Sober shandy Sundays beckon
BY PADDY SWAINE
Further to last week's column about the upcoming months of tortuous training and sobriety for GAA players countrywide, my own team had our `meeting' regarding this year's efforts. These are always quite interesting affairs. They are times when the usual mood of joviality and slagging among a room full of players doesn't seem appropriate. Honesty and self-critical analysis are the order of the day and this makes for a somewhat awkward atmosphere. I suppose we just aren't very good at this type of self-assesment and exploration in front of our peers. Our masculine inability to properly engage with one another on a more emotional level prevents us from adequately expressing our thoughts at a time like this.
That's the sensitive, new man bit (for the sisters!!) out of the way. The upshot of the meeting is basically we're pretty much `off the beer' for the next while.
Our last hurrah was last Sunday, and what a day it was. There were countless sporting fixtures to keep you going while you spent your last day `riding the high stool'. From early on Sunday, the signs were ominous - all Dublin Senior Football fixtures were set for the ungodly hour of 10 am. This was to facilitate the people traveling to Longford for the All-Ireland Club Championship semi-final that afternoon. This also, coincidently, left you in the Club Bar, your own match finished, showered and spruced up, in time for the kick-off of the Leeds United v Manchester United game at 11.30 am, a dangerous start in anyone's book.
The long term outlook didn't improve when several of our contingent happened to have `Full day passes', with girlfriends away for the weekend, or wives gone to their mam's (you get the picture).
On the sporting front, this wasn't a bad fixture to kick start the day. Dave O'Leary's young team facing the reigning champions. There were several Irish players on show, which keeps the interest for the non-aligned soccer fan like myself. I say non-aligned in the sense that I don't have any particular devotion to an English plc (I won't mention the Scottish plc that has my heart scalded, but that's another day's story).
The game itself wasn't a bad one. It confirmed what most people already think, that Manchester United are the best team in the English Premier League by a country mile. Leeds may point to the late miss by Lee Bowyer, but Man Utd were well deserving of their 1-0 win.
The session was in full swing by the end of the match, but a brief hiatus was needed to secure some nourishment other than the liquid lunch that was being devoured all round. Time was, however, of the essence, as our old sparring partners and comrades from Glasnevin, Na Fianna, were facing the Mayo Champions, Crossmolina on TG4 at 2.30pm.
With soakage now in place, the group reconvened for what was to be the second and final sitting of the day. The conditions in Longford were not looking good for the game. The high winds and lashing rain made us appreciate our comfy seats, warm club and cold pints all the better.
Na Fianna didn't seem to fancy the conditions either. At half-time, after playing with the strong wind at their backs, the scores were level. This was mainly due to giving away two sloppy goals but at the turnaround things were not looking good. I don't know what Paul Caffrey said to his charges in the dressing room, but after the break they produced a stunning display of discipline and determination. Central to all of this was Dubs star Dessie Farrell who, along with Armagh's Keiran McGeeny, have been outstanding all through this campaign. The Crossmolina challenge wilted in the face of the relentless pressure applied by the Glasnevin men. In recent years Mayo teams have waited until the final in Croke Park to give such an inept second-half display, Crossmolina seem to have done it a game early.
Waiting for Na Fianna in the final on St. Patrick's Day is undoubtedly the best club side in Ireland, Crossmaglen Rangers. `Cross' blew away the challenge of UCC in Parnell Park with a superb display. After struggling through some of the earlier rounds, the South Armagh men seem to be hitting championship form at the right time and must surely be favourites to retain their title. The oddessy of this small town club seems to have many miles yet to travel and is surely the most romantic and poignant story in Irish sport.
With our group in deep discourse over possible outcomes of the Club Finals, whose round it was and the divil knows what else, the Newcastle United v Tranmere game hove into view on the big screen. This was another interesting one, with plenty of Irish involvement, but after watching an honest, pulsating Club Championship encounter, soccer always seems to be a bit of a damp squib. As it happens, it wasn't a bad game but the interest had waned somewhat. The rest of the day's sport, namely the game on Sky between Aston Villa and Everton, merely served as background noise to the by now ``life-threatening'' session that was underway.
The rest of the weekend's sporting details began to filter through to my pounding head from Monday morning onwards. There were other great sporting events that Sunday seemed to blank out. The Irish rugby team, obviously stung by the scathing criticism leveled at them from these pages, sung Amhrán na bhFiann like they meant it and actually went on to win a game. St. Joseph's Doora/Barefield eventually overcame the challenge of Ruairí Óg Cushendall, but not without having to dig deep into their reserves of experience and resilience. The Antrim men (like Dunloy before them) did Ulster hurling proud and there is no shame in losing in the manner in which they did.
This was however, the last weekend for some time that I would miss such details. From now on, the column will pay meticulous attention to details. Every score and play recorded and replayed, every result digested and analysed. Because there is nothing to concentrate the mind more on the sports pages or the game on television than the thoughts of having to drink another Rock Shandy.
Waiting for Na Fianna in the football final on St. Patrick's Day is the best club side in Ireland, Crossmaglen Rangers. After struggling through some of the earlier rounds, the South Armagh men seem to be hitting championship form at the right time and must surely be favourites to retain their title