So, we finally tendered goodbye to 2020, with the uncertainty and anguish it held in its arms.
It started off with the sporting fields thronged with activity, hopes and dreams.
Until Covid-19 reached into our communities and pushed the pause button on everything.
Sporting activity returned in a format nobody really recognised, before we were forced into a cycle of close, open, close, open...until we put up the Christmas stocking, sat down – inside our bubbles - and fogged mountains of turkey and champ into ourselves.
One great positive of the lockdown was nostalgia and how we were able to revisit the past. Through the eyes of former players and managers, we lifted the lid on their journey. Both in print and via the broadcast media, the heroes and heroines of yesterday became icons again. A reminder of where we came from and the importance of sport.
It gave them an identity and got the tongues wagging again.
A is for attacking mark. Christy Young will be remembered as the first in the Derry championships. Let's hope someone in authority makes a move to bin it. It offers nothing but more hassle for overworked referees, cheap scores and shafts defenders.
B is for break. The water break that was brought into our games is now a coaching break and a momentum changer. If your team is struggling, it is a Godsend, whereas if you are on a roll it's as useful as an ashtray on a motorbike. Surely water bottles, clearly marked, can be laid at points behind the goals and along the sidelines for players to grab during a break in play.
C is for classic. One of the joys of this season was being present in Páirc Esler in January to witness Slaughtneil's All-Ireland hurling clash with Ballyhale. It is the best game, by far, that I have had the pleasure of reporting on. It had absolutely everything. Atmosphere. Passion. Skill. And entertainment by the lorry load. It was one of those days that makes sport so worthwhile.
D is for Desertmartin. With the fruits of their underage coaching paying off, they made it through to the U16 and minor finals, on top of their seniors qualifying for the junior decider with Craigbane. Then, with the second lockdown, all three games were put on the back burner. A season that could've been the springboard for future progress was soon one of frustration.
E is for equality. One thing that 2020 has given us, is the split season and the chance for club and county to be given an equal slice of the pie. Players know where they stand and managers can plan accordingly. If it can eradicate the lazy 'Derry suffer because of club rivalry' myth, it will go a long way to getting Oakleaf county teams climbing back to the top. And it gives more media attention to the club game. In an interview before Christmas, Derry dual player Aine McAllister was hoping for a split season to allow her to play both football and camogie for Derry.
F is for Faughanvale. After an entertaining clash with Limavady, they won a second intermediate ladies title in three seasons, thanks to Ellie McCaffrey's clinching goal. Steelstown took the senior title with victory over Ballymaguigan. Coleraine were junior champions after their victory over Ballerin.
G is for game...or in this case, more than a game. Local soccer club Draperstown Celtic continued to offer a sporting outlet to the youth of Ballinascreen and beyond. It's their insistence on all players getting their chance to shine – including their girls' diamonds team – that deserves much credit. There is also their link with local mental health group STEPS, helping to reach out to the person inside the player. Their grassroots football club of the year award was well-deserved.
H is for Hugh. In August this year, the Ballinascreen and Derry sporting community was rocked by the death of Hugh McWilliams. Derry GAA Chairman Stephen Barker said Hugh was a 'giant of generosity'. He was Managing Director of H&A Mechanical Services, who sponsored all Derry and Ballinascreen teams.
I is for internet streaming. With restricted access to games, Derry GAA streamed a chunk of their games live, with the rest uploaded by midweek for subscribers to view. It raked in £75k to the Owenbeg coffers and offered those at home and overseas the chance to watch from the sofa. Alan Gunn's commentary was a testament to his research and attention to detail. Along with a host of guests, the Derry PR team delivered a great service.
J is for Josh. Following in Callum Devine's footsteps, Kilrea's Josh McErlean kept the local theme on the Irish motorsport front. McErlean was named as Irish Young Driver of the Year and recently made his mark on the international scene and made his World Rally Championship debut at Monza in December.
K is for Kilrea – When you talk about reaching something into the pockets of the local community, Kilrea's input was unrivalled. The GAA club clubbed together to raise £25k Chest, Heart and Stroke from a 24-hour relay. Then, when FIFA came calling with a £8,300 fine on Kilrea United, the community had it paid off inside 12 hours via a crowdfunding page, with the surplus used to buy kits for the local primary schools.
L is for Lavey minors. After winning the Derry hurling and football championships in 2019, they conquered Ulster last Christmas and carried on there they left off to defend their football title, but were denied a chance for another tilt at Ulster. With flawless ball retention and a maturity beyond their years, they have a bright future.
M is for marathon. With a time of 4:59.22, local athletics icon Tommy Hughes and his son Eoin officially became the fastest father and son marathon running duo in the world at the Frankfurt marathon. If that wasn't enough, Tommy smashed the world Over-60s' record at the Danny McDaid 15km event in Letterkenny.
N is for needy. The local sporting clubs excelled this year in helping those stranded at home, in need of the essentials. They simply can't get enough praise. There was a great photo doing the rounds on social media of Ballyronan Marina centre, laid out with foot parcels as Loup delivered to the needy. Their neighbours in Ballymaguigan did something similar and it prompted one of the club's senior citizens to write a letter of kindness to the committee, saying it was more important than any trophy.
O is for Oz. Conor Glass made his return from a five-year career in Australia with AFL side Hawthorn and has made his debut for Derry already. He needs time to grow into the game before hopefully becoming a leader in the county's future. On the flipside, Callum Brown and Anton Tohill signed one-year deals with GWS Giants and Collingwood respectively.
P is for Paddy's Day. Once the year trickled into March, our sporting calendar shuddered to a halt, just as St Patrick's Maghera and St Pius Magherafelt booked their places in the showpiece MacRory/MacLarnon Final double header. The excitement in the schools was electric, as the players looked forward to one of the best days of their lives, only for all be pulled from their grasp. Being awarded their joint titles later in the year was a tiny consolation.
Q is for quiz. With the social scene virtually non-existent, 2020 became the year of the online quiz. We were lucky to have Joe McCloskey compiling an hour of goodness every week. Glen forward Paul Gunning, with help from his father and former Derry PRO Sean, ran online quizzes to engage club members. I am sure there were other clubs reaching out to their members in similar fashion. By the sound of recent Covid figures, we could be back to the video-conferencing mode of entertainment.
R is for Rogers. It seems like ages ago when St John's Swatragh boxer Paddy Rogers defeated Newry's Dennis Boriskins to become the Ulster Elite champion in Belfast's Ulster Hall. The affable Paddy joined his brother, Slaughtneil dual player Brendan, in the Ulster champion category, but joked that he didn't have an entire team to help him. Paddy was a very popular champion.
S is for sin-bin. The black card forces a team to play with a player less for 10 minutes. It can lead to a tactical move, where teams can take the sting out of a game and leave it fragmented until they are back to the full 15. A better solution would be a 13 metre free regardless of where the cynical play took place. It would make teams think twice and clean the game up as a whole.
T is for treble. After looking on from the outside, Slaughtneil senior footballers had their hands on the John McLaughlin Cup and took their tally of Derry championships to six. It sealed the treble. Just 24 hours earlier – with the hurling already won in September - the club's camogs retained the Martin Mulholland Cup to secure another treble.
U is for underage structures. Following a ruling that slipped through unchallenged to Croke Park, clubs all over Ireland have been told they must organise their teams in U13, U15 and U17 gradings. And with it comes the huge void from the undeveloped underage player until the senior ranks and the physical challenges it will bring.
V is for virus...and for vaccine. Covid-19 came along and robbed us of any degree of a normal life, tore our sporting landscape to pieces and left us going around in circles to stamp it out. Hopefully the vaccine will help 2021 take a more familiar shape.
W is for wheelie bin. There wasn't a home in the country that didn't have balls peppering towards them. Dungiven U10 player Ryan Moore was the king. Bouncing on a trampoline, he performed a backflip, with the ball between his legs before releasing it into the wheelie bin. Take a bow Ryan. There was also the example of McNicholl family of Glenullin, taking videos of three generations playing hurling/camogie, before knitting it all into one nifty movie. A lovely touch.
X is for x-factor...well, this is close enough. What a year it was for county Derry. Dara McNicholl was wowing viewers on The Voice Kids. If that wasn't enough, Johnny Brooks and Brooke Scullion also took the Saturday night entertainment by storm, getting all the way to final of The Voice. They have all played on the sporting fields of Derry and it was amazing to see them put the county on the map. Brilliant.
Y is for yelling. Once crowds began to return to games, worryingly in more numbers than permitted, so too did the vitriol being yelled over the fence. The time away from sport didn't make one iota of difference to the level of respect on show. It was open season again, with referees, players and mentors labelled as fair game for those who paid their money to watch.
Z is for Zoom. This time last year, we thought it was something you did in a car or on a camera. Now, it's in every facet of our working and personal lives. And sport is no different. It became a tool for club AGMs, meetings and training sessions.
Sideline View would like to wish all our readers, advertisers and contributors a happy new year. Let's hope we can kick Covid into touch and get back to thriving sporting arenas across Derry and beyond.
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