There was a massive European soccer final in Madrid last Saturday evening where the players of Liverpool and Tottenham entertained millions of people with their skills, courage, passion and bravery . . . the gladiators of modern-day sport.
Well no, not really. There were snippets of each and no they are far from modern-day gladiators. This is just a bit of ‘fake’ news. My team Chelsea, won the second tier Europa Cup recently but to be honest, I didn’t feel anything like the euphoria that I was promised by the media conglomerates who promote these events. In fact, I felt nothing. Yes, when it comes to sport, I too can become one of the ‘sheeple’ but one of a few who know that we are ‘sheeple’.
The following evening, Sunday, I listened to the commentary of Cavan versus Armagh game on the wireless courtesy of Northern Sound. Even though, I was neutral, I couldn’t help but be amused and excited by the events unfolding as the two teams played out a draw after extra time. The commentators were unashamedly biased towards Cavan which made for hugely entertaining listening.
I also watched Kilcar playing in the semi-final and final of the All-Ireland Gaeltacht tournament in the very western tip of the Dingle Peninsula in Kerry last weekend on TG4. There was little fanfare; just the local school band who paraded the players around the pitch before the throw-in.
I thought that Kilcar were truly heroic and magnificent. They played without their inter-county contingent and lost Stephen McBrearty after the semi-final with a knee injury while Ciaran McGinley and Mark McHugh had to also retire from the pitch during the final with injuries.
Kilcar had many heroes all over the pitch. Michael Hegarty rolled back the years to control proceedings while Ciaran McGinley was exceptional in midfield. I liked both corner backs, Pauric Carr and Barry McGinley. The one player who really stood out for me was Mark McHugh. If Declan Bonner’s door is half open or half closed, McHugh could surely squeeze in. He was involved in everything that was good about Kilcar. His positional sense and use of the ball were excellent.
Kilcar lost a game but won many hearts. They had me on the edge of my seat. It’s a long time since I felt like a lunatic; shouting at the TV. But I was. You see, there’s the difference. I watched unpaid amateur players who demonstrated raw passion, courage and bravery with a lot of skill included; true modern-day gladiators. Well done Kilcar. You did your county proud.
And so, Tyrone and Donegal face off this Saturday evening. For the next few days, Tyrone and Donegal friends and neighbours will become adversaries and partisan. Nowhere is it felt more than in the border areas where I live. Clubs and parishes will unite for the cause of the county. Yet, we will all stand or sit together in Breffni Park as our respective counties lash into each other. There will be banter and tempers lost and the common enemy will be the referee.
The Ulster championship to date, for the most part, has been exciting, though lacking a bit in quality. Tyrone and Donegal are the best two teams in the province with both sets of players believing that they have the technical ability and strength of body and mind to win the game. So, let’s look at where this match can be won or lost.
Tyrone played their league campaign in Division One while Donegal contested the Division Two league. They also contested last year’s All-Ireland final. Tactically, they are playing a more direct style of play. Tyrone have unearthed a couple of useful players during the league campaign which adds to their armoury. Overall, I believe that they are a better equipped team than last year.
There’s something about Donegal this season that has changed too. From my protected and well-informed sources, I hear that a quiet confidence has been instilled into this group of players. In order to appreciate what I mean, we must look at the root and branch set-up that Declan Bonner has built. There’s a very unassuming man in there who we rarely hear about though.
We are familiar with Karl Lacey and Paul McGonagle who have been key to Donegal success’s during Bonner’s tenure. Then we have the Rochford Files. Stephen Rochford has an impressive CV and he could be the link that can take Donegal back to the pinnacle. You rarely see him or hear of him in the press but I’m hearing plenty about his influence in the dressing-room and about his team talks. He carries a wealth of experience from his recent management term with Mayo.
There’s a balance, discipline and patience to Donegal that has been absent for a while. Our attackers are not shooting on sight. They are measured and are back playing the percentage game. Every team in the country would love to have our forward line. The team is physically conditioned better than last year. We ran out of steam in the last ten minutes against Tyrone in Ballybofey last August which ended our championship run.
I believe that Bonner & Co. have learned so much from this particular defeat. I believe that Donegal are a serious force this season. Tyrone will bring the best out of them which will carry us forward to the Ulster title.
In 1998 there was a film out called “There’s Something About Mary”. In 2019, I feel that there’s something about Donegal.
Tir Conaill Abu!