Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Declan Bogue: Eight reasons for Christmas cheer

Captain Michael Murphy shows off Sam Maguire following Donegal's memorable All-Ieland win

Even by some phenomenal standards set over the past decade, 2012 stood out as a big year for Ulster GAA. Here, we take a look at what has made the past 12 months so remarkable.



Donegal

Seems that any time Donegal are mentioned in print, nobody can resist mentioning their heavy defeat to Armagh in Crossmaglen during the 2010 All-Ireland qualifiers as a sub-clause to explain just how far they have come to win this year’s All-Ireland.

In a world of margins counting for everything, Donegal might just be the finest-tuned Gaelic football team of the next decade. How they cope with their manager nestling into life as an employee of Glasgow Celtic will determine their place in history.

Hurling appointments

After Antrim extracted themselves from the wreckage of the Jerry Wallace reign, it was very important that the next appointment was a steadying influence.

Kevin Ryan has not been bowled over with the response he has got so far, but he has a job on his hands to pull together the disparate elements of the county squad. Still, from the look of his panel he is prepared to stay for the long haul. Stepping away from a quick-fix approach, or a ‘big squeeze' mentality is no bad thing.

In Down, the introduction of Paul Flynn to Ger Monan's backroom team is a masterstroke and could re-ignite the passion for the county team.

Crossmaglen Rangers

The project to win three club All-Irelands remains on track. While they play a very different style of football to Donegal, there are enormous similarities in how they go about their business. Some hail them as the saviours of football and while that may be slightly overstated at times, they are the most entertaining and consistent club team that we might ever bear witness to.

Derry camogie

The current crop of camogs in the Oak Leaf county continue to defy expectation and are the smartest marketing tool for any other county that aspires to establishing a vibrant and competitive club scene, therefore raising a county team to unexpected heights.

Coleraine Eoghan Rua, superbly led by Joe Passmore, and the county team under the guidance of John Angelo Mullan have landed All-Ireland titles at intermediate level in the last two years, and there is no limit to their ambitions. Mol an Oige!

Football Review

Already, we have had a few knee-jerks from those with vested interests, but the proposals of the Football Review Committee were a mere reflection of what the general populace thinks of Gaelic football.

When these proposals are refined and modified, they will represent an opportunity to improve Gaelic football and bring it to a level that it deserves. There are plenty directly involved in the county game that wish for the rules to be kept as they are now, but that means continuing to reward teams for breaking the rules.

In sport, you should be punished for rewarding cynicism. This is our chance to get it right and re-align the balance of fair play for further generations.

Handball

Anyone to ever spend some time in the company of Cavan's Paul Brady will soon realise that he is one of the most driven athletes in the country. As handball is such a lonely sport, he wrestles with form and condition, as a boxer might.

His achievement of four consecutive men's singles titles in the World Championship, in front of 4,000 at CityWest, Dublin, was the pinnacle of his career and it will take some beating.

Just as remarkable in stature was the story of Aisling Reilly facing off against her clubmate Fiona Shannon in the ladies' World final, with Reilly taking the spoils.

Unionist outreach

2012 was the year that First Minister Peter Robinson attended the McKenna Cup final between Tyrone and Derry, and he later made an appearance at the 'Match for Michaela.' The ho-hum reaction to his attendance among the GAA population shows that there is a serious appetite for everyone to come and enjoy the games.

Increased attendances

Not that it's a time for the Ulster Council to blow their own trumpet or anything, but toot-toot!

In a time of recession, the logic is that all luxury items are off, including attendance at sporting events. However, through a number of different initiatives such as a price reduction, the Ulster Council are able to report that the numbers going along to the Ulster Championship are, in fact, increasing.

Kudos must also go to their talent for self-promotion, including tournament launches.





But it’s not all good news as we look back on four low points in 2012

Brian Óg Maguire

As his former club manager said in the wake of the death of Brian Óg Maguire (pictured) in an industrial accident, Fermanagh had lost a future captain.

It's always a shock when someone so young and vibrant loses their life so suddenly, and continued sympathies must go to his family who are steeped in Fermanagh GAA.

The dignity displayed by every club within the county at his funeral, when they were all represented in big numbers was both chilling and a display of how members of the association really are the one family.

Sideline spats

This debate has a while to run yet, given the reduction of numbers permitted on sidelines to drop from 12 to five after a vote by Central Council, but there were some truly crass confrontations on the sidelines involving team management, mentors and officials that has done nothing for the image of the GAA in the past 12 months.

As with any change, there will be an initial backlash against the rulings, but anything is better than the displays of downright thuggery and bullying we witnessed in the last year.

No hurl good

There are some notable exceptions to this phenomenon, such as Tyrone where their hurlers talk of a culture of respect between county boards and themselves, but in too many counties the county hurling team is seen as an inconvenience.

Horror stories abound of hurling teams training under the light of an almost-extinguished floodlighting system, of being denied equipment they need and of management teams being denied the opportunity of face-to-face talks with those who are paid to administrate the games within their counties.

These situations are intolerable but, sadly, there seems to be no end to a casual disrespect to the small ball code in some corners of Ulster.

Sledging

Something that has been always with us in some form or other, sledging has now almost become an accepted form of psychological warfare.

Some players will attempt to justify it by drawing parallels to the American sports, but they tend to be a constant stream of remarks designed to throw their opponent, not the vicious, spiteful and often untrue allegations that dog current players.

The current allegations under investigation from the Ulster club final of racist abuse shows us that we cannot accept this practice any more.

It was notable that in all the tributes paid to the widely-loved Paídi ÓSé, it was said he never relied on abuse on the field on his way to eight All-Ireland medals.

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