Archive for October, 2012

Dromod

Putting days like Sunday 23 September 2012 into words isn’t easy.  That’s probably why I’m an amateur writer.  Separating reality from emotion is a tough ask.  I’m not always up to the task.

Without a doubt, the 2012 All-Ireland Final will go down as one of the greatest days in my life.  I can’t put it ahead of my wedding of course, and I don’t have children, so maybe I don’t have much to compare it to, but it was and will always be special to me.  The feelings when Michael Murphy’s goal went in and again at the final whistle are moments that will live with me forever.  I was lucky to be there.  Lucky as well to meet so many good friends, old and new, with whom I could share the day.  You all know who you are.

Donegal could not have wished for a better start to the game.  Michael Murphy did what we have long known he could do when given any sort of reasonable ball – it was an uplifting goal, especially for someone like me who wondered about his form and fitness for so much of the Championship.  What better time to produce than in an All-Ireland Final.  Watch carefully his fisted/palmed point in the second half as well – Michael turned away grimacing at the thought that a goal opportunity had been missed, but look at the effort he made to rise up and make contact with that ball. Those are the moments when great players prove their worth – who cares how they look in games that can be won be mere mortals?

Of course, Michael deservedly won Man of the Match, but there were many fine performances.  Frank McGlynn – what can you say about the man from Glenfin.  His point in the second half epitomises what he has brought to the team this year.  I’m course you will have noted that he kicked it off his right foot, when in the Semi-Final, he kicked a similarly brilliant point off his left foot.  Simply phenomenal.

What a fitting performance from Eamon McGee on the day of his 100th Senior appearance for the County.  This from a player who we thought we might not see play for the County again – indeed I had little time for him after hearing stories of his off field antics during Championship season.  But this game clearly means a lot to the eldest McGee bother.  He was obviously disappointed after missing the chance to play in this year’s Ulster Final through injury, having missed out last year due to his late addition to the squad.  He’s proven a lot of people wrong, and for me, he was Man of the Match in the Final.

And Neil Gallagher.  A man who we thought was destined to be a bit part player under Jim McGuinness – after a colossal Semi-Final where he was man of the match, he was his usual steady and quietly effective self in the Final, adding that rarest of cherries on top, a point, in the second half.  Most supporters I associate with identify greatly with the likes of Neil Gallagher and Frank McGlynn – it was fantastic that both were so involved in the Final.

All in all, I think many of us would agree (and I’ve spoken to quite a few of you since the final whistle on 23 September) that this was not Donegal’s best performance of the year.  There were a number of players who might have been a bit disappointed with their performances in the Final, but who cares really?  Finals are hard won, and despite all the physical and psychological preparation, a certain degree of nervousness was always likely to be evident on the day.  People will say ‘ah but if ye hadn’t got the early goals who knows what might have happened’.  Sure, who knows?

The facts are that Mayo never really threatened our goal, and, but for some good goalkeeping to deny Colm McFadden in the first half and a pretty poor pass from Rory Kavanagh when looking to find Anthony Thompson in the second half, Donegal may have had a few more goals themselves.  And even though the statistic that Mayo outscored Donegal after Donegal went 2-1 to no score ahead early in the first half, Donegal ‘won’ the second half.  No, any objective analysis of the game would have to suggest that Donegal were worthy winners on the day, and I think it’s also fair to say that we have been the best team in the Championship from start to finish.  All Ireland’s are rarely won on just the day itself, they are earned over the preceding years and months. What we have seen since May, and especially since the Ulster Final, is as a result of months and months of the hardest type of training you or I could possibly imagine.

Perhaps the most astonishing stat I have seen is this – on 3 July 2005, Eamon McGee, Karl Lacey, Neil Gallagher, Christy Toye and Colm McFadden all played as Donegal lost an All Ireland second round qualifier to Cavan in Breffni Park.  Massive credit goes to Jim McGuinness for turning around this team, but also to those players themselves who will no doubt have wondered over the years was it worth continuing to make the sort of sacrifices expected of the inter-county player in the 21st century.   Keep in mind that of the five players I listed above, three are odds on to be All-Stars and we might even have a fourth in that group.

Many who have been there before said it – the atmosphere and the crowds around this All-Ireland Final were like nothing they had ever experienced before – this was the effect of such a novel pairing, the end result of pairing two teams whose supporters had experienced so much heartbreak in their lifetimes, testament to the feelings the managers of these teams had inspired in their followers.  It was in many ways a unique experience – unless maybe we see a Kildare v Derry Final next year, I can’t think of a pairing that will create the same type of atmosphere, and even then, I don’t think anyone else will rival the sights and sounds that were around Jones’ Road nearly three weeks ago.

I said before the game that Mayo supporters don’t have a monopoly on heartbreak – many of the rest of us have plenty of experience of it, just maybe not at the same stage Mayo have tended to feel the hurt.  In saying that, I was adamant that after the game, while I was overjoyed to have won, I took no joy in the fact that we had beaten Mayo; their supporters were nothing but magnanimous in congratulating us afterwards, and the banter and craic beforehand was part of what made it a great day.  I won’t hesitate in cheering them on as long as they don’t cross our paths next year, and I’m already looking forward to our trip to Castlebar in the League.  Mayo went toe to toe with Donegal this year and with a bit of luck and a continued focus on improvement, they will win an All Ireland in the next few years.

And so, there ends our 2012 All-Ireland Championship.  Who reading believed that we would find ourselves in this position after Crossmaglen in 2010?  Who would have thought that all three candidates for Footballer of the Year in 2012 would be from Donegal?  Can anyone believe that this has actually happened?  For me, it is still sinking in.  Every time I hear something negative or an argument brewing, I’m tempted to end it with ‘Who cares – we are All-Ireland Champions’.  Because, at the end of the day, that is all that matters this year.  Keep reminding yourselves of that in the weeks and months ahead.  If it doesn’t bring a tear to your eye or smile to your face, then I despair for you.  May this feeling never end.

Until Victory, Always.

Just in case anyone’s interested, Dromod (in case you didn’t know) is a place in Leitrim.  Some years ago, I think it was probably February 2004, Donegal played a league game against Leitrim at the ground in Dromod – you might wonder how we ended up in the same division as Leitrim ( it was 2A, which I guess is the modern day Division 3, or maybe not quite as bad as there may have been some odd shake up of the league going on at that time). Anyway, my good friend @gesimmo and I headed up from Dublin, assuming the game was on in Cloone (an even more anonymous place than Dromod) but discovering en route that it had been moved to Dromod.  We might have taken a wrong turn to get there, but we ended up driving down road with grass growing up through the tarmac.  We won the game, but we came away thinking “is this what we’ve been reduced to – playing games against the likes of Leitrim in places like this” (I honestly don’t mean any offence to anyone from Leitrim, but I know that sounds bad).  We kept mentioning ‘Dromod’ to each other when times were bad over the next few years, as a reminder of where we were at back then – the whole thing was like a bad joke.  How far we have travelled since then.

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