I WAS going to say last weekend saw the start of the All-Ireland Championship but technically it wasn’t, it was only the start of a very diluted provincial championship which for me could turn the season into a disaster.
How we can have knock-out provincials into a group of four where three qualify and then another knockout is baffling. Later in the early summer months when it becomes transparent for everyone how mind boggling the structure is, it is then the penny will drop.
However, despite all that, we were treated to one of the most historic victories in recent times with New York turning over Leitrim on penalties in Gaelic Park to earn their first ever Connacht Championship win and a semi final outing v Sligo next weekend. it’s the stuff of legend. The scenes in Gaelic Park really were incredible and for our national broadcaster RTE not to have covered the game properly was a mortal sin. The reaction from the players when Mickey Brosnan scored the winning penalty, the emotion of the pitch invasion, the absolute delirium and frenzy that Gaelic Park turned into should be the main clip on the highlights reel of 2023.
I spoke to New York goalkeeper and Down native from Castlewellan Mickey Cunningham during the week. Mickey played for Down v Monaghan in 2017 and that summer moved to the States, he has been there six years, a massive blow for his club and county but a huge boost to the growth and development of GAA in New York to a person of the calibre of Mickey involved in not just playing, but in coaching.
Mickey spoke glowingly about one elderly man who made a bee-line for him at the final whistle and jumped with glee into his arms and hailed it as the best day of his life, one he never thought he would see.
The GAA means as much to people out there as it does to us here in Ireland. I sampled it in 2019 when I was out doing a bit of coaching education and took the New York u-17 development squad for a session. All home grown American lads with Irish heritage, some with Italian, Hispanic heritage but all shared the same love as us, their love and passion for Gaelic games.
The rest of the games over the weekend had some interesting outcomes, particularly Clare’s win over Cork (it’s worth mentioning they are coached by Down native Mark Doran). Clare are a credit and example to any county.
They have a brilliant manager in Colm Collins, who has installed a simplistic game-plan where they play to their strengths, get bodies back, work extremely hard and make Ennis a really difficult place to play.
Roscommon, who Clare defeated in last year’s championship, had a fantastic win in Mayo. Davy Burke, who took the reins this year, from Anthony Cunningham, spoke in the lead up to the game about how every county was playing the same way. Some are, some aren’t, but ultimately its those who are being coached more efficiently who will ultimately win more games.
Armagh had a facile victory over Antrim and in Leinster there were no surprises with straight forward wins for Wicklow, Offaly and Laois and Tipperary’s win over Waterford no shock either.
In the few games we did get a shock, in particular involving New York, Clare and Roscommon, there was one similar trait. We can talk about systems, game-plans, kick out strategies, defensive shapes, structured attacks, the list goes on but one thing that isn’t new, innovative and certainly not sexy is pure hard work! The intensity, aggression, want, desire and most of all heart that those counties showed in abundance was the catalyst for their victories, so as the summer gets nearer keep an eye out for those counties who show that hunger and desire – it’s hard to beat!