Thursday 22 March 2018

Barca's Irish links are worth following

DURING the debate on the opening of Croke Park to soccer and rugby, a member of the 'anti' lobby was photographed outside GAA headquarters holding a sign that read: "No Foreign Games".

The fact that he was dressed in a Celtic jersey didn't seem to matter to this protestor because, for some strange reason, Celtic are viewed by many in this country as Irish.

This bizarre situation, where a Scottish club playing in a Scottish league commands a special place in Irish hearts, is not without its funny side – Greek striker Georgios Samaras, for example, is known as the 'Athenian Fenian' – but it goes a bit far sometimes.

RTE and TV3 both consistently report on Celtic games as if they matter more than, say, Chelsea, Bayern Munich or Barcelona. Granted Celtic are punching above their weight in Europe this season, but they remain a long way from being counted among the elite of European football.

If we really want to adopt a foreign football team as 'Irish' we could do worse than pick Barcelona. Everything is there for us – they were saved in the 1930s by Irishman Paddy O'Connell, or Don Patricio O'Connell as the Catalans fondly remember him, they play in a league where only two clubs have a chance of winning, and best of all, their sworn enemies are the Royalists of Real Madrid.

Loads of material there for a few good songs.

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Dalkey gave many great things to the world before it developed a reputation as a home to the stars. The playwright and Sunday Independent columnist Hugh Leonard captured the world of the south Dublin village but its football club Dalkey United helped develop its reputation as well. Last week, FAI chief executive John Delaney launched a book commemorating the club's 60th anniversary.

Dalkey United – the First Sixty Years was put together by the legendary Frank Mullen who has, with the help of many of his family, including his son Barry, done so much for Dalkey United. Frank nurtured Dalkey United's most famous player Paul McGrath. Another club stalwart Billy Behan was responsible for Paul's eventual departure to Manchester United.

The book has a foreword by John Giles and includes an article by the late Maeve Binchy and others who place the club within the context of Dalkey and Irish life.

It is available in a number of shops in the Dalkey, Killiney and Sandycove areas, as well as in the Dalkey Post Office.

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For fans not used to much success, the team which makes the first great leap is always the one that stands out. They will always be the team without equal, and the players will be storied forever.

In Longford, that honour fell to the 1966 team, which won the National Football League with victory over one of the greatest teams of all time – the Galway three-in-a-row team.

Which is why there was great sadness at the recent passing of Bobby Burns, the second member of the starting 15 that day to pass away following the death a few years ago of Seán Murray. Burns and Murray were two-thirds of a dynamic full-forward line, Seán Donnelly being the third.

Burns had the distinction of winning county championships in Longford, with his native St Mary's, and in Dublin, with UCD. He also managed Kildare for a spell in the 1980s.

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Although top-quality Gaelic football and hurling matches are mostly associated with the milder months, every now and again they will throw up a corker in the depths of winter. Last Wednesday in Parnell Park was one of those occasions.

UCD narrowly beat DCU (2-14 to 2-12) in the Freshers League football final and not only was it a cracking game but both teams were awash with some of the game's future stars.

On show – to name but a few – were Dublin's Jack McCaffrey, Paul Mannion, and Conor McHugh, who hit 2-2, along with Kildare's Niall Kelly and Louth's Ciarán Byrne. But best of all it was free to see.

Fergus McDonnell, John Greene, Dion Fanning and Marie Crowe

Sunday Indo Sport

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