Two gallants: Ciaran Murphy interviewing Micko. INPHO/Lorraine O'Sullivan

Murph's sideline cut: enjoying some northern exposure

This week the multi-platform Ciaran Murphy has been mostly watching football.

WHEN IT BECAME clear which games Newstalk would be broadcasting this year, two fixtures immediately jumped out at me and grabbed my attention – Galway against Mayo in Castlebar, and the Ulster football final on July 17.

As a Galwayman, I don’t need to explain the attraction of the fixture in Castlebar, but the Ulster final is always a day that I feel has its own unique flavour.

There are people who will go to the Munster hurling final, regardless of who is involved.  And so it is in Ulster too.

The pilgrimage to Clones is made, regardless of whether your team is involved or not, and the scene around the middle of the pitch in the Gerry Arthurs Stand on Sunday for the meeting of Derry and Donegal was brilliant.

The seating arrangement (at least as I imagine it) is drawn up every July following pain-staking consultation, akin to the seating arrangement at a US Presidential inauguration, with each person allocated a specific seat on the basis of his fame and/or achievement.

So as you move out in concentric circles away from the Anglo-Celt trophy, you found former Down manager Pete McGrath, All-Ireland winning Donegal captain and manager Anthony Molloy and Brian McEniff (who wore a Donegal GAA jacket that must have been 20 years old, and a bright green flat-cap with the Donegal crest emblazoned on it – brilliant), Aaron Kernan (of whom more in due course), Seamus McEneaney, Sean McCague… and even Father Trendy himself, Brian Darcy.

And what all these fior gaels/priests (delete where applicable) witnessed last Sunday was a glorious outpouring of jubilation at the final whistle, which heralded a fully deserved win for Donegal.  It’s baffling when you look back at all the great footballers they’ve had since their last win in 1992 that they’ve had to wait this long but you can’t give enough credit to Jimmy McGuinness.

It’s go-time in Clones

The job he’s done with this team all year has been immense, throughout which he has carried himself impeccably.  He’s a thoughtful, almost Zen figure on the sideline during the game, a man who looks as if everything is going exactly as he’s planned, even when all around him people are losing their composure.

I was actually standing right beside him as Michael Murphy collected the trophy and he was good enough to take a moment to speak to us, emotion etched across every word.  It was really brilliant to be in the thick of it, protected by a wall of stewards, but mobbed by players, subs, mentors and county board officials, all around me a seething, happy throng of humanity.

It wasn’t quite so dramatic in Aughrim on Saturday night, although if Wicklow had managed to beat Armagh in their qualifier round two replay, I may well have found myself swamped again.  In the end the Aughrim factor counted for little or nothing, as Armagh manager Paddy O’Rourke, and the afore-mentioned Aaron Kernan were quick to inform me at full-time.  In fact Aaron reminded me that calling Aughrim ‘intimidating’ sounded pretty funny to a Crossmaglen man, to which all I can say is… game, set and match Mr Kernan.

A capella in Aughrim – this fine gentleman treated us to Amhran na bhFiann, entirely unaccompanied, before the Wicklow-Armagh qualifier on Saturday night. Old school.”

I didn’t get a chance to watch the Connacht final live of course, but from what I saw it was a game ruined by the weather.  You could actually say something similar about the entire Connacht championship in fact, because the two worst soakings I got all year were at the two Connacht semi-finals!  It was good to see Mayo sort out their free-taking issues, with teenager Cillian O’Connor unerring from placed balls.

In fact, when you include Donegal’s Paddy McBrearty, Wicklow’s Conor McGraynor, Kildare’s Fionn Dowling, and Down’s Caolan Mooney (who struck a brilliant goal against Antrim), there seems to be a real trend developing again to throw lads just out of minor in at the deep end.  Certainly Cillian O’Connor showed he had the temperament for it on Sunday.

  • This week Murph was – privileged to stand just yards from a personal hero of mine, Plunkett Donaghy as he was presented to the crowd in Clones along with his Tyrone Ulster title winning team-mates of 1986, who were being honoured 25 years on at half-time in the Ulster final.  It’s a pity the mullet’s gone, but the hair is still California blonde.  Don’t ever stop a-rockin’ Plunkett…

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