Belfast Telegraph

A stunning year for all involved

By Declan Bogue

January generally is the victim of a bad press but for those involved in sport, it speaks of clean slates and new beginnings.

For this man, 2013 began with a McKenna Cup clash of the Sperrins game in Healy Park. Derry showed plenty of promise and Brian McIver made strikingly clever decisions in the line up against Mickey Harte.

PJ McCloskey looked most promising of all for them that afternoon with a scoring tour-de-force from midfield, his talent and reputation a victim of injuries at crucial points before he could showcase himself on a Championship stage.

During the summer, he missed the first round defeat to Down through a hip injury, before his cruciate went in the qualifier game between the pair. Fate continued to mock him.

Tyrone squeezed home in that dank McKenna Cup encounter, and they were already in the middle of a gallop that would see them go past Antrim as if they weren't there, before showing Fermanagh in the semi-final, then Monaghan in the final, that the best teams force others to make mistakes and hurt them with goals.

Clearly, Malachy O'Rourke was taking notes as reporters converged upon a shivering, teeth-chattering Joe McMahon in the aftermath, cruelly denying him the warm of the dressing room to torture him with inane requests to predict the future of Tyrone.

When he did get to the showers, he went there in all his kit and boots to thaw out.

Their good form continued into the league, when an opening night fixture down in the Marshes featured a surprising display of antler-rutting between Mickey Harte and James McCartan in a sideline dispute.

It seemed that week-on-week throughout the league, reporters were dipping into their seldom-thumbed thesaurus' to wax lyrical on another Stephen O'Neill score.

It was as if he was walking around dropping diamonds from a hole in his pocket. Two in particular against Kildare in the league semi-final spawned thousands of retweets, before his season was torn asunder by a stray ball in a warm-up area.

Such a little thing makes such a big difference, as Morrissey might say.

Then there was the edgy and compelling league clash with Donegal – who after sitting out the McKenna Cup were affecting an air of studied indifference to the league – back in Healy Park.

Michael Murphy had a penalty saved by Niall Morgan, who spliced the posts three times and took the man of the match trophy.

Tempting to think now that in the week after, Jim McGuinness may have contemplated the structure of a defensive wall at a Celtic training sessions and wondered about introducing one to Gaelic football.

They also left the ground that day with the ultimate insult, Footballer of the Year Karl Lacey having been spat on by a clown in a crowd.

After Tyrone's encouraging one-point loss to Dublin in the league final, it was straight into the most eagerly-anticipated Championship game of all in Ballybofey.

Donegal won what was simply a war but what really surprised was how toothless Tyrone had become.

Down and Derry produced an even higher-octane version of their 1994 classic in the first round, while out west, exiled sons of the soil were bringing London all the way to a Connacht final.

Monaghan talked humbly about taking on Donegal and how they would give it their best shot. We all patted their heads and said, "bless." And then, on the signal of O'Rourke, they unleashed Hell, borrowing slightly off a gameplan that Down had in the semi-final, to win their first Ulster in 25 years.

Donegal weren't gone, but the irrational behaviour was only beginning as shortly afterwards Rory Gallagher suggested that Monaghan had 'colluded' with Mayo in the lead-up to the Ulster final, just before Donegal met the Connacht champs in the All-Ireland quarter-final.

A 19-point defeat, McGuinness distancing himself from Gallagher's comments, and a messy managerial split was the aftermath.

Sean Cavanagh fouled Conor McManus when he was in a good position, an RTÉ match analyst gave a stirring account of his feelings, and half the nation lost their sense of perspective.

Dublin won the football All-Ireland, writing another chapter in Mayo's House Of Pain, before the greatest hurling Championship of all made another star in Shane O'Donnell.

Meanwhile up north, the Liam Harvey Cup gathered dust as the Ulster senior hurling final went unplayed for the first time since its' revival in 1989.

A phenomenal year, in every sense.

Belfast Telegraph

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