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McBurney/Declan Bogue

Pictured Declan Bogue

Date: Thursday 12th April 2012

Location: BT Offices

Credit: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX

Copyright: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX

Liam McBurney - RAZORPIX


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We've learned hard way to appreciate our big sporting events

Declan Bogue


Plans change: Tyrone’s Mattie Donnelly would have been in demand this week

Plans change: Tyrone’s Mattie Donnelly would have been in demand this week

�INPHO/Matt Mackey

Kieran McGeeney

Kieran McGeeney

�INPHO/Tommy Dickson


Plans change: Tyrone’s Mattie Donnelly would have been in demand this week

We'll never take it for granted again.

Last Sunday, we would have been packed in tight in the Kingspan Breffni watching Cavan and Monaghan gouge lumps out of each other.

It would have been great fun to watch Seamus 'Banty' McEnaney and Mickey Graham on the line, Raymond Galligan and Rory Beggan doing their extraordinary things between the sticks, and just soak in the sense that the Championship had arrived and the ballgame was in town.

And yet you just know that sometime in the first half, after the initial early-game frenzy had died off a bit and one or the other was keeping the ball a bit too long, the mind would have started to wander a little.

Maybe to the Swiss roll behind you on a trestle table, or a little bit of journalistic slagging with a fellow member of the press corps. Perhaps the lawn at home was getting a bit scruffy, the dandelions flourishing and you had to figure out when the sweet spot in the week was to nail it.

And before you know it, half-time would have arrived and as much as you keenly anticipated a Championship summer, indeed dreamt of it when the days were passing in a flash and you observed a Dr McKenna Cup game dispassionately, it just felt like another day in the office.

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This weekend, however, a different story. It's not exactly that Armagh or Derry are hot favourites or even particularly frontrunners for an Ulster title - though anything is possible - but it would have been about the characters involved. Everyone loves conflict.

Saturday night football in Celtic Park is a rare treat. Along the sideline, several scores are there to be settled. Including his time as Jim McGuinness' assistant with Donegal in 2011 when Kieran McGeeney was with Kildare, Rory Gallagher has faced the Armagh man three times in Championship football management and come out on top each time.

The most comprehensive of these was in 2015 when Donegal blitzed Armagh in McGeeney's first year in charge of his native county. The most impressive, however, was how Gallagher, then in charge of Fermanagh, shut down the Orchard's forward line in the 2018 quarter-final to give the Erne County their first Ulster Championship win over their rivals since 1945.

To his credit, McGeeney re-invented Armagh's approach in time for the 2019 league meeting in Crossmaglen that derailed Fermanagh's promotion bid to the top flight. Ultimately, they never regained that momentum and Gallagher left at the end of the season.

And then to Sunday, and the fillet steak of Ulster football as things stand - Donegal v Tyrone in Ballybofey. There have been many meetings between these two over the past decade.

They have thrown up the following: sledging; biting; stamping; personal harassment; tunnel bust-ups; spitting; autobiographies where some of the protagonists were less then complimentary; and autobiographies where some of the protagonists were laughably touchy and paranoid.

Then, there was the actual football: Donegal toppling the established order in 2011; Tyrone taking them for granted in 2012 and not truly understanding the beast that McGuinness was creating; the Red Hands arriving in Ballybofey in 2013 thinking that they had it sussed out with Niall Morgan pinging their frees from distance and with Donegal in their faces, upsetting their rhythm, the hunters becoming the hunted as they sailed past in a wicked game.

There was another day in 2015 when it seemed like all the worst excesses of Gaelic football were piled into two hours in the rain and yet still Donegal came out on top.

There was the sunny day in Clones with Sean Cavanagh's shot dropping out of another solar system and over the bar in the 2016 Ulster final; Peter Harte's rocket, a once in a lifetime connection with a football; and Jonathan Munroe - remember him? - absolutely buckling Colm McFadden with a shoulder and coming out the right side of a David Coldrick decision to play on, which was the winning of the game, really.

And then there was the year after, when that Donegal team realised the game was up. As Cavanagh revealed in his autobiography, at one point Neil McGee - the man who finished up Stevie O'Neill as a player in a previous year with THAT shoulder - casually remarked that it was "wild warm" and he couldn't wait to get off the field.

Then there was the Super 8s game in Ballybofey with Tyrone scoring a third consecutive win in 2018. And the game last year, and all the unpleasantness as Donegal wrestled back control of matters.

All this week would have seen talk of Mattie Donnelly and how his hamstring was coming on, all the tall tales, Mickey Harte playing a cute game - and Declan Bonner saying he wasn't falling for it.

Indeed, we'll never take all that for granted again.

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