The McKenna Cup and other regional pre-season competitions trudge on despite lack of interest coupled with the inclement weather conditions which January usually brings.
Donegal should have played last night depending on pitch conditions in Ballybofey for the privilege of playing Tyrone in the final on Sunday. The McKenna Cup has probably been a useful exercise for Declan Bonner as a new manager. We had a much stronger team on show last Sunday against Monaghan which was very much evident when Donegal overran the Farney men in the second half.
Tyrone reached their 7th successive McKenna Cup final with a hard-earned battle with Fermanagh. I believe that Tyrone deserve to keep the cup. They’ve earned it. Then the competition should be dumped and washed away with the melting winter snow.
Hopefully, Donegal will travel to Kerry next weekend with a fully fit squad which is so much more important when the season proper begins.
Mark Breheny may not be one of the most prolific names in GAA circles but his story upholds all those values that use to typify the GAA since its inception. Mark was, up until last week, the longest-serving inter-county player active in the game. He was 36 years of age and just turned 37 this week.
Breheny played for Sligo for 17 years and played his last game wearing the number 17 against Meath last year in Navan. Coincidentally he began his career against Meath at the same venue. He gave his life to his club St. Mary’s and to Sligo culminating in a Connacht title in 2007.
He and his wife have recently been blessed with their second child which will bring him far more fruits than sport ever will. His life is taking on a different focus as he enters the twilight of his football career. He told RTE last week that "I felt I probably just don't have the full energy to give it absolutely everything for another year so that was it. I rang the manager Saturday. He was disappointed, I obviously explained my feelings about it and I probably had to go back and realise that maybe this isn't for me anymore”.
He always had great belief in his Sligo team and that one day he would play in an Ireland final. Winning medals wasn’t why he played. He simply loved the game. Since the age of 19 he put his social and travel life on hold so that he could play with his club and county. While other lads went off to America to play, he preferred to stay at home with his club.
I wish Mark Breheny all the best in his retirement. If the GAA are looking for a role model, then they need look no further. As the game develops, evolves and changes, the demands on players will not allow the likes of Breheny to remain in the game as long as he did. Mark in an exception to the rule these days.
To still be playing senior inter-county football at 30 years of age is a milestone in the present era. The rigours of modern-day strength conditioning, endurance training along with lengthy coaching sessions for amateur athletes with full-time jobs are taking their toll. The reality is that there is only a handful of teams with the resources and the abilities to vie for All-Ireland glory. Sligo would not fall into this category but the GAA do need dreamers like Mark Breheny where there is a more level playing field. This is not a jibe at the Sligo man or his county.
When I joined the Donegal senior panel way back in 1982, my dream was to play in Croke Park. I was fortunate to join when we had a group of young emerging talent most of whom had just won an All-Ireland U-21 title. We did have a genuine realistic chance of getting to an All-Ireland senior final one day. That’s why the likes of Breheny and many of his peers in the game have to be applauded. Most inter-county players go through their careers winning little and probably nothing. We hear little about them, yet they plough the hard yards and endure the hardships that the elite seldom suffer.
As time rolls on for those of us who have had some success, the memories fade but age and maturity make us appreciate those triumphs all the more. As the new season kicks off, most GAA players young and not so young, club or county, underage or senior, will have hopes and dreams for the season ahead. While the rest of us are cosied up at the fireplace these wintery evenings, our sports enthusiasts are out doing the tough preparatory work.
While it is very enjoyable and rewarding I believe that the thirst for success is driving our players too hard. This goes for club and underage players too. It has all become a bit too serious where winning is all that matters.
I attended a few U-12 and U-14 games last year. I was simply an onlooker not supporting either team. The behaviour of some of the parents towards the opposing players and especially the opposing supporters was deplorable. Sometimes teams lose, sometimes they win. Youngsters must be allowed to learn about losing as well as winning. If they don’t, then they are in for some tough lessons when they become adults. Parents need to back off from their offspring and let them at it. Don’t fight their fights.
I’ve often said it here that sport is a mirror image of life. Sport teaches us many lessons that cannot be learned in a classroom or from parents. Back in the day, I was a quick learner on the football field from the first time that I put on a pair of boots. I got plenty of knocks but they were reciprocated. More importantly, I could laugh before, during or after a game. I enjoyed it every bit as much as Mark Breheny. I sincerely hope that we have plenty of thrills and spills as the new season takes off and even have some fun along the way.
Keep the faith!