My first memory of sport involved our great adversaries from the other side of the Sperrins. Yes, it was Tyrone.
It was All-Ireland day 1986 and Granny Bella had cooked up a feast. I just remember the endless supply of jacket potatoes. Nobody spoils you like your Granny. Ice cream and wafers followed. Bliss.
After dinner I ducked back to my collection of toy tractors lined along the fireplace. It was time for me to take in the silage.
But, in what seemed to be a packed living room, everyone was glued to the telly in the corner. I hadn’t a clue what was happening until the decibels began to rise.
The sea of red and white flags on Hill 16 caught my eye and my John Deere and baler were abandoned in mid flow.
“Tyrone are going to win this,” I remember hearing someone shout. I was ten years old. I didn’t know where Tyrone was, nor did I know what they were going to win. But it looked exciting. I was hooked.
My uncle Raymond was the Greenlough Chairman and the following year when the club hosted Derry’s NFL game with Longford, I hopped into his red Cavalier and went along for the sail.
Having pitch side access let me experience the slaps and scores up close. Looking back I thought Derry won. At the time of writing, I tried to verify it in the realms of Google but drew a blank. Thankfully Bernie Mullan, Derry PRO back then, beats Google every day of the week. The Ballerin guru of all things GAA confirmed what I thought.
What I do vividly remember was how much bend Enda Gormley got on a sideline ball to burl it over the bar.
At Greenlough that day, the man beside me put a stroke beside Gormley’s name on the programme. He was tallying the Glen man’s scoring return. One page of paper with both teams listed on it. As simple as that.
Mine was stuffed in my pocket.
During a recent tidy up - one I had been putting off for a years - I stumbled across this same piece of paper that Raymond handed me all those years ago. My first programme on my debut as a Derry fan.
The scrawlings over it was my post-game analysis were a sign that I would end up in this line of work. Beside the Derry players, were the names of the Longford players they were marking. Numbers were etched beside names. The match-up graphic in its most primitive form.
CHARTING THE RISE
Now at home I have my collection organised in some sort of manageable form. Club. School. County. It is great to look back. Even to delve into the All-Ireland semi-final and final programmes, scouring the lists of the INTO sevens teams, to see who went on to grace Croker at senior county level.
Some others stand out. I found the 1993 Ulster Final programme with pages needing prised open, still stuck together by the deluge of rain that day in Clones. There is a scrap of paper with the signatures of the Kerry greats on their visit to Bellaghy for a NFL game in the 1980s.
One of the rarer programmes was from the Kerry SFC in 1988, picked up from a family trip to the Rose of Tralee. I had no interest in the Dome but my father and former Glen Chairman Gerry McEldowney took me to Austin Stack Park. It was only the semi-finals, yet the Kingdom had a substantial publication to trumpet the cream of the county.
Aside from adverts, programmes are full of articles, photos, pen pics and of course the team lists. Statistics are important. Maybe not there and then, but decades later it can be a priceless source of reference. A case in point is Dungiven’s release of their updated club history. A staggering array of facts.
From sifting through my collection, the manager and captain’s addresses get you wondering who actually writes them. Every case will be different but they are often written by someone else. It just has that false, corporate theme to it.
It defeats the purpose. It should be a direct voice to the fans who are the soul of any sport. It is indicative of the era where the media brings fear. Some is justified but not everyone should be tarred with the same brush.
Charting sport is important. Not because it dominates my working week. But the very fact that it reaches out into the crevasses of every community.
Ever since watching Pat Spillane fist the ball beyond Aidan Skelton’s dive, back in 1986 from my Granny’s hearth, it has played a huge part of my life. I am not alone.
Sport is here to stay. And the characters involved are the lifeblood.
Interviews with players are limited with some even stage managed. Why? In case any millimetre will be conceded to the opposition.
Barring a personal insult that ignites a rampaging siege mentality, championships are not won by sticking a piece of paper on the back of changing room doors. They are won beyond that.
The colour needs to be brought back. I spent an hour in the company of Eoin Bradley before last season’s Irish Cup Final. Earlier in the year Hughie Heron unveiled his life story in tug of war over a cup of tea after supervising a training session with his Bancran team. Both interesting characters, yet so very different.
You leave the conversation feeling enlightened.
Another angle on the sporting column inches involves Derry PRO Gerry Donnelly’s often fabricated list of occupations. I never knew what an entrepreneur was until I saw it listed beside Henry Downey’s name in a programme. Goalkeeper Eoin McCloskey was a taxidermist. Ronan Rocks and Johnny Niblock also enjoyed the fruits of Donnelly’s imagination.
Despite all the add ons, the core purpose of a match programme is to furnish the media and supporters with a list of who plays where.
At the top level players are recognisable. But at underage and schools finals, the McKenna Cups and club finals, they are so important. They help with the promotion of stars that we don’t even know yet.
With all the new formations in our games, the conventional team line out is all but gone, as managers cut their cloth accordingly. And that’s understandable.
It’s the mind games that spiral out of dud teams that serves no purpose. Concentrating on our own team is the most important facet of management. After that, comes the need to research who stands in the opposing corner.
Any management team worth its salt will have scouted their opposition. They will analyse scoring patterns and check the injury list. The pecking order of the sub lists will be researched.
The naming of dummy teams is disrespectful to the fans who have paid in at the gate and forked out a few extra quid for a programme. It makes a mockery of the person announcing the teams. And what about the player named and told to keep his bogus selection a secret. Eagled eyed journalists will spot any changes, but is there any real need for all the ducking and diving.
When the programmes are flung into the corner and brought out decades later to chart a club or county history, the once pillar of our record keeping will hold little benefit.
At least back in the day, we used AN Other if there was a doubt.
Nowadays the deadlines are too tight. Glossy programmes take time. Managers need to send in teams on a Tuesday, a full two training sessions and possibly three selection meetings ahead of a game. It’s not realistic.
Printing companies should get the rest of the programme put together, with the final pages held to until Friday morning. All the selection decisions will be made by then and teams will be released to the press.
Something out of the ordinary, away from the training field, can still happen. Swatragh’s Paula McAtamney hurt an ankle going down the stairs on the eve of an All-Ireland Final. Enda Muldoon missed an Ulster club replay following an accident while lifting furniture.
Freak cases demand an allowance for change.
A way to get rid of the naming of dummy teams is to set a deadline of 30 minutes before any championship game. Changes to starting line ups should be submitted to the stadium announcer. Any amendments after this time count towards one of the teams allocated substitutions.
Programmes should be treated with more respect.
My 1987 NFL offering still remains intact. Games will come and go. Personnel will change. But history will never fade into insignificance.
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