A year delving deeper into the ways of Ulster

BEYOND the sound and fury surrounding Kevin Cassidy’s expulsion from the Donegal senior football panel, the calls for mediation, managers forbidding players to attend social events and all the rest of it, there’s a book.

Declan Bogue of the Gaelic Life newspaper wrote This Is Our Year with the aid of several Gaelic footballers from Ulster. He’s only too happy to take a break from the civil war raging in the northern province about the revelations in the book — specifically about Donegal manager Jim McGuinness’s approach — to offer a stunning revelation: he’s talking about what exactly the book contains.

“It’s not a million miles away from Last Man Standing, Christy O’Connor’s book about hurling goalkeepers over the course of one season. The first 15 chapters deal with the backstory of players, mini-biographies really, and there’s one from each county in Ulster. I wanted to cover all the positions on the field and I also wanted to include a management team, so I got Val Andrews from Cavan involved, and it worked well. From then on, it deals with the perspectives of players on the games up to and including the Ulster final and beyond.”

It’s fair to say that the vast majority of GAA fans in the south never make the long trek to Clones for the Ulster football final, never mind the (even longer) journey further north to even more remote venues such as Casement Park, or Ballybofey. Bogue is frank about his affections for the local championship, however.

“It’s as good a line as I can find — it’s a love letter to the Ulster championship, really,” he says. “So many of these things get centralised nowadays, and power gets taken away from organisations.

“I believe in time, and it may take 10 years to happen, but the Ulster championship will be gone eventually, and the GAA will run its affairs entirely from Croke Park.”

Bogue’s dislike of changing attitudes within the Association, an increasing lack of openness, was sharpened by his experience in writing the book.

“I felt the GAA is becoming this ruthlessly semi-professional organisation, and people are becoming less and less open. When I discussed the project with people, they were saying, ‘well, there are no characters left in the game’, but my answer was nonsense — all you have to do is talk to them and assure them of total discretion until the book is published. If you look at Mickey Harte, there’s a line in his book when he talks about treating players as individuals, and developing them holistically, and the Tyrone players would say that Mickey would advise the players on other areas of their lives apart from football. Mickey Harte doesn’t look on them as commodities, whereas there’s a line in Joe Brolly’s Gaelic Life column this week when he says Jim McGuinness’s problem with Donegal is that his players are human.”

Bogue enjoyed the experience, despite the fall-out in recent days. He describes it as enlightening both professionally and personally.

“I suppose it’s one of those books that I think people might say was a bit ambitious, maybe what you’d do as your third or fourth book after a couple of autobiographies, but I’ve read so many of them and while some are good, you’ll see a few autobiographies come out every year and there are always a few that strike you as get-rich-quick efforts. As a journalist it brought me on in terms of my interviewing technique and even organising my personal time; professionally it was probably the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. But I also made wonderful friends. Certainly the emotional ties I’d have with some of those guys would be very strong, and my understanding of where they come from and what they go through has sent my estimation of them through the roof.”

* This Is Our Year, by Declan Bogue (Ballpoint Press price €14.99).

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