Technological wonder provides startling blast from the past

The imp on my shoulder made an attractive suggestion here.

There was a lot of good stuff in 2012. Boxing glory for Ireland at the Olympics. A good European championships, even if it was unhappy for Ireland. A decent Gaelic football championships and a hurling championship which went to an All-Ireland final replay.

Still... Lance Armstrong’s story in 2012 exposed the hard truths of professional sport, stripping away the veneer of sentimentality that often collects like rust on the most savage combat.

The hardest cynic though, would find celebrating Armstrong — however ironically — too bitter a pill, so I moved on and, in the end, I found a favourite in the most obvious spot.

Not an Olympian, not a Donegal footballer, not a Premiership player or a rugby star. My 2012 sportsperson of the year exists now in a few seconds of brightly-coloured newsreel film, a brief glimpse of an event which took place over half a century ago.

The background: earlier this year, while engaged in rigorous and clearly directed research (trans: feck-acting around watching movie trailers on YouTube), I stumbled across coverage of an All-Ireland minor football final played decades ago.

The fact that it’s in colour, perversely, marks out its age: the faces in the crowd are slightly too pink when the camera pans across them, and the grass is an odd emerald shade. There’s an archaic quality to the wild dive of one of the keepers as the ball flies past for a goal, and the staccato delivery of the commentator could be recounting bullet points from a clash in the 1930s, rather than the first All-Ireland final of the ’60s.

Galway are the victorious team in the clip, but you’d need a forensic eye to pick out some of the players destined for greatness in the brief flurry of action.

Enda Colleran and Noel Tierney, who would anchor Galway’s three-in-a-row at senior level later in the decade, featured on that Galway minor team; so would Johnny Geraghty and Seamus Heydon as well as Sean Cleary and Christy Tyrrell: a pretty impressive crop from one minor side.

The impression of a vast crowd visible in the clip is accurate enough, too: over 89,000 people spilled into Croke Park to see the game which followed the minor match, Down’s historic victory over Kerry in the All-Ireland senior final. That attendance was surpassed, incredibly, by the crowd the following year, but that isn’t the most remarkable aspect of the game for this viewer, and anyway, the clip ends long before Dan McCartan and Sean O’Neill and the others in red and black take the field.

The eye-catching part of the clip for me comes after eight or nine seconds, when Galway — wearing an unfamiliar white strip — defend an attack down the left from opponents Cork, togged out in Munster blue.

The camera pans down to show the Cork forwards looking for room, and the full-forward glancing goalwards to check where his marker is, waiting for the ball to come across while he’s in space near goal.

That Cork full-forward is my father.

Many thanks to anonymous uploader athbhriainabu11, who went to the trouble of putting the few seconds of the 1960 game on line. It is the only clip of my father that we have. It’s even more unusual that it’s a sports clip, as work commitments put an end to his playing days while still in his twenties.

In 1984 he togged out for a Centenary fun match all right: I can see him flick home an early goal with his fist in that game before hammering a shot off the bar minutes later, the ball rocketing down to bounce from the small square out past the 21-metre line, the goalkeeper beaten.

I pick him as my sportsperson of 2012 because he’s my sportsperson of every year: his views on sport still influence me now, years after he passed away. And also because 2012 was the kind of year he would have enjoyed.

Boxing glory for Ireland at the Olympics. A good European championships, even if it was unhappy for Ireland.

A decent Gaelic football championship and a hurling championship which went to an All-Ireland final replay.

All in the future as he looks around in 1960. Glancing goalwards to check where his marker is, waiting for the ball to come across while he’s in space near goal.


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