Wednesday 21 March 2018

Comment: Sporting tradition can be established in seconds

Munster and Ireland players Billy Holland, Donnacha Ryan, Simon Zebo, Conor Murray and CJ Stander celebrate winning with physio Dave Revins. Photo: INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Munster and Ireland players Billy Holland, Donnacha Ryan, Simon Zebo, Conor Murray and CJ Stander celebrate winning with physio Dave Revins. Photo: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Declan Bogue

Eaten bread, as the saying goes, is soon forgotten.

No sooner had Ireland's rugby team beaten New Zealand - always to be referred to as New Zealand now that the aura of invincibility has been shed - than most observers were asking how it had taken so long?

There was a perfect moment for the few hours after, while victory was savoured. But then thoughts turned to The Great Aviva Robbery of 2013. Had they have held out then, then Ireland would now be targeting three consecutive victories against the world champions.

Sporting walls were tumbling down in the Windy City a few days earlier when the Chicago Cubs finally ended that miserable 108 year streak by edging past the Cleveland Indians to land the baseball World Series.

In the half-light of victory, talk turns to legacy; how much can be won, in how soon a time.

The great sporting narrative in the GAA has become the fate of the Mayo footballers. Sometime in the next two or three seasons, most people would be fairly confident they can land an All-Ireland title.

When that happens, there will be some in Mayo who simply won't know what to do with themselves, having fully signed up to the 'Mayo, God help us' identity. The county council might be well advised to establish emergency group counselling sessions in the event of victory and all the old certainties washed away.

In the coverage to follow an inevitable Mayo All-Ireland, there will be newspaper sidebars happily detailing other sporting famines that remain. A curse is always a tempting hook to pad out the copy.

Before Mayo, there was Clare hurlers, and the curse of Biddy Early that 'lasted' 81 years until they won the Liam MacCarthy in 1995. Early was a medicine woman who came from Feakle, close by to Clare's manager Ger Loughnane, and he despised the story so much that he took great delight in pointing out that Early died in 1874, a decade before the GAA was founded.

After Mayo, Waterford hurling might feature in that list (1959 being their last All-Ireland). Or why not even Kerry, those slackers who have yet to add to their 1891 hurling triumph.

In 2012, my home club Tempo Maguires ended a 39-year wait for the New York Cup, the Fermanagh senior Championship. I had fantasised that moment as being the ultimate Mardi Gras down the Main Street, but the ease of victory over a Lisnaskea team grieving the loss of their former captain Brian Óg Maguire left it feeling flat.

Another journalist remarked to me that night that the joy or victory can never quite push your buttons as keenly as the pain of defeat. Others would feel differently, but for me, he was on the button.

This Sunday, Killyclogher take the field against Slaughtneil in the Ulster club. In interviews, they have already talked about the rather appalling record of Tyrone clubs in Ulster club football. Only Errigal Ciaran (1993, 2002) have won it from the Red Hand county.

With seven different winners in the last seven years, the Tyrone Championship may be one of the hardest-fought tournaments in the GAA. Much in the same way as the collateral damage sustained in winning the Anglo-Celt can almost be seen as detrimental to a county's hopes of winning an All-Ireland, the tooth-and-nail battles in Tyrone's domestic tournament are cast up as a mitigating factor.

That only goes so far, when you look at what and how Slaughtneil have done with themselves as a club and a community.

Prior to 2004, they were seen as mountainy men on the slopes of Carn Togher. Plenty of brawn and hardy competitors, but lacking in numbers and talent to land a senior title.

No 'tradition', alongside the illustrious names of Bellaghy, Lavey and Ballinderry, who would all win All-Ireland club titles.

Now, they have won three consecutive Derry Championships. A few short weeks ago, their hurlers became the first Derry club to win the Ulster club hurling Championship. Their camogs are Ulster champions.

For all the talk about 'tradition' in Gaelic games, it only exists in the abstract. Previously great clubs and counties fade away, replaced by groups that possess the necessary ingredients.

What 'tradition' really means is people making the right decisions. Slaughtneil have a flood of people like that at the moment.

There is nothing to stop Killyclogher shouting 'stop', and building their own tradition. Just like Slaughtneil.

And Clare. And the Chicago Cubs. And Ireland.


OVER the last couple of weeks there were numerous stories and features about probably the darkest-ever GAA book, the Cathal McCarron autobiography 'Out of Control.'

If this forms part of your reading list, just as a balance you should add Kieran Donaghy's 'What Do You Think Of That?'

Donaghy made his name first as a basketballer, and was happy living the life of a barfly in The Greyhound in Tralee, before his cousin bullied him into turning out for the Austin Stacks thirds.

In time, Donaghy had an enormous impact in Gaelic football, transferring his basketball skills onto a pitch and establishing himself as one of the key members of the Kerry dynasty of footballers. Prior to his county retirement after defeat in this year's semi-final to Dublin, he remained the one player most capable of changing the course of a game in the blink of an eye.

The book itself is a lot like Donaghy - it breezes along, it's a lot of fun and it gives you plenty to chew on. It's also superbly ghosted by Kieran Shannon, who preserves Donaghy's voice and humour throughout the pages.

There is a passage that describes a team meeting, one of those 'let's have it out, we are all big boys here' ones that people are permitted to get anything off the chest and it will not be held against them.

When Donaghy suggested they practise some 'scenarios' whereby one team in training is down by three points with ten to go, it prompts a reaction from manager Jack O'Connor that is worth the price alone.

There is pathos too, with the separation of his parents. His father Oliver's desperate acts of simply grabbing a young Kieran out of his mother's house and driving him to his own home place of Tyrone, along with his bi-polar behaviour, makes this an examination of father-son relationships.

That's become quite a theme, when you consider the longing in hurling autobiographies that Anthony Daly and, for different reasons, Liam Dunne had for their father. And Cathal McCarron's own imperfect (is there such a thing as a perfect) relationship with his father.

Online Editors

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