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Brendan Crossan: An unforgettable year of highs and lows

Before going to celebrate with his team mates Tony Scullion has a few words of comfort for Creggan's Conor Small. The great Cargin man, who won his fifth championship medal on Sunday, has been on the wrong side on finals day on a few occasions and knows just how it feels. Picture: John McIlwaine.
Brendan Crossan - The Boot Room

In the last Boot Room of the year, Brendan Crossan casts an eye across 2018 and picks out his highs and lows...

Best tweet…

AFTER a beautiful painting was unveiled on the sidewall of the Lurig Bar in Cushendall in September of the hurling team’s biggest supporter, John McKillop, former Ruairi Og and Antrim hurler Shane McNaughton summed the man up best. With the picture of John and Shane at the painting, Shane later tweeted: “Some people have professional athletes or movie stars as their heroes and never get to meet them. I’m very happy I get to spend a lot of time with mine. He was dealt his cards and he made the best of them. Surely there’s no greater accomplishment in life than that.”

Best WhatsApp message

STEPHEN Ward tells his mates in undiluted terms about Roy Keane’s spat with Harry Arter and Jonathan Walters during the Republic of Ireland's end of season US tour. The WhatsApp voicemail was later ‘leaked’ to all and sundry which did untold damage to Martin O’Neill’s faltering regime, while also giving the Republic of Ireland defender a red face for the next 12 months or more.

Worst performance…

THE Republic of Ireland’s 4-1 Nations League Cup defeat to Wales in Cardiff back in September would take some beating. In hindsight, the demoralising loss was the beginning of the end of Martin O’Neill’s time in charge. The team appeared under-prepared and some players wearing the green jersey didn’t try a leg that night.

Worst game…

THE Republic of Ireland’s scoreless draw with Denmark in Aarhus.

Second worst game…

THE Republic of Ireland’s scoreless draw with Denmark in Dublin.

Third worst game…

THE Republic of Ireland’s scoreless draw with Northern Ireland in Dublin.

Best game...

SPAIN's 3-3 draw with Portugal in the group stages of the World Cup in Russia was sensational.

Worst GAA game…

THE Antrim senior football final between Creggan Kickham’s and Erin’s Own Cargin was a particularly gruesome afternoon in Ahoghill, with Cargin just doing enough in the end.

Best image…

THE Antrim senior football final between Creggan and Cargin may have been a terrible spectacle but photographer John ‘Curly’ McIlwaine captured a brilliant image at the end of the game of Cargin’s Tony Scullion commiserating with young Creggan player Conor Small.

It was a true act of sportsmanship by Scullion, captured perfectly, as always, by ‘Curly’.

Best GAA game…

THE temptation was there to skip the long car journey to O’Moore Park, Portlaoise and watch England’s World Cup quarter-final with Sweden on TV. The GAA fans that did make the trek to watch the All-Ireland SFC Round Four Qualifier between Roscommon and Armagh were richly rewarded. The two sides produced an absolute classic. In terms of attacking play, the first half was exhilarating. It started with a sublime score from Aiden Forker while it was the day Andrew Murnin reminded everyone of his incredible talent, hitting four memorable points from play. Roscommon were equally brilliant in attack with Cathal Cregg, Enda Smith and Ciaran Murtagh hurting Armagh on the scoreboard. Roscommon finally broke free of the Ulstermen in the closing stages – not after a missed penalty from Rory Grugan. It was the kind of game that made you fall in love of Gaelic football again.

Greatest achievement...

Newry City gaining promotion to senior football. Six years ago, the club reformed and held their first public meeting in a function room in the Showgrounds club under a leaking roof. They began the road back in the Mid-Ulster Football League ranks and kept climbing the ladder to the Irish Premiership. All credit goes to manager Darren Mullen and the club’s hardworking committee. Their story really is the stuff of dreams. 

Best goal...

JOE Gormley's brilliant lobbed finish that finally sank gusty League Cup opponents Carrick Rangers that cheered up the Cliftonville faithful on a dank Tuesday night at Solitude.

Best back heel…

ARMAGH’S Rory Grugan showed impeccable footwork in their All-Ireland Qualifier against Westmeath down in Mullingar. I counted roughly 11 Westmeath players who were wrong-footed by this epic piece of skill, which actually led to an Armagh score.

Most emphatic post-match quote…

“AT times you listen to a lot of sh*t outside – usually from people who haven’t a clue. They sit outside and they pontificate. I played against a lot of these fellas and they were f***ing useless back then and they’re still f***ing useless.” – Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney has a few words of wisdom for some GAA pundits.

Bluffer of the year…

JOSE Mourinho

Press the unfollow button…

PAUL Pogba and his silly social media videos while Manchester United continued to nose-dive displayed everything that is wrong with the celebrity status of footballers.

Most dramatic finish…

IT has to be Eoin Donnelly’s last-gasp goal finish that saw Fermanagh edge out Monaghan in their Ulster semi-final meeting at Healy Park. Cue Bedlam.

Best score…

CONOR McManus’s wonderful score that effectively slayed Tyrone in the Ulster Championship.

Second best score…

DAVID Clifford’s late goal that saw Kerry snatch a dramatic draw with Monaghan in an incredible Super 8 encounter at Clones.

Best popcorn moment…

WHEN former Tyrone captain Sean Cavanagh described Mickey Harte’s managerial style as “autocratic” and insisted the three-time All-Ireland winning manager didn’t get the best out of some quality forwards in the county, Gavin ‘Horse’ Devlin didn’t miss Cavanagh to hit the wall.

In an interview with The Irish News, Devlin said: “Any team that I was ever involved in always had great captains and anyone of those captains - whether it be Brian Dooher, Peter Canavan or Cormac McAnallen - they would have said something if they felt something wasn’t right.

“I’ve had a number of conversations with Sean and he never mentioned anything about styles of play or what we should and shouldn’t do. If he thought something wasn’t right, as captain, why didn’t he come and have a conversation with us rather than saying it in an RTE studio?

“We’ve been very, very close in recent years and we didn’t get over the line to win an All-Ireland. Maybe that’s what was missing, that calibre of captaincy.” Ouch!

Coolest man of the year

MONAGHAN’S goalkeeper Rory Beggan. The Scotstown man’s point from play against Burren in the Ulster Club Championship in Newry was ridiculous.

Best throw…

KEVIN McStay’s perfectly flighted throw of the O’Neill’s ball that landed on linesman Niall Cullen’s napper down in Dr Hyde Park, which cost the-then Roscommon manager a three-month ban

Best Twitter feeds…

Gweedore’s Kevin Cassidy and Neil McGee after the Donegal champions claimed the Ulster title. Hilarious.

Best power nap…

TYSON Fury seemed out cold when Deontay Wilder landed the perfect left hook in the last round of their epic world title bout that floored him. But, somehow, and with some comic effect, big Fury awoke from his power nap and saw out the remainder of the last round quite comfortably.

Best young role model…

NORTHERN Ireland international Bobby Burns. I interviewed Bobby just before he made his move to SPL club Hearts at the end of last season. Bobby (18) is a special individual. For his A Level coursework at St Malachy’s College, he held an event that tackled mental health issues through the medium of sport.

“When you look at north Belfast, suicide is a huge problem,” he explained.

“It has the highest suicide rate of an area in Northern Ireland. There was a boy in my year and another boy in the year above me who both committed suicide. It was horrendous. We wanted to tackle it and do our bit to help.

“We got 100 first year students, we brought ‘Tamhi’ on board and talked about the benefit of playing sport and tied mental health into it. We involved Lifeline and Childline… Hopefully it’s not just going to help the students themselves but they might be able to notice somebody else in their family and help them too… But doing that event is only a small part; it’s not going to change the world but hopefully it’ll help a bit.”

Not the words you’d normally associate with a budding young footballer.

Best day of the year

THAT’S an easy one. A blissful, sunny Sunday morning in the Falls Park back in September when 1,000 charitable souls and fun runners came together to support Anto Finnegan’s ‘DeterMND – Tackling Motor Neurone Disease’ charity. Entitled the ‘Run for Anto’ colour run, Dublin’s All-Ireland winning manager Jim Gavin and assistant Jason Sherlock made the journey to west Belfast with the Sam Maguire. It was a brilliantly organised event and summed up all that is good about the GAA.

Best PRO…

ANTRIM’S Sean Kelly for the selfless hours he put into organising the ‘Run For Anto’ event.

Longest speech…

CUSHENDUN’S hurling captain Mark Scally wasn’t letting go of the microphone after the Robert Emmet’s club finally delivered their first junior title in 55 years.

“We’ve had to stand there five times and listen to other captains,” explained Scally. “So I just said I’m going to make mine five times longer! I was told the officials were shaking their heads and pointing to their watches and to get off the field. But we were going to make the most of it.”

Man of the year…

Rory McQuillan (Cushendun hurler)

AFTER losing six finals wearing the green and black of Cushendun and missing their 2007 intermediate championship victory through suspension, Rory McQuillan signed off a 25-year senior career with a coveted junior championship winner’s medal.

The 42-year-old plasterer suffered heartbreaking final defeats in 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2015 and he also finished runner-up in the 2000 senior final against Dunloy. On Sunday September 30, when Cushendun defeated Shane O’Neill’s, Rory exorcised a lot of painful defeats. He dedicated the club’s historic victory to the late John McCaughan, his former Emmet’s team-mate, who died in June.

“Whenever John passed away it really kicked in and that gave me the motivation that I needed,” said Rory.

Most heart-breaking defeat…

CUSHENDUN’S Ulster JHC final defeat to Monaghan champions Castleblayney. The north Antrim men led for virtually the entire game but were pipped at the post.

Biggest illusion…

ENGLAND’S national soccer team who defeated Panama, Tunisia, Sweden and Colombia (on pens) at the World Cup and thought football was coming home – until they ran into the slick Croats at the semi-final stages in Russia.

Rugby highlight…

JOHNNY Sexton’s drop goal to sink France in the last kick of the game to win the Six Nations.

Best speech…

UPON receiving his League of Ireland manager of the year award for winning yet another league and cup double with Dundalk, Stephen Kenny used the platform to shine a light on the homelessness epidemic in Ireland.

“You talk about real heroes in society and you talk about Fr Peter McVerry and the work that he does... and he calls on the government to call this a national emergency,” said Kenny.

"If you're homeless, what chance have you got? It used to be people with addictions or issues that were homeless, now it is families; normal families who can't afford the rent.

“I think it is a massive, massive issue. The fact that it is not being treated as a national emergency is a big disappointment."

The best opening to a game…

THE first 16 minutes of the All-Ireland final between Tyrone and Dublin, when the impossible seemed possible. Tyrone forged ahead 0-5 to 0-1 but in a devastating spell between the 19th and 23rd minutes, the Dubs grabbed two goals and went on to claim their third title in a row with a bit to spare.

Playing like a veteran at 20…

LIMERICK hurler Kyle Hayes may be just 20 but he played like a seasoned veteran in this year’s All-Ireland final, landing four points from play and removing the sting from Galway.

Best moment…

THE final whistle in the Ulster Intermediate football final between St Enda’s, Glengormley and Mullahoran in Armagh. A club that was ravaged by the Troubles, losing five members, St Enda’s claimed victory over their Cavan counterparts and are now one step away from Croke Park.

In an interview charting the history of the Glengormley club, member Niall Murphy said: “I think it’s a native American phrase: ‘A man is not dead while his name is still spoken.’

"We keep people’s names alive at our club. We will always ensure the new generations know that times weren’t always as comfortable as they are now and that we were borne of adversity. It’s important they know that. That’s part of our psychology.”

Best blog…

FORMER Antrim keeper Chris Kerr penned a heartfelt piece about the loss of his father, Pat, and how he suffered from depression in the years after. The popular St Gall’s man managed to come out the other side and was able to talk about his experiences to others in a similar position. This was a flavour of Chris’s superb blog: “My dad was a milkman and taxi man in the Andersonstown area, he knew everyone, and anyone fortunate or unfortunate enough to get picked up by him would have to endure all about my sporting career and matches even though he had no interest in sport. That was my Daddy. Anytime I play or anything I do in life in general, I do it in memory of him.”

Weirdest post-match comment…

WHEN the Republic of Ireland had just lost to Wales in Dublin in a Nations League Cup tie, manager Martin O’Neill told reporters that they would qualify for Euro 2020. Asked for the genesis of his confidence, O’Neill replied: “Because I’m good.” It was all a bit, erm, weird.

Weirdest press conference...

LISTENING to Mick McCarthy trying to explain away how he was “fine” with handing over the Republic of Ireland reins to Stephen Kenny after Euro 2020, regardless of how he performed in the job.

Fanatical pursuit of excellence…

FROM the Sunday afternoon in February in sunny Corrigan Park when he put it up to the Dublin hurlers, Antrim’s Neil McManus never took a backward step the entire season. The Cushendall hurler put together a string of man-of-the-match displays that had absolutely everything. If ever a player deserved to be playing top flight hurling next season it was Neil McManus.

He was Antrim’s best player right up until their Joe McDonagh promotion/relegation play-off clash with Kildare in Armagh where he hit a game-winning 2-10 to secure his county’s status in the competition for 2019.

Story of the year…

KILDARE hurler James Burke almost died after suffering meningitis at Easter time but ended up lifting the Christy Ring Cup a couple of months later.

After losing a Christy Ring/Joe McDonagh play-off with Antrim in sweltering Armagh just a week after their triumph, Kildare manager Joe Quaid put things in perspective.

“What made the year was not winning the Christy Ring Cup but to see James Burke who was at death’s door with bacterial meningitis on Good Friday with only minutes to live - and he was the last man up to lift the Christy Ring Cup,” said Quaid.

“That’s what’s going to stick in my head, not getting sun burnt in Armagh.”

Selling the lower echelons of hurling short…

AFTER winning the Christy Ring Cup, Kildare manager Joe Quaid wasn’t too happy with how the GAA treated the occasion.
“You’re talking about disrespect,” Quaid said. “We played in an All-Ireland final last Saturday. There wasn’t a parade, there wasn’t a band, there wasn’t the national anthem, no shaking hands with the other players. There was nothing. It was like going out playing a club match, throw the ball in and away you go. Don’t talk to me about respect or the lack of respect they [GAA] have for these teams.”

Best campaign…
NATURAL justice was served when the Kildare footballers won the right to stage their All-Ireland Qualifier with Mayo at Newbridge. The ‘Newbridge or no-where’ mantra echoed in the GAA’s ears until they relented.
The Association’s fixture makers wanted Croke Park to stage the game - but thanks to social media and the impassioned appeals from Kildare manager Cian O’Neill, the Lilywhites were awarded home advantage. And they backed it up by knocking out Mayo in an epic encounter and an atmosphere that could never have been generated at Jones’s Road.

Losing the right way...
THE humility with which Carl Frampton accepted defeat in last week's bout with Josh Warrington is why he is loved by the people of his native city and beyond. A class act.

Best pitch…
HEALY Park by a country mile, especially when the sidelines were, ahem, mysteriously narrowed for Tyrone’s Super 8s clash with Dublin.

Remembering Christopher ‘Crico’ Colhoun…
Christopher ‘Crico’ Colhoun never recovered from a severe flu at the beginning of the year. A tragic loss to his wife Lisa and children Grace and Beth.
Never to be forgotten by the people of Pomeroy, Clonoe O’Rahilly’s and Tyrone GAA.

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