Republican News · Thursday 6 January 2000

[An Phoblacht]

Westlife mowed my lawn (and we bate Tipp)

An Phoblacht's legendary sports and television columnist, Seán Ó Donaíle, despite popular demand, returns with a typically eccentric look at last year's exploits on the country's GAA fields

Not so many moons ago, a cheeky young chappy in short pants offered to cut my grass.

Galway were convulsed by drinking, wife swapping or infighting, the usual excuse when champions surrender their crown
Living on Dublin's Northside, it was preferable to having the windows done in, even at a tenner a snip. The young chappy has since become a sex icon with poppy stars `Westlife', much to the chagrin of young Matt Carthy.

I have since tried to cash in on my fame by selling my story to the Tirconaill Tribune, but their rejection means I can give the exclusive to all An Phoblacht readers.

He was never any use at hurling as are half of Fanad (of United and Neil Blaney fame), where I witnessed on the telly the thrilling climax to last summer's Clare v Tipperary Munster championship draw, with Davy Fitz saving the day with a last second penalty to the Tipp net, which unfazed 99% of the audience, who were busily ensconsed in Hereford v Hartlepool, 0-0 on Murdochmania.

Them Tipp crowd were always a bad lot, with their straw hats and sleeveless t-shirts, so it was particularly pleasing to stuff them in the replay, albeit from the high stool.

The Banner was undone by Jimmy Barry Murphy's young Cork greyhounds, whose average age was 22, and who brought home the Munster title for the first time in seven years, a famine in Cork terms but a blip to the rest of us.

Leinster's Riverdancers, Wexford, failed to replicate their 1798 heroics, meeting their Waterloo (or was it Vinegar Hill?) in June, when the Offaly Redcoats and redheads put them to the sword. Offaly in turn were hanged, drawn and quartered by DJ Carey and the Kilkenny goal machine, who notched ten goals in two games.

Dublin, despite their yearlong training, were subjected to a 70-minute season, as are 50% of the country, a ridiculous situation in need of urgent address if the games are to prosper further.

Laois have gone from bad to worse; they haven't had a good day out since Polish import Paddy Rusty-kitch-ko did the biz back in `49, or was it `51?

The least they could have provided us with was a bout of fisticuffs or a goalmouth schomozzle, what with Camross being famed for their wielding of the trusty blade.

Down took a step backwards in Ulster, while Derry, led by Geoffrey and the Dungiven Kevin Lynches , produced the season's most underrated achievement, when they were promoted to Division One of the National Hurling League, where they will shortly face All Ireland finalists Cork and Kilkenny.

trim's performance against Offaly was the most inept in living memory; maybe it was those funny helmets that put them off; things can only improve.

The Clare v Galway and Cork v Offaly jousts in Croker were the highlights of another successful season, with Brian Whelehan's performance earning him my vote as hurler of the decade (apart from Clare of course).

Despite DJ's wonderful goal in the semis, the Cats were under too much pressure in the final against a Brian Corcoran-inspired Cork, who pipped them at the post.

Bonfires blazed in Fiji as they celebrated the first leg of the double that was not to be.

Football had a dismal championship, with the entire Leinster and Munster championship failing to provide a decent match. Kildare, Offaly and Dublin all buckled to mighty Meath, with Marine looklalikes Tommy Dowd and Ollie Murphy plundering the necessary scores.

Westmeath provided the only other Leinster highlight when they toppled the mighty Kingdom in the All-Ireland Under 21 Final, evidence of the levelling out of standards across the country and the emergence of the so-called minnows.

Galway were convulsed by drinking, wife swapping or infighting, the usual excuse when champions surrender their crown. Either way, they didn't deserve to win nothin' with the state of their Public Toilets at Tuam Stadium, what with mice and no locks on door, no loo paper etc., and the Health Board threatening to pull the plug. Emergency Portaloos were drafted in for the appearance of Mary McAleese at the Connacht Final. Unfortunately, she wasn't allowed to play, and Mayo duly regained the Connacht crown, inspired by the talented Kieran McDonald.

They in turn obliged us with their customary flunk in the semis against a Philip Clifford-led Cork, who won a featureless Munster Championship, the only noteworthy element being the pure dreadfulness of Waterford, who with Kilkenny, must be the only truly dismal football sides in the land.

Down's elder statesmen's resurgence brought them to an Ulster Final, while Donegal continue to underachieve. Armagh's victories over Derry and Down were the highlights of the campaign, led by Orange Grand Masters Diarmaid and Oisín. Their second half performance against Meath was excruciating, however; as they wasted successive scoring opportunities, one waited for Meath to regain the initiative.

Crossmaglen's second All-Ireland club championship was a consolation at the expense of Liam McHale's Ballina, who left their shooting boots in Knock.

The All Ireland was another dull affair, with Trevor directing the Royal Court. After garnering four All Irelands in twelve years , Meath have gained the grudging admiration of all. Sean Boylan must surely be in line for High King of Tara, now that 007 Pierce Brosnan has been granted the freedom of Navan.

The soon to be enforced new structures for the championship are sorely needed, as are a reduction of the numbers on the field and a few more Australian Rules series, with the men with oak tree legs set for a return this year.

Tipperary's women kept the county in the limelight with a last-minute camogie victory over a much fancied Kilkenny. This was Tipperary's first victory and the last appearance of the legendary Ann Downey.

The continued growth of Women's Football was evidenced by the large turnout at the All Ireland Finals, with Mayo's teenagers shocking Waterford. (What do you call a Mayoman with an All-Ireland medal? A transvestite!)

Tyrone's Juniors captured their first title, sponsored by Kellys of Garvaghy, where you can get a great feed for a fiver!

Finally, a word of congratulations to the footballers of Antrim, who recently won the All-Ireland B Title, reviving the glory days of Kevin Armstrong and Co.

The GAA's millennium resolution will be a doubling in the number of replays and more money for the GA' so the soccer crowd can complain!

My predictions for 2,000 - Clare, Armagh, Bohs and Man City.

Looking back at 99


There's no question that 1999 was an exciting year for Irish sport.

It was the year that our two finest footballers, Denis Irwin and Roy Keane, achieved an historic treble with Manchester United. These two were also to taste joy and disappointment with the international side in a Jekkyl and Hyde year for Ireland. Lansdowne Road was once again a place to fear for the top teams in the world as we shocked the fancied Croatia and Yugoslavia with two magnificent performances. However, on our travels we had nights to forget, most notably in Skopje in November and that Suker punch in Croatia will live long in our memories. The signs are, though, that Mick and his men are turning the corner. The emergence of Robbie Keane as a class act in the Premiership and the international set-up was the highlight of the Irish football year. Alex Ferguson, eat your heart out!

It was also the year that Eddie Irvine came so close to being the first Irishman to win the Formula One title, only to be pipped at the end by Finn Mika Hakkinnen. It was, nonetheless, a great achievement and a year to remember for the Conlig-born driver.

For me personally, the best moment of the year was to see Cork back at Croke Park, where they belong, to lift the McCarthy Cup, after defeating a great Kilkenny side. The young Rebels, led by the old man of the side Brian Corcoran (26), played beyond their years and were the team of the year.

Although Cork's footballers were not to repeat the feat, they gave an excellent display before going down to a class Meath side packed with talented footballers. What a year for Ollie Murphy, Trevor Giles and John McDermott and Sean Boylan too!

There were also great memories of the successful Aussie Rules tour when Ireland, managed by Colm O'Rourke defied the odds to defeat the pros of Australian Rules in their own back garden. It was just a pity this achievement was somewhat overshadowed by the antics of Graham Geraghty.

The success of the Down Minors and Mayo's women in taking All-Ireland crowns also spring to mind in an action-packed year.

Undoubtedly, this has also been one of the most historic years in the history of the GAA. The founding of the Gaelic Players Association (GPA) and the revelations of the Football Development Committee's proposals for the future of the football championship means that the GAA is to undergo big changes early in the new millennium for the better and for worse. We have another exciting year ahead.

Quotes 1999

``I'd rather be a doctor than a Dick.''

Fans of Celtic (then managed by Dr Joe Venglos) chant to the fans of Rangers (managed by Dick Advocaat)

``When I first started racing in Formula One there was a guy who said - `That Irvine will never make a racing driver as long as he's got a hole in his arse' - and I proved him wrong. I've done the same today.''

Eddie Irvine after winning the Australian Grand Prix

``A lot of us laid to rest an awful lot of ghosts out there. I've been tempted to say all this year : we haven't gone away you know.''

Cork manager Jimmy Barry-Murphy after their All-Ireland win over Kilkenny

``I think it is criminal... where are they going? Brazil? I hope they all get diarrhoea.''

Brian Clough on Manchester United's decision to withdraw from the FA Cup to play in the World Club Championships next week.

``I look people in the eye and it's like there has been a death in the family. They know I am hurting and I know that they are hurting.''

Mick McCarthy after Ireland's defeat by Turkey in the Euro 2000 play-offs.

Who to look out for in 2000

Every year we see the emergence of some up and coming talent in sport. Last year was no exception, with the discovery of Robbie Keane and the successes of the Young Rebels of Cork the highlights of the year. But who will make the breakthrough and the headlines of 2000?

Stephen McPhail (Leeds and Ireland)

The talented Leeds midfielder looks set to be Robbie Keane's successor as the `next big thing' in Irish football. Now a regular in David O'Leary's set up at Elland Road, the former Home Farm clubman has shown maturity beyond his years with some magnificent displays in the Premiership. Mick McCarthy will surely get the chop if he leaves the teenager out of his squad for the friendly against the Czech Republic next month. One of our best prospects at the minute.

thony Lynch (Cork Senior Footballer)

The 22-year-old corner back had a marvellous 1999. In his first year playing for the Rebels he was central to the side that reached the All-Ireland final and won an All-Star for his efforts. One of the brightest prospects in the game at the moment, the Naomh Aban clubman will be back with Cork and looking to go one further this year.

Laois Senior Football Team

In my opinion, Laois could cause problems for the big two in Leinster in this year's championship. A young side packed with All-Ireland winners at underage level, they gave Dublin a terrible fright in last season's championship and showed they do not fear the big guns. Hughie Emerson and Co. are ones to watch and could be the dark horses in Leinster.

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