Enda Muldoon announced his retirement from county football last week. It was fitting that the occasion was a match at Shamrock Park commemorating Ballinderry’s great All-Ireland triumph of 2002.
“I’ll still kick a bit for the club,” he said, smiling. I rang him when I heard the news and thanked him for the memories. “1-7 from play against Down in the Ulster minor final in 1995,” I reminded him. “I was centre half forward that day too” he said. “That was good going” I said, “It must be a record.“ “ I suppose it was good going,“ he said, totally seriously. The Maurice Fitz of the North may have had the body of a stork, but he played like a god. A truly brilliant Gaelic footballer, it was his misfortune and mine that he was born ten years too late. Otherwise Derry’s one-in-a row team of ‘93 would surely have added a few more.
In 1995, he led that Derry minor team to the Ulster title, scoring that astonishing 1-7 against Down in the final. In the semi-final, he poached a superb goal in injury time to beat Galway by a point. They lost the final, but the big man was on his way. Two years later, he lead the U21s to the All-Ireland title. In 2002 he was the country’s club footballer of the year when his magic brought the All-Ireland to Ballinderry. League titles followed with Derry and although he played in three All-Ireland semi-finals with great distinction, the big prize eluded him. It does not diminish his extraordinary legacy. Watching Enda play football was a pure pleasure, partly because for Enda playing football was a pure pleasure. He signed off the big stage against Crossmaglen in this year’s Ulster semi-final by wiping the floor with their vaunted midfield and giving a typically unorthodox display. The county’s greatest ever natural talent will not soon be forgotten.
After I had spoken to Enda I watched YouTube footage of the Ballinderry team coming home to the village in 2002 and marvelled at the sense of place. The whole parish lined the road, laughing and cheering as Batesons and McGuckins and Gilligans and McKindlesses, led by two pipers, made their way to the clubhouse on foot. An elderly man wept as they passed him. The squad hugged friends and family members in the crowds. This sense of place is the great treasure of the GAA. No other sport in the world has it, save perhaps for Cuban boxing.
Ypsilanti, Michigan is the home of Ofili ‘Tiffany’ Porter, the sprint hurdler. Ofili is as American as Coca-Cola, escalators and elevators, blueberry pie and cheesecake. In 2010, she didn’t make the cut for the American squad, so simply crossed the Atlantic and joined the British team. This summer in London, she will captain them. Angie Thorp, the retired English sprint hurdler voiced many people’s concerns when she said “Growing up my dream was to run for Great Britain. Ofili’s was to run for America. But she wasn’t good enough, so she just came over here and took somebody else’s place instead. It upsets me, because we encouraged her.”
Suck it up Angie. It is the way other sports work. The individual is all important. The concepts of real loyalty and community are irrelevant. GB’s Olympic handball squad has been fortified by the recruitment of 19 foreign-born players. The basketball squad’s away contingent is 10 strong while the volleyball team has a mere nine ‘out-of-towners’. Just last month Ukrainian wrestlers Jana Stadnik and Olga Butkevych, two young women with no ties whatsoever to the old sod, became the latest proud members of Team GB. In professional sport, all you need is a passport. Kevin Pietersen, one of the English cricket squad’s five South African recruits, summed it up a few years ago when he spoke in GQ magazine about English lasses sending him pictures of themselves topless. When the interviewer expressed disbelief, Pietersen replied “I know, but look, it’s your nation mate, not mine.”
During last week’s Team GB press conference at the World championships in Istanbul, Porter, the talkative and engaging team captain was stopped in her tracks when a reporter from the Mail asked her to recite a few lines from the National anthem. Looking as comfortable as Sean Gallagher in the presidential debate, she blurted out the words “I don’t think that’s necessary.”
Liam Watson would have no trouble with The Green Glens of Antrim. After a truly astounding individual performance in the club final against Coolderry, all he wanted to do was get back home to the clubhouse and celebrate with his own people. No socialising in VIP sections of clubs with the ordinary folk behind held back by bouncers. On the field after the game, several of the Loughgiel players and one of their mentors wept with joy. Wept. The triumph belonged to the villagers, every one of them.
As for Cross, they ought to have won, even if their horrific start proved that the tag of overwhelming favourites had for once affected their legendary powers of concentration. Even when they win the next day though, every South Armagh eye will be dry as a bone. In Cross, no one weeps, not even the women......
Joe Brolly wirtes in the Journal every Friday