So what did you think of that GAA year, Joe Brolly?
Our top Gaelic Games writer Declan Bogue takes a whimsical look back over the last 12 months when Kerry regained the Sam Maguire Cup and Kilkenny annexed the Liam MacCarthy silverware.
QUOTE OF THE YEAR
Kerry forward Kieran Donaghy conducted an interview live on RTE at the end of the All-Ireland football final, basking in the thunderbolt effect he inflicted on the All-Ireland series from late August, and having sunk the goal that finished Donegal.
Commenting on a Joe Brolly column suggesting that the production line of Kerry footballers had ceased, Donaghy enquired, “What do you think of that, Joe Brolly?” with typical playfulness and devilment.
Since then, every team to win a trophy feels duty-bound to Tweet a picture of their success to the Derry man and ask him the same question. Good clean fun.
YOU CAN’T BE SERIOUS
IN the immediate aftermath of the Armagh and Cavan game, which was marred even before the throw-in with a pre-match brawl, the then-Armagh manager Paul Grimley was asked for his thoughts on the scenes. He replied that he felt it had been blown out of all proportion, even though this was the first public comment on the matter.
Rather hilariously, Armagh attempted to paint themselves as victims in all of this and soon after went off to their room, slamming the bedroom door closed and putting on Nirvana as loud as the speakers could manage. Picture, no sound, would follow.
THE ‘MEH’ MOMENT OF THE YEAR
When Henry Shefflin won his tenth All-Ireland hurling medal for Kilkenny, it lacked an awful lot of the typical comic-book heroism normally erformed by Shefflin in finals. Clearly, manager Brian Cody did not see him as a man to play a half, or even a quarter of hurling when it came down to it.
As a result, there was a sense of anti-climax when Shefflin did claim an astonishing tenth medal. With Ballyhale Shamrock’s clubmate Joey Holden being nominated this week as the Cats captain for 2015, we might have seen the last of this Maestro in the black and amber.
THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK
So convinced were we of another cycle of revolution in hurling, and of the long-awaited breakthrough of this Mayo football team, that we felt the older powers were on the wane.
In Kilkenny, the older, established talents of Tommy Walsh and Henry Shefflin were struggling. Kerry began their league with losses to Dublin, Derry and Mayo.
Around about this time, Damian Lawlor’s book on midtier hurling counties about to stake a claim in the big-time; ‘Fields of Fire’, was published.
But back came the two K’s, fired up by tradition and muscle memory of champions, pushed on equally by a younger, hungry generation.
NOT THE SIZE OF THE DOG
The capacity of sport to delight was evident through the winter. In Slaughtneil, they somehow managed a twopronged credible assault on the hurling and an ultimately successful raid on the Ulster Club Football Championships.
Omagh were ready-made poster boys for the competition having knocked out Crossmaglen with a typically-stirring comeback, but it was those ferociously determined men from the shadow of Carntogher mountain that delivered only their second Derry Championship and a provincial title to accompany it.
They must be the smallest club to have done this, with a half-parish without a pub, a shop, or even a church.
Eamonn Fitzmaurice has a coolness to him that evokes comparisons with Samuel L Jackson’s ‘Jules’ character in Pulp Fiction. After the slaughtering of Tyrone in the National League, a game that sent the Red Hands into tailspin and arrested Kerry’s worrying start of three straight defeats, he remained inscrutable.
He carried that demeanour right through the season, but his greatest triumph as a coach was to expose and tear down the myth of Jim
McGuinness and the amount of time needed to counter the Donegal system in the final.
Fitzmaurice showed that this particular style of play had its defects too.
THE ‘DISEASE OF ME’ VICTIM
For a man that has nothing left to prove, Clare hurling manager Davy Fitzgerald went into 2014 defending their All-Ireland title, but he appeared to
have a little too much relish for sideshows and nursing along private and some very public grievances.
A Munster semi-final defeat to Cork was not helped a month later when Fitzgerald angrily confronted a local journalist in the tunnel following their qualifier draw against Wexford.
It all came to a head a week later, when Clare lost the replay which once again went into extra-time. Davy’s demeanour will once again be a source of great interest in the new year.
SPORT FROM THE GODS
On a cold and damp Saturday in August, I spent the evening nestled in deepest Derry in a pub along the Glenshane Pass that lays claim to being the highest in Ireland.
Some journalists were among the company and, hardened and cynical hacks as we thought we were, we lit up as Kerry and Mayo took us on an exploration of the human soul as they slugged it out in the All-Ireland semi-final replay in Limerick’s Gaelic Grounds.
I believe it was put best immediately after another dramatic twist, when one of our number exclaimed, “Cecil B DeMille couldn’t script this!”
We will not get to see Stephen O’Neill’s range of dummies and his spooky ability to split angles with either foot.
Benny Coulter will fetch balls out of the sky for Mayobridge but nobody else. Jim McGuinness will be on the sideline (or at least the dugout) for Celtic but not Donegal.
James Horan will be on the sideline of his daughter’s side, but not driving Mayo on their epic journey.
Tommy Walsh will flake away still, but we won’t get to see that red helmet at number five for the Cats any more.
JJ Delaney’s uncanny ability to gobble up dropping ball will also be absent from that defence.
And finally. Barry Owens. Has ever a man given so much and got so little back inreturn?
We salute you one and all.