Coalisland Omagh Ladies Mick Higgins St Galls Tom Daly & Mary McAleese

2010 Review

20th Nov 2010

For those of us who thoroughly enjoyed the early 1990s boom period for Ulster Football, 2010 has been a little bit strange. I mean, Down won the All Ireland in 1991 with Paddy O'Rourke as captain, yet in January this year we had the strange sight of the same Paddy managing neighbours and bitter rivals Armagh.

I was in Crossmaglen that day and only I have video footage to prove it, I'm not sure I would have believed it. Paddy looked very smart in a black and orange tracksuit, but it just didn't look right. Armagh people hated Down back in the '90s, though I suppose their bitterness has lessened a little since they made it to the top table themselves in 2002.

By the end of this year, Monaghan's very own Seamus 'Banty' McEnaney, who's blood is blue and white, had landed the Meath job. I don't know, maybe I'm getting old but I did take some heart from the calls for club managers to come from within clubs. It won't happen, for a variety of reasons, but the call did go some way to comforting this little bruised GAA soul.

Coalisland should be put forward as an example of how things can be done. They won the Tyrone SFC for the first time in 19 years by appointing from within. There were no training weekends or big money spent on the team, and it was led by Na Fianna legend Damian O'Hagan.

Going back to Down, you could nearly have guessed they would have reached the All Ireland Final on the 50th anniversary of Kevin Mussen carrying the Sam Maguire over the border for the first time. They sure don't lack confidence and belief in Down, mainly because of Mussen's men, because even though their record in recent years has been pretty awful. All they needed in 2010 was to win the toss before the first game and their fans were booking hotels near Croke Park for mid-September.

For most of the first-half of the All Ireland Final, Down looked like they would wipe the floor with Cork. Then the rain came down and the substitutions made a difference. As my Father commented, 'the Cork subs kept getting bigger and the Down subs kept getting smaller'.

Down fans now finally know what it's like to lose an All Ireland Final, at the 6th time of asking. I guess that leaves Donegal as the only Ulster county with a 100 per cent record in All Ireland Finals. Played one, won one.

Down's year of course started in Donegal, with an extra-time victory in Ballybofey. Marty Clarke made his debut and set up the winning goal for Benny Coulter, who explained why the team wore their club jerseys in a warm-up session out the back of MacCumhaill Park.

"Paddy Tally (Trainer) told us to wear them to show that we are proud of where we come from and that we all can work together for the county".

Earlier in the year, Donegal beat Down on their way to retaining the McKenna Cup. More significantly, Jim McGuinness led the county to Ulster Under-21 success and within a lick of paint from winning the All Ireland. They're still checking the woodwork to see if it will remain intact after Michael Murphy's thunderbolt penalty rattled off it.

There was Ladies Football success for Donegal and Tyrone as the latter brought Cork's Rebel Yell to an abrupt halt after five years of domination. Omagh St Enda's Ladies have also done remarkably well, which suggests that Tyrone might be about to be a major force in the game.

One of the games of the year, for sheer entertainment and drama, was Omagh Ladies winning the Ulster JFC title. Maybe I've just become a little bit disillusioned with the men's game after working at most of the Tyrone and Dublin SFC ties this year. They were mainly grim battles, especially those in Tyrone, with goals and even goal chances at a premium.

All the emphasis was placed on winning, and 'star' players were nullified. Still, it's got to be better than that Aussie Rules carry on. I've never got that and still don't.

Poor old Martin Sludden will forever be remembered for his gaffe at the Leinster SFC Final. The scenes at the end and the indecision that followed brought honour to no-one.

But let's be positive. The All Ireland Football Feile in the North West was superb, as always. Antrim hurlers showed signs that they are on the way back, St Galls won the Club title, Tyrone kept the All Ireland Minor Football Championship in Ulster, and Tom Daly has thrown his hat in the ring to be the next GAA President. No better man, Tom is a skilled negotiator and a really nice fella.

As Ulster President, the Donegal native saw the province go from strength to strength in most departments. Did you know that 85 per cent of gate money in Ulster goes back into helping clubs and communities? That's something to be proud of.

But I proudest of all in 2010 to hear that an interview I conducted with Cavan's last All Ireland winning captain Mick Higgins was quoted at his funeral mass. The great man reminded us what it's all about when he was asked what he'd like to be remembered for.

'That I never hit anyone, that I played the game clean and I never was put off'.

Now there's a lesson from the past for the present, and the future.


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