LETTERKENNY MEMORIES: SOME HAVE GONE AND SOME REMAIN.
Originally penned by Jonathan Foley inJune 2022
Letterkenny is ever-growing with newer faces, more diverse ethnicities and more modern ways of doing things. In a previous article, I wrote about how the best place to see this is by taking a walk through the Town Park. Sometimes though, places in this great town also changed forever but maybe not always for the better.
This town, the place I happily call my home even though I’ve not always lived in it, has produced an abundance of marvelous writers throughout the years. One of those who has stood the test of time is Patrick McArt – a colleague with us here at theLeader and an uncle to a lifelong friend of mine – and his piece in last month’s edition of this paper struck a chord with me.
Mister McArt penned a brief but nonetheless poignant column about how he can’t quite shake feeling nostalgic about the way Letterkenny used to be. He wrote about a time when certain shops and stores lined the Main Street, cafés where locals sat outside and, generally speaking, a time when everyone seemed to know everyone. In short, he misses that era. Understandably.
It got me thinking though about how much this town has transitioned since I was born. With that, a Spotify-headphoned walk around the streets and backroads of the town was required. Starting off closer-to-home and for the purpose of this article’s word count limit, I’ll stay focused on my more local surroundings in and around Gortlee and Ballyraine for this one.
Seeing where myself and the neighbour kids used to play football on the green outside Knocknamona Park was a start. Back in those days, being the youngest, I nearly always landed with the responsibility of being the goalie – whether I wanted to or not was immaterial – and there was no final whistle. The game only ended when the kid who owned the ball was called in by his parents or when the street-lights went on.
We used to have this big wooded-tree area along the roadside that we called ‘the Territory.’ During our games of ‘Block’, it was an ideal hiding place before attempting a dash across the road to free all the prisoners.
It was also once home to a treehouse and an underground den. It was where we gathered tires for the Halloween bonfires every year and it was also where we had a genuine beast of a rope-swing. A couple of the older lads used to bring along a battery-operated cassette player and rock out songs by the likes of Nirvana, Guns and Roses and a bunch of other angry-but-cool-sounding vocalists.
Nowadays though, you would never know any of it was ever there. Some time back, the green where we played three-and-in until all hours was cut down in size to make way for a bigger pavement. As for the Territory, that land was bought up and it’s now the site of a huge house with a long, stretching garden while other places we used now belong to the Beinn Aoibhinn or Whitethorn Park estates.
It’s not that we really minded when this Gortlee facelift took place. After all, we were getting older and were starting to find new ways to keep ourselves entertained. The new houses that came along meant that new neighbours, with kids of their own, had a place to settle, to play and make memories of their own.
So, in that case, Letterkenny moved on for the better but it doesn’t mean you can’t reminisce about the way it was. The places where you scored that wonder volley to win the match just before the call from mum on the back porch signaled the end of the game. When you knew where all the other kids were as soon as you saw all the bicycles were lying down and as I ventured into my adolescence, it was also the place I got my first ‘shift’ with a girl who lived in the back-row of houses.
Sure didn’t I just tell you we were getting older, didn’t I?
Sadly though, some places in the town didn’t age as well. Growing up in the 1990s, visits to the PinTavern down by Ballyraine was just a mecca of fun. The synthetic noises and flashing lights of the arcade games, clinks from the air-hockey table and of the rolling sounds of bowling balls crashing into pins. It’s no wonder every kid wanted to have their birthday party there.
As I moved forward into my teens, ‘The Pin’ was still there. Only this time, myself and a group of secondary school friends would use the outside facilities where you could play 5-a-side football on the astroturf pitches. Games were always good fun, but they were quite competitive and on some occasions, a flare-up over a bad tackle would arise. Handbag arguments that quickly blew over, but maybe it was a sign we were just getting a bit more serious with age.
Last week, after a period of about twenty years had passed, I snuck around the back of the Pin’s building and it was genuinely sad to see how so much of the place had become dilapidated, crumbled and overgrown. Rusted barriers caged up the playing fields and the building where we used to play bowling and spend all our pocket money on the arcades resemembled a bomb site.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with business owners packing up and moving on; it’s part and parcel of life. I suppose there is solace to be taken that maybe this mantle was just taken up for younger kids to make their memories just over the road at Arena 7 or maybe at the newly-developed, state-of-the-art football pitch, just along Orchard Grove at Ballyraine FC.
I get it when people say they miss things about the way things used to be in this town. Heck, I feel that way about places in my own neighbourhood! On the other hand, nostalgia can only get us so far and things just change naturally, sometimes for good and sometimes not. After all, if you ever listen closely to the words of ‘In My Life’ by The Beatles, that’s exactly what they did.
This article got me thinking though … Maybe next time, I’ll have to explore my memories of The Grill! Now there’s a venue of Letterkenny history that makes you think about times when things went good and sometimes not so good!
If you were to go around and ask your friends and family ‘What’s your Top 10 Places in the World You’d Love to See’, chances are the Eternal City of Rome would be in there somewhere. A culinary delight with an abundance of famous landmarks that are all fairly close to one another. A nice climate and be flown into on a budget airline. Sure why not?
By Jonathan Foley
Getting there is pretty-much a hassle-free experience. Under three hours on a flight from Dublin and with good public transportation on offer, via the trains that now run on time, your journey towards the more central parts of the Italian capital can be done in well under an hour. Especially if the Roma Termini station is your destination.
Taxis have set rates to and from both major airports, Fiumicino and Ciampino, so you know you can’t get ripped off. Never a bad thing. While Rome is a very walkable city, the option to purchase a Metro ticket (underground railway) is highly recommended. There’s only two lines so confusion about getting around is kept to a minimum.
Food in Rome is an absolute no-brainer. So many restaurants operate a walk-in service and offer simple, but delicious meals where their names just roll off the tongue: tageitalle del bolognese, pasta carbonara with a nice glass of rocha to compliment your meal before finishing off with a nice espresso or maybe a gelato. A foodie’s heaven.
It’s worth bearing in mind that some of the restaurants that are located within a close proximity to some of the most crowded sites do have a tendency to overcharge for fairly sub-standard food. Essentially, tourist traps where the chefs don’t have time to cook your dinner with the same artistry and love as most other places.
Perhaps the best thing about the majority of the city’s most famous landmarks is that they are free-of-charge. And the ones you can’t access for free, a lot of them are still visible from other parts of the city.
On my first day there, a climb up the beautiful white marble steps of the Altra delle Patria (Altar to the Fatherland) provided excellent views of the old Ancient ruins and just enough of the Colosseum to take a good photograph of. The quality of the city’s architecture and how it combines the old with the new makes this city so unique.
In keeping touch with my Roman Catholic origins – and to keep my Mammy happy – I later took a wander through St Peter’s Square where you can also catch a glimpse of the Basilica and the exterior of the Sistine Chapel. I chose not to go inside the Sistina, purely on the grounds that the queue to get in was eye-wateringly long.
As Easter weekend was fast approaching, there was a lot of hustle and bustle about San Petro’s. Chairs, speakers and big-screens were being thrown up with as much haste as possible, so as to have everything ready for the Pope’s Easter Blessing that was being planned for the Sunday.
Unsurprisingly, my love of history and sports combined on Saturday with a morning tour of the Colosseum (as well as the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill) where I got to walk along the arena floor of the world’s longest remaining sports amphitheater. And yes, I’ll admit, I purposely rewatched ‘Gladiator’ the week before to get in the mood.
Our tour guide was a very knowledgeable guy and had a wonderful way of explaining to us what a typical day at the Games would’ve been like during the heyday of the Roman Empire. It’s also worth pointing out that many popular television shows and movies which feature the Colosseum are very much exaggerated.
For instance, it was very rare for Roman Gladiators to carry out intense battles with each other. Why would they? Many of them were friends, or perhaps former comrades with the Roman Army who had turned their hands to entertaining crowds at the end of their careers. Once a fighter drew even a drop of blood, the fight was often stopped.
Having said that, it is true that the Colosseum was used as a venue for public executions against criminals while slaves and prisoners were often offered an opportunity to earn their freedom … if they could overcome the small challenge of wrestling and beating a wild, hungry lion first!
My last major port-of-call on this five day trip was to the Olympic Stadium where I’d secured a ticket for the Serie A match between Lazio and Torino. The game itself was no classic, and in truth, because of their right-wing tendencies, I’ve no real love for Lazio supporters. Nonetheless, it was great to see a famous stadium such as this one.
Having spent my last evening sinking a few beers in the Druid’s Den bar, an Irish pub owned by a Letterkenny lady who knew my mum and dad well, it was time for home early on Monday morning.
Hitting the snooze button too many times meant I came scarily close to missing my flight home, but alas, despite my final hour or two in Rome being rather stressful, I caught it just in time and I suppose all’s well that ends well. Whether food, sports, history, religion or general wandering is your thing, Rome is a city that’s highly recommended to you.
On a mild Letterkenny and somewhat drizzly evening in early April 2022, just as the gentle smatterings of rain were finishing up, a busload of youngsters returned home to a wondrous welcome after a football match.
A Garda Escort ushered these lads from the Port Road to the grounds of Saint Eunan’s College. A team full of beaming smiles and waves stepped off the coach with a bright shining cup in hand.
Under the night sky, with only the floodlights of the school building shining down on them, cameras flashed and the cheering applause rose up in appreciation of a great sporting success.
This was an impromptu celebration of families, friends, school staff (both former and current), past pupils of the alumni and ex-footballers who had once represented the school so well on the field in times gone by.
When captain, Leon Doherty, stood proudly on the front steps and raised the trophy aloft to a great ovation, this was a celebration, not just for football, but for a community.
Team manager, Michael Kelly, bestowed the title of ‘Heroes’ on his group of talented, highly-motivated players and correctly so.
This is the story behind the now seven-time winners of the FAIS Dr. Tony O’Neill Cup – the country’s most prestigious schools’ tournament – as told by the players, manager and backroom team of Saint Eunan’s College.
By Jonathan Foley
LEADING THE WAY.
Before the afternoon of Wednesday 6th April 2022, there was an all too real possibility that the current seniors of the College would leave the school in June on something of an anti-climax.
For the last two years or so, secondary school students have been forced to live a life of rules, regulations and uncertainty for what must’ve felt like an eternity.
It ran a seriously high risk that their memories of school would’ve been overloaded with dreary talk of being unable to work in groups at school, mandatory mask-wearing, distance-learning, accredited grades, no meeting up with friends, no discos, no going on ‘the shift’ and, for a long time, they weren’t even allowed to play football.
There’s an old proverb that states that the ‘night is darkest just before the dawn.’
Despite the abundance of barricades and enforced ordinance that these youngsters had to endure, it could be argued that they banished a lot of that built-up angst when Tiernan Brown’s 90th-minute penalty in Athlone struck the net.
With one trusted swing of his clinical left boot – where the ball almost took the netting off the goalposts, such was its velocity – Brown had secured a 3-2 for the College over Waterford side De La Salle in the dying moments of the FAIS Senior Cup Final.
Much more than that, as was evidenced by the inevitable pitch invasion around two minutes later, he along with his gallant comrades, had gifted the Eunan’s boys with a new memory of their school days.
One which they could cherish, treasure and behold forevermore.
Having had time to digest that success, players Leon Doherty, Ryan Creevy, Jay Maguire, David Boakye and Tiernan Brown took time out from revision to share their thoughts and feelings about how it’s been since being crowned All-Ireland senior champions.
“The first few days afterwards, for us anyway, I don’t think it had really set in. We were still in pure elation. It’s such a great feeling to be All-Ireland winners and the support we got from the teachers and our fellow students in the school was nothing short of amazing,” told captain Leon Doherty.
“My own memories from the game were probably when the heads could’ve gone down when we went 2-1 behind in the second half, but the way we dug in and how it ended with Tiernan’s last-minute penalty will be the main images that stick with me from the day. That and lifting the trophy at the end, of course,” he added.
“To be honest, I was bricking it when I stepped up to take it,” Tiernan admitted. “I was just focused on making sure I hit the target, but we had watched the semi-final and knew that their keeper had a tendency to dive a bit early, so I just planned on firing it down the middle and thankfully it worked out.
“If you look at the video of the goal, you’ll probably see that I didn’t react immediately. It seemed to take that extra few seconds to sink in, but as I say, I was very nervous taking that penalty, and when it went in, I think the main emotion I had was just pure relief. It’s a memory that will stick with me forever though,” he recalled.
“Surreal is the best way I could put it,” recalled David. “The support we got from so many people has been amazing. It’s come from everyone in the school, our own parents, families and friends and it’ll definitely be the best memory I take from my time here at the school”.
“I’ll admit I’m still a bit lost for words about it all,” Ryan Creevy acknowledged. “Leading up to the game, you’re just hoping to do well, but you’re never sure if you’re going to win it. Then when you do, it’s just very special. Maybe after we won the Ulster title against Carndonagh, we started to think we will go the whole way, but it’s hard to name a turning point in the season,” he added.
“Since the final, I find a lot of people asking me about it. Sometimes when I go to work, I wear my Eunan’s College tracksuit bottoms and when they notice the crest, they tend to ask me if I was playing with the team and it’s great to be able to tell them that I was”.
As the conversation developed the general consensus was that this particular day in Athlone would become the shared best memory that these youngsters would take with them from their five / six years at the College.
In a modest and respectful manner, they were all fully aware of the relatively short (officially) but nonetheless hugely successful tenure association football, has had in the school’s history.
“Six other teams have done what we’ve done,” Leon said. “It’s something else to be talked about in the same way as those great teams of the past have been. We’re now the seventh winners and I’m sure someday we’ll come back here to the College and see our team photo up on the wall alongside theirs,” he added.
The lads were honest enough to admit that it wasn’t all plain-sailing throughout the season. During the winter months, training numbers had dropped significantly for a time, so a degree of chasing-up had to be incorporated by players and management alike.
Overlooking that, manager Michael Kelly, stayed true to his beliefs that there was a bigger prize at stake if the commitment levels from a number of players was raised. Speaking of their gaffer, the batch of players in this particular interview let us in on some trade secrets about the workings of their boss.
“Mister Kelly’s not so much fire-and-brimstone or hair-dryer treatment. Then again, he’s not overly-tactical in the dressing room either. The best way I could put it is that he’s a good mix of both” Leon said. “He’d put up plenty of posters about what we should do for set-pieces, but I think we’d all agree he’s like Shakespeare when he talks,” he laughed.
“That man’s vocabulary is off the charts. You could tell he’s an English teacher anyway. Sometimes we’d be thinking that we should’ve brought a few dictionaries into the changing rooms with us”, they quipped and laughed together. “Joking aside though, he was genuinely very heartfelt and made us feel like a family”, Leon concluded.
THE TEAM BEHIND THE TEAM.
Ryan Creevy attested “the more experience you have behind you on the sidelines, the better you will train and the better you will play on the day. They don’t just tell you what to do, but also what not to do”.
Essentially, Ryan was making a subtle, yet nonetheless immeasurable thanks to the coaching staff who had guided the team to victory on the national stage.
Largely thanks to the input of Neil Barrett, another past pupil of the school and local business owner, the team was set up with a guided nutritional program in order to prepare in the best way possible.
Leon Doherty revealed that the emphasis on nutrition “was something that we’d never really had before”. “We were often briefed about self-discipline, but having a proper nutrition programme was ideal. We learned a lot about what we should eat and drink just before a game – carb-loading, hydration and isotonic drinks etc – which was a huge help to us on the field”.
While the players confessed to abandoning parts of the plan during the Christmas period, they quickly fell back in line with the diet program once the new year rang in. The sausage rolls in the canteen were put on the back-burner for the time being as they set their sights on success on the pitch.
“I’d say it was the semi-final against Athenry where we all noticed the nutrition plan paying off”, added Jay Maguire. “That was a tough game that went into extra-time. They were tired and we were tired, but I would say that by sticking to the healthy eating agenda, it gave us that little bit extra and helped us go on and win that game late on”.
Another key figure involved in the backroom team was Garrett McDaid.
Well-known in local circles already for his many years of loyal service to Letterkenny Rovers, as a player, a physio as well as numerous coaching roles, he joined the staff at Saint Eunan’s last summer when a role within the Additional Support Needs department became available.
As a former student of the school himself, ‘Gaga’ as he is affectionately known, joined up with Michael Kelly and his troops and was immediately on hand able to offer an abundance of advice based on his own extended experience within the game.
Perhaps on another level, Garrett also had bittersweet memories of this very same competition. In 1996, he was a part of the College side who lost out in that year’s final after going down 1-0 to Drimnagh Castle.
Over a quarter-of-a-century later, and now upon his return to the school, he was granted the opportunity to rectify and maybe even banish the memories of that particular heartache. Joining some of the players taking part in the interview, Garrett reflected on the season that has been.
Garrett explained: “when I came back here as an SNA in September, I was only too delighted to get back involved with the senior team when Michael asked me along to help out. I’d been working with a lot of youth teams and reserve teams at Rovers for a long time, but it was great to come back here and lend a hand”.
“After the first few training sessions, you could tell that there was something there with this team. At first, I wasn’t sure how far we could go but I definitely thought early on that there’s an Ulster in this team at the very least. We left it late in a few games – well maybe all of them actually – but we often dominated teams and that pushed us on”.
Upon arrival to the Ulster final against Carndonagh Community School, Garrett recounted how he believed that a victory in that game, at the provincial level, could be the start of something truly special. Even if it meant keeping those premonitions a secret from the manager.
“I remember going into that game and I turned to Shane McBrearty, who was helping out as a physio that day, and saying that there could be an All-Ireland in this team. I didn’t dare say that to Michael though in case I jinxed it. It was one of those “don’t mention the war” moments around him, I suppose,” he revealed with a typical smile.
Another member to join the backroom team was James Doherty. He’s the first to admit that his invitation to the set-up was with a degree of pure luck.
The Kilmacrenan pocket rocket revealed how he “was called in as a substitute teacher earlier in the year when Michael asked me to take a training session. The numbers weren’t great that day – maybe 12 or so – but they trained well all the same. I could see there was some real talent, but I still spoke to them about making sure they get the numbers up”.
“Later in the year, I was asked back to sub again and around this time, the team was planning a meeting. Once again, Michael asked me to speak to the lads and that was me officially involved. The coaching staff asked me along to the final in Athlone and, of course, I was more than happy to help out where I could”, he added
“In the run-up to the final, I’ve never seen a school team prepared as well as this one. The school rowed in behind them with a pre-match meal beforehand, everything in the warm-up was perfect and I was struck by the understanding they all had of what their roles were. It was as good a preparation as any League of Ireland team could wish for,” he concluded.
Just before wrapping up, the boys discussed how normality was quick to set in once again. Within a few days of that famous cup final, they had to quickly turn their attention to their impending Irish oral exams.
While they had no qualms admitting that there wasn’t much practice done for these on the bus back from County Westmeath that night, they raised a gentle smile about what they remembered seeing and hearing as the bus pulled up at the gates of Saint Eunan’s College.
The spectacle of the occasion wasn’t lost on the management team either.
“It was unbelievable coming down past College Farm Road. You could see the cars and the hundreds of people who had come out to welcome us home”, Garrett recalled.
“Sometimes people who you didn’t even know were that into football stop you on the street to give their congratulations so you can see how much it means to so many people”.
When asked if they were looking forward to the day that they would see their picture go up on the wall, there was again a quiet tip of the hat to the sides who had gone before them.
“The wall that runs along rooms two and three look pretty full-up already, but I suppose that’s a good problem to have, isn’t it?”
IN THIS SIGN, YOU WILL CONQUER.
In the year 2022, the ‘Old Grey Lady’ is approaching its 120-year anniversary and has developed into a most wonderfully diverse and multicultural school.
Among the various creeds, ethnic backgrounds and numerous languages that are observed and echo along the corridors nowadays, Latin may not be a popular method of communication anymore, however, the spirit of ‘In Hoc Signo Vinces’ (‘In this Sign, You Will Conquer’) remains a notable embodiment of the school’s ethos.
For 18 years now, Michael Kelly has been a teacher of English and History at Saint Eunan’s, but his affection and commitment to the school reaches back far beyond the day when he first took up his role as a teacher.
A member of the Eunan’s alumni, he epitomizes all that is good about the school. A man who speaks most eloquently, coupled with a rapid sense of humour to boot, Michael has consistently personified the school’s mission of ‘developing the student as a whole person with tremendous aplomb.
This year, while traipsing and pacing along the touchlines of football fields, his devotion to cohesion came to fruition when his ‘Heroes’ – as he openly called them on the day – lifted the FAIS Dr. Tony O’Neill Cup after a dramatic and enthralling victory in the final.
One month has now passed since that day and he kindly took time out to reflect upon the past season.
“To be honest, I think some of our lads wanted the celebrations to go on a bit longer. Make you want of that,” Michael joked. “In all seriousness though, there’s a great tradition of the sport in this school and now these lads take their place in that history”.
“During Covid, everyone was a bit down in the dumps, especially because they couldn’t even play football. Thankfully we’ve come out the other side as All-Ireland champions. We’ve joined the list of great teams from the past to win our seventh title at this level for the school and these guys now have their own Dr. Tony O’Neill to talk about”, he added.
The College first won this trophy in 1979 and these successes were followed up with back-to-back successes in 1985 and 1986 and that feat was repeated by the classes of 2004 and 2005. Having reached the final in 2020, the powers-that-be declared that the honour would be shared due to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s part of our identity to be successful. There are a lot of great pictures on the wall that celebrate the wonderful achievements of teams of the past, but they’re no longer ghosts-on-the-wall, so to speak. The players who have reached the most recent milestone are in our classrooms and hallways at this very moment in time”, he added.
Often teams who follow in the footsteps of esteemed brethren can go one of two ways. They can either be inspired by what their predecessors have done or they could possibly become daunted and intimidated by it. Michael seems to take his own unique personal approach to this particular topic.
“In the mid-1980s, Michael Houston was the manager; a gentleman in the history of Saint Eunan’s. He was my Irish teacher when I was here, I had him for P.E in first year as well, and in the team photo, I can’t help but notice that he’s sporting a rather dashing Fred Perry jumper. The man just looks resplendent in it”, Michael chuckled.
“Going by his attire, maybe Mickey was something of a Pep Guardiola in the making, even back then. When I look at the 1979 team, I don’t know how far we were behind fashion in those days, but there seems to be a lot of lads sporting haircuts of the Bay City Rollers in that one, so it’s lovely to pick up on all the different eras of our success stories”.
On a deeper level, one of the driving forces behind Michael’s dream of success was celebrating the legacy of the previous generations. Some of it occurred naturally by his recruitment of the backroom team, three-quarters of whom were past pupils, while some historical gems surfaced with a degree of luck.
“History repeated itself in some ways. The 1985/1986 team was sponsored by Jochim Loughrey. He was a boarder here along with his brother, John and he’s an uncle of Johnny, proprietor of JT Physiotherapy. Both Jochim and John were fine players in their own right. They probably played the game here during the days when it was banned. Johnny was a talented footballer himself and acted as physio to this year’s senior team physio as well as being a major sponsor this time around”, he told.
“You can see that I get rather superstitious about these things”, Michael laughed.
In a tribute to Johnny Loughrey, who attended the school between 1997 and 1999 before enrolling at a new school in Milford, Michael expressed profound thanks to him. By his own admission, Michael declared that some of Johnny’s responsibilities were not the most enviable to undertake.
“We can’t thank Johnny enough for all he did for us. He provided excellent physio treatment at no charge to the players and his knowledge and wisdom was second-to-none. Having said that, he sometimes had to be the bearer of bad news. He’d have to break the news about injuries and players missing games and that’s not an easy undertaking”.
Being a History teacher, Michael couldn’t help but notice how things went full-circle again once Tony Blake joined up; initially as a goalkeeping coach and one that was instrumental in the team’s development and success.
“It was just fabulous to be involved and I was delighted to come on board back in October. I think the original plan was to get me in as a goalkeeping coach but my duties quickly grew legs from there, I can tell you”, Tony laughed.
“The night we came home with the trophy, I logged onto my Facebook account and posted that it’s been 38 long years, but now I’d finally won an All-Ireland with Saint Eunan’s College. The guys were great to work with. They bought into everything we told them. Our original focus was to win Ulster – anything after that would be a bonus – but to go all the way in the All-Ireland, it was just magnificent to be a part of it”, he added.
Michael cast his mind back to when the possibility of getting Tony on board became a possibility.
“I was hesitant about asking Tony to help out but this was because of me, not him”, Michael informed. “I’ve this funny tendency whereby I hate asking people for favours … but I’ll still go ahead and ask them anyway! I didn’t like the idea of annoying anyone. Fair play to Gaga for sorting that out and, low and behold, Tony said he was genuinely honoured to be asked along”, he explained.
“We all know that Tony’s father, Eunan ‘Busty’ Blake is right up there with some of the best football players to come out of Letterkenny and is Derry City’s greatest ever right-back”, Michael remarked.
“I had no idea that ‘Busty’ had worked alongside Father Leo Mohan when the school achieved its first national success at senior level in 1979. When Tony subtly revealed this nugget of information on the bus back from one of the latter provincial clashes, I dared to believe that maybe this team may make history.”
Footballers by the name of Blake have an intrinsic legacy with Saint Eunan’s College sporting triumphs. It certainly continued with Tony in 2022. Michael’s superstitious nature and Tony’s personal pilgrimage to Athlone along with a sprinkling of coincidences, Michael described as ‘poetry.’
It is testament to how the Letterkenny community hold Saint Eunan’s College so dear and are naturally pivotal contributors to the school’s identity; past, present and future.
As Tony recalled:
“My father was manager of Finn Harps in the late-seventies and Father Mohan asked him to come in and help him out. Nowadays he’d probably be called a ‘consultancy adviser’ or something like that”, he joked. “But yeah, to have the chance to follow in my dad’s footsteps like that was very special for me.”
In the modern era, training methods and approaches to games are a vital component of any team’s ambitions. With new-age technologies and tactical systems being considered as integral as physical fitness. Michael was also lent support from Letterkenny Rovers Donegal League side manager, Stephen McConnell.
Stephen, a graduate of the College from the Class of 2003, has had great success with his own Rovers side recently. They sealed promotion from Division Two in emphatic style and his input to the Saint Eunan’s side – where many of his own players were also togging out for the school – did not go unnoticed.
Every local club made a huge contribution to the team’s success and were very understanding when our players had to miss their training or games. Undoubtedly, the spine of this Saint Eunan;s team was drawn from Bonagee United.
Youth team manager at Dry Arch Park, Gary McCroary, was one of the key figures operating in the background.
“He organised two friendlies and gabe tremendous support and encouragement from start to finish. We are indebted to Gary for the selfless role he played in our success”, Michael acknowledged.
Michael recounted, “on one hand, Stephen was a sponsor through Sprint Education Supplies, but he was more than that. We played against his teams twice. Obviously, he had his own team to run and he was always very understanding when some of our players had to miss out on games with his team if they picked up a few knocks, so he was great in that regard.”
“He also had the facilities to record games and study them afterward. Through this, we were able to gain a greater understanding of where we needed to improve and develop things as well”, Michael added.
A league title or cup is never won in one day. It takes months, some might say years, to reach that pinnacle. In praise of his captain, Leon Doherty, Michael felt obliged to give an equal measure of thanks to Gareth Nee; an art teacher in the school who had noticed Leon’s leadership qualities when playing for his underage teams in the past.
Throughout the course of one season, there’s more often than not, a significant turning point in the year that sets the alarm bell ringing, however quietly at first, that greatness is within an arm’s reach. For this team, some felt it was the Ulster Final win over CCS, others suggested the late winner in the All-Ireland semi-final.
An abiding memory for the manager came much earlier.
“We have something of an adverse rivalry with Scoil Mhuire [Buncrana], but it’s one based on complete respect. When we played them in the early stages, we came through a titanic battle with them thanks to a 3-2 win. It was a great game and I’m full of admiration for how Paddy Carr had them so well drilled that day”, Michael recalled.
“They’d beaten us in the Brandywell at under-16 level but we learned from that defeat. We weren’t interested in revenge or anything like that. We just stayed focused on ourselves and getting that monkey off our back. We may have won that Ulster quarter-final but they could’ve easily been the best team in the country this year. It was perhaps then that we started to gain that bit of momentum”, he added.
Every manager has their own approach and their own motivations to guide them along the way. Michael Kelly is no different in that regard, but in a moment of self-reflection and self-evaluation – things that come part-and-parcel with being a teacher – he conjured an explanation for, what he believes, works best for him.
“You have to be your own man. That’s something that my father taught me. I was lucky enough to have so many coaches in my own time that I could draw on to help; people like Trevor Scanlon, Ollie Horgan, Paul Browne and Liam O’Donnell to name only a few. I wanted to do things right, to be inclusive but there were times I had to be ruthless too”, he said.
Michael admitted that there were times when he had to rotate players to the bench and made no secret of the fact that he instructed his uncle and his cousin to go and watch De La Selle. He dissected opposing sides by watching them on live streams of their games in a bid to identify and exploit strengths and weaknesses respectively.
Even with all that dossier-like information to hand, there was still time to learn more about the game.
“There’s no better Conseiller than Garrett McDaid. He would remind us to never get too fixated on the opposition. It was a heartening perspective and yes, we could provide the lads with information about who we were facing, the focus was still on us and how good we were. It’s wonderful to have his experience right here on our doorstep”, Michael told.
When Tiernan Brown’s winning penalty came close to bursting the net, loud cheers echoed around the Athlone Town FC Stadium. Fist-pumps and hugs coincided with applause and shouts of encouragement and yet the calmest man there was Michael himself.
“There were still two minutes to play after the penalty. My thoughts were ‘we scored a counter-attack on them in the first half, so there’s no reason why they couldn’t do the same.’ It was that age-old adage that ‘you’re at your weakest after you’ve scored’ but when the final whistle did go, it was just surreal”, Michael recalled.
“Shane McBrearty was on the sideline. He’s a big guy and I think I remember getting a bear-hug off him. Then the other guys all jumped on top of me and all I could hear was the muffled shouts and cheers from the pitch and the stands. My memory of it is a tad hazy, to be honest it was just complete disbelief.”
“The journey home was quite possibly the nicest journey I have ever taken. I was in dreamland. Just sitting there and looking at the trophy at the front of the bus was special. I may have never got to play for Liverpool, but this was something that I’ll never forget. To come home with a Saint Eunan’s team as All-Ireland winners! Phenomenal!”
Just as the team bus exited the Dry Arch roundabout and the town was now coming into sight, there was a momentary pause as the Garda Escort took the reins of leading the coach through town for the cavalcade.
“We stopped on the Port Road for a minute. The Garda were going to be leading us through the town from this point on. I looked around and saw, just a few cars back, Joel Gorman in a car with [his father] Anthony. Joel was the midfield general, along with Jack Dwyer, of our under-17s team that lost out a few years ago, but there he was, cheering us all the way home.”
“If this victory showed us anything, it’s that there’s still an unspeakable amount of goodwill towards Saint Eunan’s College. It showed what it means to the people of this community.”
And with that, the school with the Castle-like structure that overlooks Sentry Hill now has new memories made and a new chapter in its already famous history.
International football seems to get mixed reviews these days. On the one hand, we all love a summer tournament like the Euros or the World Cup – even the latter is getting a winter berth this year – but on the other, many see it as a hindrance to the domestic league and European cups season. It’s a debate that never seems to get resolved.
Being an avid follower of the Republic of Ireland team is not always easy. In fact, it never really is, but with the last few results, is this a time for a sense of quiet optimism.
Over the last few years, the FAI has fallen into financial shambles. The antics of a certain Mister Delaney being the catalyst for the bulk of such trouble. That aside however, the decisions made to seek quick-fix solutions in the past led to an awful undoing.
Huge money was thrown the way of Giovanni Trappatoni and while he did gather a number of important results on the field, including qualification Euro 2012, the style of play he adapted was overly-reliant on defense and general negativity. By the end of his tenure, a change was badly needed.
Next up was Martin O’Neill who took in Roy Keane as his second-in-command. Again, there’s no denying that the Derryman led us to an impressive series of famous wins over the likes of Germany, Italy and Austria along the way, his spell also ended in fairly drab circumstances. An absolute mauing at home to Denmark in 2017 compounded that.
Now thought, after much chopping and changing. Stephen Kenny, who succeeded a short dig-out spell from returning manager Mick McCarthy, seems to have gotten a bit of a foothold with what he wants to do. The last few results, of which included a friendly win over Qatar and decent draws against Serbia, Portugal and Belgium have shown this. Not forgetting the late win over Lithuania.
He seems keen to give as many players as possible a run-out and gain experience of playing in a green jersey. In the not too distant past, as the likes of Robbie Keane and Shay Given got older, it seemed as though it became harder to get out of playing for the Ireland team than it was to get on it.
As a result of this overplaying of the tried-and-tested lads, younger players like Enda Stephens, John Egan and Matt Doherty, to name but a few, had to wait a lot longer to get their run in the side. Kenny seems to be aware of that situation and, going by his actions, he gives off the impression that he wants to start from scratch with the newbies.
Last weekend’s draw with Belgium was earned with a spirited performance. Unlike previous years, it was refreshing to see Ireland get the ball on the deck and pass it around the field with a greater sense of purpose and deliberation. Chiedozie Ogbene’s overhead kick for the first goal got the headlines, but there was more brewing underneath the surface.
Not that I’m any sort of body-language expert but one could tell there was a sense of focus and steely determination amongst the players. What’s more, if their expressions at the final whistle are anything to go by, they look as though they truly enjoy playing for their country and that it’s not a needless distraction from their club commitments.
Of course, this was followed up with a 1-0 win over Lithuania. Far from a classic but a wonder goal deep in stoppage time from Troy Parrot will surely stick most in the memory of fans from that night.
The majority of our international players ply their trade in lower league football in England. Usually that’s a death-nail in the hopes of ever getting to represent your country for most national sides. Not for Ireland. And maybe that’s why they embrace the sights and sounds of a packed Aviva Stadium on a Saturday evening.
It’s fair game to suggest that for too long, promising Irish talent was overly-reliant on getting spotted by high-flying English clubs. That trend seems to be fading. Josh Cullen is playing great stuff with Anderlecht in Belgium and a number of rising talents, such as Gavin Bazuna, have gained valuable experience from their League of Ireland days.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s great to have players playing at the very top level. Caoimhín Kelleher being the toast of Merseyside – the red half anyway – when Liverpool lifted the Carabao Cup was great. Shane Duffy looks as though he’s back to his best since his return to Brighton, but at least we’re not as dependent on those élite clubs as we once were.
A few weeks back, I cheekily stayed up a bit later than usual on a Sunday night to watch the opening half of Superbowl LVI between the Rams and the Bengals. It was a ‘school-night’ for me so, as you can imagine, I had one eye on the clock through most of the opening two quarters. Then I thought: ‘Sure, I might take in the halftime show at this stage now.’
By Jonathan Foley
While I could never call myself an out-and-out hip-hop fan in my younger days, it was still nonetheless a nostalgia treat when some aging – yet still hugely talented – rap stars of yesteryear entertained the millions watching with a show that generated huge flashbacks to days gone by.
As the ‘D-O Double G’ teamed up with the Real Slim Shady. Joined in unison by Dr. Dre, the Father of Rap, Fifty Cent with Mary J Blige still reminding us that “we don’t need no hateration,” it didn’t take long for the toes to start tapping. More than that, my mind started wandering back to when these melodies were chart-toppers back when I was a teenager.
Their performance served as something more than just a mash-up of old hits. In essence, it let people know that despite all the things that have gone wrong in life over the past two decades or so, that they are still here and willing to entertain us just like they used to. In essence, it was a fifteen-minute showcase that mean something more.
When most people in this world go through their twenties and thirties, there’s usually a lot of joy and happiness that fills those years: falling in love, starting a family, buying a house etc. On the other hand, it’s also a time when so many things leave your life: saying goodbye to a loved one, having people close to you pass away and so many factors outside of one’s own control.
As good as the world is, it’s certainly not had its most enjoyable tenure this past while. We all know why there.
And yet when these artists took to the stage at the SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles, they reminded those of a certain age and ilk that “Hey! It’s alright! We’re still here to perform the tunes that we did just like when you were a kid!”
It must be a marvelous gift to have when you can play a few instruments or lift up a microphone and make people feel a profound sense of comfort. Granted, this quartet may have had to modify some of their original lyrics to a more family-friendly audience this time around, but there’s no denying that their ability to throw out a few quick tunes was nothing short of brilliant.
Looking back, it could’ve been easier to simply throw a few hundred thousand dollars at some flash-in-the-pan modern day pop-star to do this year’s halftime show. Credit to the organizers though, they stuck their necks out and went with performers who most of the younger generation might be somewhat unfamiliar with.
If anything, I imagine those in attendance at the game – and the countless more tuning in on television – had more parents and adults bumping their fist along to the tunes than kids. It might have been a facepalm moment for some youngsters but that’s because their mums, dads and elders “still got love for da streets!”
It was just a pity it was a ‘school night’ for me.
Originally penned by Jonathan Foley in November 2021.
Over the last few weeks, Celtic have some reason to feel a bit more upbeat. Ange Postecogulu was awarded Manager of the Month after a series of impressive displays. Celtic enjoyed back to back wins over Ferencvaros in the Europa League and, not forgetting, they got to celebrate their 134th birthday as a club.
One credit that you always have to give Celtic fans is that they are very knowledgeable about the founding of their football club. Not many supporters of other clubs can tell the exact date in which their side was formed, or who was at the meeting, or what was the social backdrop or reasoning behind the club’s foundation. Most Celtic supporters certainly can though.
The man hailed as the ‘founding father’ of, what was then, the Celtic Football and Athletic Club, is Andrew Cairns, who is better known by his Marist title of Brother Walfrid. Born in Ballymote, County Sligo, he had migrated to Scotland to carry out his work as a clergyman in the East End of Glasgow.
In the aftermath of the Great Famine, thousands upon thousands of poorly-nourished and destitute Irish persons had flocked towards the west of Scotland in the hope of securing a better life; or at the very least, survival.
In his writings, Professor Tom Devine noted that while Irish migration went everywhere in the world in those years, it generally tended to be the poorer Irish who came to the west of Scotland. Upon arrival in their new city, the diaspora discovered that they were not always going to be welcomed by their host community.
Throughout the second-half of the nineteenth century, Glasgow had risen up to become a vital city of importance in the British Empire. The Industrial Revolution was in full-swing and the construction of roadways, railways, factory buildings and shipbuilding all became hugely profitable businesses and there was plenty of work to be had. And yet, all was still not well.
Many business owners and people who held sway in political power often tended to have a distrust towards Irish immigrants. Their gaelic language and belief in Roman Catholicism was alien to a much more Saxon and Prebyterian society. Even in those days, they had a reputation of rebelliousness, alcoholism and for possibly carrying diseases from their homeland.
With regard to housing, the city officials crammed them into overcrowded tenement blocks which rapidly developed into slums. Most of these were based towards the eastern side of the city, and with skilled-labour job opportunities being so scarce, many of the immigrants opted for the dangerous and gruelling task of tunnel digging and back-breaking roadwork construction.
A knock-off effect from the Industrial Revolution was the rise in popular sport. Teams were often assembled in factories and other such workplaces. Famous examples include Manchester United forming from the staff of the Newton Heath Railway Company while West Ham United evolved from the workers of an East–London irons factory.
With new legislation allowing days off, Saturday quickly became a day for sport and leisure. With the new transport links being created, supporters could now travel to go and follow their team wherever in the country they were playing. Most of all, the novelty of how financially profitable the game could be, Brother Walfrid sensed an opportunity.
Along with some other religious crusaders and a handful of successful businessmen, a meeting was chaired on November 7th, 1887, at the St Mary’s Parish Hall in Calton – just a few minutes down the road from where the current stadium is located – and it was here the famous club was born.
The principles of the foundation could not be more basic. The club was created to raise funds to feed and clothe the poor of the East End parishes where there had been a heavy concentration of Irish immigrants. The club’s name derived from the word that best suited the culture that united the traditions of Ireland and Scotland.
It was decided that although the club would maintain and promote a Catholic ethos, it would still remain open to persons of all denominations, creeds, colours and ability. Within a year, going into 1888, they assembled a team of players, adapted a kit and built their own ground thanks to the voluntary labour of the people who would become their first and most faithful followers.
Originally penned by Jonathan Foley in January 2022
In the build-up to Celtic’s final match of the Scottish Premier Division against European hopefuls St Johnstone – Saturday 9th May, 1998 – there was a duality within the emotions to the usual roars of the Celtic Park crowd as the two teams took to the field.
On the surface, the stadium looked more spectacular than usual that afternoon. As glorious sunshine bathed the playing surface, it seemed as though every single man, woman and child, lucky enough to get a ticket that day, was wearing more green and white than usual.
Caught up in a gentle breeze, a scattering of party balloons floated around the stands. Some had trickled on to the pitch while the ritual pre-kick off ritual rendition of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ echoed with more haunting purpose than it ever had done before. It was essentially a prayer in all but name.
Underneath the fanfare and wash of club-coloured pariphanilia and decoration lay a deep sense of nervous tension however. Celtic’s players and fans were unison in the knowledge that a win in this fixture would see them officially crowned champions of Scotland for the first time in a decade; a proverbial eternity for a club such as Celtic.
Anything other than a win would mean that crosstown-rivals Rangers would likely snatch the title for themselves was worrying enough.
Moreover, a Celtic failure – of which there had been plenty in the preceding ten years – would not only mean the loss of a league title. It would also see Rangers win the elusive ‘10-a-Row’ and ultimately banish Celtic’s cherished accolade of nine successive titles (1966-74) from the history books altogether.
Having the record equalled at the end of the previous campaign was tough enough to take for the Celtic faithful. Such is the intensity of the rivalry between these two Clydeside clubs, it’s not as though Rangers were going to be content with drawing level with the record. They were out to overtake Celtic and put themselves in the historical reckoning.
In the final weeks of the season, it appeared to be Celtic who were taking the initiative in the title race. A splattering of nervous-by-the-occasion draws however kept Rangers in the hunt and on the final day of a most important season, it would all come down to this.
In Walter Smith’s sixth season as Rangers’ manager, he had never not won a league championship. With an expensive array of talent that he’d signed in earlier in the season from Serie A , he had his sights on another. On the other hand, after much boardroom and financial trouble in the not too distant past before this, Celtic had put their latest trust in Wim Jansen.
ONE YEAR EARLIER
Merely twelve months earlier, Celtic had the look and feel of a scourged harvest.
Battling performances against Rangers in the 1996-97 campaign were to be marginally admired, but ultimately, all four of the league meetings had ended in victories for the city’s blue half. Even Celtic’s hopes of a consolation Scottish Cup success ended with an embarrassing loss to lower-division Falkirk in the semi-final.
This unfortunately spelled the end of long term club servant, Tommy Burns, who was relieved from his position as manager. Spoiler alert, but the silver cloud of Burns’s tenure was that would not only be invited back as a coach years later, but that his name remains ever fondly remembered.
Back in the summer of 1997 though, things didn’t get much better after his departure when the attacking trio of Jorge Cadete, Paolo DiCanio and Pierre vanHooijdonk all packed their bags and abandoned the club. A soap opera of walkouts at the same time as when Rangers fans were dancing in the streets chanting ‘9-in-a-Row.’ while quickly escalating those into calls for Ten!
There was a sense of ‘Wim who?’ when the board of directors, under the chairmanship of Fergus McCann, unveiled him as the new Head Coach. As Rob MacLean reported for BBC Scotland, “the Dutchman has previously coached in the J-League with Hiroshima where one reporter there unflatteringly claimed ‘Jansen was the second worst disaster to ever hit this city.’”
The overall setup was rather curious too. Officially, Jock Brown – a football commentator with BBC and Sky Sports just a few months earlier – was to be the General Manager with Jansen as Head Coach.
While it became fairly self-evident early on that Brown and Jansen were far from bosom buddies, things would need to be shaken up on the playing field as quickly as possible. It might be hard to fathom for some nowadays, but Celtic were hugely active during the summer transfer market and by the time the season opener came around, seven new players had signed.
Arguably the most notable signings were those of Marc Reiper (West Ham, £1.8m), Craig Burley (Chelsea, £2.5m) and a certain Swede who Jansen knew well from his time in the Netherlands, Henrik Larsson (Feyenoord, £650,000).
The quality of players would take a bit of time to settle and gel together, but it was clear that Jansen was adapting a new approach for Celtic as a whole.
A SOLID UNIT
Traditionally, Celtic had often received praise for their cavalier and alamoesque methods that they had incorporated into their attacking game. As entertaining as that often was to watch, it was so often their undoing at that back where defenders and goalkeepers were essentially left helplessly abandoned.
Jansen was adamant that the new testament of contemporary football should be played with a strong defensive unit, the utilization of wingers, a compact midfield – later added to by the signing of Paul Lambert in November (Borussia Dortmund, £2m) – and a forward line where one played behind the other.
Physical strength was going to be key as well as pace down the flanks. ‘Total Football!” Not just attacking alone!
Despite a horrendous start to the league campaign where they lost their opening two games to Hibernian and Dunfermline, the team did, slowly but surely, begin to mold into Jansen’s image.
A great run of wins followed from late August into November and during that run, they graciously bowed out of the UEFA Cup only on away goals to Liverpool – after an immensely spirited performance at Anfield – while also booking their place in the final of the Coca-Cola Cup.
In an age of Britpop music and Girl Power, Celtic fans started to steadily add to their knowledge as to just who their new gaffer really was.
The fact that search engines hadn’t become a thing yet didn’t stop fans from learning that Jansen had actually played against Celtic before; that game being the 1970 European Cup Final no less! Not only that, but he’d also played in the 1974 World Cup Final for Holland against West Germany. A former teammate of Johan Cruyff and Johan Neeskins to boot!
Celtic did hit something of a rocky patch in early November. Losing the first Old Firm meeting of the season at Ibrox as a painful, but albeit important lesson to learn. They also lost at home to Motherwell a week later, but there was a point salvaged in the rearranged home game with Rangers when a stoppage time header by Alan Stubbs made it 1-1 and hope was restored.
As much as the League Cup is looked down upon, Celtic realized that if they could win that trophy by overcoming Dundee United in the final, it would likely whet their appetite for more silverware come the rest of the season. And rest assured, the Celts stormed to a comfortable 3-0 win in that final and, with that, the Dutchman had his hands on his first trophy as Celtic boss.
Rumblings off the park couldnt be ignored though. The disunity between Jansen and Brown’s working relationship was showing cracks and their dislike of one another became worthy of media attention. It seemed as though Jansen had a maverick tendency to go against club policy at times which angered those on the board. Talk of a break clause in his contract also got headlines.
The priority focus hadn’t shifted far from anyone’s thoughts that the league title must take precedence. Going into December, Jansen further added to the squad by bringing in Harald Brattbakk from FC Rosenborg. A late Burley goal against Hearts proved crucial in keeping Celtic in the title race, but 1997 would end in a frustrating loss away to St Johnstone.
On the morning of the New Year Derby, Celtic trailed Rangers by four points and they knew all too well that a loss in this fixture could be the most telling factor in the title race.
This was a Hogmanay fixture that Celtic hadn’t won in ten years. Frank McAvennie’s double on a mucky pitch in 1988 seemed a lifetime ago to those who stood in The Jungle that day, but alas the Bhoys rose to the occasion this time and thanks to two wonderful goals, one from Burley and a screamer from Lambert, Celtic were right back in the hunt.
Despite the occasional draw here and there, Celtic went into April unbeaten in 1998 and went into the final Old Firm league meeting of the season holding a three-point lead over their rivals. As expected, Rangers were not going to lay down and, on Easter Sunday, a hailstone shower didn’t drown out the noise of the Rangers support as their side powered to a 2-0 win.
Four games to go. All square.
THE FINAL FURLONG
In mid-to-late April, Celtic seized back the initiative with a 4-1 victory over Motherwell and hope sprang eternal when Rangers suffered a shock defeat away at Aberdeen the following day. One Saturday later though, Celtic blew the chance to push ahead after an infuriating 0-0 draw at home to Hibernian while, on the same day, Rangers cut back the gap by thrashing Hearts 3-0.
As the May Bank Holiday weekend approached, Rangers were up first and after two tough away games, they were expected to breeze past Kilmarnock in a home game. This would also put them ahead of Celtic and no doubt grant them the psychological edge in the race. Low-and-behold though, a last-gasp Ally Mitchell Killie winner kills the Ibrox party atmosphere.
All Celtic need to do is win away at Dunfermline, which they’d already done twice this season already in both the league and the cup, and the title race would be officially and mathematically over. A first-half Simon Donnelly strike hit the net and the corkscrews were being turned. Typically, it went back on ice when the Pars snatched a draw seven minutes from time.
Going into that final six days before the league decider must’ve been full of immense pressure for the Celtic players, but although the support continued to go their way, sympathy wasn’t always forthcoming. Club writers like Matt McGlone documented his feelings clearly that the “league should be well and truly in the bag by now” with some fans echoing his sentiment.
Issues over Jansen’s contract had become an issue for the club when, back in February, he openly admitted to the press that he had a breakout clause in his deal with Celtic. Essentially, this meant that he could leave the club after a year of his initial three-year-agreement and with the Rangers’ charge for number ten still on the go, where a record created by the Lisbon Lions had to be protected, it must’ve felt chaotic in-house, to say the least.
LAST CHANCE SALOON
All in all, it all came down to a simple plan for Jansen’s men. Beat St Johnstone on Saturday and the league will be won in front of their own fans. Fans who deserve it, more than most, for their loyalty that had never waned nor wilted during the storm of the last decade or so.
Jansen may have had no love for the likes of Jock Brown, or indeed most of the boardroom it later emerged, but there was no denying his devotion to his players and supporters.
In the second minute of this very crucial game, Henrik Larsson cut inside and unleashed a fearsome curling effort that bellowed into the net and the cheers that rang out from the stands must’ve echoed throughout all of the East End.
There was still a job to do of course. Celtic couldn’t quite find a second goal for a long time and having been stung late on in the game against Dunfermline only six days earlier, the tension amongst the support was understandably unbearable at times. Radio sets held to the ears giving news that Rangers were two up at Tannadice didn’t do much to help the nerves either.
Going into the final twenty minutes or so, Harald Brattbakk made his way on as a substitute. He’d become a fairly maligned character after an inconsistent run of performances, but Jansen and the fans stayed loyal to him and, somewhat typically, it was the trainee pilot / accountant who wrote his name in Celtic’s folklore.
Determined not to give up possession of the ball, club captain Tommy Boyd held strong under attention from an opponent to send a long one forward. It found Jackie McNamara whose burst of pace saw him fly down the wing and it was his low cross that found Brattbakk to slot home.
Bedlam! Absolute bedlam, maybe with a wee touch of emotional tearge, from the crowd.
Eighteen minutes later, the final whistle finally confirmed Celtic as the champions of Scotland for the first time in far too long. Boyd wept tears of joy before making his way up to kiss and collect the trophy.
Chants of ‘Championaaays! Championaaays!’ rang loud and proud and iconic image of a bare chested Enrico Annoni hoisting Wim Jansen off his feet to share in a jubilant embrace probably confirms the theory that, despite all the politics that had gone on behind-the scenes, Wim Jansen’s loyalty to his players and the supporters always came first … just like the team did!
Although when the dust settled and the hangovers subsided, Wim Jansen departed the club just two days later. While it did prompt a response from fans that was targeted at McCann and Brown, their support of the Dutchman showed.
Nevertheless, Jansen rode off into the sunset leaving Celtic fans safe in the knowledge that they could now add the chant of ‘Cheeriooooo to Ten in a Row!’ to their evergrowing playlist of anthems.
“Wim who” had become “Wim the Tim!”
On a personal level, just for a sec, I’d like to give thanks in my own way to what Wim Jansen did for Celtic Football Club. He took the reigns on when I was just 12 years old. I was an extremely shy kid at the time. I was finding the transition into secondary school very difficult and my parents – for a time anyway – split up.
As you can imagine, it was a fairly confusing time during my youthful adolescence. Football though, and Celtic in particular, became my health and well-being. They gave me heroes to look up to; not to mention some dreams and songs to sing.
THE JERSEY SAGA OF 2001. Originally penned by Jonathan Foley in January 2022.
It might seem somewhat unthinkable now but in the not too distant past, there was a genuine threat of a boycott by Celtic fans over the jersey that launched a little over two decades ago.
In the spring of 2001, Celtic were storming towards their 38th league title.
Martin O’Neill’s side had overhauled Rangers’ dominance and a 1-0 win over their fiercest rivals in February – thanks to a goal by Alan Thompson – had put them firmly in the driving seat of the title race.
With a League Cup Final on the horizon in March, as well as a good run in the Scottish Cup still going, the supporters dared to dream of their first domestic Treble since the Jock Stein era.
Off the park, there were some rumblings of discontent however. The club had unveiled the new home jersey which was set for public release on St Patrick’s Day.
In conjunction with Umbro, the kit suppliers to Celtic at the time, the new strip was being marketed as “the most technically innovative Celtic FC have ever had.”
Along the sides of the jersey were air-holed ventilation strips. This allowed for more player comfort and mobility compared to the slightly heavier and baggier tops of the late nineties.
There was just one problem though.
These new vents meant that the iconic green and white hoops, that are so widely synonymous with Celtic, were broken. Thus leading to a backlash from some supporters groups.
Hoops had been a staple of Celtic’s iconography since 1903. Previous to this, they’d worn a white jersey with an embedded cross as well as a number of seasons adorning horizontal striped shirts.
An article in The Herald, dated 13th February 2001, published statements from a supporters club who called for a boycott of this new jersey. Many believed it was a disrespectful break of a most important club tradition.
The wording that was used in the same article took on something of a doomsday prophecy. The jersey was referred to as being “sacrificial to history” and that the club had “surrendered its morals on the altar of consumerism.”
In retrospect, it was all a case of Much Ado About Nothing. Pre-order figures of the jersey were promising and, back on the playing front, the team were flying.
By the time Celtic were officially crowned as league champions in April, the players were already wearing the new strip in their matches.
More importantly, these were the games that did lead them to that famous Treble.
It would also be the very jersey that they would wear through another successful league winning season in 2002 – a season which saw them compete on the main stage of the Champions League for the very first time – and also during their run to the UEFA Cup Final in 2003.
When fans recall those happy memories, the issue over underarm air vents doesn’t seem to come up all that much anymore. And it certainly never stopped any chants of “C’mon the Hoops!”
Originally penned by Jonathan Foley in January 2022
Scooting over to MacCumhaill Park for Donegal games – be it in the National League or the Ulster Championship – is something I’ve been doing for as long as I can remember.Intercounty games are great for generating a sense of pride in one’s county, but how does it work on a more national, and indeed an international, level?
There’s an old proverb which states that the ‘closer you are to something, the harder it is to see it.’ When it comes to national pride, that may bore some truth when we attend GAA matches. The Irish tricolour gets raised aloft, Amhran na bhFiann gets performed and sprinklings of the gaelige language are to be seen and heard over the tannoy and in the match programmes.
And, of course, there’s nothing wrong with that. The GAA have never been shy in portraying themselves as being anything other than a sporting organisation who openly carry a strong political and cultural undertone. To their immense credit, they are one of the last bastions in Irish society who continue to develop a wide variety of traditional events and spectacles.
But what about other countries? Are we alone in this quest for patriotism through sport?
Having spent two summers in the United States in my twenties, I enjoyed conversing with their citizens about why they followed the sports they did and how they felt about certain aspects of political undertones in their games. People tend to brand Americans as brash ignorant, but speak to them about what they know and love, and that stereotype becomes redundant.
During those summers in the States, I learned that sometimes you don’t need to learn everything from a textbook. As we guzzled cold bottles of Bud amid the wailing sound of traffic and shining neon New York City lights – never forgetting to tip – conversations often cropped with our fellow high-stoolers along the bar about sports.
With it being ever constant on the big screens, it was hard not to get chatting about it.
The general consensus that came from the locals was that baseball was the quintessential and truly American game. It was a cornerstone of social activity where kids ‘stickball’ on the corners of neighbourhood streets in the likes of Brooklyn. Some elders recounted the day of deviation when their beloved Dodgers packed up and moved their franchise to Los Angeles in 1957.
It also led me to research an interesting development in the late 1970s when the Cosmos soccer team signed Pelé for an extortionate amount of money.
Even though Major League Soccer league wasn’t born for a further twenty years, soccer became big business and Pelé’s move was widely jeered by baseball fans who felt that soccer was an opponent of a true American game. “Nothing but an aul foreign sport,” as you might hear some devout GAA heads utter along the stands of matches here.
In terms of politics becoming linked to American sports, it’s clear to anyone watching how the powers-that-be promote patriotism in the pre-game build-up. It’s not uncommon to see a military fanfare and marching band take to the field on the day of an American Football match; stars and stripes are unfurled and the Star-Spangled Banner anthem rings out with high decibels.
Although the US National Anthem didn’t officially become the song of the nation until 1931, it already had a long-presence at sporting venues long beforehand. It had been purposely utilised to keep morale high during the World War years and resurfaced greatly again in the wake of the 9/11 attacks at the beginning of this century.
While soccer has steadily risen in popularity in America since the country hosted the 1994 World Cup, it’s still not expected to ever surpass the devotion most American citizens have towards the likes of baseball, basketball, football and hockey. One might think that this is because soccer is considered to be too low-scoring and pedestrian for American tastes but there’s more to it.
The United States of America is built on the foundations of capitalism and free-enterprise. Their games have an unimaginable amount of stoppages and timeouts throughout a given match and this leads to commercial breaks and a chance for those in attendance to divulge their sweet-tooth with hot-dogs and nachos. After all, sports are branded as family events.
I witnessed this firsthand in 2007. When David Beckham togged out for his first game with LA Galaxy, the TV broadcasters curiously cut to adverts and interviews with spectators – including Jim Carey – during the game itself. On a visit to Shea Stadium to see the New York Mets, there were players standing around idle for what felt like ages. Why was this? Ad breaks, of course.
There’s no denying that Americans are truly a fanatical sports nation. Even though there’s definitely been a growing interest in the playoff series and showpiece events like the Superbowl on these shores in recent times, if you do see their games as slow and too stop-start, there is an underlying reason for patriotism behind that.
Originally penned by Jonathan Foley in December 2021.
Friday January 2, 1998: Celtic 2-0 Rangers.
Just as the Hogmanay celebrations subsided, the Celtic faithful were ‘Bhoying’ themselves up again pretty quickly for the imminent arrival of Rangers to Glasgow’s East on January 2nd.
Back in 1998, Celtic were in the early stages of a restructure under new manager Wim Jansen. Despite a rocky start to the season, the Hoops and their plethora of new signings went on a fantastic run throughout much of September and October.
They hit a bit of a sticky pitch in November when they went three games without a win, but crucially in the run, they’d secured a vital 1-1 draw with their crosstown rivals thanks to a stoppage time header by Alan Stubbs. Come January, Celtic were looking to go one better.
Rangers were in hot pursuit of their tenth successive league title that year. Marco Negri had already noticed a staggering 33 goals by the turn of the year, but despite the fact they held a four point lead going into this game, there was a feeling that they were still there for the taking.
One of Celtic’s major undoings in previous Old Firm meetings was a leaky defense. Although they could often attack in a dazzling manner in these intense fixtures, their Achilles heal, time after time, was getting caught on the break by Rangers’ talismanic figures like Paul Gascoigne and Brian Laudrup to name but a few.
There was a different feeling around Parkhead this time however. It seemed as though Jansen was righting the wrongs of the past by installing a solid and watertight defensive unit through Marc Rieper, Enrico Annoni and the aforementioned Stubbs.
On the day itself, the game was covered by the Sky Sports commentary duo of Martin Tyler and Andy Gray on the gantry. It’s hard to imagine now but yes, this pair often covered Scottish football meetings back in those days.
Celtic Park was well underway with its completion but the section we now know as the Jock Stein Stand was still eight months away. A rickety terrace behind the goal, known simply as the ‘temporary stand’ would have to suffice.
Lesser numbers certainly didn’t reduce the atmosphere as the teams took to the field. And credit where credit is due, the Rangers fans in the far corner added brilliantly to the spectacle with an array of colour and cheering of their own.
The game itself started as a fairly edgey affair. Tough tackles were going in – adding much to the noise levels from the crowd – and Rangers felt aggrieved for not being awarded an early penalty when Stubbs put a strong barge into the body of Laudrup.
Gradually, the game opened up. Celtic’s new signing Harald Brattbakk was generating huge hopes but he was denied on at least three occasions, in the first half alone, by Rangers goalkeeper Andy Goram.
Typically, Goram always seemed to save his best for games against Celtic.
Following the interval, Celtic burst into life and began to start turning the screw with more severity. Their passing and running was frantic but measured and they came close when Henrik Larsson struck the post from a side footed volley.
Inevitably, there was the traditional sprinkling of questionable refereeing decisions thrown in. A curious offside against Brattbakk and a bewildering decision to stop Paul Lambert’s charge on the grounds that the ball was out of play maybe had Celtic fans thinking the worst.
Thankfully, the deadlock would be broken in the 65th minute. A lovely mazy run by Jackie McNamara saw him play a delightfully delicate reverse pass into the path of Craig Burley who struck low and hard, first time, into the Rangers net.
“Well its a magnificent, magnificent goal … it’s been on the cards. It’s arrived right on cue for Celtic” proclaimed Andy Gray.
Despite the jubilation, there was still a storm to be weathered as Walter Smith unleashed ‘Gazza’ from the bench. His flute-playing gestures during his warm-up wasn’t endearing him to the Celtic supporters.
And yet the Geordie was finding it difficult to adapt to the pace of the game and was lucky not to be dismissed after a tussle with Lambert.
Going into the closing stages, Celtic were on the brink but they knew that nothing can be taken for granted in a fixture like this. Goram wasn’t giving up the fight anyway as he brilliantly saved a venomous strike from Darren Jackson.
In the same passage of play though, Larsson’s cross to the back post was headed outwards by Alec Cleland. Rangers however still hadn’t cleared their lines properly as the ball dropped invitingly to Paul Lambert.
Still at least twenty five yards out and with only one thought on his mind, he went for it. To be fair, I think the commentary team said it best with this one:
“That’s Laaambeert!!! … Ohhhhhh, what a way to settle it!! No chance for Goram!! No chance now for Rangers … and it is bedlam at Celtic Park!! (Martin Tyler)”
“It’s unstoppable! It’s unsavable! It’s an absolutely magnificent way for Celtic to finish their afternoon! Take that! You just do not save those! Take a bow, son! That’s a great goal! (Andy Gray)”
An absolute screamer that crashed in off the post beyond a hapless Goram.
Songs rang out around the famous stadium for the remaining moments and when the final whistle did go, the victory was confirmed; their first in a New Year game since 1988 and also their first over Rangers for almost three years.
For the moment, Rangers’ lead at the top was cut to one and the title race was well and truly back on. More drama was to follow in that season of course but this was a major turning point, at New Year, for Celtic.