Kicking Out: Club games doing their own talking

Cahair O'Kane

Cahair O'Kane

Cahair is a sports reporter and columnist with the Irish News specialising in Gaelic Games.

Glen’s Connor Carville dives full length to challenge Ruairi Canavan of Errigal Ciaran during Sunday’s Ulster Club SFC clash at Celtic Park. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
Glen’s Connor Carville dives full length to challenge Ruairi Canavan of Errigal Ciaran during Sunday’s Ulster Club SFC clash at Celtic Park. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin Glen’s Connor Carville dives full length to challenge Ruairi Canavan of Errigal Ciaran during Sunday’s Ulster Club SFC clash at Celtic Park. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

WHEN Errigal Ciaran embarked on their Ulster winning campaign in 1993, they were trailed by local amateur interviewer and cameraman Martin McCarron.

A former player with Aghaloo, he taught with Mickey Harte in St Ciaran’s Ballygawley. That offered him unfettered access that the club has preserved and put up on YouTube.

One two-hour spool contains the Ulster Club final win over Dungannon, but it’s not the game itself that’s interesting.

There are on-pitch interviews with many of the players and a brief with the Canavans’ mother Sarah, who when asked why is it that her sons always seem to do the scoring modestly replies “sure that’s what they’re there for!”

It’s the moments at the door of the victorious changing room that stand out though.

Anthony ‘Doonan’ Gallagher was the team’s trainer alongside manager Danny Ball and Mickey Mullin. They had them on the pitch 112 times that year.

A winner of senior, junior and minor honours as goalkeeper on various Tyrone teams through the 1960s and 70s, he would play in the Irish League, win three New York championships and spend years coaching in South Africa and Australia.

Leaning against the wall, McCarron ventures gently with the obvious, that he must be very proud.

“Yes, very proud. Brilliant side, worked hard, great team. Great team effort. Great match and a great result, and we’re gonna win the All-Ireland easy. All-Ireland club champions, no worries,” comes the reply.

It just comes out of him so casually, so unpolished. Pure bravado.

Of course, Errigal didn’t win the All-Ireland. They took Nemo Rangers to extra-time. In the build-up to the game, UTV did what was then normal but would be considered most unusual behaviour now and devoted two minutes to Gaelic Games.

Nemo veteran Jimmy Kerrigan is being interviewed when his mind draws a blank.

“We dunno anything about… I can’t remember their name,” he says, taking into a fit of laughing. “What’s the name of their club again…cut!” he giggles to the camera.

No doubt Errigal didn’t need to be asked twice to get offended by that sketch. They took Nemo to extra-time but fell short there.

Would such a moment ever see the light of day on television now? Never in a million years.

On Sunday afternoon, Errigal were beaten by Glen in Celtic Park.

You could feel the energy radiating up off the pitch into the packed stand, where the atmosphere crackled.

Night started to fall in on Derry city but 5,212 people were insulated by all the clean energy provided by one of the classic Ulster Club games, right up there with anything the provincial series has ever produced.

It bore so many of the trademarks of eras past. The centre of Errigal’s defence was crying out for a sweeper but they resisted because that would take away from their own game, and their own game had a brilliant Glen team on the ropes for a long time.

You can call it naivety or you can call it positivity.

Much of modern coaching centres on positive language yet wrapped deep in its complex layers is an agenda of caution and reticence, like leaving a changing room screaming about “leave everything out there” while going out with a plan to just keep the ball and hope you’re alive with 15 minutes to go.

Positive language and negative actions ought to be a contradiction, but there’s an element of brainwashing in it.

Read enough books on mindfulness and they start to become like horoscopes, where you can infer anything you want to from a sentence if you stare at it hard enough.

Positivity is vitally important in a 21st century changing room but you just wish it extended into the tactics a bit more often.

Yet the weekend boded well for club football, to which the unseasonably warm, dry conditions have done no harm.

Clonmel had no fear whatsoever of Nemo Rangers.

Enniskillen Gaels and Gowna slugged it out over 80 end-to-end minutes that ended in penalties.

Errigal Ciaran’s bravery wasn’t rewarded because Glen stood up and matched it. It was truly breathless stuff, endlessly exciting.

Watching the two Canavans is mesmerising, yet huge credit has to go to Michael Warnock in particular. He’s been one of the best defenders in club football over the last two years and his switch on to Ruairi Canavan at half-time was pivotal. That he had lost his grandfather, Jack, the morning of the game made his display all the more impressive.

Members of the two backroom teams wanting a go at each other up the line just after half-time and at the final whistle only made the game all feel more authentic.

There were no backward steps in Celtic Park. One side crashed off the other until eventually it was only Glen left standing.

If they win Ulster, you won’t find Ryan Porter leaning up against the wall telling reporters that they’ll hammer Whatchamaycallthem in the All-Ireland semi-final.

Even though you know there’s no desire to poke at sleeping dogs, there are times when football could use that bit of verbal bullishness to light a fire under a game. To drag it out of its routine.

Yet there’s nothing quite like the football doing all the talking for itself.