By Brendan McTaggart
And so the club season comes to an abrupt end with the uncertainty which it began. I wrote an article earlier this year about ‘The Year of the Asterisk’ with the chances of play bleak. A few months later, we sit in the dawn of Autumn and the championships played, trophies presented and memories made.
I’m not sure if the threat of having no kind of hurling, football or camogie added to it but the 2020 championships will live long and for all the right reasons. Drama everywhere you turned, sub plots to the championship saga that no one really wanted to end.
The 2020 championship will have an asterisk for being one of the most memorable. Yet, in the end it was familiar names on the senior championships.
Dunloy retain the senior hurling championship for the first time since the last of their four in a row in 2003 while Damien Cassidy led Cargin to a three in a row – the first in their history. The Toome men have lifted the MacNamee Cup five times in the last six years, the kings of the big ball and they keep rolling.
Ballycastle and Dunloy have upped their games yet Loughgiel remain queens of the camogs. The Shamrock ladies continue to raise the bar for the rest of the county to reach. An incredible group of players.
Further sub plots. Tír na nÓg, Intermediate kings. 2021 will see the Randalstown men play in the senior hurling championship for the first time in over eighty years. Moneyglass ended a 16 year wait to take the Intermediate title back to Marrion Hill, St Paul’s caputred the Junior Hurling title and an All-Ireland winner led Ardoyne to the Junior football title – Ross Carr the driving force for the north Belfast men. Apologies for the bad pun.
In recent years, I haven’t missed any senior hurling championship matches. This year was different. A nightmare when it comes to previewing matches and frustrating for someone who just loves getting out and feeling the buzz that comes with these games. From the matches I took in, I’ve ranked my top four moments.
Paul Shiel’s 30 yard free into the 8th minute of injury time in Rossa Park was dropped to fourth position from one man. Chrissy McMahon. An 80 yard point 60 seconds later to grab a draw from the jaws of defeat and again in the semi-final but this time the winner.
A hat-tip to Johnny McIntosh for his commentary during the championship and in particular this piece of play. I can hear it ringing in my ears yet: “McMahon to win it for Dunloy….”
My friends and colleagues within the Jeremiah’s won’t like me reminding them of it but it was a brilliant end to an outstanding match. Rossa lost but their 2020 championship could and should be a watershed moment for the Shaws Road men. It’s easy to say it’s something to build upon, it’s more than that. 2020 was proof the work put in by Rossa has them on the cusp of something special.
My number one moment comes from the second match at Dunsilly on semi-final day. Domhnal ‘Federer’ Nugent with the heart of a lion, a warrior spirit and a forehand to rival the greatest tennis player of them all. His display against Loughgiel will never be matched in my lifetime, I’m 100% confident of that. Finishing with 3-3 is a fair return in itself, but 2-3 of that with one arm after partially dislocating his elbow is fairy-tale content. The only thing missing was the win for his side and a bumper crowd to witness a performance of heroic levels.
There are rumours of the provincial championships getting shoehorned into the calendar for the new year. I genuinely hope this happens or we get to a position where this can be seen as a possibility. The Ulster club series and All-Ireland has been a revelation and should be seen as a priority. The ball was certainly dropped on that one and there wouldn’t be too many county winners grumbling at having to prepare for a tilt for more glory in the new year.
In recent weeks, some clubs have come in for heavy criticism with social distancing and those with their own agenda’s. All of which is very short sighted. The work from clubs up and down our county and beyond since March to help our communities through troubled waters and worrying times has been exemplary. Our clubs and our county have stepped up when we needed them this year and it’s that spirit shown when the chips are down that makes me proud to call myself a Gael. It’s part of the ethos in what the GAA was founded and built upon. But good news stories don’t get you votes or aren’t good when playing one-upmanship.
We have the county season to look forward to now. Antrim play Kerry for the chance to reach the top table of the small ball while Lenny Harbinson leads the big ball men to Wicklow with promotion still in their hands. It promises to be exciting times for those who follow the saffron.
What numbers, if any, will be at the matches is the million-dollar question. If I’m to make a prediction, I see behind closed doors being the only option if it’s to be played at all such is the uncertainty. But for those who read my previews and predictions over the championship, I wouldn’t be rushing to the bookies on the back of that one.
On a personal note, I’d like to say thank you to all those clubs who made our job in the media easier this season. Going to club grounds under these circumstances was uncertain for all of us but the clubs left no stone unturned when it came to ensuring everything was done under the regulations placed upon them. I look forward to seeing you all in 2021.