Issue 2 - 2024 200dpi

8 April 1999 Edition

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Sportsview: Crossmaglen gain ground as Barrett bites the bullet

by Dan O'Neill

This week, a Cavan man living in England, Frank Devine, was rapped by the FAI for encouraging a 17-year-old Derry lad, John Morrison, a striker at Sheffield Wednesday, to approach Brian Kerr with the intention of declaring for the South. Talk about rampant partitionism! This is the stuff of outrage.
We'll believe it when we see it. This has been the reaction from the Crossmaglen Gaelic Athletic Club to the news that the joint British Army-RUC base, located on the All-Ireland champions grounds will be closed.

The people of Cross have heard too many empty promises before to get too hopeful.

Saturday's announcement by British Secretary of State Marjorie Mowla, did not give a timeframe for a pull-out by the British Army and only stated that this would happen ``as quickly as is practically possible''. When will that be?

To the British Army, it might not be ``practical'' to close the base for another ten years.

If they honestly intended vacating the grounds, their statement should have given an exact date for a withdrawal.

Crossmaglen GAC have fought extremely hard to force the British Army off their grounds but never lost sight of providing a sporting outlet for their members - and very successfully so. They have the All-Ireland medals to prove it. Every single one of Joe Kernen's All-Ireland winning players have grown up under the shadow of the base, which has been a source of great hardship for the club for 25 years.

Let's hope that this harassment and injustice to Crossmaglen GAC can end before they begin the defence of their hard-earned All-Ireland trophy in the coming months.

Meanwhile, the hierarchy of the GAA have decided to make an example of disgraced Wexford boss J. J. Barrett after his moment of madness at Breffni Park, with the imposition of a two-year ban.

Barrett will be a big loss to Wexford. He has taken them from the depths of despair to the verge of Division 1 football next year and proved himself to be a capable county side manager.

But Barrett's overenthusiasm for his job is indicative of the way the game is going at the minute. The pressure is on managers in GAA today to get results and win games - and fast.

Just like the Premiership bosses across the sea.

Here we are with hardly a serious ball kicked in anger this year, yet managers are dropping like flies - McGinnity's resignation from Leitrim a fortnight ago and Liam Austin's departure from the Cavan hot seat in January are two cases in point. Even the Monaghan women's football team forced the resignation of their boss last week, with two separate votes of no confidence in Michael McGeown.

In fairness to him, Barrett has been the first to admit that you can't run around hitting referees! Maybe a more lenient sentence would have been more suitable, as his remorse was genuine. I hope he can get back to doing what he does best in the future without too much hassle.

So much for my predictions for last weekend's National Hurling League fixtures. Two out of five is a poor ratio.

Tipp snatched victory from Cork with a late winning goal. The Cats demolished a poor Down (will Down's Frank Dawson be the next managerial head to roll?), while Clare finally laid the Offaly ghost to rest. The Dubs had a rare victory over Limerick, and Waterford proved too strong for Laois.

Moving to soccer, Celtic coach Jo Venglos, whose future with the club has been the subject of considerable speculation, is to remain at Parkhead until the end of the 1999-2000 season following a meeting with Alan MacDonald, the club's chief executive.

The 63-year-old Slovakian looked increasingly likely to retire from club football at the end of the season after confirming at Saturday's game that he has a get-out clause in his contract, allowing him to leave the club at a mutually acceptable date.

I am personally glad to hear that Venglos has decided to stay. Despite a shaky start to his tenure, the former Aston Villa boss has proved capable and has made some shrewd signings. He was the man who brought the fans favourite, Lubomir Moravcik, to the club after all. Swedes Mjallby and Viduka have also fitted in well.

Celtic's hopes of retaining their crown were alive and kicking after St. Johnstone incredibly managed to endure persistent Rangers pressure last Sunday to inflict the league leaders' second successive defeat.

With Celtic hammering Dundee 5-0 on Saturday, the gap at the top has been closed to six points and Celtic still have to play Rangers at home on 2 May. The Bhoys have been unbeatable at home and would be confident of toppling the Gers in this one. So there's all to play for.

Elsewhere, the Republic of Ireland lost the opening game of the Under-20 World Youth Championships on Sunday to Mexico. Expectations have been high for Brian Kerr's wonder kids. The Irish stunned the football world in Malaysia, two years ago, when they finished third in the world in the same competition. This time the Irish arrived confident of going further after the European Championship successes at under-16 and under-18 level last season. The Irish will need to win their remaining two group games against Australia and Saudi Arabia, however, if they are to progress to the knockout stages. Kerr has remained upbeat about the team's ability to put the setback behind them, recalling how his charges lost their opening game in Malaysia.

Good luck to all concerned, especially young West Belfast lad Gerard Crossley - a stalwart of the Irish underage sides in recent years. The 20-year-old has been lucky to be taking part in Ireland's campaign in Nigeria. The North's footballing association, the Irish Football Association, has been putting pressure on Brian Kerr not to select any youngsters from the Six Counties. The IFA has complained to the FAI that young footballers from the North are increasingly opting to declare for the Irish side, as is their right. This led to an agreement between the IFA and the FAI to end the current trend. Indeed, this week a Cavan man living in England, Frank Devine, was rapped by the FAI for encouraging a 17-year-old Derry lad, John Morrison, a striker at Sheffield Wednesday, to approach Brian Kerr with the intention of declaring for the South. Talk about rampant partitionism! This is the stuff of outrage.

Is it surprising that young footballers from the North should decide that their footballing future lies with the South? Young Crossley, who plays at Celtic, has probably had to endure enough sectarian harassment growing up in West Belfast without having to listen to the Billy Boys and the Sash every time he plays at Windsor Park! I am sure he remembers the abuse dished out by the bigots to former Celtic favourite, Anton Rogan, also from West Belfast, every time he played at Windsor Park.

By the time this paper has gone to print the Irish team will have played Saudi Arabia (Wednesday, 6pm, Irish time). The final group game will be played on Saturday against Australia (3pm, Irish time).

Celtic will face Dundee United in the Scottish Cup Semi-Final this Saturday also, with a possible Old Firm final at stake as Rangers are expected to come through the other semi.

And Sunday is a big day for GAA with the National Football League reaching the knockout stages.

There are some mouth-watering clashes and these certainly looks like the best Quarter-Final pairings for many years. The most eye-catching is the Dublin-Kildare game. No doubt this will conjure up memories of last year's Leinster Championship and the emotional scenes at Croke Park when Kildare finally defeated the Dubs. Dublin will be out for revenge, but Kildare with last year's win in mind will not fear Dublin and can repeat their memorable feat [You wanna bet? - Ed].

The Meath-Kerry game will be another tough encounter that will be too close to call. I'll sit on the fence and go for a draw. Armagh, who have improved somewhat in the last year, should be too strong for Sligo, while I fancy the other Ulster side left in the competition, Derry, to beat Cork. The Oak Leaf county have stormed through the second half of their league campaign and will hope to put their disappointing performance in last year's All-Ireland Semi loss to Galway behind them with a victory this weekend.

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