Off the Air

Charlie Collins

Hurling – The beautiful game

Ciaran Bonner.

Ciaran Bonner.

I didn’t really intend to watch the All-Ireland Senior Hurling final replay between Cork and Clare last Saturday evening. It was warm and sunny where I was and I wasn’t in the mood to sit indoors.

Anyway, replays seldom tend to be as good as the first game, but I decided I have a quick look at the first few minutes.

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Fast forward seventy plus minutes and I was still in front of the television. The only time I moved was for a comfort break and cup of tea at half-time. What a spectacle, what a game and credit to all involved in the 2013 All-Ireland Hurling final replay.

Clare won it in the end and deservedly so because clearly they were the better team in both games but their victory was even greater given that their opponents were Cork who gave it everything. Despite being an inferior team they never gave an inch throughout the two games. I didn’t realise until Monday that Cork lead for just 90 seconds during the two matches and that was at the end of the drawn game that they so nearly won.

Jimmy Barry Murphy’s team found themselves seven or eight points behind on more than one occasion but they never, ever gave up.

Indeed, last Saturday although they eventually lost by six points, Clare’s fifth and final goal only came in the closing seconds of the game and that was only after Cork had come close to an equaliser at the other end. This was sport at its best.

A former soccer manager of mine, a man who sadly is no longer with us, used to say after a game that if you had given it everything and still lost as least you knew that it was because your opponents were better on the day and deserved to win.

Last Saturday was one such day for Cork and their team, like their manager, were gracious in defeat. They offered no excuses and said that the better team had won.

Sometimes it’s hard to like the little terrier that is Clare manager Davy Fitzgerald, a man who always appears to be whinging and talking in riddles during pre and post match interviews.
He has an incredible knack of answering questions he hasn’t been asked – mostly to have a go at someone who annoyed him – but there’s no denying that he was one hell of a ‘keeper with Clare in his playing days and is now one hell of a manager.

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Were he never to win another thing he will be remembered as being the man who brought the Liam McCarthy Cup back to the county for the first time in sixteen years. He’s in charge of a young team who, according to Fitzgerald, can now go on and achieve whatever they want in terms of future successes.

It suits him to heap all the praise on the players but, deep down, I’m sure he knows that without him at the helm last weekend’s victory may now have been possible.

His decision to include 19-year-old Shane O’Donnell at the start was a masterstroke. He scored a first half hat-trick and finished with 3-03, a remarkable total.

Cork found themselves eight points down after 30 minutes. They had pulled that back to four by the break and levelled it up early in the second half before Cork upped the ante once again with a fourth goal – a score which appeared to put them out of sight. But back came Cork until the fifth and final goal settled the game.

It was a magnificent match and a fitting finale in what has been a brilliant year for hurling which has produced some epic clashes and saw Clare finally come out on top. Perhaps Nicky English summed it up best in his newspaper column on Monday when he said: It’s a pity it’s all over.

Surprise semi finals

I’m not sure what odds you would have got on the semi-final pairings in the 2013 Donegal Senior Football Championship but I would suspect that not too many people would have come up with Malin v Killybegs and Ardara v Glenswilly.

First up at MacCumhaill Park on Saturday evening is the meeting between Ardara and Glenswilly while Malin v Killybegs take centre stage at the same venue on Sunday afternoon.

Killybegs and Ardara have both struggled in the league this year but it hasn’t affected their Championship form. Killybegs have lost all 14 of their league games while Ardara have won just 4 from their 14 games. Meanwhile, Malin are sitting pretty in fourth spot in Division One with games in hand while Glenswilly lead the way in Division Two having lost just twice in 14 games.
After wins over St Eunan’s and Kilcar respectively it’s hard to see beyond a Malin v Glenswilly final but I wouldn’t put too much money on it. There’s already been too many strange results in the 2013 Championship.

Bonner is back

I’ve long since been calling for Ciaran Bonner’s inclusion in the Donegal Senior Football squad so I was delighted to see that his name had been added to the training panel last weekend. Every county needs its best players available for selection but if they’re not fully committed to the cause it’s never easy for management. A fully committed Ciaran Bonner would be a welcome addition to the Donegal squad. It’s never too late and it’s good to see the Glenswilly man back in the fold.

Martin moves up again

It’s a couple of years since Pauric Breslin from Killybegs drew my attention to the upward spiral of the career of Trentagh’s Martin Harley in the sport of kings, horse racing. Since then Martin’s star has risen even further with a win in the Irish 1,000 Guineas at the Curragh in 2012.

Last week he was appointed head jockey at Marco Botti’s stable where he will get first choice with more than 100 horses. Former England striker Mick Channon, who Martin used to work for, said it was a wonderful opportunity for the young Donegal man and wished him every success into the future. It’s a fantastic career move and one which we’ll continue to watch with interest.

USL Success

Well done to the Ulster Senior League squad who won the Inter Provincial tournament in Sligo last weekend. They’ve been criticised in the past, both for lack of preparation and player interest, but there’s no doubt that the standard of player is good in Donegal if it is properly harnessed. Step forward joint team managers Donal O’Brien and Trevor Scanlon for their meticulous preparation and also to the players who made themselves available. It’s a timely boost to the league and goes to prove that with the right sort of commitment anything is possible.

It’s important that the USL builds on this success and ensures it’s not a one off.