rare on the ground in Donegal and Mayo. As we move into the weekend that we’ll take to our graves, the line between logic and hope is becoming more blurred by the hour.

The game has been all consuming this week; analysis fatigue has set in.  The relentless stream of analysis, opinion and interviews have fed the unquenchable thirst for the game but would make you nostalgic for the days when your media consumption was one of the locals on a Monday or Tuesday and the paper on the morning of the game.

The importance of Sunday to both counties not just from a football perspective has been mentioned all week. There has never been and probably never will be an All – Ireland with as much deep rooted emotion attached.

Concerning ourselves with the overall context of this final and its importance to each of the counties is the prerogative of Journalists and bloggers, while we get all emotional into our laptops. It is hard not to get swept away by the importance of this game but I expect James Horan has avoided and will avoid talk of the past good or bad. It has no relation to this Mayo team. When it comes down to it, it’s the team who avoids been wrapped up in all this emotional baggage who have the best chance of success.

Mentally both sides could argue that they have the advantage. Donegal will argue that this Mayo team carry the burden of 61 years and a history of final day disaster. Mayo, perhaps more convincingly, can say that Donegal’s present of fan hysteria and favouritism far outweighs their inglorious failures.

Either way some players will underperform. Equally some will write their name into folklore. The systems that both Horan and McGuinness have created will allow for bad games and therefore will allow both teams to get a foothold in the game. There will be no capitulations this Sunday.

If Mayo can stay with Donegal for the first half and even build a lead, its then that any psychological advantage Mayo have will come into play. No matter how focused and task driven Jim McGuinness says his players are, finding themselves in this position will not be what they expected and not something they have faced this year.

Mayo can and must dominate midfield. Contrary to belief, clean ball can still be won in the modern game and Aidan O’Shea and Barry Moran are a better mid field pairing than Gallagher and Kavanagh. O’Shea is the figurehead of this Mayo team. As a footballing county, Mayo had a tradition of tough, ‘raw boned’ men that sadly has been lost in the last decade. O’Shea and others have given Mayo back this edge that’s vital to a team’s inner belief and how the opposition now perceives them.

Again Kevin McLoughlin will be Mayo’s most important player. The speed and accuracy of everything he does along with his work rate has seen him become one of the quiet leaders of the team. His performances have been as effective and more impressive in an attacking sense than that of the much loved McHugh.

The tactical question of this championship has been how to play McHugh. Pushing up on him as Cork did in the first half can be effective but we also have to have faith in what has brought us to this point. Not making exceptions for exceptional players might be naive but we also must trust that our system will match their’s and that in the end we will have the footballers to finish the job. I don’t have the answer; I trust that James Horan does.

Our full back line have been fantastic all year, I expect the same on Sunday. I relish seeing Kevin Keane mark Murphy and Cafferkey doing battle with McFadden. We should have no fear in that area, our full back line is equal to Donegal’s forward equivalent in quality, if not in praise.

A tough afternoon awaits the Mayo full forward line. They will have less space to operate in than they have ever experienced before. As in the semi final, little is expected of the likes of Varley, Conroy and Doherty and like the semi-final it is position that can provoke a defiant, proud reaction.

They will need to win ball inside for Mayo to gain some platform near goals. If the full forward line can get onto quick ball I expect our scores to come from our support play that has been Mayo’s trademark all year.

Victory on Sunday would mean everything. Pride in our County is always something that has come easy to us as Mayo people, probably more so than most. James Horan and his players have allowed us to carry that pride with a lot more ease.

Sentimentality is not going to have any bearing on Sunday but that line between logic and hope has truly evaporated in my mind.

‘The Kings of September’ by Michael Foley recounts the 1982 All – Ireland Final between Kerry and Offaly. In the days leading up to final, Sean Lowry of whom we claim some ownership attended a funeral of a neighbour. At that funeral he spoke to a stranger by the name of Declan Carolan who articulated  better than anyone the beauty and significance of an All – Ireland. His words inspired Lowry on that day when the impossible happened.

 Remember that, when you go out on Sunday, you’re going to be playing for people that you’ll never see. People you’ll never meet. You’ll have people in Australia and New Zealand who’ll have their chest out Monday morning if Ofally beat Kerry, but you’ll never see them or have the feelings they’re feeling. You’ll never realise the lift you give them if you beat Kerry on Sunday.

That is what it’s all about. On Monday morning I believe that every Mayo person will walk chests out, with a pride that hasn’t been felt in six long decades.  For the players it is an occasion that will define their lives. They are staring immortality in the face. Go on and take it boys.

Prediction: Mayo by 2

NEVER mind next Sunday, the real battle has been going on for the last few weeks on the airwaves. Donegal may have had a week’s head start but here in Mayo we have the lethal combination of form and experience in this area; anyone remember this absolute CLASSIC from 1996?

Follow that. Unsurprisingly enough quite a few have duly taken on that challenge to create the next GAA masterpiece. Before we start all the serious build up and predictions, let’s take a moment to acknowledge those who have done what few thought possible, make Mid West and Ocean FM essential listening.  Wherever there is All – Ireland fever, your music will live on. Let the ceremony begin.

Best Song – Mayo: The Ginger Melodeon Experience – Up Mayo

Mayo getting to All – Ireland finals makes for strange happenings. How about a trad version of a Flo Rida song with Mayo football themed lyrics? Now that’s ingenuity. Definitely the best of the Mayo representations this year, the track from the London collaboration is free to download at http://gingermelodeonexperience.moonfruit.com/, with a link for donations to The Irish Cancer Society on the same page. #MayoForSam2013,  The Chieftains featuring Snoop Dogg?

 

Best Song – Donegal: Rory & the Island – Jimmy’s Winning Matches

If you’ve somehow managed to miss Rory Gallagher’s (formerly of The Revs) catchy tune you’re in for a treat. Rory and Jimmy’s musical sojourn began on the island of Lanzarote where the original song ‘Jimmy’s Selling Watches’, was wrote in tribute to the watch selling, Molly Malone singing Senegalese native. Listen out for Jimmy’s impressive knowledge of Mayo geography; he’s nearly as good as Mike Denver.

 

Best Song to Make Grown Men Emotional: Myles Kelly – The Mayo Man

It does sound like Myles may have recorded this with his phone but it’s still the most rousing of the 2012 vintage. With lyrics like, “Jimmy might be winning matches but James is winning too” and “I am a Mayo man today is my day”, it’ll either have you fit to run through walls or leave you blubbering into your pint a two in the morning. Either way, Myles deserves a call from Up For The Match.

 

The Best of The Rest 

A selection of some of the more obscure, somehow strangely entertaining,  but none the less deserving winners.

Best Performance Video: Cyril Brennan – Bring Home Sam 2012

Best Use of a Christmas Song Melody: Martin Fitzmaurice – Doing It For Andy

Lifetime Achievement Award: Michael S Togher – The Dream Has Never Died (Because he’s a legend – Maggie’s Flannel Drawers, need  I say anymore)

If we’re basing victory on YouTube hits, Donegal may have won the musical battle thanks in the main to Rory and Jimmy. I think we’ll let them have this little win though, as long as the sound of the Saw Doctors is ringing around Croke Park come 5.oo pm Sunday.

HAVE you in the last week called your uncle in Longford for the first time in six years, or facebooked that lad who was in your class in 1st year who coincidentally enough is now a manager in Ulster Bank? If so, then you are probably experiencing a wave of ticket frenzy, common to many other Mayo-ians at the moment.

Fair or unfair, we are all well aware of the reality of the distribution of All – Ireland final tickets to the wider GAA community. A breakdown of last year’s distribution, available here, shows why some of the unlikeliest of people can get their hands on these most precious pieces of paper.

All week rumour and counter rumour about the size of Mayo’s ticket allocation spread through the county and as a result what each of the already request burdened  clubs will receive. The  e-mail containing each Donegal clubs inflated looking ticket allocation, only added further to the rumour mill.

Yesterday the Mayo county Board met with Croke Park Officials and received an allocation believed to be between 8,000 and 10,000.

Over 70% of this allocation will be going to the clubs from Wednesday onwards. As explained to delegates at the County Board meeting last Friday, the allocation of tickets to clubs will not be based on the amount of members a club has but rather their grade. The distribuition is as follows:

  • Senior – 100 tickets (50 Stand, 50 Terrace)
  • Intermediate – 80 tickets (40 Stand, 40 Terrace)
  • Junior – 60 tickets (30 Stand, 30 Terrace)

On top of this basic allocation, club delegates were made aware at the county board meeting that each club will have the option of purchasing an extra 20 ticket’s with a contribution of €1,000 and another 20 tickets if they raise a further €1,000. Clubs who have representation on the county panel will receive an extra 10 tickets per player.

The five top performing clubs in the county board development draw will also receive an additional 25 tickets. The three main urban clubs Ballina, Castlebar and Westport (where demand will be particularly acute) will receive an additional 50 tickets each, as well as any surplus of tickets made available by clubs not availing of the additional 40 tickets

If clubs contribute €2,000 for the additional tickets, a Senior club without a county panellist will receive a minimum of 140 tickets, Intermediate clubs 120, while a standard Junior club will receive 100.

Chairde Maigh Eo members will of course be entitled to buy one ticket each but will be given the option to purchase a second if they pay in advance for next year’s season ticket.

In what is believed to be a first in Mayo, any player who has worn the green and red in championship football will be guaranteed a ticket. This fitting gesture will incorporate approximately 350 – 400 players who have played for Mayo as far back as 1945.

Mayo PRO, Aiden McLoughlin is confident that the County Board will be able to provide the clubs and supporters with enough tickets to satisfy demand;

“Through all their allocations clubs will get more tickets than ever before. I think the people that need to get a ticket and that need to be accommodated are going to get them through all the different ways.”

Club secretaries and chairman now have the unenviable task of playing God for the next week and a half, while the loyal and not so loyal disciples wait in GAA purgatory.

Could be time to start ringing the American cousins.