Belfast Telegraph

Poland takes away Winter chill

By Declan Bogue

The old saying has it that March comes in like a lion, and out like a lamb. February is slightly different. You think you have got away with the worst of the weather but February harbours spiteful notions.

Although the figure on your car dash and weather forecasters can tell you that the mercury will hover around six or seven degrees, your bones and feet tell you different, courtesy of the Siberian winds that uncannily manage to locate us.

This affliction affects any of us that spend our weekends at sports events and it comes as no surprise whatsoever to learn from Wikipedia that it is Clones, no less, that records the lowest mean temperature throughout the year in Ireland.

Last Friday night was a real pig of an evening. Sheets of rain coated the players of Down and Armagh as they played out perhaps the only ever Friday night National League game in the Athletic Grounds.

At half-time, rather than re-calibrating his team and delivering an oratory on how they could win the game, James McCartan revealed the entire break was given over to getting the players warm, with the threat of hypothermia.

After the game, Down captain Mark Poland conducted interviews with radio and press. Standing there in the box it was hard not to notice his cold shudders and the patience he displayed by even being there.

Team-mate Kalum King had arranged his wedding for that day so that he would not have to miss out on a league game over the weekend, but the fixture-makers scuppered his considerations.

Some of his team mates were heading to join the party but the frozen Poland had other ideas: "I am going home and getting into a bed with an electric blanket on."

With two goals to his name, Poland was once again excellent, a default setting for his performances in the Championship last year, although his relentless self-criticism does not permit him to see it that way.

Yet in close quarters, togged out in his Down kit you notice how little there is of him.

Playing against Ciaran McKeever, in the first half he foraged further and further back into his defence as Down struggled badly against the wind. This allowed McKeever to take up a sweeper role in front of Niall Madine and in cutting out a few attacks and striding purposefully out of his defence, he looked good.

However, with the wind on their backs Down were brought to victory by two Poland goals in the second half.

For the first one he actually dished the ball off to Jerome Johnston in a slightly better position than himself, but when Philip McEvoy parried the shot, Poland threw himself through the air to punch home.

After Donal O'Hare had missed a free in a central position towards the end with defeat looming, Poland stepped up to take the next one and also skidded it wide. Shortly after, he ran through and in a blaze of one-twos, slid the ball home to secure Down's first league win at the Athletic Grounds since 1985.

There must be something about Ulster football that wee men can influence big games from centre-forward. There is also something else about the uniqueness of the position.

In Gaelic football, there isn't the same tradition of buying replica jerseys with numbers on the back as in other sports.

If there was, you can be sure that number 11 would feature heavily. It is our equivalent of the coveted number seven jersey in soccer.

In the other central positions it is unlikely that a player under six foot would be stationed, but a centre-forward needs to have excellent anticipation, be balanced off either foot and needs a rapid turn and burst of pace.

That is a fairly accurate description of Poland but it could also pass for these other centre-forwards; Brian McGuigan, Alan Brogan, Declan O'Sullivan and Martin McHugh.

More locally, Robbie Tasker (pictured) operated that role for periods last Friday, Ciaran McFaul is a creative hub for Derry and Mickey Harte seems to like the look of Shay McGuigan as the long-term successor to his brother, Brian.

This year, the black card will make one of the most stressful and creative jobs on the field easier. When some quarters of media foolishly lapped up the objections of players that what they termed the 'physicality' of the game would be lost with the introduction of the black card, we have now seen some evidence. And it tells us that scores from play are on a steady increase.

The cheap-shot merchants, those who jumped in front of a man laying off a pass have to be on their guard now.

Football received a present last year at Congress; the game of football was given back to footballers. Like Poland.

Belfast Telegraph

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