Our own favourite men-only club will soon be embarking on its annual tournament when, in just over a month’s time, the Ulster Championship begins.
At least it used to be a manly game before the new refereeing orthodoxy outlawed 50-50 challenges, shoulder tackles, hand tackles, block-downs and all the other things that used to set the pulse racing. The age of political correctness has had severe consequences for everyone, save Augusta.
Mike Tyson, asked this week about the famous description of him in his heyday as “the baddest man on the planet” responded sadly “I’m a pussy now. Sign of the times, that being a wimp is considered a good thing nowadays.”
Promoting his one man show entitled: “Mike Tyson, Undisputed Truth,” he was asked by a sceptical reporter what undisputed truths there could possibly still be out there. “Well, I got a prison counsellor pregnant when I was inside.” A show stopping line if ever there was one . . . !
Whatever about the baddest man, the baddest team on the planet is still Donegal. But only if Michael Murphy is fit.
Last year, in spite of the fact that he was their most valuable player by a country mile, he was overlooked by the All-Star selectors. This year, that error is becoming ever more glaring. A long lay off through injury caused him to miss the first part of the league, which coincided with a dreadful Donegal slump. Fourteen seconds into his return game against Cork in Ballybofey, he scored a remarkable goal, fetching an impossible high ball and scorching the net as he landed.
“It was a lovely ball in from Karl,” he said afterwards. Funny thing is, he actually meant it. Watch it for yourself on youtube at “Michael Murphy goal after fourteen seconds.”
He went on to destroy the Cork defence that day, bringing his county an invaluable league win. At Croke Park versus the Dubs he was at it again, singlehandedly taking the attack to them until his injury with ten minutes to go changed the game. Their fitness regime is unprecedented and savage. Their game plan is entrenched and therefore they perform on autopilot. Their mentality is “Come and beat us” which puts great psychological pressure on their opponents, as we saw throughout last year. Basically, they endure.
Armagh have potential but the gulf between their disorganisation and Crossmaglen’s organisation was once again graphically illustrated last Sunday, when the brilliant Aaron Kernan and Jamie Clarke laboured anonymously. Paddy O’Rourke’s public criticisms of Jamie afterwards (he narrowly missed a goal chance) were a disastrous misjudgement which went down like a lead balloon in Crossmaglen in particular and Armagh in general. One can almost see the cement hardening around his ankles. With Tony McEntee virtually certain to stick with Cross for the three in-a-row bid, the rest of the Ulster teams will be reprieved for a year or two yet, unless of course his twin brother answers the call. That said, they could give Tyrone a scare at home. As for the Red Hand mujahideen, they are concentrating again after their year out. If they can keep Jamie (the one who missed the goal chance) from hitting the net they will then have to face Donegal. Against the baddest team on the planet, their game plan will founder. Tyrone’s strategy of solo running and hand-passing from the defence to the forty is meat and drink to Donegal, who will assign a man marker to Peter Harte, thereby furiously testing the extent of his rehabilitation since last year’s mauling. Donegal started slowly that day, in awe of Tyrone. They will not make the same mistake. Tyrone’s youngish team will either be made or broken in late June. As for Derry, we haven’t a man that can do thirty press-ups, which is all you need to know.
Down have a real chance to get to the final, even if their defence remains suspect. Their biggest test will be in Brewster Park, where the mother of all ambushes is being prepared by the Son of God, in whom the father must be well pleased. His team have conceded the lowest scores against, across all four divisions (even if Kilkenny’s scoring average is approximately zero), several of the team has serious championship pedigree and he has effortlessly managed to manage Mr Quigley, who has dropped from size 40 togs to size 34 in the space of four months (a smash-hit before and after workout video beckons). The Tyrone-style smother defence awaits Down, a team that almost never wins a game when they are favourites.
One of the fun things will be to see who emerges from this easy side of the draw, with each team feeling they have a genuine chance. Monaghan have been dire since the Kildare game, when they were outstanding. Since then, they have switched to a sweeper system, wasting Vinnie Corey and Darren Hughes and leaving the superb Paul Finlay stranded up front. Interestingly, when they went man to man against Tyrone in the second half at the weekend, they really made a match of it. Antrim will hope they remain in their shell.
In light of their proven ability to stop teams scoring (Armagh’s forward line managed a single point from play on Sunday past) and the utter reliability of their system, Donegal are the likeliest winner. God help us all.