Posts Tagged ‘Donegal’

It should have been a feeling of satisfaction. I’ve completed an inter-county season as a supporter starting way back in January on a cold winter’s night in an eerie Enniskillen. I’ve learned a lot (about Ireland) and lost a little (marriage probably). Donegal took home the cup to the province I used as my base. Yet the feeling is quite empty now. I know the hurling replay has yet to come, and I’ll be there, but there’s a fear surrounding me about the abyss after that. I have decided on a new non-sporting mission and, like Crocodile Dundee, it’ll take a bit of getting used to. But more about that anon.

Last weekend saw Donegal take the big one as expected. So confident was I of a victory, I emptied my credit card, savings and Confirmation money and lumped it all on Jimmy’s men to take it home. It’s rude to talk about money but let’s just say that my winnings has enabled me to stay another 12 months in Ireland working on my new project. I’m also sitting on my new Ferrari computer desk seat and I’m wearing a crown. Throwing money away you say but I’m not stupid to wear it around Belfast. I’d be destroyed. No, people buy iPhones etc – I buy a crown. That’s how I roll.

Me, 10 mins ago.

The day itself was a magical experience. In order to avoid the toll lady, I took a plane from Derry to Cork. I asked to go into the cockpit as usual and was quite amazed that I was successful. Luckily, I managed to talk the grumpy pilot into landing in a field near Croke Park to drop me off. It was a fantastic gesture and although I bored him senseless by my tales of what’s been happening in the XFactor and the ingredients to make a sensational Yorkshire Pudding, the surly 50-year old navigator still did me a good turn and threw me off. Threw me off isn’t an exaggeration as the plane never touched the ground but it was close enough. On reaching Dublin, I was swallowed up by genuinely 100% country folk from Mayo and Donegal. Not a streetwise person amongst them. I copped on to this early enough and it did cross my mind to do a bit of pick pocketing as I’d be wise to things like that but it soon dawned on me that these people were tight. They kept their hands in their pockets, jingling and jangling their money. A canny breed afterall.

Arriving in Dublin

The match was a bit disappointing. Donegal scored 5 goals in the first 5 minutes and the rest of the game was just a bit of a farce with Mayo shooting for points just to make the time go by a bit faster before they headed home to batten down the hatches in the windiest county in Ireland. I can understand their rush. I’m sure the players’ heads were wrecked thinking about gates being blown about and maybe even cattle. Talking about cattle and there was a man beside me at the game from Mayo. He seemed a bit unusual with his eyes going in different directions but he told me the following story at half time:

He was at the pub one night last week and decided to walk home as it was a clammy night. It was a good 2 mile walk. After a mile he couldn’t hold on any longer and went to the toilet in a field. It was the number two he had to do. It was fairly dark so he just grabbed a pile of grass and leaves to clean himself and made on his way happily enough. When he got home he went to close the door behind him but it wouldn’t shut. It was still pitch black so he groped behind him to see what was keeping the door open. It happened to be what felt like a rope. He turned around and groped is way to the end of the rope – it was a cow!! Unbelievably, when he cleaned himself in the dark he lifted the end of a rope that was around a cow’s neck and had mistakenly put it up his backside.  Unbelievable series of events.

Midnight walk

Anyway, the celebrations were great to watch although I felt bad about the Mayo people. They seem to lose finals a lot. One boy just said “same oul shite” and they all nodded in agreement. So that’s that. Sam Maguire is in Ulster and my journey is almost at an end.

As I intimated earlier, I’ve decided on a new adventure beginning the first week in October. I am to visit all 32 counties in 32 weeks, taking in the delights and culture of each one over a seven day period, starting in the southernmost corner. I’ll find out what that is when I look at the map. I’m a bit nervous about it with my accent and looks but sure, the abyss is to be embraced sometimes. Hurling next weekend first.

My home for 32 weeks

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Mayo Final Training Night

Posted: September 21, 2012 in Mayo
Tags: , , ,

Just back from Mayo. I didn’t realise how cold it was out there. I’d heard all year of people going to Mayo for their holidays and on the map it looked closer to America. I just took a small cardigan with me, expecting sultry conditions. I’m now at home wearing 3 jumpers, 2 coats and with my feet as close to a fire as humanly possible without serious burns. I was foundered like never before.

Mayo, tonight

Anyway Mayo, it appears, are taking a different approach to the final. Whereas McGuinness has his troops chewing on buck wire, Horan has decided to go down the more spiritual route. It did my heart good. In this era of fastest and fittest, Mayo are breeding a culture of brainiest. I knew something was different when the management team ran onto the field first not with footballs and cones as expected. Instead they brought on 30 easels and a load of paints. Horan bellowed the instructions that all players had 30 minutes to paint the scene they visualise if Mayo lifted the cup. There were no complaints. It was obvious that this had been a normal start to their sessions. There were some poor enough efforts, especially from Dillon and O’Shea who put no real effort in and just drew stick people. Horan, as opposed to McGuinness’s tactic of humiliation, simply put an arm around the worst artists and reassured them that they’d done their best. Enda Varley won with his post-modern effort of drawing the Mayo captain, naked, receiving the cup. There was an awkward glance between Varley and the captain Clarke.

Clarke’s strange effort

Next up was poetry. This time Dillon excelled and used some really big words like Equilibrium and Development. He won by a country mile, writing an epic of 3000 lines with references to Greek Gods and mythical creatures. Again, O’Shea had a bad day at the office. I managed to get a copy of his effort. It ran as follows:

Oh Mayo. It’s a great wee county.
I like to eat coconut bountys
I like to play for Mayo. I love the snow. Y’know.

The session finished with hugs. Group hugs, couple hugs. Some kissed cheeks, mostly those who had been on foreign holidays. And that was that. They headed back to the changing rooms happy, spiritual and cultured. I left with pneumonia.

So, the day is almost upon us. It’s hard to call. I think Donegal will be like the school bullies with their strong arms and hardened sense of humiliation, making them desensitized to all physical and mental abuse from the opposition. Mayo might have the last laugh though and dance and quoting Yeats into the Dublin night with Sam in their pocket. A draw.

 

Donegal Final Training Night

Posted: September 19, 2012 in Donegal, Mayo
Tags: , ,

A short post here on a great night I had tonight. McGuinness put Donegal through their paces one last time up in Bundoran. I wasn’t expecting to see much really. I thought it’d be a bit of stretching and cajoling with blackboards etc. Sure they’ve been training hard all week and you wouldn’t want them to get injured a few days before the big one. Well I had my eyes opened.

I expected this stuff tonight

You used to hear of how the All Blacks would cut lumps out of each other in training, even before a World Cup final. I never really believed that. Well, if they only did half of what McGuinness made Donegal perform tonight, it was true enough. It started off with a light jog around the field as I expected. Murphy and McFadden were holding up the rear and doing a bit of ribbing with each other, having  a laugh. It was the All Ireland week and you could understand their happiness. Suddenly, from around the back of one of the dugouts, McGuinness ran behind McFadden, pulled a bag over his head and yanked him to the ground. He then whistled for Gallagher who arrived with some sort of pliers which appeared red hot. I soon noticed a small fire burning near where Rory was standing. McGuinness proceded to pull down Colm’s shorts, sniggering,  whilst Gallagher applied the hot tool to McFadden’s testicles. The Donegal hotshot squealed in pain, repeatedly shouting “sorry, Jim, sorry!” The rest of the panel looked on in horror, especially Murphy who seemed to get off lightly. McGuinness just stared back, coldly.

McFadden suffered these. Hot.

It was a shock to me. I almost threw up as McFadden pulled his shorts back on, crying, and meekly caught up with the rest of the squad who had doubled their pace. After a few more simple drills such as sprinting from one goal to the other 10 times consecutively without a break, Jim then whistled for what I thought was a final pep talk. Not so. Not forgetting what happened earlier, he called on Murphy to get on his hands and knees. When he complained a little, Gallagher appeared from behind McGuinness waving the red hot pliers in the air, laughing. McFadden winced again. Murphy did as he told as Jim and Rory climbed on his back. They made him crawl, at speed, out the gates and though the main street of Bundoran whilst shouting ‘yeee-har’ at the top of their voices. Behind them ran the rest of the squad. Locals just clapped on the pavements as if this was a regular occurrence.

McGuinness (left) and Gallagher

And that was it. No team talk. No tactics. Just ritual humiliation. It got them this far. Rory gave the players a tip-top mineral and a packet of mini cheese and onions. They seemed delighted.

Mayo on Thursday.

In the 50/50 chance that Jimmy McGuinness is reading this I decided to take the train to Dublin last Sunday to gather vital information on their potential finalists. On the way down I read up on the history of both counties. I had been under the impression that Mayo was short for something. I definitely knew it wasn’t mayonnaise but for some reason had assumed it wasn’t really Mayo by itself. Something was dinking around the back of my head regarding the Mexican-Albino Youth Organisation. I had read somewhere that in 1856 there was an influx of Mexican-Albinos at Castlebar looking to build stone fences but it appears they fled back when the harsh reality of winter in the west hit them. Yet the books presented no alternative. It really was Mayo.

A typical Mayo settler circa 1860

On arriving in Drumcondra, I decided to mingle with both sets of supporters in Quinn’s Bar which was close to the ground. There was a definite distinction between the city fans and those from the west of the country. I wrote it all down. All the Dubliners I overheard were talking about stock prices, bull markets, apartments, caviar, charlie, Dustin, Bertie, Dessie, backhanders, bleeding this and bleeding that as well as being mostly short and stumpy in appearance. On the other hand, the Mayo fanatics discussed cattle, butter, spuds, km to the gallon, red diesel, Louis Walsh, Mary Robinson, a bit of blue pipe, bulling, riding, a good long mass and Knock. They were also long, wiry, red-faced and wore corduroys. If McGuinness has anything in him he’ll get his charges to talk about those things in a negative fashion as a trash-talk tactic. (e.g “McAleese was some president” or “that Knock is a pile of dung” etc). It’ll fairly rile the Mayo lads.

Louis Walsh, on the beer in Mayo

As for the game itself, the Mayo performance was majestic in patches yet gave the impression of being a rather schizophrenic outfit. One moments they’re soaring 30-feet into the air, running the length of the field and back in seconds, scoring points from their own half. Then, whenever the darkness descends and fear or self-loathing swallows up their confidence, they play like England would in an international tournament. It was quite a remarkable transformation. I could see into the whites of the eyes of  Alan Dillon and Aidan O’Shea in the first half. They was gleaming and danced in their heads. The last time I saw that was when Ivan Drago was in the process of killing Apollo Creed in the ring. I thought I saw Ger Cafferkey mouth the words “I will break you” to Bernard Brogan at one point in the first half which would explain the good-looking brother’s lacklustre performance.

From Brogan’s POV

Then the light was switched off, the tablets ran out, the chemist was closed and the doctor was helpless. As if hypnotised, each and every one of the Mayo players seem to believe they were U12s again. Keith Higgins was smiling vacantly into the distance. It was almost like the onset of senility. Mayo, who were 23 points ahead with ten minutes to go suddenly found themselves on the verge of a very public meltdown. Somehow, like a boxer in the lead holding on in the final rounds after receiving a dozen uppercuts, they fell over the line.

I cannot explain it. Was it a mass schizophrenic event? Possibly and I’m sure Gallagher and Jimmy are reading up on the symptoms right now to see if they can trigger it early. Did they see the finishing line too early only for it to be a Dublin mirage, a cute ploy by the canny and cheeky Dubs to psychologically bewilder their opponents. Maybe. However, I have it on good authority that the Mayo management team sent their water-boy on to the field on 55 minutes and told all the players to let the Dubs back into it again so that the bookies will inflate the favouritism on the O’Donnell men. It was a dicey game but it worked. Even I’m convinced the northerners will beat them out the gate now.

Jame Horan might be the new Jimmy McGuinness.

Horan v McGuinness

 

 

The curse has lifted. After experiencing the personally crushing defeats of Antrim, Tipperary and Down having thrown my support behind them, Donegal finally rewarded me with a day to remember in Croke Park, the dearest place in Ireland. I’d managed to get my hands on a ticket earlier in the week from a boy called Archery in the Irish News. He writes about the GAA but said he hardly watches the games so I was lucky I bumped into him after a bare-knuckle fight in Martinstown. That’s where my luck ended on the financial front. After the minor game won by Meath, who seemed to have brought their own ref which I thought was unfair on Mayo, I bought a packet of crisps, a Snickers and a pint of Guinness. The woman said “32 euros please” as two burly bouncers simultaneously emerged from under the counter to stare threateningly at me in case I expressed shock at the tally. I paid by credit card for which they asked for a ‘nuisance charge’ of 5 Euros for having to type numbers into the machine. I couldn’t enjoy the food as I was crippled with anger and poverty so gave them away to some starving Cork youngster.

 

The boy Archery who gave me the ticket

The game itself lifted my heavy mood. It was a titanic clash with men meeting men like those wildebeest head-on fights you’d see on the nature channel. Donegal never relented and, jesting in what I thought was witty Irish humour, I stood up and roared, “them boys are on drugs”. I was immediately pinned to the ground by a gigantic woman from Downings by my throat and was told, in no uncertain terms, to shut it unless I fancied a post-match dip in the Liffey. Having not brought swimming trunks or even goggles with me I decided to withdraw from attempting the Irish banter for the rest of my game and clapped politely at the correct moments.

Donegal won the game simply because they scored more. That usually is enough to go home as victors. The stand-out performers for me was the midget-like oxymoronish Mark McHuge and man mountain Michael Murphy who has one of the biggest arses on a sportsperson I’ve ever seen and I’ve had the pleasure of watching Mick Quinn and Fatima Whitbread in their prime. At one stage I was sure that Cork had 14 players on the field after one had disappeared up Murphy’s backside following a pile-on in midfield. Luckily, he only half fell into it but I thought O’Leary’s form dipped after the traumatic experience. Young McHuge was like a fish in scalding water. He has one those those long faces like a speed-cyclist’s wind-resistant helmet, making his head perfectly streamlined for lung-bursting runs into the wind. He’s the Mo Farrah of Gaelic Games and it wouldn’t come as a surprise to me if his mother was Ethiopian or Somalian.

McHuge’s head

Their manager, Jimmy McGuinness, seems like a bit of a physical improbability too. He’s the first man I’ve ever set eyes on with no shoulders. My first thought was how difficult it must have been for his dear mother, dressing him for school or putting a duffel coat on him on a snowy night. The whole operation would be pointless, like hanging a shiny shirt on a banana. But don’t let his homeless but handsome appearance fool you. McGuinness has his team running scared of him to the point that they’re afraid to lose. There’s no doubt in my mind that Jimmy is the housewives’ favourite and the players know that. He’s let them know that at any given moment he’ll woo their girlfriends with a wink and a lilt of his voice if they lose a game this year. Resistance is useless. The man is the Don Juan DeMarco of the Glenties. Unfortunately Counihan doesn’t have the same hold over the rebel women.

Jimmy McGuinness post-match

So that was that and I can categorically say that Donegal are the All-Ireland Champions of 2012. This weekend’s match is a play-off for second place. I have it on good authority that Sam is already being kicked around Bundoran at night.

Another quiet week meant that I had time on my hands to immerse myself in the Irish culture before next week’s Donegal game down in the capital city. I wanted to get to the heart of rural Ireland to witness how the natives really live. Belfast does that to an extent but there’s only so much observations one can make about women in pyjamas walking to the Centra or young men with blue WKDs wandering around graveyards. Like Roy Orbinson, I just drove until something caught my eye of note. Rather foolishly, I spent the first hour casually freewheeling along the M1. Having realised that there was little happening on either carriageway, I took a turn off at Dungannon and kept it ‘between the hedges’ (as the man giving me instructions to Kildress said) until the fancy took me. It wasn’t until I found myself in the deepest mid-Ulster that I finally followed the banners along the road informing me of ‘Kildress Sports Day 2012’.

Woman out getting Irish News

I wasn’t disappointed. What I’ve always liked about my time here was the informal approach to everything, especially when it comes to crossing palms with silver. I’ve been in shops and the customer maybe didn’t have enough cash on them for their sausage bap, crate of Guinness and the Irish News. The shopkeeper would simply say ‘sure I’ll get it off you again’ which confused me at first as it never happened the first time, never mind again. Yet I gradually worked out that they’d pay up the next time they would be in the shop. I don’t think they ever did. And so it was at the entry to the sports day last Sunday. There was a man standing at a small table with a plastic chair beside it. I asked how much it was in to the event. He just said ‘sure whatever ye think yerself’. Extremely confused, I asked him to repeat the answer. He again retorted, ‘whatever ye think yerself, bai’. Partly afraid, slightly bewildered, I offered him a £20 note, hoping he could work it out from there. He put it in the tin, said something about how generous the Brits were, laughed and waved me on.

Happy after a 20-spot

It wasn’t a great start but maybe if I’d put the effort in earlier in the year to understanding the language this expensive mix-up wouldn’t have occurred. On getting out of the car, a young lad ran straight towards me, shouting something that sounded like a martial arts war-cry. I took the stance of a Korean Warrior waiting for the impact. Luckily, the excited ruffian was simply asking if I wanted a programme. I took it and he again shouted, ‘three pounds please’. Already fleeced, and knowing how the Irish didn’t care too much about payment, I said ‘sure I’ll see you again’. The young lad ripped the programme from my grasp and said something about being a tight English bastard’. My emotions were rather fraught at this point and I felt like a fish out of water. Luckily I managed to get my hands on a programme lying on the field. This ‘£3’ effort was simply a printed one-page Word document with 4 events written on it.

  • Tug of War
  • Ice Cream Van
  • Rita Fairclough from the TV and another Star Man.
  • Closing Prayers

I wasn’t here to judge the content of the day, just to breathe in the culture. I’d missed the tug-of-war, but judging by the field-fights still burning in neighbouring bits of land, it seemed to be a feisty occasion with a contested conclusion. Next up was the arrival of the ice-cream van. It seemed to be a novel experience for the locals and a rapturous roar built to a mighty crescendo when the vehicle appeared in the distance playing Molly Malone. The queues for the van made it impossible to taste its delights so I simply watched the locals enjoy the culinary delights of a 99. Of interest to me were two elderly men who managed to make their way to the front of the line. Instead of the cone, favoured by the youngsters, they asked for what they were familiar with – a rectangle of ice-cream in between two wavers, sometimes called a ‘slider’ by the rest of the world. These gentlemen, with the experiences of living in Mid-Ulster deeply imprinted on their wizened faces, took great care with eating their dessert. It was like a work of art, lick by lick. Soon, after some careful finishing, all that remained was the waver on either side of the ice-cream. I moved in closely as they returned to the van. This was what I’d come for. A closer look at the cultural traditions of rural Ireland that we don’t see on the TV. The leader of the two men, wearing his Sunday best, simply placed all four wavers back on the van counter and said, “there’s yer two burds back’. The vendor looked as confused as I did.

Ice cream between two burds

Next up was the appearance of Rita Fairclough. Hundreds of local men gathered with pens and paper waiting for her appearance on the back of the lorry resting in the goalmouth of the pitch. I was sort of excited myself, having watched her performances on the Street since I was a child. To the initial disappointment and eventual anger of the males in attendance, the local priest announced that Rita didn’t arrive at the airport this morning but that they had a special guest replacement – the ex-England goalkeeper Bob Wilson. There was a muted applause as a surprisingly elderly man made his way across the stage. He was barely able to stand without the PP propping him up. He was also wearing a fedora and what looked to me like a suspicious beard. The PP said he was too old to talk and swiftly took him off the lorry and into the public house. I was nearly sure Bob was only 60-odd. I followed up the story by going for a pint myself, sitting within earshot of the great ex-Arsenal keeper. He never spoke, apart from asking for a ‘half-un’ in a suspiciously local accent. After a few of those, Bob became careless and his hat fell off to display a shock of red hair. Some local sitting at the end of the bar shouted, ‘hi, I know that man. He’s one of the Yellow Boy Murphys from Galbally’. Bob took to his heels followed by the priest and then 2-300 locals with pikes. I got out of there before the whole thing turned sour. The prayer service was cancelled.

Rita didn’t make the plane

I think I’m not ready for the acclimatisation yet and look forward to the All-Ireland semi next weekend.

Mayo 5-29 Down 2-3

Posted: August 7, 2012 in Down, Mayo
Tags: , , , , , ,

There is a time when you have to naval gaze. It seems that when the Gods decide to do their business on me, they do it from a great height. It’s like a triple whammy of a speeding fine followed by a clamping and then having to go to dinner with the mother in law, all in the one day. I was over Antrim. I’d forgotten Tipp. Now, Down had won my affections like nothing before. Puffed with confidence, an array of heroes and the fearsome red and black – how could you not fall for their charms. What’d they do? They completely capitulated to Mayo, a team the experts tell me perform equivalently to England at a major championship after walking the qualification tournament. I liked Mayo. They had a lovely accent and approach to life, like as if everything was a surprise. I witnessed a father buy a son (in Mayo colours) a packet of crisps. The young fellow reacted like he’d been offered the keys to a Lego factory. I’m going to do them a favour and not weigh in behind their cause. They don’t deserve my curse. But…I hope…..

Mayo child loved getting McCoys

It all started so well. Down ran onto the field as the stadium shuddered under the pressure their legendary tree-trunk thighs. Mayo, on the other hand, meekly made their way to the photographers’ bench apparently amazed that they were invited to the whole shebang. I remembered the boy with the crisps and it’s just their way. I saw one of the Mayo forwards smile heartily when he picked up one of the balls thrown towards him, as if he wasn’t expecting one. It does the heart good to watch these Connacht men simply live. I can just imagine them waking up in their beds every morning and shrieking in delight when they look down and it dawns on them that they have hands. I lovely bunch but back to the game.

Mayo man uses phone and laptop for first time.

It was tit-for-tat at the start as goals rained down. Mayo would show their hand, only for Down to trump it. Suddenly, something happened. You know when sometimes you look at a word that you’ve read and written thousands of times in the past and all of a sudden it seems strange to you. The word ‘the’ does it to me often. Even now. Anyway, it suddenly dawned on Down that they couldn’t defend. It completely escaped them. Mayo ran at will like the England rugby blitzing the first year hockey side at a convent sports day. It was hard to watch. Mayo piled on the scores. The Down keeper left the field at half time pushed in a wheelchair such was the pain in his right thigh from kicking out the ball repeatedly for 20 minutes. The upside is that he has a massive right thigh this week and he should put that to good use by entering hopping competitions or something.

Down Keeper used both legs

I don’t know what the Down manager said at half time but it didn’t work. In fact, it got worse. Maybe he told them to give up. The Mayo players were initially slightly amazed that they were allowed to play another half but soon settled down to settle Down. The crowd soon became disinterested in the one way traffic and I could see over in the Hogan Stand a Mayo priest celebrating Mass with about 2000 dedicated followers. In the Cusack a section of Clonduff parishioners were apparently having a heated debate on the bother in Syria with applause ringing out for well-reasoned orations. You have to give it to the Irish. They will find something to do in the face of abject boredom. And that’s what was being dished out on the field. The one-way traffic was so mesmerising I imagined there were 3-4 balls on the field making their way over the black spot above the head of the Down keeper.

Bored Mayo fans celebrate Mass

In the last few minutes one of the Down stars, Benny Hill, scored a Messi-esque goal taking it around 12 Mayo players and slamming it into the top corner. True to form, the Mayo defenders cheered in amazement. The referee put us out of our misery and ended the debates and ecumenical happenings. Mayo go on to play Dublin. I wish them well but, as I said before, I won’t jinx those fine breed of people.

As for me, I’ll throw my lot behind Donegal. I’m sorry Mr McGuinness.