Posts Tagged ‘Antrim’

Frank Dawson didn’t sit at home scratching his arse last Sunday whilst contemplating how to keep his Saffrons in the third division. When the snow began to fall on Friday morning, the far-sighted bainisteoir phoned up Barry’s in Portrush to privately book the amusement park for the whole of Sunday. That’s the kind of man he is. Always thinking. Pushing boundaries. Harassing funfair organisers. Visionary.

barrys_portrush

As a media man, I managed to wing a spot on the bus. I have this year-long deal with the Antrim County Board which enables me to gain access to the squad 24/7 in return for a top quality documentary at the end of the year which I hope will debut at the Cannes Film Festival in 2014. It was intriguing watching the bus dynamics. You had the boys at the front of the bus who’d probably never been on a bus before. Remote lads like Sean McVeigh, Tony Scullion and Tomas McCann sat on the front seats, wide eyed at the big journey they were about to embark upon. I think I heard Scullion call a family member to simply say he was sitting on the bus in the front seat. God bless him. McCann seemed to get sick half way up the M2 from all the Haribos.

Club Antrim supplied the bus

Club Antrim supplied the bus

The back seat was for the jokers and card players. McClean wedgied Niblock. Pollock drew a rude organ on Doherty whilst the Rasharkin man dozed. Kerr and Finucane did the Times Cryptic Crossword together, in their gloves and tights.

Despite sub-zero conditions and a heavy covering of snow, Barry’s were true to their word and had the fairground in perfect working order, although I detected a slight annoyance from the shivering employees. It was a joy to behold to see the Murray brothers run straight for the children’s ghost train, using up four of their allotted 10 tokens. The screams from the Lamh Dhearg brothers as the train made its way around the course at 1mph will live long in the memory as will the photo taken when they eventually emerged with Ryan being tightly cradled by his big brother. That’s bonding, Hannahstown style.

Conor Murray, post train

Conor Murray, post train

The Herron brothers, determined to live up to their hardman reputations, had two goes on the Turtle Splash. Brendan even had his arms in the air the second time, the mad bastard. Kerr and Finucane spent much of the day wasting their tokens eating candyfloss and chatting about literature. Paddy Cunningham goaded a few of the lads into the dodgem cars but despite being lined up for a few head-on collisions he kept missing the target, something that didn’t go unnoticed with Dawson and his little green book.

The only man to try the death-defying Looping Star was Justin Crozier. Three times. It was abundantly clear that centre half back was laying down a marker for the captaincy.

After the merriment of the funfair and with a contented glow on their faces, the squad were brought to a fish and chip shop in the town which actually turned out to be a bit of a palaver. Conall Kelly asked for a sausage bap and having been told they’d never heard of such an order before in Portrush, Kelly, aided by Niblock, reacted badly in the heat of the moment. Red sauce was flung. Bad words used. Niblock threatened to shove a chicken nugget up the shop-owner’s ‘neb’. Dawson remained calm, wrote something in his green book and ordered four sausages whilst sending Kerr into the bakery for three floury baps. Cool, calm and collected. Leadership.

Kelly loves his baps

Kelly loves his baps

Finally, Frank brought them to the Langholm for a couple of swift ones before setting back to Belfast after a long and fulfilling day. Things got a little bit heated when Finch and O’Boyle argued over who was the best looking in the squad. The Rossa man reckoned Delargy whilst O’Boyle maintained it was a no-brainer – Anto Healy. Again, Dawson sat back and allowed things to escalate until Finch threatened to glass O’Boyle with Delargy pleading that he wasn’t worth it.

Secret camera of Antrim bust-up over looks

Secret camera of Antrim bust-up over looks

The journey home was reflective with all squad members asked to write down one word to describe the day. Apart from Laverty who wrote ‘dung’, the majority ranged from ‘deadly’ (Crozier/McCann/Scullion) to ‘beezer’ (Kerr, Niblock/Healy). Cunningham sang a lovely rendition of Katy Perry’s Firework in Irish and Finch licked his own elbows before they all settled down for a well-earned nap.

Meath might be in for some tanking.

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At around 500 BC, and in a moment of weakness whilst being hacked off at the lack of things to do in China at the time, the great Confucius said “when the Gods piss on you, they piss on you from a great height”. Now, I’m not sure if he was a visionary as far as 2500 years into the future, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he was predicting the outcome of the Antrim/Roscommon round 5 NFL game in Casement in mid-March under a musky northern sky.

Confucius – Saffron man?

Another of his quips was “Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself”. Well, if Dawson has anything about him this weekend he’d bring in a few Antrim fans to training this week and show to the squad the effect their limp performance last weekend on the unwashed. I’ve never been as depressed. Drinking heavily. This was meant to be a new dawn and it was going ever so well. Cavan were put to the sword. The ref acted the bollocks against Sligo. Fermanagh parked their entire county’s people (453) in front of their 20m line in a draw. Another draw in Wicklow after a traumatic 5-day journey. All acceptable.

The road to Wicklow

All that changed last weekend. Antrim refused to score until the 27th minute. I can’t put my finger on that. With a forward line of the Murrays, Pollock, the Herrons and Kelly it makes no sense. There was a rumour circulating Casement that Tomas McCann, who truly looked agitated on the bench, had recently been seen reading books about voodoo and telepathy in a library up near Randalstown. Was he sabotaging the attacking unit with his newly acquired expertise in the dark arts? It cannot be ruled out. He did come on for one of the Murrays and knocked over two dubious frees, making him top scorer. Was the ref affected too? We’ll watch that space but it’s the logical next step for tactics within the GAA and something the ingenious Cargin man is capable of leading the way in.

I really don’t want to dwell on the rest of the game. The Sheep Stealers were always in control. Barra Best scored the only Antrim goal – a credit to the weatherman from the West after his sublime performance that morning on the BBC when he predicted snow on St Patrick’s Day which, although never happened, excited the orangemen momentarily. We need to look forward though. This weekend Meath come to town. A win there and relegation fears turn to promotional hope with one game to go.

Barra Best knew it’d be cold

Are Meath any good? Cavan beat them out the gate. That’s enough for me. I’m not here to pick the team for Frank but he could do no worse than look about changing the whole team. I’ve always thought a full forward line of Barra, Conal Kelly and Sean McVeigh would dazzle the keeper’s eyeballs from their sockets. It’d be like three big lightbulbs haring down on you. Unmarkable. I’d have the two Herrons flanking Connor Murray in the full back line. They’re big mountain lads from Lamh Dhearg, well used to protecting their land from bears and goats. I’d place Kerr and Finucane in centrefield. Them lads could pluck grass from a giraffe’s nostril. You’d also have the added bonus of Kerr’s unerringly accurate free-taking expertise without having to run the length of the field from his own goalmouth – something that he simply cannot do given his tendency to chat to everyone he passes. Such a friendly chap. Throw Pollock in goals and give Tomas a free reign to work his magic. Hey presto – a team to put the fear of God into Donegal.

Kerr and McCann

So there you do. The future can be bright. I just hope Frank is reading.

Bad-ref

First off, a referee’s job is a thankless task. They say a ref had a good game when he’s not seen at all. What a terrible way to be praised. I’m not here to berate an official. So I’ll leave it at that. But, it was no surprise to hear that the Pope in Rome resigned today. I also left Markievicz Park thinking there was no God.

I travelled down behind the team bus on Saturday evening and the excitement was palpable. Tens of people lined the streets of Belfast, the M1, Enniskillen and Leitrim as we made our way to Sligo town for a night of acclimatising to the new conditions. I must say, this new Dawson regime leaves nothing to chance. One of the pitfalls of playing in foreign places is the food. There was fear of a Delhi-belly condition gripping the Saffrons if they got tore into the local delicacies but that worry was quashed when I saw Dawson and his team handing all players a food-bag to do them over the weekend. It was interesting to see the bags categorised as ‘city lads’ and ‘country buckos’. The city lads had pastie baps, sausage baps, Red Bull, Snickers, fish suppers and spicy McCoys. The country lads had corned beef, liver, beetroot, tea, beef McCoys, wheaten bread and Volvic water. Everyone seemed pleased. There was a slight alarm when Magill and Tomas McCann snuck out at around 10pm. Fearing the worst, Dawson sent out a flare only for the lads to return within the hour with armfuls of spices to bring home for their family. Lovely boys. Dawson, as ruthless as ever, confiscated the spices.

indian-spices

The game was a tale of two halves. Antrim started slowly in general despite early points from the Murray brothers. Conor, the older of the two, seems to have become a focal point in the side, a bit like Trigger out of Only Fools and Horses. After that, the Yeatsmen took over. Whether it was the altitude we don’t know but something went wrong. The referee greeted Sligo’s goal with a moonwalk back to the centre field. I’m sure there was something stuck to his feet though and it wasn’t a celebration dedicated to the King of Pop. 16 points down at half time or so.

tve10441-19831215-258

Whatever Dawson said at half time, Antrim came out like men possessed in the second half, aided by the mercurial Paddy Handy Cunningham who was making his 133rd appearance from Antrim, having made his debut at the age of 13. Cunningham led Sligo a merry dance and his three points saw Antrim rage back within two points of their rivals. It was then that the ref decided to put an end to this impudence from the Saffrons and sent off Kevin Niblock, the influential but well-read Galls man. No one was really sure what happened but word was filtering through that he criticized WB Yeats’ mythological poetry to the Sligo captain which is an automatic red card.

wbyeats

Antrim refused to lie down and looked to have pulled the masterstroke when the Jonah Lomu-esque Magill entered the fray. His thunderous footsteps shook the decrepit stand. Time stood still though when the referee marched straight over and red-carded him with a cheeky wink.  I suspect he was still cursing away to himself regarding the spices incident from the previous night and the ref interpreted that as a verbal assault on the Sligo air. Who knows? Down to 13 men, they didn’t stand a chance. The fight was lost and the Saffrons were sent home with no points but having won the hearts of many westerners. A moral victory.

The journey home was a tough one for the players although a bittersweet one for Tomas and Magill as Dawson returned their spices with a warning about future purchases away from home.

MATCH RATINGS: (in the form of songs from the 80s)

J Finnucane; – TAKE ON ME  – 7/10

K O’Boyle – IT TAKES TWO – 7/10

P Doherty – JUST CAN’T GET ENOUGH – 7.2/10

N Delargy – 99 RED BALLOONS – 7/10

T Scullion – WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE –  7.1/10

J Crozier (0-1) – EVERY BREATH YOU TAKE – 7.7/10

J Laverty –  LIVIN ON A PRAYER – 7/10

M McCann (0-1), OH MICKEY, YOU’RE SO FINE – 8/10

J Carron; JUMP – 7/10

C Murray (0-3), BEAT IT – 8.1/10

K Niblock (0-1), WITH OR WITHOUT YOU – 7/10

B Herron; WALK LIKE AN EGYPTIAN – 7/10

R Murray (0-2), SWEET CHILD O MINE – 7.4/10

M Herron, DO YOU REALLY WANT TO HURT ME – 7/10

M Pollock (0-2). ROCK ME AMADEUS – 7.2/10

Subs:

S Finch – DON’T STOP BELIEVING – 7/10

P Cunningham (0-3), HUNGRY LIKE THE WOLF – 8.2/10

C Kelly –  LIKE A VIRGIN – 7.2/10

M Magill. – EVERY ROSE HAS ITS THORN – 10/10

Guns+N+Roses

Football is back. Walking up the Andersonstown Road on a January afternoon can offer a plethora of pleasures any day of the week: rapscallions nicking sherbet dips from shops; fights outside the Whitefort from all-day drinkers; women in pyjamas. But none can surpass the palpable excitement enveloping West Belfast on match-day when the Saffron Army descend in their thousands upon Casement Park, the mecca of the GAA in Ireland. The smell of battered pastie baps, the WKD bottles rolling gently on the pavement, the fights outside Biddy Duffy’s from all-day drinkers, collections for the Basque region and angry stewards all leave me misty eyed.

Bethlehem

Bethlehem

On to the game and Antrim, resplendent in their new kit, took to the field like men running after a gaggle of busty women having been celibate for a year. Men like Niblock, Murray and O’Boyle looked particularly excited to be back in action, all three bench-pressing as the photographers took their team shots. One man who I can be sure wasn’t particularly hungry was Tony Scullion. After coming out in the papers during the week as a food-addict before games, the Cargin whippet spent the majority of the warm-up finishing off a KFC bargain bucket from the Boucher Road. The witty Antrim support, tallying over 30’000, immediately burst into a ‘He Eats When He Wants‘ singsong – a majestic sound filtering all the way around the four corners of the ground. During the game they would resurrect this new Scullion anthem at a lull in play. One wag from Portglenone, an ex music teacher, attempted to sing ‘Food, Glorious Food‘ but was evicted by security for simply not being funny.

Better than Lucozade Sport

Better than Lucozade Sport

The Saffrons burst out of the traps, scoring nearly a dozen points before crowd had the chance to take their seats. Michael McCann, who seems to have timbered well over the festive period, scored a point within three seconds. The extra weight on his thighs meant he could kick a ball from a standing start from the middle of the field and score. And that’s what he did from the throw-in. Within ten minutes, Antrim with something like 0-10 to 0-0 up. Paddy Handy Cunningham knocked over a free with his eyes closed, a new trick he picked up from Bukey. O’Boyle, with his boy-band good looks drawing excited giggles from the young female teenagers in the crowd, scored a point despite playing at corner back. It since transpired that he was inspired to forage upfield to escape the unrelenting tongue of keeper Kerr. Sean McVeigh, at full back and with a weird Ballymena/Cockney brogue, also tried the same tactic after receiving a running commentary of the game from the Gall’s custodian. Kerr’s constant berating of his full back line seems to be a Dawson initiative, this time heralding 1-2. We will watch their scoring exploits with interest.

McCann before throw-in.

McCann before throw-in.

To their credit, the students in the crowd got behind UUJ. Despite not having enough money to buy a program, smoking pot and wearing long tatty jumpers whilst burning papers in a barrel, they inspired their side to make a comeback, finally drawing level when Cunningham’s clubmate Declan Lynch left Kerr with no chance and laid down a marker for next year’s club championship. He added a second goal in the second half, the first time a player scored two goals past Kerr since he minded the nets during a kickabout at break time in school during first year. It adds extra spice to this year’s first Lamh Dhearg/Gall’s meeting with Kerr, having taken up boxing in recent weeks, liable to take Lynch’s head clean off if he’s through one-on-one.

That was the the wake-up call Dawson’s men needed and they finished the half strongly with McCann shedding a few more pounds by running upfield to knock over another with Close and McVeigh topping it off late on. The half-time entertainment never lets us down in Casement and this year the county board jumped on the reality tv bandwagon by having Antrim stars of the past leaping from the top of a step ladder into a paddling pool of water three inches deep. Sean McGreevy won the competition with Sean McGourty, Olcan McFettridge and PJ O’Hare running him close.

PJ practises for diving competition

PJ practises for diving competition

Although the students came out of the blocks quickly in the second half (their overdrafts had cleared at 2:30), Antrim soon steadied the ship, keeping the UUJ lads at arm’s length like A Level bullies teasing the first years. Scullion, fresh from a half time ham and pineapple carbonara, broke the land speed record for the northern hemisphere chasing after a misplaced toe-pass from Niblock. Knackered, he couldn’t muster enough strength to shoot on goal and passed to Herron who didn’t mirror his club team mate Lynch. Herron’s favourite TV show is Lost, and so was that chance.

With the lights now on, the complexion of the game changed. Brendan Herron’s balding features seemed to dazzle the Jordanstown defenders as the ball was turned over as soon as play reached anywhere near the Lamh Dhearg maestro. Colm Fleming arrived on the scene and almost stole the show with a cameo scoring appearance. He came on for Conor Murray who eased off the pace a little as soon as he heard he’d already made the hoganstand.com team of the week.

A tumultuous roar greeted the final whistle as the students trudged back to their shacks to engage in some kind of dope orgy probably. Dawson’s men, on the other hand, warmed down before signing autographs for the adoring public. McCann lost three stone. Next week they entertain Tyrone in a game which offers the chance of a quick revenge for the five point defeat last year. The coming together again of multi-All-Star Stephen O’Neill and unbeaten pugilist Chris Kerr brings back great memories of Wright v Schmeichel or Josimar v Jennings.

queen-band-image

Team Ratings in the form of Queen songs:

C Kerr = Radio Ga Ga (7/10)

K O’Boyle = I Want To Break Free (8/10)

S McVeigh  = Spread Your Wings (8/10)

J Lavery = Put Out The Fire (7/10)

T Scullion = I’m Going Slightly Mad (8/10)

J Crozier = Bohemian Rhapsody (7/10)

N Delargy = Flash (7/10)

M McCann = A Kind Of Magic (7.2/10)

P Doherty = Tie Your Mother Down (7.1/10)

C Murray = Don’t Stop Me Now (8.5/10)

K Niblock = We Are The Champions (8.4/10)

B Herron = Killer Queen (7/10)

P Cunningham = A Kind of Magic (7.6/10)

M Pollock = I Want It All (7/10)

K Close = Flick Of The Wrist (7/10)

Subs:

M Herron = Somebody To Love (7.2/10)

R Johnson = The Show Must Go On (7/10)

C Fleming = Flash (7.7/10)

S Finch = We Will Rock You (7/10)

J Carron = Under Pressure (NOT ON LONG ENOUGH TO BE RATED)

I had planned to type up my experiences at that wondrous occasion in Croke Park yesterday, but that will have to wait. For today the sad news that Baker Bradley has called it a day means nothing else matters right now. I thought I’d put a few words down on the great man and save the Donegal report for a few days. I can equate this day to the news about Maradona’s handball, Take That disbanding and finding out the truth about Santa. When I first came over to Belfast in January I needed a father figure; someone to mimic and make me a better person in a foreign land. I didn’t need to look too far. I’ll never forget the first time I attended a Baker press conference. It was before a McKenna Cup game and the media vultures were beginning to circle around Bradley after early defeats to Fermanagh and Antrim. I could see the progress being made but the success-hungry Antrim media were starting to prepare the noose. They smelt blood. Baker simply strolled into the press-room, remained standing, stared into the whites of their eyes, and said:

“Shoot for the moon, even if you miss you’ll float around in space, so you will, for eternity either starving to death, freezing to death, suffocating, have a tiny meteoroid shoot through you, baked to death by radiation, further away from humanity than anyone has ever been, completely alone so it is.”

Andersonstown today after the news of Baker’s resignation.

The stunned hacks just looked at each other, blankly, with their bottom jaw hanging open. They knew as I did – they’d just heard the most profound motivational speech since De Niro’s in Any Given Sunday. I connected immediately with Bradley. He was taking a chance with Antrim, aiming for the moon, and it was a lonely, dangerous business. Sure wasn’t the same for me arriving in Belfast from Durham. From that moment on, I knew I’d be writing any snippet he said down onto my notebook. I plan to sell the collection this Christmas, simply called ‘So It Was’.

That was the steely side to Baker that many would have witnessed on the sidelines. Roaring and spitting fury. But, what others would never see was the humane element to his character. Bradley was possibly the best man-manager in the game, any game. I will give you just a couple of snippets.

When Aodhan Gallagher was off-form in February, Baker waited until the rest of the lads were doing upsidedown squats during a training night and managed to pull Gallagher aside, arm around the shoulder. I sidled up undercover against the wire mesh and caught the whole conversation. Gallagher confided in the boss that his lack of hair was starting to get to him, with pupils calling him Harry Hill, crystal ball, Buddha, bulb-head, baldilocks, Mr Baldwin, Fester, chrome dome, lollypop head and melon. When Baker finally composed himself from laughing, he rubbed his chin and simply said “Bruce Willis”. A smile as wide as the Albert Clock formed over the shiny-headed midfielder and he scored 3-9 in the next game.

This man saved Gallagher’s season

The following week, goalkeeper Chris Kerr was seen crying in the goalmouth after another NFL defeat. The crowd had dispersed at this point and Baker ushered the the rest of his concerned side back into the changing rooms as he strode manfully across the field to his custodian. Kerr, playing with the sand, was in floods of tears. Again, with skilful stealth, Baker put a hand around his man and asked what was up, wiping a tear from his eye with his used handkerchief. The St Gall’s stalwart looked Bradley tearfully in the eye and said “the McCann’s are bullying me. They keep calling me big-foot an all and saying my kick-outs are dung. When I banter back they sing, ‘KERR BEAR, KERR BEAR’ about a hundred times. Even the crowd behind the goals start it too. I’ve had enough.”

Baker, again laughing heartily, composed himself to pass off some words of wisdom. He told Kerr that when the Care Bear’s first came out he was smitten by them. He bought every Care Bear in Derry that winter, depriving every child in the Oak Leaf one for Christmas. He said he still sleeps cuddling a manky old Care Bear and that every night now, as he wraps his arms around the teddy, he’ll think of Chris. An awkward silence descended between them and Kerr never mentioned it again.

 

 

Anyway, I hope those two stories show the measure of a great, great man. Antrim might crash and burn without him. He aimed for the moon and nearly landed on it. In the week that saw Neil Armstrong’s final days, it’s quite ironic.

 

Kerr Bear

 

I haven’t got to grips with the hurling game yet so it was a quiet week for me. It offered me mountains of time to reflect on my year so far in Ireland and attempt to collate words of wisdom for gaelic football officials in the coming years. A decade ago I ran into the Spanish Soccer Association beside a pool in Benidorm. After two pints of sangria, I told them to forget about lumping the ball on top of some mountainous forward from Bilbao and play it along the ground, always. Two European Championships and a World Cup later and I’m a bit miffed that Ángel María Villar Llona has yet to acknowledge my part in their recent success.

Yer man knows the truth

I sat through the Olympic Closing Ceremony and two things struck me. Firstly, I’m glad my LSD years are finally at and end. That flashback of a ceremony reminded me of escapades long forgotten and best remaining there. Secondly, the GAA are missing a trick in terms of getting bums permanently on seats. Times have changed. Growing up in Durham and attending lower league soccer games, we’d be ecstatic when a ukulele-playing elderly man would appear on the field at half time and play greats such as ‘Banana Pancakes’ and ‘When I’m Cleaning Windows’. The hushed tones would develop into rapturous applause as he neared the end of his 15-minute gig. Nowadays, people have more refined tastes and expect to see something new. My last soccer game saw a half-time show consisting of nine Lithuanian strippers juggling live fish to the strains of Jessie J’s ‘Who Are You?’ And it was OK just. I was sort of hoping they were poisonous fish.

Half Times Were Great

I attended the Antrim Championship last weekend between St Gall’s and Lamh Dhearg. It was an exciting game with the cream of Antrim footballing cutting lumps out of each other. At half time, I was looking forward to a bit of entertainment to keep the blood boiling at a decent temperature before the gladiators returned. What I got was the following:

  • A draw to raise funds for the prisoners
  • A telling off by the announcer for not buying crisps and mineral from ‘the man’
  • An announcement of a result in Ahoghill
  • Last orders for the bar

Definitely not Superbowl material and I saw young children pleading with their parents to go home and watch a rerun of Harry Hill’s TV Burp from 2008. Why couldn’t the Antrim County Board round up even two acts from the county to perform on a crate at half time? Liam Neeson could act out a scene from Michael Collins. Tony McCoy could ride in on Kauto Star and jump a few hurdles. That’s all it needs. Imagine the advertising. “St Gall’s v Lamh Dhearg, featuring Kevin McGourty, Paul Buchanan, Chris Kerr, Paddy Cunningham, Liam Neeson and Tony McCoy”. You’d have all shapes and sizes there for all reasons. The takings would go through the roof.

The Big Man

This can be done at all levels in all codes. Even the smallest of townlands have thespians, sportsmen or musicians just waiting to be acknowledged to the local masses. I have forwarded this post onto the HQ at Croke Park. Like my Spanish friends, lets hope they act on it. This time, give me a bit of credit.

“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

Winston a Saff?

When Churchill came out with those words I’m not sure he was thinking about the Butcher Bradley’s Saffrons, but he just as well might have been. The journey has ended. From that first game which ended in a defeat to Fermanagh on a cold bitter night when a pre-diet Jan Molby ran riot, to that crucial final fling in Thurles last weekend, it has been a mighty, mighty ride. How can I forget the highs of turning over Sligo, Tipp and Offaly in succession as Antrim began their league campaign in a blaze of glory. Oh how we dreamed. I pictured Loughrey parading through Portglenone on the back of a transit van in late September and appearing stocious on Newsline. We had the heartbreaking defeat to Monaghan – a game which could easily have been the catapult to another Ulster final. The glorious victory over Galway, heralding Antrim’s biggest scalp in half a century. It had to end sometime and when that final McCann shot tailed off in the final seconds last Saturday, all that was left was emptiness. The dark abyss of club football in Ahoghill.

Ahoghill in late August

We never really got going. Tipperary emerged from their changing rooms to the theme tune of Jaws, signalling a sinister determination to succeed that day. They were men possessed. During the warm-up they displayed a new level of preparation never seen before on grass in Ireland. Their manager set out 15 squares on the field in which two players boxed each other, bare-knuckle, with no discernible Queensbury Rules applied. After three rounds of that, he made his assistant bring out a selection of mini-wire meshes in sandwich shape which all 30 players were made to chew on and swallow. Anyone who didn’t follow this through was made to do a plethora of press-ups with the heftiest women in Tipperary parking their arses on the poor lad’s back. It was mental  really. I caught Baker looking over at these goings-on and uttering to Adams “That’s mad stuff, so it is.”

Tipp ‘Keeper before throw-in

I think the sight of what was going on up the other end of the field un-nerved the more civilised Antrim side and it was reflected in their play. Wides were the story of the day. I’m not going to name players today who maybe didn’t play as well because they don’t deserve it as they all sent Galway home with aplomb last week. But one fellow hit one so badly it just sailed back over his own head much to the annoyance of Baker who was doing the ‘you’re dead’ throat-slitting gesture. It just wasn’t meant to be. Loughrey tried to gee up his troops and sent over two points from inside his own 45 but it was swimming against the tide.

Tomas McCann did knock a couple over but I’m 99% sure he also missed a couple of frees because of the pressure being exerted on him by the foreign women who ran up and down the stands directly in line with any run Tomas made. It was some sight but, as with being a newly-wed, he had to ignore the blatant sexual tension emanating from the Lebanese women stand. Although Antrim went toe-to-toe with the home side in the second half, you just knew it wasn’t to be their day especially when McDonagh’s togs split in the second half and he asked for a replacement pair. Baker forgot to pack a spare and, with the bench failing to part with theirs, he had to wear a camogie skirt for the remaining 15 minutes. It was very off-putting for the Antrim lads waiting on the breaking ball as they had to view Simon sail in their Tipperary air, from below.

McDonagh has taken a liking to it

When the final whistle sounded, the saffron thousands gave a 45-minute standing ovation and chanted all types of songs like ‘I’ll Tell My Ma’ and ‘Mickey Marley’s Roundabout’. It brought a tear to the eye of most.

That leaves me in a bit of a quandary now as my visa doesn’t run out until the day after the All-Ireland Final. I have decided to take it a weekend at a time and follow some game, starting with the Tipp/Down game this weekend. The Saffrons may be gone but they’ll live long in the heart. And next year, who knows? We might be discussing potential All-Stars in Raffo’s. Baker did it his way.