2023: The year that was

Niall Gartland takes a wry look back on an eventful year at club and county level…

Well that was a little of a talking point wasn’t it?

RIGHT, let’s get this one out of the way good and early. For weeks it seemed like the only thing any of us ever spoke about was the controversy that raged in the wake of Kilmacud Crokes’ All-Ireland SFC final victory over Glen. You know the craic – they had 16 men on the pitch in the last play, there were appeals and counter-appeals, and eventually Glen did the honourable thing and said ‘nah you can have it.’ Next up, the eagerly awaited sequel….

Misguided tweet of the year

DAVID Clifford didn’t have his best day in front of the posts in the All-Ireland final. These things happen, even to the very, very best of us. But it wasn’t as if he was completely roasted by his marker Michael Fitzsimsons, so for Paul Flynn to tweet that “Clifford was smoked against Dublin and poor against Tyrone yet still people think he is footballer of the year” was pure ignorance really. Flynn made a sort of half-apology but talk about kicking a man when he’s down.

Wait, what?

MICKEY Harte is new Derry manager! It still sounds a bit surreal. The news was announced by a jilted-feeling Louth County Board back in September that the Tyrone man had packed his bags and was heading to Derry. Harte spoke publicly about the matter for the first time just the other week and says he’s not one bit bothered about the criticism that’s been levelled his way. And you know what, we believe him. Oh and Jim McGuinness is back as well – next year’s Ulster Championship should be interesting…

Performance of the year

MAYBE this should read second-half performance of the year. What Limerick produced in the second-half of the All-Ireland SHC final was almost sickeningly good. I’ll eat my hat if they don’t win the five in-a-row.

The unofficial hall of fame award

TWO inductees here – Sean McLaughlin and Sean McGoldrick stepped down in charge of the Eoghan Rua club after two decades at the helm. Together they were known as the two Seans and they led the club through an unprecedented period of success where they won two Derry titles, an All-Ireland Intermediate, league trophies at senior, intermediate and junior, an All-Ireland Sevens and two Ulster Leagues, and probably more besides. What’s more they didn’t ask for a penny.

The gift that keeps on giving

THERE’S something about the Ulster Senior Club Championship. Take this season – there were eight games in total and only three of them were won by a margin of more than two points. And by God there were some memorable moments. Lee Brennan’s late winner against Scotst…no wait, Conor McCarthy snatched a draw seconds later with a clutch play if ever there was one. Rory Beggan’s points from downtown against Kilcoo (you know the ones), Naomh Conaill’s sucker-punch goal inflicted upon Gowna, Emmett Bradley’s winner against Naomh Conaill. Was it the best ever Ulster Senior Club Championship? There’s been madder suggestions.

‘The Masters of Escapolgy

SO read the Irish News headline following another great escape from the Monaghan footballers in Division One of the National League. They don’t do things by halves in the Farney County and for the fifth time in nine seasons, they left it to the final day to copper-fasten their top-flight survival. On this occasion they put Mayo to the sword and Vinny Corey’s side had a memorable championship campaign as well, culminating in a narrow defeat to Dublin at the All-Ireland semi-final stage.

A fine mess

WE could write an essay here but we won’t – not just for our readers’ benefit but also because it’s, uh, rather complicated. Anyway it all seemed to go a bit Pete Tong for Donegal over the course of the last 12 months or so. Rory Kavanagh pulled out of the management race, a huge surprise at the time, but things really hit the proverbial fan when Karl Lacey stepped down as the head of their academy back in January (oh, and the 30-plus coaches that were also there left with him). There’s more to it than that but needless to say 2023 wasn’t a storied year in the history of Donegal GAA.

Some man for one man

MAYBE I’m spouting rubbish here but I’d a feeling when Stephen Cluxton dandered up and slotted an early free against Kerry that it was going to be Dublin’s day. He’s some man and it’s not the first time he’s haunted the Kerry men. He can be a bit eccentric like – he didn’t go up the steps and lift the cup, he didn’t speak to poor Marty Morrissey at the All-Stars – but ach, we’re all different and it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if gets his hands on a tenth Celtic Cross in 2024.

Orange crush

AS a Tyrone man I’m not naturally inclined to sympathy towards my Armagh brethren but here we are. Losing one penalty shoot-out (a hugely compelling Ulster final) was bad enough, losing a second (to Monaghan with a place in the All-Ireland semi-final up for grabs) was downright unfortunate. There were certainly a few Armagh supporters with the pitchforks raised after that one but Kieran McGeeney was reinstated as manager for the year ahead and my gut feeling is that he’s getting the most out of his team.

Here get out of bed, New York are winning

IF Twitter was any indication, half the country tuned into New York’s historic win over Leitrim in the Connacht Championship clash in April. It was literally after midnight (our time, obviously) when hosts New York came up trumps in a penalty shoot-out to qualify for the Connacht Championship semi-final for the first time ever. Kudos to them.

Worst winning speech

MAYBE his head was spinning having been on the receiving end of an elbow to the noggin deep into the second-half, but Paudie Clifford’s post-match speech having captained Fossa to All-Ireland Junior honours against Stewartstown wasn’t half-wise. At one point he described the ref’s decision to send him off as ‘unbelievable’. Well we do decry intercounty players for being a bit too coy these days so maybe I shouldn’t complain. Fancy an interview, Paudie?

What even is the point

THE new All-Ireland group stages. Right, I got a trip down to Galway out of it, not that the four-hour trek through the midlands was particularly enjoyable, but could someone please tell me what the GAA’s rationale is for all this. It just seems like a spruced up ‘Super Eights’ and that whole ‘preliminary quarter-final’ thing sounds like a contradiction in terms. It’s the last 12, ain’t it? Ach it is what it is and the players seem happy enough but it just drags the whole thing out.

Going out on their shields

A SPECIAL mention to the Cushendall hurlers. They played out of their skins in a classic All-Ireland semi-final against O’Loughlin Gaels a fortnight ago and were desperately unlucky not to get something out of the game. They gave a lion-hearted performance exemplified by star performances from Paddy Burke, Eoghan Campbell and Neil McManus. That they lost out by a single point wasn’t for a lack of effort, put it that way.

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