Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Niall & Paddy's Road To South Africa!

Today see's the much deserved call up to the Northern Ireland squad for two Derry bhoys currently showcasing their skills at the Celtic Football Club.

On a purely footballing note, this is good news for Nigel Worthington's green and white army.  Both Niall McGinn and Pat McCourt have been in excellent form recently and the addition of these two players can only make our midfield stronger.  McCourt has been making all the headlines in Scotland with some strands of the tartan media putting Paddy on a par with, who else, but George Best!  Then again, since when did anyone actually believe anything The Sun newspaper published?!

Sorry, but the Best comparison is definately pushing it (unless they mean his drinking exploits).

However, McCourt would be right to set his sights first and foremost on making himself a regular fixture in the Celtic line-up week-in week-out before any credible comparisons can be drawn.  Same goes for young McGinn.  He's probably seen some of the limelight taken from him by Paddy's publicity in recent weeks but there's no doubt about it, the former Dungannon Swifts & Derry City winger is one for the future.  It was duely noted by the lads in the Northern Ireland set-up.  They rate him very highly.  They also realise a huge gap has been left in the NI midfield with Keith Gillespie's departure from international football, and the opportunity for Niall is definately there.

Expect both Paddy and Niall to get run-outs in next months World Cup 'qualifier' against Czech Republic.  The word 'qualifier' not really justifying it's use in this occasion as both teams are all but out of contention barring a San Marino draw with Slovenia... and to be fair to San Marino, there's more chance Michael Jackson doing a 50 show comeback tour 'live from the grave'.

But you can bet that should the inevitable occur, Paddy and Niall be back stronger than ever next year for the European Championship's in 2012. 

Good luck bhoys! Do 'Our Wee Country' proud.

Thursday, 24 September 2009


It's not quite Paddy's Day but I'm all for random excuses to celebrate and get legless!  17:59 today marks the 250 year anniversary of our favourite old hobo's brew 'Guinness'.

A drink the whole island can be rightly proud of. So Billy from Ballybeen, put down that can of McEwan's lager, and raise a glass of the black stuff (no, not Buckfast!) to another of Ulster's finest.  The Guinness family, though Protestants, claimed descent from the Magennis Gaelic Catholic clan of County Down in the 1600's.

So not only were they of the 'Orange' persuasion, they were from the beautiful county of Down!  And who says Guinness always tastes nicer in Dublin?? What a load of Dog's Bollocks!!

If you're wondering why the celebration doesn't kick off until 17:59 - that marks the year Guinness was founded.

To coincide with the anniversary of this great Irish institution, Dublin's top venues and indeed some of the city's smallest pubs will be playing host to some of world’s biggest bands as Ireland marks 250 years since Arthur Guinness signed the lease on the St James’ Gate Brewery to create one of Ireland’s true icons.

Bands confirmed to be performing in Dublin tonight include Kasabian, Estelle, The Kooks, Razorlight, David Gray, Soul II Soul, The Blizzards, Sugababes, Jamie Cullum, The Enemy, Calvin Harris, The Undertones, Mongrel, The Wombats, Richard Hawley, David Holmes, Black Swan Effect, Imelda May, The Hot Rats, Reverend and the Makers and Republic of Loose.

Me? Well, I'll be serving those pints of Guinness at The Academy on Middle Abbey Street, just off O'Connell Street (the place where conveniently the Luas met a Dublin Bus last week!).  We won't be the highlight of the celebrations that's for sure (the main event is at the Guinness storehouse) but it should make for a very special night regardless wherever you are in the city.  I'm reliably informed Dublin's very own Imelda May headlines, along with The Kooks, Richard Hawley, Sharon Shannon, and the lovely ex-Neighbour Natalie Imbruglia!  I know I know, I wanted Tom Jones in there too...

By the way, if you can't make it to Dublin for the festivities, be sure to flick over to Sky One for live coverage (it's ok to do this - the football was on last night).

250 years and still going strong.


The Black Stuff - Where are you drinking yours?

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

If You're Second You Are Nothing...

... Ferguson & Shankly - 9/10. Irish Connection UK recommends! Essential read for United & Liverpool fans - a must have for budding young managers!

Shanks and Fergie.  Two absolute legends in English football.  Two proud Scots, two proud clubs.  The embarassment of riches that both Manchester United and Liverpool now enjoy can arguably be put down to these two men. Roughed-up in the 'slums' of Glasgow, they brought their own unique traits to the game yet you can't help but draw the similarities both men posessed as football managers.  They may have plyed their managerial careers in vastly different era's in time, but that Glaswegian grit to be a success remained consistant throughout.

Oliver Holt is an award-winning sports journalist who writes for the Daily Mirror newspaper. Essentially this was his take on the careers of Bill Shankly and Sir Alex Ferguson.  Comparisons aplenty throughout this book which perhaps reflected worse on Ferguson that it did Shankly.  Take into consideration this book was published in 2005 when United were going through their biggest trophy drought since the early 90's.  Holt's view of Sir Alex was that he "perhaps should have retired in 2002 when he originally proposed".  At the time this may have seen as a credible statement.  Yet to doubt Ferguson is to dance with the Devil - and I don't mean Fred the Red!

Bill Shankly was one of the greatest.  Liverpool Football Club was his life.  He started the revolution at Anfield, yet walked away.  He claimed he just wanted a break from the game, but that was hardly going to leave the club in the best of situations.  It would inevitably led to an increased lack of stability.  Therefore the decision was taken to appoint his successor, the great Bob Paisley, Shankly's right-hand man.  Shankly couldn't stand his break from the game, he wanted back in.  He thought Liverpool would have welcomed him back with open arms - they didn't.  In many ways the story Holt told of 'Shanks' was that of a lonely man who simply wasn't complete without his club, Liverpool.  On the other hand, you have Sir Alex Ferguson, probably the greatest manager of all-time.  23 years in charge of Manchester United, and counting!  With United it was Championships galore, FA Cups aplenty, three major European tropies and the countless rest.  But perhaps his greatest achievements (don't laugh) came as manager of Aberdeen.  He broke the 'Old Firm' dominance in Scotland.  It was no longer a two horse race between Rangers & Celtic.  Ferguson had even taken the 'Dons' to Europe, and conquored that too!  The man is simply a genius.

So when it comes down to it.  Who's better? Ferguson or Shankly? Silly question, hand on heart it's Fergie.  Even the head say's Fergie.  Britain's (world's?) longest serving manager with two European Cup's in the bag.  Shank's got close in 65' but alas never got his hands on 'old big ears' - the mark of a truly great manager.  Holt claimed throughout the book that Ferguson stayed on too long and Shankly never stayed on long enough.  He's right - about Shankly.  He didn't stay on long enough. The reigns of impending glory were handed over much too soon. Who can argue with Bob Paisley's record? He's still ahead of Fergie in European Cup triumphs.  Yet Shankly is the man most people will refer too when they talk lovingly of the history at LFC.  That is why I feel Shanks and Paisley are on a far with one another.  They both share the development and glory of Liverpool FC.  Whereas with Ferguson, it was all him.  Sir Matt Busby was the role model - Sir Alex Ferguson took it to the next level - and continues to do so. 

So all in all, the title of the book suggests 'If You Are Second You Are Nothing'.  This cannot be described as the case for these two icons of the game.  Ferguson and Shankly are in-comparable.  Credit must go to Oliver Holt for his analysis on their distinct footballing successes.  He has judged both men as history will... in a class of their own.

“Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it's much more serious than that.” - One quote uniting two great men.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Windsor Park it is then...

And so, we know at last the Irish Football Association's opinion on where they see Northern Ireland international matches being played in the long-term. They shall remain at the home of Linfield FC at Windsor Park.

The South Belfast venue has played host to some of my most memorable nights in football. My favourite was the historic Healy strike against England in 2005 (wasn't everyone's?!). But for me, his consolation header against Norway a year previous in a 4-1 defeat was just as special, ending 1298 minutes without a goal. Windsor rocked, quite literally. Those who have experienced the Railway Stand will know what I'm talking about. It is now closed, leaving Northern Ireland matches a whole section of fans down. The place is an accident waiting to happen!

Good on the IFA for making it clear what's going to happen. Windsor Park will see a re-vamp. Lets bring this fine old ground into the Twenty-First century. Let's have a national stadium that will surpass even that of the great Huddersfield Town, and the likes, who ply their trade in the lower leagues of English football.

Of course, I'm not oblivious to the fact this decision will once again see the political aspect brought into play once again. Northern nationalists will say it should be moved out of the predominately loyalist area it is currently in down by Sandy Row. It's a fair point.

As Jim Bowan would say, "Let's have a look at what we could have won"...

Option 1.) A brand spanking new stadium at the city centre location of Ormeau Park - in close proximity to Central train station and an excellent Metro system. Surely, the best way to get more Northern nationalists to switch back to the 'one true Ireland' and attend NI matches is to stick the thing on their doorstep! But then again, I wouldn't hold my breath...

Option 2.) The Maze. A good idea at the start. We talked of rugby, football and gaelic games being played here. We would all meet up once a year, hold hands in the centre spot and proclaim our shared sporting future. We'd see Ulster one week, Norn Iron the next and of course the mighty County Down GAA!! But once we all pulled ourselves from cloud nine (or cookoo land for most people) reality had one long lingering bite. Political football's, political rugby ball's, and even political hurley's were brandished around like a Graham Poll yellow card, ultimately pinning several nails into the proposed site in Lisburn. Yes indeed Gerry, let's build a 'shrine to the hunger strikers'. It really must have been a slow news day for the Sinn Fein propaganda team on the Falls Road. Foot in mouth disease finally putting an end to moving our national stadium out of Belfast.

Option 3.) The Blanchflower Stadium in east Belfast. 10 minutes on the metro from the city centre. Overlooking our favourite son's airport (no, not Eamon Holmes!). The new stadium would also be in full view of our picturesque Harland & Wolff cranes. A real gem of a location. It was a winner in my book - and plus Glentoran would be it's long-term residents ;)

However, it isn't to be... for now. Tradition rather than extradition reigns surprime as it usually does in local football. But we are seeing increasing signs of change. Glentoran vs Bangor was the first ever Irish league game to take place on a Sunday in the country. It's a decision that was brought about through the IFA's dropping of the dreaded 'Never on a Sunday' rule. So, there's hope for the future of football in Northern Ireland.

After alot of consideration on this issue I feel keeping national football at Windsor Park is a good decision by the IFA. It is one of the most progressive associations in current times. For example, the Football For All campaign is being used as a model for other aspiring nations with political issues. The Sea of Green initiative (where fans are encouraged to dress-up in as much green as possible) is without doubt catching on, especially in middle-class Catholic circles. I know this first hand. I know of quite a few Catholic's who wouldn't miss a game at Windsor - home AND away. Any excuse to don the green and white of the super 'Norn Iron'! What can I say, North Down know how to breed them.

People can bad-mouth Windsor Park all they like (and believe me I've done it many's a Boxing Day). But in all fairness we (the Green And White Army) are trying to attract open-minded supporters, there's no sense in attracting you're die-in-the-wool republicans. At the end of the day these people interperate anything progresive to do with 'Our Wee Country' as another blow to 'Irish Freedom'. Let's have more fan versions of your Sammy Clingan's, Gerry Armstrong's of the world. Guy's who just love their football and support their local heroes. Real football people.

I want to see Windsor Park continue it's cross-community initatives, but for Healy's Sake let's have our wee stadium re-built, re-vamped and something all of us can be proud of. Scrapping that slave-like contract with Linfield would be a good foundation in furthering association football in Northern Ireland...

Friday, 4 September 2009

New Northern Ireland Flag?


Personally, I like it.

Credit to a fellow member of the 'OWC' website for what I believe should be the new flag that finally differentiates us from the rest of the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland.

The old 'Ulster Banner' quite simply didn't have the appeal to all sides of Northern Ireland's very much divided community. With this flag I believe it can represent something, every citizen of this great little country of ours, can relate to. Especially at Northern Ireland football matches. With all that green seen on match-day's within the ground it would be a great idea to include the colour in our future flag. Add the 'St Patrick's Cross'. And while we're at it, stick in the Red Hand of Ulster within the six-sided star (of St David) representing the six counties that make up 'Norn Iron'.

Certainly I would welcome YOUR views on the flag.

What's your first impression?

What's your second one?

Do you think it is representative of Northern Ireland?

Would you prefer it with/without the crown?

Can you relate to it?

Would you be proud of it?

What were your views of the previous official flag of Northern Ireland - the 'Ulster Banner'?