Whistling Peugeots, milkshakes and road rage...just another Ulster final day at Clones
IF you hang around long enough in the GAA you’ll see everything.
Picture the scene: the car – a silver Peugeot 308 with a whistling roof rack – carrying three Irish News reporters is one big, gigantic ball of stress.
We’re just outside Monaghan town and we’ve inched forward about a mile-and-a-half in roughly 90 minutes. 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 McDonald’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.
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.
One big, shiny black jeep ignores the little rust bucket to its right, which incidentally has right of way, but the big jeep doesn’t care.
The guy driving the rust bucket, a middle-aged man, jumps out of his car and lectures the man in the jeep as to why he has right of way on the roundabout and not him.
He beseeches the jeep to “back up”.
But the guy in the jeep doesn’t budge. And he can’t go forward because the middle-aged man is standing in front of his jeep.
This was the GAA’s Tiananmen Square moment.
This brave man is taking a stand. Normally, he would have our sympathy. But not today. Not on Ulster final day.
Another driver jumps out of his vehicle and tells this passionate supporter of the Highway Code to “get back into your f****** car – or else”.
Our nippy silver Peugeot 308 manages to escape the mayhem and we’re whistling down the Clones road. But there’s more traffic. Bumper to bumper.
We sit in silence, each of us crying inside at our faux pas of stopping for milkshakes, and feeling hopeless about our prospects of making the start of the game...
At last, the chapel spires of Clones come into view. They look particularly beautiful on this day.
We park in a field, grab our laptops and head for Clones hill.
We run like we’ve never run before.
By the way, Clones hill is steeper than you think.
By the time we reach the press box at the back of the Gerry Arthurs Stand the sweat is lashing off the three of us. Next year, lads, it’ll be different, we promise ourselves.
No milkshakes An overnight stay in the Creighton. No stress.
Playing it cool, we ask our settled colleagues: ‘How did the minor game go, guys?
Our enquiry is dutifully ignored.
We stink the place out, literally.
Our frantic pre-match preparations are in stark contrast to the pedestrian, almost easy-going nature of this Ulster final.
Where is the Down rage that saw them ambush Monaghan in the Athletic Grounds only three weekends ago? Apart from Gavin ‘Horse’ Devlin’s skinny tracksuit bottoms – real nice – the most eye-catching moment of a cagey opening 32 minutes is Conor Maginn’s sumptuous point for
Down that raised the roof of St Tiernach’s Park (if it had one).
Like a cool basketball player Ryan Johnston eats up the turf down the stand side, lays the ball off to Connaire Harrison, before he off-loads to Maginn. It was a beautiful score. Tyrone 0-6 Down 0-5.
Game on. And just as that swagger was starting to reveal itself, Darragh O’Hanlon holds his head in his hands after he watched his shot flash wide of Niall Morgan’s goal.
It was Down’s big moment.
From that point on, Down’s victories were destined to be small ones. Like the guy in the black jeep back at Corlat Roundabout there’s no way forward for the Mournemen.
Tyrone’s ring of steel along their half-back line is impassable.
Within a few minutes of the second half, Tyrone do what they do best: they shut out the light and hit seven points without reply.
With each passing wide, confidence ebbs from Down limbs.
To ram home their superiority, Tyrone’s Ronan O’Neill comes on the field and plays like Romario.
To beat the traffic, Down supporters stream out of St Tiernach’s Park with 20 minutes still to play.
And who could blame them?
Apparently, there was a hold up on the Corlat Roundabout on the way home.
Something to do with a big black jeep and an angry middle-aged man...