GAA Football

Derry and Ulster great Muldoon in 'The Enda Zone' a sight to behold

'Big Enda' Muldoon, a genius on the ball for Ballindery and Derry.

Over the years, I've dreamt I might make my fortune (or at least pay for a nice holiday) by coining phrases. The sort of stuff that 'corporate brand consultancies' and advertising agencies get paid tens of thousands for by gullible local councils.

Admittedly, I haven't put a lot of work into this, so far, not-so-lucrative sideline after some disappointment close to home (or work, to be precise).

'The Irish News' still hasn't snapped up my suggestion that our provincial GAA awards, the Ulster All-stars, should be known as 'The Ul-Stars'.

I am optimistic, though, that the GAA/GPA, or good old PwC, who know about this sort of schtick, will take up my brilliant idea to re-brand the Football All-stars as the FootbAllstars. Come on, PwC, you know it makes sense.

Perhaps my best work in this regard, however, I had put into the public domain free of charge, and repeat it now as a tribute to one of the finest footballers Ulster has ever produced.

Enda Muldoon may only have won one Ulster SFC with Derry, and one All-Ireland Club with his beloved Ballinderry, but there's no doubting that he has been one of the greats.

He wasn't always brilliant – no one ever is – but he usually was. You could tell early on in the game if spectators were going to enjoy a spectacle from the big man.

If he scored an early point, or converted an early free or '45', or picked out a colleague with his first attempted kick-pass you knew he was in that wondrous place:

'The Enda Zone'.

As I'm of a certain age, whenever Muldoon got going, there was always a particular tune running through my head – 'Danger Zone' by Kenny Loggins – with adapted lyrics:

'Highway to the Enda Zone…'

High way, low way, any way he wanted to play, Enda Muldoon was way better than most.

Muldoon played with a languid grace, making the game look easy.

He really had everything. Height and superb catching ability, so that he could play midfield, full-forward, or even full-back if his team was coming under aerial bombardment.

That long, loping stride that ate up the yards; he wasn't pacy but he could cover the ground comfortably.

Scoring power, from points, goals, and placed balls.

And his passing ability. Vision, range, accuracy. Inside-forwards knew that they could make runs and that Muldoon would pick them out more often than not, guiding deliveries in from around midfield or the half-forward line.

One look up, one swing of his boot, and the ball was arcing towards a colleague's chest, or bouncing into their path.

Opposition goalkeepers also had to 'pick them out' given Enda's ability to find the net. Only out-and-out attackers have scored more Ulster championship goals than him.

This column could be filled with paeans of praise from match reports and ratings but the assessment of his performance in the 1998 Ulster Final was prescient: 'Superb passer of the ball with both feet. Started like a train. When he fills out he'll be worth watching.'

That writer was correct (no, it wasn't me).

Enda was always worth watching.

Time seemed to slow down when he was in possession. Opponents worried about diving in and watching the big man glide away from them. But if they stood off and allowed him space, his passing was out of this world.

There was no dirt in him either, not that I'm aware of anyway. Just – just! – a fabulous footballer and an all-round great guy.

Indeed, it's telling that Enda gets all this praise even though he rarely gave media interviews.

He wasn't arrogant, quite the opposite, he was always friendly and polite, he simply steered clear of the spotlight.

Now - please forgive me – he's reached 'The Enda the line', announcing his retirement from playing, having recently turned 40.

He doesn't have the inter-county medal collection his talent deserved – he'd have made the Tyrone team of the 2000s absolutely unstoppable – but he'll still be remembered as an all-time great.

Quite rightly, there'll be thousands of words devoted to another tall, dark-haired footballer who also announced his retirement from (international) (association) football on Monday, namely Italy captain and goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.

As good as Buffon was – and he's a great – Muldoon merits similar standing in the GAA pantheon.

Missing World Cup a crying shame for North

LIKE Buffon, Northern Ireland won't be going to the World Cup next year either but, much as I admire the Juventus goalkeeper, the men in green deserve more sympathy than him.

He went to the 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010, and 2014 tournaments, playing at four of those, and winning the World Cup in 2006. He's done OK.

Northern Ireland's wait for a fourth World Cup finals appearance will now stretch to 36 years.

Realistically, players such as Aaron Hughes and Gareth McAuley, who have represented NI with as much pride and passion as Buffon has shown for Italy, will not be playing at Qatar 2022, even if their team manages to qualify. Skipper Steven Davis will be 33 on New Year's Day, Chris Brunt that age next month, so they may also never feature at a World Cup.

That would be a crying shame even without the injustice of their defeat in the World Cup play-off against Switzerland.

You can say that Northern Ireland didn't do enough to beat the Swiss. Equally, though, the Swiss only scored because of a dreadful refereeing decision, awarding a ridiculous penalty in the first leg at Windsor Park.

There's a huge financial cost to missing out on a World Cup, although Northern Ireland probably won't get a kick-back from Fifa as the FAI did following the Thierry Henry handball scandal eight years ago.

Yet in any case no amount of money could compensate heroes like Hughes and McAuley, perhaps Brunt and Davis, for missing out on their World Cup dream.

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