23 March 2000 Edition
Sportsview: Simply the best
Crossmaglen Rangers crowned again
BY PADDY SWAINE
What a St. Patrick's weekend it was for the sports mad among us!
Thursday was, of course, the final day of racing in Cheltenham. The fate of the horse I drew in a sweep for the Gold Cup just about summed up my annual week as a mug punter. Gloria Victus was the poor horse that the gods decided should have the unenviable task of carrying my hopes. If you don't know already, Gloria Victus fell, broke a leg, and was shot immediately after the race. This was a tragically apt ending to my race week.
All disappointments were soon dispelled, though, as thoughts turning towards the upcoming All-Ireland Club Finals on Friday. After setting out in plenty of time for the 2pm hurling match throw-in, our travel plans were thwarted by the inconvenience of a large parade through town. Seriously, what a ridiculous thing to stage on the same day as the Club Finals. Could they not find a quieter day to hold it? We eventually arrived in Croker, (after circumnavigating the Globe), just in time for the hurling. This was a long anticipated clash between the reigning champions St. Joseph's Doora/Barefield and Athenry.
The controversy over a disallowed point, arising from their clash in last year's semi-final, added an edge to what was already a highly charged encounter. As it happened, St. Joseph's failed to reach last year's level of performance and were deservedly beaten by the more motivated Galwaymen. This journey for this great Clare team has now finally ended, their players and in particular their Clare County stars have put in unimaginable work over the past three years. They looked a tired team on Friday, while Athenry seemed to be just hitting their stride.
The demands this competition puts on players is testament to their dedication to their clubs. It is not unreasonable to expect that at some stage a team must burn out. It is not just the physical demands but the mental desire to win which will at some stage be sated. There will always be hungry teams ready to topple the reigning champions and it is in this context that we come to the football final and the modern day footballing phemonomon that is Crossmaglen Rangers.
This team have climbed the mountain in club football for three out of the last four years. It is a feat that cannot possibly be overhyped or overstated. This group of players, like hundreds of others, has set out every year on the road to their County Championship. They have then fought through provincial championships and on to the All-Ireland series. This prolonged competition usually takes the heart out of teams. The endless training required for this level of competition can eventually wear people down. It is only the truly remarkable club teams who keep coming back strongly, year in-year out.
In my opinion, Crossmaglen Rangers are the greatest club side ever to grace a football field. I'm well aware that other teams have won more club All-Irelands, but with the level of commitment needed to compete in modern senior football, this team's achievements are simply peerless. The manner in which they have kept coming through the battlefields of championship football, year after year, and their ability to stay focused enough to fend off the challenges of countless hungry teams is nothing short of miraculous. The funny thing is, I don't think they've finished yet. This team should be the inspiration to small parish teams throughout the island. They are a shining example of hard work and self-belief overcoming obstacles and adversity.
Notwithstanding Crossmaglen's heroics on Friday, there was another game to be played over the weekend. This was, of course, the small matter of the Irish rugby team's bi-annual mauling in Paris. The coverage of these games has a traditional pattern. It is usually blind optimism in the face of what is certain to be at best an exercise in damage limitation or else the usual annihilation.
However, this year things were different. The Blazer Brigade seem to have taken on board the verbal battering administered from these pages and `bucked their ideas up' accordingly. Yup, this I feel is the X factor that has been missing throughout the years. The hard things needed to be said and this column didn't hesitate to say it in where necessary. The gloves came off and we told them what was what; it was only said, however, out of genuine concern for the welfare of `Our Guys'. Of course, the Irish Times et al are now citing new backs, coaches, academys and the like as possible reasons for the upturn in the fortunes of the Rugger Buggers. We all know the truth, but they'll hardly give us credit for it!