Monday, December 30, 2013

The Sporting Year - Review and Preview

After Mayo lost the All-Ireland Final to Donegal in 2012, a football man, a fatalist, and a personal friend of the blog remarked that this could be the beginning of an unprecedented era in Mayo football, where the heather county would manage an unprecedented feat of losing three finals in a row.

We’re two up on that now so those of you unlucky enough to be from somewhere other than the sweet county Mayo may excuse us if we’re a little twitchy in the year ahead, and whistle past every graveyard we see. James Horan has committed to another year, and the crusade will begin again in New York City in May. Fingers crossed.

The main story in Gaelic football was of course Dublin, who won their second title in three years and are showing all the makings of a dynasty. They have the best squad of players they’ve had since the 1970s, and the best coaching and management. They’re the team to beat in 2014, no question.

A rebuilt Kerry will be interesting, God only knows what Cork will be like, Tyrone are a team it’s hard to be fully convinced about and if you’re looking for a dark horse you could do worse than Galway, curse them.

It’s hard to see Donegal reaching the heights again, there’s no reason to expect Meath or Kildare to raise the bar in Leinster, which means that we could be looking at our first repeat matchup in the All-Ireland Final since 2009. Mayo are looking good for those three losses in a row alright.

In hurling, Clare were deserving champions as Davy Fitzgerald answered his critics for once and for all. To read the papers during the Championship was to be told that John Allen, Jimmy Barry-Murphy and Anthony Daly were the Balthazar, Melcior and Casper of hurling, while Davy Fitz was some sort of monkey that only recently swung down out a tree.

But Davy outgeneralled them all, tying Limerick in knots in the semi-final, playing an unexpectedly traditional lineup against Cork in the drawn final and then pulling a substitution masterstroke in the replay. Cork fought to the end and their iconic manager proved his class once more by looking on those two imposters, success and failure, and treating them just the same.

In rugby, the long-anticipated end of the Lions Tour was brought closer by Sky Sports’ genuinely awful coverage of the 2013 campaign. By the end it was hard to escape the conclusion that Will Greenwood would see a trip to the shops for a pound of tea as a timeless Odyssey across a desolate, barren plain, while Scott Quinnell would declare Samson bringing down the Philistine towers as one and the same with his opening the curtains of a morning. The level of hype was ridiculous, embarrassing and one of the reasons why so many non-rugby people find the Lions a joke.

Of course, the Lions touring Australia of all countries was half the problem. The Lions tour only works in countries were rugby is king, which means New Zealand or South Africa. Australia was only added to the schedule when South Africa was in its apartheid exile, and should have been swiftly removed once the Springboks returned. There is a better case to be made for the Lions touring Argentina than Australia. The Australian public could not give a stuff about rugby and indifference is a much greater enemy to the tradition of the Lions than countless hammerings at the hands of the All-Blacks.

As for the tour itself, there was shock, horror, hurt and genuine sorrow at home when Brian O’Driscoll was dropped for the third test but, in the bigger picture, the team justified Warren Gatland’s decision by not just winning, but by destroying Australia. A bad ending for O’Driscoll, but the correct call by management.

O’Driscoll is on his goodbye tour now – all rugby people’s one wish now is that this great man just doesn’t get hurt. It would perhaps have been better if he had retired, but Brian Moore was right when he said that if O’Driscoll were to retire, someone would have to retire him. A brave man fights to the end. We have been lucky to have seen him.

In soccer, the return of Roy Keane was best summed up by Ken Early of the Second Captains, who tweeted “my own feeling about the o'neill/keane combo is an unfamiliar and almost unsettling sense of excitement, anticipation and wonder” on the second of November, when the news broke. And even though Martin O’Neill is the manager, it’s Roy Keane who’s the story, as ever. The team isn’t any good and people who think it will get good when the players whom Trapattoni didn’t wouldn’t pick return may be fooling themselves. But throughout all this there will be Keane, O’Driscoll’s brother from another mother, and for that a nation will count its blessings.