Joe Kernan: Armagh show the future’s Orange
This was always going to be a special year in a GAA context. After all, the 125th anniversary celebrations were destined to take pride of place in an extensive programme of fixtures and events that made it one of the busiest years in the history of the association.
And as always the action was underpinned by some truly great games, a catalogue of outstanding individual performances, several hugely significant anniversary events and some ground-breaking developments, including the new GAA-GPA alliance.
But it was not all sunshine and roses. While the year certainly provided its quota of highlights, there were a few minus factors too. After a period of reflection could I offer a personal insight.
Match of the year
This may be viewed as surprising coming from a football man but I honestly thought that the Kilkenny v Tipperary All Ireland hurling final was the best game witnessed in any code this year.
Both teams played to their optimum levels and if Kilkenny eventually managed to make it four All Ireland titles on the trot, it was perhaps that little extra in confidence that emanates from a sustained period at the top stood them in good stead.
Performance of the year
Perhaps it was not a game that dominated the national media in advance but when Sligo pushed Kerry to the very edge of a precipice in the All Ireland football qualifiers they did so via a display that was nothing short of awesome.
Indeed, had Sligo not missed a late penalty in that game I have absolutely no doubt that they would have crossed the line ahead of the Kingdom.
Jack O’Connor’s side managed to gather themselves in the closing stages and inch to victory but it was a mighty close call for the All Ireland champions.
Sligo manager Kevin Walsh was rightly proud of the magnificent effort his players had put in but must surely have felt that their destiny was in their own hands.
Kerry may have found themselves sagging on the ropes but they were still able to absorb the hits and spring back to reach the next round. Still, that Sligo performance remains videoed in my memory bank.
Team of the year
Without wishing to be thought of as being parochial, I thought the achievement of Armagh in winning the Ulster Minor League and Championship prior to being crowned All Ireland champions was far and away the greatest team feat of the year. Right from the outset the Orchard County nailed their colours to the mast and if they diced with danger on occasions, then their skill, character and spirit invariably proved sufficient to see them defy odds.
And the minus factors
Criticism plumbs new depth
The level of criticism directed at players, managers, referees and officials this year has been insidious.
It would appear that some followers — and I use that word advisedly — have now perfected the dubious art of character assassination and are giving free rein to their vitriol at every opportunity.
I have pontificated on this particular subject in the recent past and make no apologies for doing so again. The sooner steps are taken to eradicate this cancer, the better.
I always have great sympathy with the role of the referee but this year, particularly in the All Ireland football quarter-finals, decisions were made that were blatantly wrong.
When such decisions are amplified by the television cameras, it certainly shows referees up in an unfavourable light. I believe that it is now time that referees were given more assistance, particularly in high-profile championship matches where the pace, intensity and physicality of games often makes it difficult for the whistlers to call it right on every occasion.
Close the close season
I am not in favour of the two-month close season for county players.
From the beginning of November until the end of December collective training is a no-no. I am of the opinion that managers need a little time in which to get sides ready for action in early January and while players may relish a break, I would have thought that maybe three or four weeks at most would suffice.
I think most managers will know during the course of a season when it would be advisable to give a particular player a rest. I would have no hesitation in telling a player, especially a player in the 19-22 age group who could be playing for upwards of five teams, to take a break when necessary. I don’t think any other manager would either.