AS we look towards a new season of GAA action, Michael McMullan casts his mind back over some of the moments 2022 had to offer.
A – ARMAGH – The Orchard County may not have landed any silverware, but they – with the help of a sea of fans – lit up the summer. Their style of play was easy on the eye and Rory Grugan’s goal – from a Rian O’Neill pass – in the opening seconds of their Qualifier win over Donegal was the goal of the season. Then after taking away Tyrone’s All-Ireland title, they played out the game of the season in their penalty shoot-out defeat to Galway.
B – BALLERS – One of the hallmarks of Errigal Ciaran’s return to the top in Tyrone has been the attacking prowess of brothers Darragh and Ruairi Canavan. Both offered something different, but were equally deadly. Darragh’s play-making skills and first touch are a joy. Ruairi has that shoot on sight quality in his locker too. Add in Donaghmore’s Conor Cush who has been shooting the lights out and the Red Hands have the tools for more glory.
C – COMPETITIVE – Glen and Kilcoo were the only county champions to retain their senior football titles. The rest all fell by the wayside, with the Magpies just one sudden death penalty away from Clonduff sending them down the same path. There were returns for Naomh Conaill and Crossmaglen after short spells away, but titles for Errigal Ciaran, Ballybay and Enniskillen Gaels sparked the magic generated with the ending of a famine.
D- DERVLA COSGROVE – Four goals in an All-Ireland final. It’s the stuff of dreams, but it was the Cosgrove show in front of goals as Antrim’s reserve camogie team saw off a fancied Armagh team on their way to Croke Park glory. At the start of the year, Brian Kearney and Mark ‘Duck’ McFadden took over the team and helped them all the way on the biggest day of the season.
E – ENTERTAINERS – Antrim hurlers may not have yielded any league points, but some of their performances against hurling’s elite brought entertainment to Corrigan Park. Their play-off win secured their much sought after top-flight status, before heading into a Joe McDonagh Cup run. It began in Corrigan with a hard fought and dramatic win over Offaly and finished with a 5-22 in a blockbuster of a final in Croker.
F – FIXTURES – It’s forever the debate. But the biggest problem is the issue that creeps up between camogie and ladies football where players are often asked to choose. It’s not fair, but with a new task force – under former President Mary McAleese – has a brief to sort things out. Antrim camogie and ladies football have already met, with an agreement now in place. It’s up to the other 31 counties to follow suit.
G – GALLAGHER – Derry’s summer was also a story of their manager Rory Gallagher who was able to combine bellowing – kicking every ball almost – along the sideline with an unbelievable ability to remember detail. Before even going near a stats man, he’d recite any numbers from the game with a photographic memory despite looking anything but calculated in the heat of battle.
H – HAWKEYE – The technology that was sent to help us malfunctioned on one of the biggest days of the season. Shane Walsh had a perfectly legal ‘45’ taken off by Hawkeye on the cusp of half-time against Derry before having it rightly reinstated after the break. The frustrating thing for Derry fans was how Conor Glass wasn’t afforded the same opportunity earlier in the game when his shot appeared to come inside the post.
I – ICON – IT was the year we got to see Michael Murphy in the Donegal number 14 jersey for the last time. His innings saw Donegal double their tally of five Ulster titles and an All-Ireland. But it was his versatility that was his greatest asset. No matter where he played, he led by his example and if it wasn’t for the net on the Hill 16 goals his shot in the opening seconds of the 2012 All-Ireland final will still be travelling.
J – J1 – With Covid keeping everyone on the island for the last few years, the influx of players into the US was back with a bang this season. The split season has generated a vacuum between county action and serious club games where a player won’t be missed. The J1 visa is now one of the points for discussion among club managers as they plan their assault on a county title.
K – KICK-OUTS – The most analysed element in Gaelic football now makes goalkeepers the most important part of any gameplan. By and large, the successful teams are now investing more line on kicking longer than in the past. That hasn’t stopped a new pilot scheme, coming into Fresher football, to insist on every kick-out going beyond the 45-metre line. It seems unnecessary, but would be interesting nonetheless.
L – LAST ACTION HERO – Jerome Johnston will never be forgotten for his late strike to land a first All-Ireland title for Kilcoo with virtually the last action. On a day when Harry Ruddle did exactly the same for Ballygunner in the hurling decider, Johnson was on the end of a counter-attack to send the Magpies’ fans into dreamland. There was also the touching moment when joint captain Conor Laverty refused to lift the Andy Merrigan Cup until manager Mickey Moran joined him on the Hogan Stand step.
M – MONEYGLASS – Where do you start? Moneyglass Ladies won every underage title going in the Saffron County. On top of that, their seniors were champions again and went all the way to the Ulster final where they pushed Donaghmoyne to the pin of their collar. The backbone of it all was Orlaith Prenter who burled points for fun. Cathy Carey was the winning Antrim captain. The club’s men’s team are back in the senior grade and exciting new plans for a new pitch show a club on the rise.
N – NICKEY RACKARD CUP – Tyrone were winners of the Nickey Rackard Cup after clocking up an impressive 1-27 against the Rossies in an emphatic final win at Croke Park. Sean Óg Grogan found the net, but it was 14 points from Damian Casey that powered Michael McShane’s side to victory. Sadly, Casey passed away a month later and leaves a brilliant legacy of playing and scoring in 101 consecutive games for Tyrone. One of hurling’s all-time greats.
O – OAKLEAF SUMMER – After 24 years of wandering in Ulster’s footballing wilderness, Derry were the story of 2022. Under Rory Gallagher, their three years of committing to a common goal saw them come through a mammoth campaign. Their failed promotion campaign was parked and it was all eyes on All-Ireland champions Tyrone in the first round. After beating the Red Hands and Monaghan, they needed extra-time to fend off Donegal in a tactical arm-wrestle.
P – PERSISTENCE – Dunloy hurlers lived in the shadows of Sleacht Néill since Gregory O’Kane led them out of Antrim in 2017. The same can be said for Loughgiel camogs. This year was different. The Volunteer Cup was paraded into Dunloy for the fourth successive time, but Ulster was the monkey on the back. An aggressive start, with saves from Ryan Elliott and wonder points in the second half they ended the hoodoo to be crowned Ulster champions. To cap it off, Keelan Molloy’s wonder goal shot them into January’s All-Ireland final.
Q – QUICKFIRE – Tyrone u-20s were another success story of the season. After coming through Ulster and booking their All-Ireland final spot, their quick out of the blocks approach saw Kildare chasing a game they were never going to catch. The move for Ruairi Canavan’s goal within the first minute was straight off the training ground, was a joy to watch and was matched by Canavan’s stunning finish.
R – REPLAY – Antrim ladies needed a second bit at the cherry to land the All-Ireland Junior title. The first final against Fermanagh in Croke Park had a bit of everything. The Saffrons looked home and hosed until an Erne comeback saw them needing an Orlaith Prenter equaliser. Emma Kelly’s side made no mistake in the replay to cap off a fine season.
S – SEAN McCAGUE – The Scotstown, Monaghan and greater GAA family lost one of the game’s greats with the passing of Sean McCague. A former county manager and GAA President, he was highly respected across Ireland and further afield. When the BBC Championship programme began all those years ago, he was on board giving his valued opinions on the game.
T – TAILTEANN CUP – The Tommy Murphy Cup came and went after Antrim’s maiden victory, but the Tailteann Cup looks like it is here to stay. It all comes down to how much the players embrace it. I was at the final and thoroughly enjoyed it. It looked like a Cavan victory until Kieran Martin’s wonder goal turned the game in Westmeath’s favour.
U – UNDERAGE- The elephant is still in the room with the debate over underage gradings. The GAA moved away from the u-18 and u-21 ages and many Gaels on the ground are continuing to make their voices heard of the desire to return. The u-17 grade does help fixture makers out as there won’t be a clash with adult games, but until there is a fully functional u-19 and u-20 bridge, the debate is set to roll on.
V – VIOLENCE – For all that is good in the GAA, there is still the minority of incidents to tarnish the games. There has been an increase in incidents of referees and officials getting physically targeted. The most high profile one came in Roscommon when a referee was barged to the ground by a mentor during an underage game. Referee Martin McNally insists that everyone in the GAA has a responsibility to stamp these incidents out.
W – WATT A YEAR – If Glen’s 2021 was a memorable season, then this year was even better. A group of trailblazing underage stars were the fruits of an underage development plan geared towards getting their hands on the John McLaughlin Cup – the Everest of Oakleaf club football. Under maestro Malachy O’Rourke, they we back on the Ulster stage this year and they went all the way, as skipper Connor Carville said, to being Kings of Ulster. Can they go on to emulate Kilcoo? Why not?
X – X-FACTOR – There can only be one entry here – David Clifford. He’s still only a slip of a lad with a first All-Ireland medal, but he is on course to become the greatest footballer of all time. And he seems to play every game like it’s evening of ‘next score’s the winner’ in the garden. Some of the points he kicked during the season were awesome and from positions that leave sweepers redundant.
Y – YES – GAA fans have voted with their clicks on their approval for online streaming. With Covid keeping fans away from grounds, there was the necessity for live streaming to keep us up to date with the action. Now, with grounds open, live coverage has remained from club level to inter-county. It may in the long term have affected attendances which is a negative, but fans are still saying yes to GAA as sport of choice.
Z – ZENITH – At the age of 33, Chrissy McKaigue became the oldest outfield player in the history of the GAA to be selected as an All-Star. Conor Glass was also honoured, but it was McKaigue’s longevity that makes his story a remarkable one. After years of looking after his body to stay injury free, McKaigue was Rory Gallagher’s go-to man marker. And all while playing club hurling at the highest level. A serious operator.