Kenny Archer: Tyrone GAA forever indebted to Joe Martin for telling its history

Kenny Archer

Kenny Archer

Kenny is the deputy sports editor and a Liverpool FC fan.

Jubilant Tyrone supporters carry captain Peter Canavan aloft in 2003.
Jubilant Tyrone supporters carry captain Peter Canavan aloft in 2003.

THE best time to plant an orchard was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.

Joe Martin was more interested in bushes than orchards but the historian of Tyrone GAA, who sadly passed away on Sunday, knew that there’s no time like the present to find about the past. The longer you wait, the harder it gets to find out what happened.

In his original work, 1984’s ‘The GAA in Tyrone: Raising the Red Hand’, he wrote: “It is easy to bemoan the fact that this story was not written twenty – or even ten – years ago, when some of those associated with the GAA at the beginning of the century were still alive… I am deeply conscious of the fact that in some instances I could do no better than speculate on the causes of certain developments rather than give a definitive answer to some of the questions which must remain forever answered.”

He was, of course, being unduly modest.

His work was magisterial, an invaluable record of the development of Gaelic Games in the O’Neill County.

Few counties, if any, have had anyone to match his efforts.

Despite our obsession with the past, especially in the GAA, the Association still largely relies on dedicated individuals like Joe Martin to record and preserve its history.

Anyone can do research, of course. I’ve had the misfortune to read clunky compilations of facts masquerading as histories of various sporting subjects.

Joe’s writing was levels above that, producing an eminently readable account and summary.

Better still, although he was a proud Tyrone man, he was fair-minded and objective in his assessment of matches and incidents, even kind to some teams trounced by the Red Hands.

He was also prescient, aware of how the past can inform and influence the future.

Tyrone had an excellent senior side in the 50s, and again in the 80s. Red Hands had won Minor All-Irelands. The Carrickmore native did not accept that being the very best was beyond his county, declaring in 1984 that “perhaps what the county needs now is a raising of the level of aspiration and a belief in its own ability to reach ahead of anything that has been achieved before.”

Notably, he concluded his first opus, published in the GAA’s centenary year of 1984, by expressing the hope, nay belief, that Tyrone were still on a journey towards eventually becoming All-Ireland Senior Football champions:

“Tyrone GAA, proud of its past and inspired by an awareness of its present potential and a total belief in itself, can aspire to and attain the ultimate success – the winning of the Sam Maguire Cup.”

That took a further 19 years, marked by the publication of the second edition of his history, but Joe then had the pleasure of updating his work again in 2005, and once more in 2021, when the Red Hands lifted ‘Sam’ for the fourth time.

Joe welcomed me to his home in Omagh in January of last year to hand over copies of ‘The Long Road to Glory’ and the fourth edition of his work, ‘The GAA in Tyrone: Raising the Red Hand in the Twenty-First Century’.

He was determined to gift them to me, and would only accept any money when I told him he could give it to charity.

Tyrone truly was blessed to have Joe Martin as the person writing its GAA history.

He understood that the GAA was about much more than the senior sides which represent the county, but relied heavily on the people who organised games and competitions at all levels.

Joe got that balance right, recognising those who developed and maintained the GAA.

His decades of diligent research ensured that the history of the GAA in Tyrone has been beautifully recorded for posterity.

His own part in that will never be forgotten.


What, really, is the point of VAR any more?

Honestly, I’m all in favour of technology being used to improve sport and ensure more decisions from match officials are correct.

Goal-line technology has been great (when organisers remember to switch it on), although HawkEye has had its problems at Croke Park, despite the development of ‘smart sliotars’.

Yet the shambolic nature of decision-making in the new English soccer season has made more people wonder if Video Assistant Referees are more trouble than they’re worth.

They can rule out (or allow) goals by margins of millimetres for offside.

Simon Hooper did not referee last weekend after failing to award Wolves a penalty against Manchester United.
Simon Hooper did not referee last weekend after failing to award Wolves a penalty against Manchester United.

However, when a goalkeeper gets nowhere near the ball and absolutely clatters into an opponent, the referee should have seen that was a clear foul, despite the leeway that is always allowed to netminders.

If not the referee, then the VAR should definitely have discerned that Wolves deserved a penalty kick for that incident at Old Trafford.

At Anfield on Saturday the referee was perhaps understandably fooled by Liverpool midfielder Dominik Szoboszlai making the absolute most of minimal contact.

Yet the VAR should have seen that, at the very least, the contact was not worthy of a spot kick; better still, the Hungarian should have been booked.

Dominik Szoboszlai won an extremely soft penalty for Liverpool on Saturday.
Dominik Szoboszlai won an extremely soft penalty for Liverpool on Saturday.

It’s not a case of the big clubs being ‘favoured’ though. Later in that game another Liverpool midfielder, Alexis Mac Allister, received a straight red card for a challenge which, possibly, merited a yellow. How the VAR could look at that and confirm the Argentinian’s dismissal was baffling.

Later on Saturday, a Tottenham defender stopped a Manchester United cross with an arm high up in the air. An obviously handball and penalty. Nope. Nothing doing.

To re-state, technology has its place in the modern game, but while the standard of officiating and decision-making continues to be so mind-boggling then VAR’s reputation will remain low.