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Every team can create tradition

By Declan Bogue

Published 09/11/2016

Prize guys: Killyclogher celebrate winning the Tyrone crown and now dream of Ulster glory
Prize guys: Killyclogher celebrate winning the Tyrone crown and now dream of Ulster glory

Eaten bread, as the saying goes, is soon forgotten. No sooner had Ireland's rugby team beaten New Zealand - now always to be referred to as New Zealand now that the aura of invincibility has been shed - for the first time in 111 years than most observers began asking why it had taken so long.

Everything was perfect in the hours after their 40-29 triumph in Chicago's Soldier Field, while victory was savoured. But then thoughts turned to The Great Aviva Robbery of 2013, when Ireland threw away victory in the final play of the game. Had they held out then, Joe Schmidt's men would now be targeting three consecutive victories against the World champions.

Sporting walls were tumbling down in the Windy City a few days earlier when the Chicago Cubs finally ended their miserable 108-year drought by edging past the Cleveland Indians to land baseball's World Series.

In the half-light of victory, talk turns to legacy; how much can be won, and in how soon a time?

The great sporting narrative in the GAA has become the fate of the Mayo footballers. In the next two or three seasons, most people would be fairly confident they can land an All-Ireland title.

When that happens, there will be some in Mayo who won't know what to do with themselves. The county council might well be advised to establish emergency group counselling sessions in the event of victory and all the old certainties being washed away.

In the coverage to follow an inevitable Mayo All-Ireland win, there will be newspaper sidebars happily detailing other sporting famines that remain. A curse is always a tempting hook to pad out the copy.

Before Mayo, there was the Clare hurlers, and the curse of Biddy Early that lasted 81 years until they won the Liam MacCarthy in 1995. Early was a medicine woman who came from Feakle, close to Clare's manager Ger Loughnane, and he despised the story so much that he took great delight in pointing out that Early died in 1874, a decade before the GAA was founded.

After Mayo, Waterford hurling might feature in that list (1959 being their last All-Ireland). Or why not even Kerry, those slackers who have yet to add to their 1891 hurling triumph.

In 2012, my home club Tempo Maguires ended a 39-year wait for the New York Cup, the Fermanagh Senior Championship. I had fantasised that moment as being the ultimate Mardi Gras down the Main Street, but the ease of victory over a Lisnaskea team grieving the loss of their former captain Brian Óg Maguire left it feeling flat.

That night, another journalist said to me that the joy of victory can never quite push your buttons as keenly as the pain of defeat. Others would feel differently, but for me, he was on the button.

This Sunday, Killyclogher take the field against Slaughtneil in the Ulster Club semi-final. In interviews, the rather appalling record of Tyrone clubs in Ulster club football has already been talked about. Only Errigal Ciaran (1993, 2002) have won it from the Red Hand county.

With seven different winners in the last seven years, the Tyrone Championship may be one of the hardest-fought tournaments in the GAA. The tooth and nail battles for the O'Neill Cup are cited as a mitigating factor. That only goes so far, when you look at what and how Slaughtneil have done with themselves as a club and a community.

Prior to 2004, they were seen as mountain men on the slopes of Carn Togher. Plenty of brawn and bravery, but lacking in numbers and talent to land a senior title.

They had no tradition compared to the illustrious names of Bellaghy, Lavey and Ballinderry, who would all win All-Ireland club titles.

Now, they have won three consecutive Derry Championships. A few short weeks ago, their hurlers became the first Derry club to win the Ulster Club Hurling Championship. Their camogs are Ulster champions.

For all the talk about tradition in Gaelic games, it only exists in the abstract. Previously great clubs and counties fade away, replaced by groups that possess the necessary ingredients.

What tradition really means is people making the right decisions. Slaughtneil have a flood of people like that at the moment. There is nothing to stop Killyclogher shouting 'stop' and building their own tradition, just like Slaughtneil.

And Clare. And the Chicago Cubs. And Ireland.

Belfast Telegraph

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