Brendan McTaggart takes a look back at another great Paddy McLarnon Cup tournament in Creggan
The months of January and February, in GAA circles, are dreaded. Preseason, training on bitterly cold nights with lashing rain or biting frost while running, nay sprinting between cones trying to run off the extra turkey acquired over the festive off season. It can be mentally and physically torture.
For me, they are fast becoming the highlight of the year.
With McKenna Cup, Sigerson Cup, Allianz National Leagues and All-Ireland club competitions, there’s still plenty to dig your teeth into as a journalist but The Ulster U21 Club Football Tournament, aka the Paddy McLarnon Cup, run by Creggan GAC is absorbing Ulster football with the naivety of youth still present. It’s an outstanding competition that has all the teams present relishing an opportunity that may have been forgotten. Players who may not be involved with their county or on the fringe of their senior team, have the chance to showcase their talents and skills against the best the province has to offer.
It takes a huge effort to run a competition like this but Creggan have it down to a fine art. From the moment you enter the gates where there’s an army of volunteers there to help. From ensuring the car park is used as efficiently as possible to the moment you leave the clubrooms on match day, Creggan GAC continue to be class personified.
It’s the small things that make the difference and Creggan’s attention to detail to make the match day experience an enjoyable one for everyone involved is second to none. Before throw in, Liam Tunney from Unit Updates claimed: “Sean’s becoming the best part of this tournament.” Sean McAuley, the man with the mic during the tournament is one of the most knowledgeable guys I know when it comes to the game but he too goes the extra mile. An example of such is making sure he’s aware of team changes ahead of throw in to announce over the P.A system and to make the journalists job that bit easier. My personal highlight is Sean announcing the Carryduff and St Brigid’s semi-final as the ‘Skinny Latte Derby’ to everyone before throw in, followed closely by a shout of ‘Up the ‘Duff’ on Sunday as I walked towards the ground.
Again, it’s the small things and Sean does them so well, but they make a massive difference and Creggan do them so well and without any hassle. I’ve no doubt they put countless hours into their preparations for the Tournament and it shows in their service delivery.
The match day experience during the Paddy McLarnon Cup is second to none. The warmth of the Lough Shore welcome didn’t always feel so good back in my playing days, now it epitomises everything good about the GAA.
The tournament on the field of play continues to flourish. Look no further than 12 months ago and Gaoth Dobhair claiming the prestigious trophy before going on to win county and provincial honours backboned by many of the same team. This year, the football has went up another level. No one could pick a winner and even after the semi-finals who would win was anyone’s choice.
Working on previews throughout the tournament is always fun. You’ll get the odd manager who is media savvy and know the right things to say. Then you’ll get the guys like Paddy Montague from Dromore. Eventual winners but every time we spoke he had his side as underdogs. I believed him once, before their quarter-final win over Armagh side, Clann Éireann. The Tyrone men were impressive from the outset. Lesson learned? Don’t listen to all Paddy Montague tells you!
Another great lad for an interview was Carryduff’s, DJ Morgan. The devil to get a hold of but always worth the wait. Before Sunday’s final I rang him for a few quotes, the Carryduff man caught me on the hop: “Why should I talk to you when you voted for Dromore to beat us on Sunday?”
He had me. Who knew those polls on Facebook weren’t anonymous? Not this eejit.
Anyway, I think I managed to manoeuvre that one with a mix of country gulpin and the proverbial rabbit in headlights explanation. Carryduff only played one match prior to the final but their match against St Brigid’s will live long in my memory. A certainty for match of the year, even at this early stage.
Dromore ended up giving Mr and Mrs Montague the perfect wedding present after a dominant second half performance in the final. Creggan showing another touch of class by calling for Paddy and his better half, Rebecca to the balcony and presented them with a bouquet of flowers.
The small things.
The football on show throughout the tournament was only bettered by the hospitality of everyone at Páirc Chiceam. The Paddy McLarnon Cup continues to flourish and from a footballing point of view, I’m thankful. It’s rekindled my love for the big ball game knowing there are still teams out there who want to play the game the way we all dream. Covering underage games has always been more enjoyable in my opinion and the Paddy McLarnon Cup has that unique blend of youthful exuberance and tactical nous that comes from playing at senior level. For now, the competition is over for another year but I’m looking forward to the 2020 version already.