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The highs and lows of 2017 - The Boot Room

Newington manager Conor Crossan celebrates their first-ever Steel & Sons Cup final victory over Linfield Swifts on Christmas morning - a moment captured by Aidan O’Reilly

Best post-match interview…

CLIFTONVILLE manager Barry Gray didn’t filter anything after their St Stephen’s Day defeat to Crusaders. Letting loose on the referee is par for the course but then he let his “prancing” players have it with both barrels.

Describing the team's performance as “pure sh***”, Gray added: “These players are far too comfortable in their own wee zones. I’ve had opportunities to have a go at them for months and I haven’t.

“I’ve stood by them but in the two games over the three days, they’ve sent thousands of supporters back up the road with absolutely f*** all, bar a load of grumping.

“There are three or four players prancing around thinking they have a name – and let me tell you, in my book, there are no names in there. You earn your name. They are far too comfortable in their own right because wee Jimmy or Joey [in the stands] thinks I’m a brilliant player. Their bubble will be burst very quickly.”

Most skilful goal…

AUSTIN Gleeson’s solo goal for Waterford against Cork in last summer’s All-Ireland semi-final was a thing of beauty. He picked up a loose ball 50 metres from Cork’s goal and left the entire Rebel defence in his wake. It was reminiscent of Owen Mulligan’s wonder goal against Dublin back in ’05.

Most decent deed of the year…

ANTRIM goalkeeper Chris Kerr spending 10 minutes defrosting the wrong car outside his house.

Biggest injustice…

GALWAY centre-back Gearoid McInerney not being nominated for Hurler of the Year.

Justice at last for…

COLM Cavanagh finally gets his just rewards by winning his first GAA Allstar. He should have been celebrating back-to-back Allstar gongs at this stage, but he’ll take the one he richly deserved in 2017.

Most horrific moment…

WATCHING Seamus Coleman try to hold his shin in place after a shocking tackle by Welsh defender Neil Taylor in Dublin that left the Republic of Ireland defender with a double leg fracture back in March.

Most uncomfortable post-match interview…

There were a few between RTE journalist Tony O’Donoghue and Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill.

The most awkward came after the side’s desperately disappointing 1-1 draw in Georgia.

TO’D: We gave the ball away a lot…

MO’N: Yeah, you’re right, we gave the ball away. We didn’t keep it well enough.

TO’D: Is there a quick fix to that, in terms of personnel?

MO’N: Well, I don’t think there is a quick fix to that. We have one or two very decent players who didn’t play well tonight.

TO’D: And can you put your finger on why that might have been?

MO’N: I can, yes.

TO’D: Are you going to share that with us?

MO’N: There’s no point.

TO’D: Why?

MO’N: Why would I want to share that with you?

Most stressful afternoon…

NEIL Loughran, Kenny Archer and I trying to chisel our way through the Ulster final traffic to Clones and running up Clones hill like Linford Christie with Amhrán na bhFiann blaring out of St Tiernach’s Park.

This is how the Irish News captured the stress of the day the following morning:

It’s bumper to bumper and we’re getting cold sweats every time we're brave enough to look at the digital clock on Neil’s dashboard. Time is not on our side. We’re in trouble. Big trouble.

We thought our timing was spot on - so much so that we were chilling outside MacDonald’s in Lisburn an hour-and-a-half

earlier sipping nonchalantly on our strawberry milkshakes and thinking we’d catch the second half of the minor game.

No problem.

So we zoomed down the road feeling decidedly smug with ourselves and the roof rack whistled with all its might. But this was no ordinary Sunday.

Just as we approached Corlat Roundabout in Monaghan town – the one that propels you onto Clones road – all hell breaks loose. We realise that our car is not the only ball of stress on this cursed stretch of road.

Normally, there are rules that govern roundabouts – but not when 10 million people are trying to reach Clones in time for throw-in…”

Worst refereeing decision…

ROMANIAN referee Ovidiu Hategan’s ridiculous penalty award in the World Cup play-off first leg clash between Northern Ireland and Switzerland at Windsor Park.

Corry Evans was adjudged to have handled the ball. A joke decision that ended up separating the two sides and thus knocking the north out of a finals place in Russia next summer.

Worst Tweet…

THE penalty decision against Northern Ireland was all too much for, erm, Corry Evans’ wife. Grovelling apologies followed.

Best spread for reporters…

There were a couple of memorable spreads in 2017.

The International Rules launch in the Australian Embassy in Dublin had fancy wraps rather than pan bread sandwiches that went down a treat.

For sheer volume of food, the Dr McKenna Cup launch at the Balmoral Hotel was pretty damn special.

Any day there’s battered Goujons on the menu is a good day, although the only minus was that the guzzling press reporters had to make do with tomato ketchup as opposed to sweet chilli sauce.

But this did not faze Niall McCoy of Dromintee who carried on regardless.

But O’Donnell’s GAC retains this coveted title. For the second year running, Antrim’s Championship press night at the west Belfast venue was sublime.

Its members put on another culinary powerhouse display.

It’s fair to say there are other GAA grounds that need to up their game in this regard. You know who you are. Weak tea and limp corn beef sandwiches don’t cut it any more.

Get your acts together.

Biggest wind-up merchant…

CORK City’s goalkeeper Mark McNulty wins this award hands-down. He was accused of “gutter” behaviour by Dundalk boss Stephen Kenny in the build-up to the FAI Cup final for engaging in anti-Dundalk chants, captured on social media after the Leesiders won the league title.

After Cork retained the cup in the Aviva Stadium, McNulty stopped in the mixed zone and appeared to enjoy getting one over the Dundalk fans and Stephen Kenny more than sharing the moment with his own supporters.

“Coming here today and getting a bit of grief from the Dundalk fans, I loved every bit of it,” said McNulty.

“I turned around at the end when we won it and gave them a little smile. It’s part of football. Without fans, football wouldn’t be great sport.

“It couldn’t have worked out any better. To win the double in front of the Dundalk fans who have given me a lot of grief over the years, it’s always nice.”


Biggest anti-climax…

In 2017, Croke Park became known as the silent coliseum, particularly during Tyrone’s painfully one-sided All-Ireland quarter-final victory over arch-rivals Armagh.

You could hear a pin drop after 15 minutes. Worse still was Dublin’s ridiculously easy semi-final win over the Ulster champions a few weeks later.

These were scarring defeats for both Armagh and Tyrone.

Trying to find perspective after an 18-point hammering…

“I know it’s hard for people to understand but we had seven Ulster titles in 120 years before a team came along and won seven in 10 years. It’s not as if we have a history of doing it.

“In the modern day the commitment and focus that is needed is a lot and you have to make up your mind to do that. We have a small group that are willing to do that but the small group needs to get bigger.

“It’s not the big things that’ll make the difference to this squad, it’s the small things. Maybe putting the jersey first for those seven or eight months leading up to it and buying into the whole philosophy and how you play the game, the work ethic that’s needed, the team ethos that’s needed.” – Armagh boss Kieran McGeeney after his side’s All-Ireland quarter-final defeat to Tyrone.

Abiding image of the GAA season...

STEPHEN Sheridan out-stripping the Tipperary defence in stoppage-time of Armagh's fantastic All-Ireland Qualifier win in Thurles.

The night the sky fell in…

WATCHING the unfolding nightmare of Republic of Ireland losing 5-1 in their World Cup play-off tie with Denmark in Dublin.

Best work of art…

CHRISTIAN Eriksen’s artistry in Dublin when he scored three beautiful goals to knock the Republic of Ireland out of World Cup contention and securing Denmark’s place at the finals in Russia in 2018.

Finding redemption…

YOUNG Matthew Snoddy seeing the light in Thomas Niblock’s absorbing BBCNI documentary on Crusaders Football Club.

Worst GAA disciplinary decision (of any year)...

TRYING to ban Antrim footballer Matt Fitzpatrick for a year for ‘misleading the committee’. The ridiculous decision was later overturned.

Summing up best the GAA’s disciplinary system…

“The information you get from the GAA is that this guy has been banned for perjury. And they send it out to every media outlet. If you wanted to explain the appeal process in the GAA to a layman, you would say: ‘Ok, stand facing this wall, and now begin to bang your head against it.’” – Joe Brolly.

Defending his punditry, Gooch-style…

“When I say things I mean them. I think people in the GAA community understand that, which is why I get a good welcome wherever I go because people say: ‘Well, he speaks his mind – like him or hate him.’

“I tell you what there is out there in the modern world; there is a moral outrage brigade that goes into over-drive about things that are insignificant.

“So, when I made the point, which I think is entirely logical, about Colm Cooper that’s what happens. Colm Cooper is a poet on the field but he’s not a leader; he won’t get you out of a hole. He was not capable of what [Peter] Canavan was capable of doing. In adversity, great players were Peter Canavan, Colm O’Rourke and Bernard Brogan – Cooper just wasn’t that type of player.”

Best Quote…

“I said to Joe that I liked him far better when he had two kidneys.” - Colm O’Rourke on his RTE colleague Joe Brolly.

Scundered by Gaelic football…

AS he prepared for the Irish Cup final with Coleraine in May, Eoin ‘Skinner’ Bradley reflected on his Gaelic football career and how he fell out of love with the inter-county game.

“I’ve played Gaelic all my life so I think I earned the right to stay on at the soccer and I’m glad I did, because the way Gaelic football is going now I wouldn’t enjoy playing for Derry. It’s boring to play, to be honest.

“Gaelic football has turned into a depression. Every time I go on to the pitch to play, there are 14 men behind the ball. It just depresses me. You used to have two men hanging off you and that was okay but it’s got worse.

“Gaelic football is just defence, defence, defence. I just get scundered watching it. Every team’s doing it – every single team. It’s a game of cat and mouse. There aren’t many players out there now where you’d say: ‘I’d pay to watch that man’.”

Biggest farce…

FLOYD Mayweather’s 10-round tickling contest with weight-drained novice Conor McGregor.

Second biggest farce…

CARL Frampton’s scheduled bout with Andres Gutierrez in Belfast that was never destined to happen.

Frampton missed the weight by a pound and later that evening his Mexican opponent slipped in the shower causing him untold facial damage.

It was no surprise when news followed that the Tiger’s Bay fighter was splitting with Barry McGuigan.

Biggest heart…

JAMIE Conlan is what real courage looks like. The west Belfast fighter might have failed in his IBF world title super flyweight shot against classy champion Jerwin Ancajas – but he won the hearts and minds of the boxing public for gritting his teeth and climbing off the canvas several times when the easy option was to stay down and avoid further punishment.

Best fight…

A MEGA-FIGHT that lived up to its billing. After several years of shadow boxing and ducking each other, Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin finally faced each other in the ring in Vegas.

After 12 pulsating rounds, the eagerly anticipated middleweight championship clash ended in a draw, with Golovkin probably edging it. The hope is the two champions will sign up for a re-match in 2018.

Best individual performance…

IT all depends on which matches you cover throughout the year, so it’s an entirely subjective call.

For me, nothing came close to touching Chrissy McKaigue’s display for Slaughtneil in last season’s All-Ireland semi-final win over St Vincent’s in Newry.

Not only did he nullify the threat of Dublin star Diarmuid Connolly, he demoralised him – scoring four points from play. Simply sublime.

Greatest achievement…

A TWO-WAY tie between St Mary's winning Sigerson and Newington FC winning their first-ever Steel & Sons Cup.

Best celebrations…

NEWINGTON winning their first-ever Steel & Sons Cup at Seaview on Christmas morning by beating raging hot favourites Linfield Swifts 1-0. An unforgettable, magical, rainy day at Seaview.

Best moment…

PADRAIG Scollay’s volleyed finish in the 82nd minute that won the Steel & Sons Cup for Newington.

Second best moment…

JAMES McClean’s brilliant strike that sunk Wales in Cardiff and breathed new life into the Republic of Ireland’s World Cup dream – only to be extinguished by the Danes the following month.

Best photograph…

Well, that would be my young brother, Conor, enjoying the sound of the final whistle after guiding Newington to their first-ever Steel & Sons Cup victory on Christmas morning.

Nerves of steel…

Despite an errant GPS tracker being cast in his eye-line, Dean Rock’s winning free in the All-Ireland final.

Take a bow Gaelic Voices for Change…

IN an era where the self is often put above all other considerations, Gaelic Voices for Change decided to raise awareness of the homelessness crisis in Ireland.

Several hundred GAA players did a sleep-out in December and raised over €200k.

Antrim player Patrick Gallagher, who took part in the sleep-out, said: “I got an appreciation of what people go through - but it's only one element of it.

“Another element of it is a family may have a home but have to constantly move and the kid is asking: ‘How is Santa going to find me, mummy? We're not in the same place as last week. How is Santa going to come with my presents?'

“That was a line that hit me and sums up the uncertainty that children have.”

Best manager…

A THREE-WAY tie between Paddy Tally, Oran Kearney and Conor Crossan.

Most contented man in Ireland…

CHARLIE Vernon holding Charlie Og in his arms after Armagh Harps clinched their first senior county title in 26 years following their second-half blitz against holders Maghery at the Athletic Grounds.

Remembering Freddie...

THE well-known and hugely popular Freddie Fusco died this year, aged 98. Freddie was night security in the Irish News and was the company's longest serving employee.

Freddie was always a great friend to all in the sports department. His character was summed up perfectly by my colleague Kevin Farrell, who tweeted: 'A gent and a kind spirit. Once transferred old boxing VHS onto DVD for me and tried to teach me Italian in an hour before a trip to Rome. RIP.'

A legend gone but not forgotten…

THE Irish League community was plunged into mourning following the news that former Cliftonville keeper Paul Straney had died, aged 42.

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