Off The Fence

Off The Fence: More McKenna Cup, Brokenshire controversy and the return of CJ McGourty

James Brokenshire MP, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, with Michael Hasson, President Ulster Council, GAA at last weekend's McKenna Cup final

I THINK it was the irreverent and well-known Derry Gael Gerry Donnelly who once quipped that there is so little interest in the Dr McKenna Cup that the McKennas don’t even attend games.

Gerry remains king of the one-liners – but it no longer rings true of the McKenna Cup.

Over the last decade, the Ulster Council has breathed new life into the pre-season tournament.

Attendances have mushroomed too and although last weekend’s decider between Tyrone and Derry wasn’t half as good as last year’s epic encounter between the pair, the McKenna Cup has never had it so good.

OUR first email from ‘Eamon’s iPad’ illustrates the popularity of the January competition. ‘Eamon’ wasn’t happy when he lifted last Friday’s edition to find no final build-up.

“Knowing that the Dr McKenna Cup final was on Saturday when buying my Friday's Irish News I was looking forward to columns full of the above,” writes ‘Eamon’.

“Well, there were lots of GAA coverage, but to my great disappointment nothing about the final. Almost every northern county but Derry and Tyrone were mentioned.”

‘Eamon’ added: “This is very difficult to understand and not common practice because I feel as a Tyrone supporter my county usually gets its fair share of coverage.

“I can't help wondering was this a mistake or a developing attitude of the paper to give less attention to the McKenna Cup?

PS. This was written on Friday, so perhaps tomorrow's Irish will be packed with the subject! I just expected as least some coverage the day before the game.”

RESPONSE: Okay, Eamon, which Ulster Council official put you up to this email? Eh? Come on! Who was it? Last Friday, we carried six pages of Gaelic Games. You’re right, there was no mention of the McKenna Cup final in that edition but there has been wall-to-wall coverage of the competition.

As you mention, we carried a full page preview and a full page interview with Tyrone’s Mark Bradley on the day of the final. Earlier in the week, we also carried a sizeable interview with Derry’s young ‘keeper Ben McKinless.

‘TYRONE fan’ was also miffed (that’s what most people are in this column, constantly miffed!) with the coverage of Carl Frampton’s world title tilt with Leo Santa Cruz in Las Vegas last weekend.

He/She writes: “As if the English-led Brexit farce and subsequent court case didn't rub it in enough about how irrelevant the ‘Wee Six’ are to those who run Britain - you can even see this echoed culturally: For example: Sunday January 29, in RTE's and BBC's contrasting treatment of Frampton's loss to Santa Cruz.

“RTE had Frampton near the top of its home page. BBC didn't put him on the home page at all and he was only a footnote item on a sub news page.”

RESPONSE: Perhaps you should write to the BBC about this. But we’re happy to oblige here. In fairness, Thomas Kane of the BBC was in Las Vegas covering the event so I don’t think the public broadcaster is open to criticism here. Home pages on the web change all the time too.

NEXT up is me – well, criticism of me – just to show that no-one escapes the wrath of Off The Fence. My interview with Antrim’s returning forward CJ McGourty didn’t exactly go down well with ‘Antrim GAA supporter’.

He left this voicemail: “I wish Brendan Crossan would stop encouraging the McGourtys – if it’s not one, it’s the other one,” he says.

“You’d think there was no-one else in Antrim football. You’re going to lose all credibility among GAA supporters because you seem to have some obsession with them and they fill the paper for you.”

RESPONSE: The fact that CJ McGourty has returned to the Antrim panel after a year away is newsworthy. CJ spent nine months in Australia last year and it was interesting to get his views on that experience.

I’ve interviewed CJ a few times over the last 10 years and I found there was more maturity about last week’s interview than any previous one. Given the lack of experience in the current Antrim panel, there is merit in Frank Fitzsimons and Gearoid Adams inviting CJ back.

I accept your criticism but I would urge you to reserve judgement and allow the lad to put his shoulder to the Antrim wheel and see what happens.

AND look who’s back? It’s only ‘Square Ball 57’. Our regular contributor is at his lyrical best (or worst, depending on your view) about the hullabaloo Northern Ireland Secretary of State James Brokenshire caused after attending last Saturday night’s Dr McKenna Cup final.

The fact that he took his seat after the playing of Amhrán na bhFiann annoyed some people.

‘Square Ball 57’ gives his left-field take on the controversy.

“James Brokenshire is not to blame for his non-observation of Amhrán na bhFiann last Saturday evening in Pairc Esler,” he writes.

“Think about the sequence of events. He is given a blue light escort through Newry; no problems finding a parking space or walking through the graveyard.

“No queuing at the kiosk to part with £10 or trying to claim senior citizen status to save a fiver, and I would assume he didn't avail of the Ulster Council's Dr McKenna Cup competition ticket.

“After parking up he steps out of the back of his high spec Range Rover and is met by a posse of suits and hats.

“They take him on a wee walk about to meet with some of the volunteers; his seat is reserved in the middle of the seated stand so again no panic.

“Someone shouts "Ref throwing her in" so they make their way to their seats well after the anthem, so I would assume the suits and hats didn't observe the anthem either.

“Half-time comes and there is no reaching under the seat for the Thermos flask, cheese and onion crisps or/and mars bar. Whisked away for something more luxurious (hang sandwiches).

“Second half comes and goes, no panic again about leaving early like the Derry 'Wans' to avoid the traffic snarl up; sure he waits to hear what Petey Harte has to say, then jumps into his pre-heated Range Rover, blue lights it again out of Newry to the safe sanctuary of Hillsborough Castle where his slippers await with his bed turned down and sips on his mug of steaming hot Horlicks reflecting on what he had just witnessed.

“Wouldn't it make a great advert, on how things could be if you won the Rollover Jackpot on the National Lottery.”

RESPONSE: If you won the Rollover Jackpot would you really want to be in Newry on a cold Saturday evening in January?

Come to think of it, if I won the Rollover Jackpot, do you think I'd be writing Off The Fence and being civil to people like you? Of course I would. Because I love my job.

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Off The Fence