John Martin

John Martin: Five reasons to admire 2015

TRIBUTE...The Fermanagh hurlers honoured the memory of Shane Mulholland

TRIBUTE…The Fermanagh hurlers honoured the memory of Shane Mulholland

THE past 12 months’ action has already taken a bit of a battering in hurling circles for being a year to forget. Certainly the Championship of 2015 didn’t live up to recent years, but it still provided some highlights. On the final day of 2015, here’s my five most memorial moments of the year.

Fermanagh win the Lory Meagher Cup

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Not all memorable moments come from the top flight. Fermanagh’s first ever Meagher Cup was historic in its own right, but the manner in which the squad responded to the death of their team-mate Shane Mulholland in a car accident at just 27 years of age is a memory of 2015 that transcends sport.
The Fermanagh squad left a space for their team-mate in team photos throughout the rest of the year and after the Meagher Cup final in Croke Park in which they trailed by seven points after 20 minutes, captain JP McGarry dedicated the victory to Shane, his wife Vanessa and daughter Aisling.

The Ulster final

It is perhaps as good a benchmark as any when measuring the 2015 season that by the middle of August, the best game of the year was the Ulster final between Down and Antrim. Ok, so the end result was predicted and the record books will show that Antrim won their 14th consecutive crown, but for the second year in a row, the Ulster decider provided full value for the paying Ulster hurling public.
Owenbeg again provided the setting for the decider and attracted a (relatively) large crowd of around 1,200 to Foreglen where a crowd of that size can, at least, generate a bit of atmosphere.
The standard of hurling may not have matched that which was taking place at the same time 200 miles down the road in Semple Stadium where Waterford and Tipp were meeting in the Munster final, but the excitement levels were at fever pitch in the final quarter as Down looked like closing in on their first title since 1997.
Excitement often trumps quality when it comes to simply enjoying a championship final and when Donal Hughes sent over a 68th minute point to put Down ahead, their supporters had reason to believe. But late points from PJ O’Connell and Conor McKinley brought another title for the Saffrons.

Galway v Tipperary, All-Ireland semi-final

The Ulster final was never going to get the ‘game of the year’ accolade, but in any case it was surpassed a few weeks later by a super encounter between Galway and Tipperary at Croke Park. It was a game for the ages that will be remembered for the performances of two men, on two different teams, with one surname.
Tipperary’s Seamus Callinan and Galway keeper Colm Callinan both had a stormer of a game. Seamus quite rightly took the man of the match accolade, scoring 3-9 on a day on which he ended up on the losing side.
He scored his three goals from play, each of them off Padraig Mannion who was eventually was switched with John Hanbury. Callinan won a penalty off Hanbury but it was tipped over by his namesake who made a number of fantastic saves throughout the 70 minutes.
In a superb tit for tat battle, a game in which every single player emptied the tank, Shane Maloney came off the bench to seal the winner for the Tribesmen. Far and away the standout game of the year.

Noel McGrath gets a standing ovation

With less than eight minutes remaining of the All-Ireland semi-final between Tipp and Galway, Noel McGrath made his return to inter-county hurling to a rapturous standing ovation from both sets of supporters.
It was just four months after the Loughmore clubman underwent surgery for testicular cancer. He looked like making a fairytale return to the fold when putting the Premier county ahead on 69 minutes, but late scores from Jason Flynn and Shane Maloney denied Tipp victory.
On the final whistle, Galway manager Anthony Cunningham went straight over to McGrath to shake his hand.

Joe Canning’s sublime goal v Kilkenny, Leinster final

The best goal in Croke Park since Olcan McFetridge turned mid-air to ripple the back of the net while on his knees in the 1989 All-Ireland semi-final against Offaly was scored by Joe Canning in this year’s Leinster final.
It wasn’t Canning’s finest year by his own standards. He’d float in and out of games, and his decision-making was very poor at times. He produced a moment of brilliance however 32 minutes into the Leinster final.
“Every young fella in the country will be practising hat in the back garden tomorrow,” predicted Anthony Daly on the Sunday Game. I’d say they’ll be practising a long time before perfecting a move that saw Canning somehow manage to catch a long ball from Andy Smith at the edge of the square whilst semi-falling backwards, turn, and send an unstoppable shot past Eoin Murphy. His balance, awareness of where the net was, his execution of the shot whilst off-balance was amazing. Easily the goal of the year.
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