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Champions League final distress and Ulster final magic; our favourite sportswriting this week

Flick on the kettle…

Derry fans celebrating their Ulster title success in Clones.
Derry fans celebrating their Ulster title success in Clones.
Image: Declan Roughan/INPHO

1. After being held somewhere by police, he thinks beneath a bridge because he could not really see, they progressed towards the station where gangs of local men were trying to hide in the bushes by the road side.

From there, all he remembers is being pinned to the floor, with several of the men on top of him as they tried to take his valuables. When he realised they had his wife by the hair, he managed to fight them off. With blood on his face, he gave chase with his son.

“It was like The Walking Dead,” he tells The Athletic. “I’m 6ft 1in and 17 stone. I’m not easily intimated but I’m really shook up. I’m done with going to the game now.” Salinas says French police were standing close by, no more than 50m away while all of this happened. When five officers showed up on motorbikes, he was given what felt like a stock answer. “‘We can’t help you,’ they kept saying.”

For The Athletic, Simon Hughes compiles a chilling collection of accounts from supporters who were affected by the horrible scenes at the Champions League final.

2. The white and red that was no unfamiliar colour to Clones, only this sea came from Ballinascreen and Dungiven and Claudy rather than Dromore and Derrytresk and Strabane.

Up clambered the youth on to the shoulders of elders, finding their way to see up to the giants that the last generation of youth and the generation before never got to look up at.

Twenty-four years is a long time.

It was a scene almost at odds with everything that had gone before it. Derry and Donegal served up an Ulster final in a straitjacket. Everything about both teams was intended to draw any emotion out of the spectacle. Be safe. Don’t get caught. Win.

Cahair O’Kane of The Irish News writes beautifully about Derry’s long wait to become Ulster SFC champions.

3. I travelled the world, man. I saw every doctor worth seeing — and a few more. A guy in Atlanta made me hang upside down while he spun me around. Diagnosis? My reflexes weren’t aligned with my muscles. A doctor in Germany injected a liquid all over my back — the next day I was walking around in Munich airport all hunched over because of the pain. One doctor stuck 20 needles into me every morning and every evening. I could go on forever.

I was seeing doctor number 6, 7, 8 … every one of them was saying something different. I was like, Damn, what do I have???

I cried and cried and cried. I feared I would never play football again. 

That’s why I went to Corinthians in January 2013. Yes, I wanted to go to the 2014 World Cup, but I also wanted to work with Bruno Mazziotti, Ronaldo’s physio. Once I got there they removed a muscle from my arm to do a biopsy. I was lying in bed shaking with pain. After 20 days they found out that some of my muscles had shortened due to the injuries. I had more muscle in the front of my legs than in the back. My whole body was out of balance.

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Former AC Milan and Chelsea striker Alexandre Pato reflects on the ups and downs of his football career in The Players’ Tribune.

4. Three long years since it last hosted an Ulster final, Clones had its raison d’être back. Big smiles on the faces of the farmer’s daughters taking the fiver off you for parking in their field. Chippers heaving pineapple topped pizzas out the door. Pubs spilling their contents out onto the worn, boarded up streets, awoken and splashed with colour: green and gold, yes, but red and white most vividly.

On Fermanagh Street and around the Creighton Hotel, Derry girls and boys owned the town: that heady pheromone cocktail of a boisterous young GAA crowd on a big one. Fake tan and hair gel, skin fades and extensions, aftershave and eyelashes, tight jeans and jerseys, jerseys, jerseys. The sound of broken glass, shouted conversations and excited laughter between big gulps of cider and lager. Most of these kids weren’t born when Derry last won an Ulster title, most of them were snotty infants the last time they were even in a final.

Another Ulster final-related entry. This time, it’s Tommy Martin, writing in the Irish Examiner, who perfectly captures the magic of an Ulster final day in Clones.

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