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Off The Fence

Down readers are back as they plot Tyrone's downfall

Kevin McKernan celebrates Down's Ulster semi-final victory over Monaghan last Saturday night.

DOWN are back. The smugness would kill you.

Monaghan would beg to differ but Down’s incredible semi-final victory at The Athletic Grounds last Saturday night gave the Ulster Championship a shot in the arm that it badly needed.

It was one of the best occasions in the northern province for many a year.

So we can expect plenty of Down hyperbole in these pages over the next couple of weeks before they try taking down Tyrone in the July 16 final.

It couldn’t be set up any better.


BEFORE Down supporters start waxing lyrical about last weekend’s marvellous display, ‘Square Ball 57’ returned to Off The Fence to lay into those long-suffering Mourne supporters.

“Hello again, I was just lying there in the scratcher thinking what a great week for the province. First, we have had Arlene's cash windfall; now we will have a massive boost in the Down GAA economy.

“I can just imagine the amount of boys turning up, rather sheepishly, at Down Club League matches this Friday night who haven't been to one since 2010, asking questions like: ‘Who's that number four?’ Or: ‘Who's that number nine? Never seen him before. Where's he from?’

‘Hear, where's John (treasurer)? I would need to square him up for the aul membership.’

“Membership fees will be rolling in voluntarily all over the Mournes as the Ulster final ticket allocation fast approaches (only problem should it rain, Tyrone season ticket-holders will have the Gerry Arthurs covered stand well secured).

“Old Canal Court shirts will be binned, the heads down in the O'Neill’s factory will be smiling as they blow the dust off the Down loom, and wives, girlfriends etc., will be rushing out to purchase the updated attire for July 16.

“Down supporter club buses will be upgraded from taxibus to 52-seater to cater for the demand and boys will be standing in front of mirrors for days rehearsing the famous hand gesture while chanting: "We have got five, we have got five".

“The pigeons and gulls should also do well as Down supporters like to dine from the "Open Boot Brasserie" or "Tailgate Tower" and when word gets round they will be flying in from the neighbouring parishes to avail of the rich pickings that will exist. All in all, it's a win-win for everyone.”


YOU can tell when someone is smiling on the other end of the phone. 'Down man' couldn’t contain his delight – and smugness – following his county team’s famous victory last weekend.

"Your sports journalists' predictions of the Ulster semi-final are similar to the elections in England,” he crowed.

“Down proved you all wrong. Maybe they'll change your opinion after they thrash Tyrone in the final. Down will have no fear of a team with no class finishers in the forward line and with no reliable free-taker. Mickey [Harte] will be going through the back door."

There was an old message on our Off The Fence hotline and it was you, dear ‘Down man’, who predicted Tyrone didn’t stand a chance against Donegal in their semi-final. Maybe you should join our sports team on a freelance basis. Good rates. Subsidised canteen. Dodgy Championship predictions.


ANOTHER caller rang to give praise to our sports team for their analysis of the Down-Monaghan semi-final.

You could tell he wasn’t a fan of Roscommon ref Paddy Neilan who had to take over from David Coldrick at half-time due to an injury to the Meath official.

"I would like to congratulate The Irish News on their balanced reporting of the Down versus Monaghan game last Saturday. Full marks to your reporter Cahair O'Kane and [Gaelic football columnist] Kevin Madden for their comments about Paddy Neilan.

"I fully agree with your player ratings by Cahair O'Kane and Brendan Crossan. I'm sure if they had to rate the referee it would have been a negative number."

Neilan did award Monaghan a few soft frees in the second half while Coldrick was probably hard on Monaghan in the opening period. In fairness to Neilan, it’s not easy being thrown into that kind of cauldron at half-time – and he did perform well in the Cavan-Monaghan quarter-final tie a few weeks earlier.


MORE criticism of the officials from last Saturday from 'South Down Caller'. He was mystified when no action was taken after Down substitute David McKibbin was felled in the closing stages.

"I travelled to Armagh last Saturday night with some trepidation thinking that Down were going to get stuffed,” says 'South Down Caller'.

“And I was delighted they weren’t. I’d like to offer my congratulations to the Down team on how magnificently they played and it was a wonderful match to be at.

“But what concerned me was in the last five minutes young McKibbin was assaulted by someone from Monaghan and the referee waved play on.

“Now, I watched the television replay when I got home and nobody commented on it. I couldn’t believe it. I thought that was quite scandalous.”

Down were no angels, it has to be said, when a couple of their players were booked for late challenges during the game.


THERE is no show without Joe. Joe Brolly, that is. ‘Tyrone supporter’ was miffed by the Derryman’s criticism of RTE colleague Pat Spillane on The Sunday Game over the Diarmuid Connolly suspension.

“We all remember how Joe reacted to Sean Cavanagh for pulling down Conor McManus but on Sunday, he said it was okay for Down players to foul any way they could, as long as they got away with it.”

But you have to admit, Joe tearing strips of Spillane last Sunday night was comedy gold.


WE received a letter from ‘Old Noel in Meath’ who was delighted to read that the GAA is on the verge of announcing a major cash investment into rejuvenating Gaelic Games in Belfast.

“The new initiative to rejuvenate the GAA in Belfast is pleasing news. As a long-time follower of Gaelic Games and other sports, my furthest back memory of Meath playing in an All-Ireland semi-final is the clash with Antrim in 1951.

“Meath won that game by two points before losing to Mayo in the Sam Maguire decider. Strangely, Mayo have not got their hands on the coveted trophy since and Antrim have not won Ulster. Hopefully the ambitious plan can help towards bridging the long gap sooner rather than later.”


INSPIRED by Armagh’s nine-point win over Fermanagh, flag-waving Orangeman, ‘Dermot’, has urged a big turn-out for the team’s next Championship outing against Westmeath on July 8 in Cusack Park.

“After watching Armagh on Sunday beating Fermanagh it's clear the supporters are out in force again,” writes ‘Dermot’.

“With a terrible draw away to Westmeath, who become transformed when they get back to Cusack Park Mullingar and rarely lose there, I urge every county fan to make their way to Mullingar by bus, train, car whatever.

“It’s going to take a mammoth effort to win there and we need to make sure on July 8 Cusack Park is turned into a sea of orange and your voice is heard.”

I’m sure the Armagh camp appreciate your rallying cry. But given that the game throws in at 7pm next Saturday night isn’t exactly family-friendly. But the big TV companies call the tune nowadays, not the GAA.


CAHAIR O’Kane’s in-depth feature with Fermanagh’s Ryan McCluskey on Thursday drew praise from the Erne County.

On Facebook, 'David Maginnis' wrote: “Still plenty of life in you yet for a year or two of Irish League footy. Too good a talent to put on the shelf just yet.”

A great footballer – both in GAA and soccer – and an even better fella.

‘FIONA O’Connell' also posted: “What a lovely write up Ryan McCluskey - we are so proud of you.”


‘STATS Watcher’ left this message: “Great to see Mattie Donnelly awarded MVP in last Tuesday’s Irish News in contrast to his rating of seven in Monday’s edition. Whilst some of his fellow players got higher ratings with less impact but hey they’re the darlings of the Irish News.”

The leaderboard, compiled by Performa Sports personnel for The Irish News and www.irishnews.com, is arrived at by studying a series of statistics of every player from each game in this year’s Ulster Championship.

The 14 vital stats studied range from possessions, tackles, turnovers won, attacks and total shots right through to accuracy, assists and other key elements of play during each game. Check out: Tyrone-Donegal stats: http://www.irishnews.com/sport/gaafootball/2017/06/17/news/ulster-sfc-tyrone-v-donegal-stats-1057414/


‘TOM from Norfolk, Virginia, USA’ emailed to praise the re-published 2004 feature on former Belfast Celtic player Jimmy McAlinden but wished to point out an inaccuracy.

“Great job with this story on Jimmy McAlinden, who I remember as Distillery manager when they beat Derry City in the Irish Cup Final at Windsor Park,” emailed ‘Tom’.

“One minor correction though. Jimmy McAlinden would not have been taken to Celtic Park to see young Martin O'Neill play there for Star of the Sea, because Martin played for Rosario (aka Holy Rosary).

“I know because I played on that unbeaten double- winning team. Perhaps he was taken to see us dispatch St Paul's by the score of 5-1 in the Down and Connor Cup final - the only Down and Connor game played at Celtic Park was the only annual cup final.

“Typically, we turned out on the all-weather fields at Rathcoole, at St Augustine's on the Ravenhill Road (also all-weather), or on the lush Cherryvale fields at Malone.

“While I love nostalgia, it wasn't all peace and love for the talented Martin O'Neill in the Down and Connor League - I clearly remember Martin sprinting into the Cherryvale dressing room and me helping him hold the door closed in an attempt to hold off half of the Immaculata team who had taken umbrage at a heavy defeat at our hands. I wonder how many of those Pound Loney lads now know they were attacking the future Celtic and Republic of Ireland manager?

"PS: Rosario's 1973 double winning team - immortalized only in our own minds - was Michael Campbell, Barney Hughes, Martin Shields, Tommy McAnulty, Gerry O'Reilly, Johnny Casey, Paul Maguire, Martin O'Neill, Martin Quinn, Gerard Haren and Paddy Morgan.

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