Carl Frampton, Down, Barry McGuigan, Crossmaglen, Paddy Barnes, James McClean, Corry Evans, Dublin, Celtic, Slaughtneil... It's Andy Watters' sporting highs and lows of 2017
Republic of Ireland 1 Wales 0
MY journey began with an early morning drive to Belfast International, a flight to Birmingham, another drive to Cardiff (including a stop-off in Ross-on-Wye for a big bag of cans) before arrival in the Welsh capital for the Republic of Ireland’s undoubted highlight of 2017.
The game was as flat as the Brains bitter the following day, but Jeff Hendrick and James McClean combined to add a frothy head to it with a superb winner in the second half. Wales defender Ashley Williams dilly-dallied, Hendrick nicked the ball off him and crossed from the corner flag. Harry Arter dummied and McClean cracked home a volley from the edge of the box.
Down reach the Ulster final
RUMOUR has it that the Mourne seniors turned down a challenge match against Drumgath’s U14 girls’ team in 2016 for fear of adding another ‘L’ to their long list of losses throughout a truly terrible year.
The trauma of 2016 – Down lost every League and Championship match – made the county’s resurrection in 2017 all the more impressive. After a couple of early defeats the vultures began to circle again but Down wriggled off the relegation hook by beating Meath and Derry and then drawing with Cork.
In the Championship and Down were installed as underdogs against Armagh but with touchline-banned Orchard county football Tzar Kieran McGeeney watching from a window in Pairc Esler, they ripped up the script by winning. They ripped up another script by beating Monaghan to each the Anglo-Celt decider against Tyrone.
If Darragh O’Hanlon’s first half rocket had found the Red Hands’ net the Mournemen might have caused another shock. In the end, Tyrone won comfortably to confirm their status as Ulster’s best team by a distance, but Down pride had been restored and they’ll intend to build on it next season.
Slaughtneil 2-17 Kilcar 0-17
THE best game of club football of the year. With 36 scores and only two wides, this was a shoot-out from the first whistle to last and the quality was breath-taking at times. Paddy McBrearty led the way for the Donegal men with 10 sumptuous points but it was Slaughtneil’s range of scorers that saw them prevail at Healy Park.
Any begrudgers or doubters were silenced once and for all as the Mickey Moran/John Joe Kearney managed Derry champions booked their place in the Ulster final with an unforgettable display of top class attacking football. They saw off Cavan Gaels in the decider and, as you read this, they’re probably pulling up trees and kicking them over a makeshift bar deep in Gortnamoyagh Forest, as they prepare themselves for an All-Ireland semi-final against Nemo Rangers in February.
Paddy Barnes wins the WBO European Flyweight title
BARNES set aside the joker and emerged as a fully-fledged pro fighter when he beat Silvio Olteanu to win the WBO European Flyweight title in only his third fight (Olteannu was in his 28th). Barnes hadn’t boxed 10 rounds before – not even in sparring – but he got through 10 gruelling rounds against the tough Spaniard. Great performance from ‘the Leprechaun’ who, if all goes to plan, will fight for a world title in 2018.
Crossmaglen Rangers celebrate their first All-Ireland
HOW do you know when you’ve won too many All-Ireland titles?
Well, confusing the run to one with one of the others is certainly a hint.
Twenty years on from the south Armagh club’s first national triumph, Jim McConville gave up an hour of his time to retrace the Rangers’ steps to the 1997 title.
One of the games Jim recalled was a trip to Ruislip to take on London champions Tir Chonaill Gaels. Cross won the game by 13 points but an indepth search of The Irish News archive (AKA unlocking a dusty vault deep in the bowels of Donegall Street, hoking out hardbacked compendiums weighing roughly 14 stone each and going through them until you find the game in question) indicated that the game actually took place in 1998.
Jim insisted it was 1996 but, in the end, the evidence was overwhelming and he had to concede defeat which is never easy for a Crossmaglen clubman. Getting your All-Irelands mixed up is not an issue most of us will ever have to deal with. It’s a first world GAA problem and a nice one to have which is testament to the success of Ulster’s most decorated club.
Northern Ireland 2 Czech Republic 0
WITH a display that underlined their status as formidable international opposition, Michael O’Neill’s side clinched second place in their group (behind ze Germans) by beating an out-gunned and intimidated Czech outfit that did not want to know at Windsor Park in September.
‘Jonny’ got the first goal and ‘Brunty’ got the second and the fans in the Kop were doing a celebratory bouncy well before the final whistle.
The victory earned the North a World Cup play-off against Switzerland. The Swiss had chance after chance but couldn’t score so referee Ovidiu Hategan gave them a goal to get them through (see lows).
Celtic set new record for most wins
‘69 out of 70 ain’t bad’ as Meat Loaf might have sung. Celtic would have done anything to beat Hearts but Kyle Lafferty wouldn’t allow them to do that. The beanpole Fermanagh man looked like a deadringer for a world class striker love when he let fly with the second of the Jambos four goals to end Celtic’s two-year domestic winning streak. Yes it wasn’t the Bhoys’ day - you took the words right out of my mouth.
All joking aside, Brendan Rodgers’ side deserve massive credit for their run and after the loss at Tynecastle the Celtic boss side he would hit the “reset button” and try and go one better for crying out loud.
Republic of Ireland 1 Denmark 5
AFTER the high of winning in Cardiff to reach the play-offs and the high of drawing the first leg in a no-score-bore in Copenhagen, Republic of Ireland fans briefly set their minds on designing t-shirts and flags with back-to-front Rs for a trip to Russia next summer. The night was full of eastern promise when Shane Duffy put the boys in green a goal up but, alas, Christian Erikkson had to go and spoil it all by doing something stupid like scoring three superb goals and the Danes cantered home. At the end of the night it felt like the Republic had fallen off the edge of a cliff. What will we do next summer?
Tyrone 0-11 Dublin 2-17
ULSTER champions Tyrone had beaten Armagh 3-17 to 0-8 to book a semi-final against Dublin. On a dark day for Ulster football, Mickey Harte’s men were routed by the Dubs who looked quicker, stronger, better organised and more skilful on the day.
The Red Hands used the same counter-attacking gameplan that had served them well all season, the problem was they couldn’t get the ball off the Dubs who had no problem breaking down their sporadic attacks. The game also saw the end of the road for the great Sean Cavanagh, one of Tyrone’s greatest servants.
Brendan Rodgers misses the bus
SLAUGHTNEIL full-back Brendan Rodgers is too nice a guy to turn down a request for an interview and it almost cost him dear after the Derry champions beat Donegal’s Kilcar to reach the Ulster final.
Rodgers took questions for about 10 minutes before heading off “to catch the bus” only to find himself standing on his tod in the pitch black Healy Park carpark.
“What are them boys like?” says the affable dual star as he pulled out his phone. His team-mates, probably giddy after winning a 36-score battle (see highs), had headed on without him but all’s well that ends well and the bus did a quick 360 and came back to pick him up.
Carl Frampton losing in Las Vegas
CASINO bigwigs chewed their fingernails nervously as I changed sixty quid into five dollar chips and strolled elegantly to one of the many blackjack tables at the Luxor.
Roughly 10 minutes of twist, stick, twist, aye twist, no stick later and before my complementary drink had even arrived at the table, I was skint and heading for the door.
The following night Carl Frampton lost too. He was beaten by Leo Santa Cruz in a world title rematch at the MGM Grand. From early on Frampton looked just short of his best and Santa Cruz was the boss in a close fight and took a deserved points win.
Frampton (when Paddy Barnes visited his hotel room the next day): “Alright mate, f***in s***e wasn’t it?”
Barnes: “Aye, f***in s***e.”
Andres Gutierrez slips in the shower
HE was washing his hair apparently. With a big fight at the Odyssey Arena the following night the Mexican challenger wanted to look his absolute best.
The hot water feels invigorating as he applies a generous palmful of Vosene to the top of his head with a gentle slap. With the tips of his fighting fingers he works the bottle-green shampoo into a rich, creamy lather. Yeah, that feels good senor.
Some of the shampoo has trickled down his forehead into his eyes. Arrgghhhhh it burns, it burns! Blinded, he reaches out for the towel but can’t find it. Flailing desperately, he stumbles forward and then, real disaster, he goes down.
One, two, thee… rubber ducks bounce off the tiles as he struggles to get up.
Four, five, six… complimentary soaps and shower caps litter the floor.
Seven, eight, nine… he grasps at the shower curtain and tries to pull himself back to his feet.
10… You’re out kid. Check out by 8am in the morning kid, continental breakfast kid, make your own way to the airport kid and don’t call us, we’ll call you kid.
On a very serious note, Gutierrez’s unfortunate bathroom slip led to the cancellation of his fight with Carl Frampton, the scrapping off the entire August bill and the breakdown of relations between Frampton and Cyclone Promotions (see below).
The breakdown of relations between Frampton and Cyclone Promotions
I’VE put this in the ‘lows’ category, but where would Frampton put it I wonder? After his fight with Andres Gutierrez was cancelled, things quickly unravelled between Frampton and the McGuigan clan AKA Barry, Shane, Jake and the other one.
Frampton announced that he was parting company with Cyclone and that he would be trained by Manchester-based Jamie Moore. He was quickly snapped up by MTK, Frank Warren’s Queensbury Promotions and BT Sport. Good times are ahead for ‘the Jackal’ in 2018.
Northern Ireland v Switzerland and the Corry Evans 'handball'
YES, Switzerland could have been 12 goals ahead but they have to take their chances. You can’t just give them a goal. Or can you? As far as GAWA fans are concerned, that’s exactly what referee Ovidiu Hategan did in the first leg of the World Cup play-off at Windsor Park.
With Swiss frustration building, 'John' Xherdan Shaqiri smacked a volley goalwards and Corry Evans blocked it with his shoulder only for Hategan to give a penalty that Ricardo Rodriguez converted. The second leg finished 0-0 leaving Northern Ireland’s players and faithful fans to rightly curse their luck.
Mayo lose the All-Ireland final again
MAYO had more near misses than an L-plate driver on a five-lane motorway in rush hour on their way to the All-Ireland final. But they got there and when they took ithe field at Croke Park they believed they could win again, they competed well again, they carved out a winning position again, but they lost again.
The whole country (apart from Dublin of course) was behind the Connacht men but Cillian O’Connor’s late free hit the post and Dean Rock scored his so the Dubs won their third Sam Maguire in-a-row. This is a superb Dublin side and there are no signs of their run ending any time soon.