Athlone had high hopes for 2009. Under the guidance of Brendan Clarke we won our first two games comfortably against St Malachy’s and Kinnegad. It looked as if this was going to be the year when we would emerge from our slumber and mount a genuine title challenge. A narrow loss to Tyrrellspass was followed by two very disappointing losses to The Down’s and St Loman’s leaving us empty handed yet again. Back to the drawing board for 2010 as the pressure mounts to deliver a serious challenge in the 125th year of the club.
Brendan Hackett is a name many of us had not heard of this time last year. A somewhat surprising successor to Tomas O’Flatharta, the Monaghan native has already been busy trying to sort out a panel for 2010. We wish him and his team well in the year ahead.
Clonkill had a hugely successful year. As well as collecting the senior hurling title they gave a good account of themselves in the Leinster campaign, beating the Laois champions and running beaten finalists Tullamore close in the semi-final. Caulry too had a memorable year collecting the Junior football crown.
Donal Og Cusack certainly raised a few eyebrows with the forthright manner in which he dealt with issues regarding his sexual orientation in his book published this year. His honesty put an end to the years of rumour and also won huge respect for the Cork number one.
Edenderry captured the Leinster senior ‘A’ Colleges football title. They beat a highly rated Moate CS side with a late goal in the semi-final played under lights in Tubber.
Fight nights are the latest craze when it comes to raising much needed funds for both club and county teams. Rumour has it that at the recent Tyrone fight night there was more fighting outside the ring than inside it.
Garrycastle will remember 2009 for many a year to come. As well as collecting their fourth county title they became the first Westmeath club to beat Dublin opposition in the provincial campaign. Though ultimately falling short against a seriously good Portlaoise side in the Leinster final, Anthony Cunningham’s men could scarcely have hoped for a better year.
Hurling in the county has plenty of reason for optimism judging by some encouraging underage results this year. The U16 hurlers reached the shield final of the Tipperary Tournament, having beaten Dublin and Waterford along the way. U16 Westmeath schools side won a Leinster title while the U14 hurlers reached the semi-final of the Tony Forrestal Tournament in Waterford.
Individual awards not surprisingly went the way of Kerry and Tipperary with Paul Galvin and Tommy Walshe picking up the hurler and footballer of the year awards respectively.
Jack O’Connor marked his return to management by guiding the Kingdom to another All-Ireland. Team Captain Darren O’Sullivan, a nephew of Athlone selector Denis O’Sullivan, recently brought the Sam Maguire to Athlone. John Keane announced his decision to retire from county football but we all hope he’ll have a rethink.
Kerry and Kilkenny again delivered the goods this year. Wouldn’t be betting against them in ’10 either.
Ladies’ football continues on an upward trend. Ken Dolan guided Garrycastle ladies to the senior county title and they also made it through to the provincial decider. Cork again collected the senior All-Ireland.
Manager’s disputes were certainly a major talking point in 2009. First we had the Gerald McCarthy row in Cork and in more recent times it was the turn of Limerick and Clare to make the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
New rules. A new season kicks off in January and there are even more new rules to get used to.
Oz continues to be a magnet for many of our top GAA prospects. Tommy Walsh and Tadhg Connelly are perhaps the best known duo to have hit for the land down under in recent times.
Payment to managers has long been an area of concern for GAA authorities. Christy Cooney recently announced his attention to stamp out under-the-table payments, but like a previous enquiry, he might have trouble finding the table.
Quality is something which seemed to be lacking from this year’s county football championship. There were very few if any memorable clashes and the one-sided nature of the final further highlighted this. This made Garrycastle’s appearance in the Leinster final all the more noteworthy.
Recession is a word we heard all too often in the past twelve months. The GAA is not immune either, with clubs and county boards finding it harder to raise much-needed cash. More importantly with emigration now back in vogue, many clubs are going to lose some of their young talent.
St Brigid’s made a big breakthrough this year winning the Westmeath intermediate hurling title at the expense of Turin. Meanwhile across the river St Brigid’s U-21 collected their eight Roscommon U-21 title in a row.
Tubberclair made it all the way to the Leinster final, having captured the Intermediate county title. A late Karl Ennis goal dashed their hopes of provincial glory but overall a great year for the men from Glasson.
Urgent need to address problems facing underage football and hurling in the county. While a lot of good work is being done there is certainly room for improvement. Rugby and soccer in particular are doing a great job at selling their games to young players and their parents. We in the GAA need to do likewise or risk losing more and more of our most talented youngsters.
Very welcome from a players point of view was the decision by the county board to publish the dates of this year’s club championship games before the season began and to stick to them. Not very welcome however, was the decision to play games on a bank holiday Monday, particularly the August Bank Holiday which I think should be left free from games.
Wedding bells rang out in 09 for a number of current and former county players. Derek Heavin, John Keane, and yours truly all signed the dotted line this year.
X-Factor introduced us to Jedward. Love them, or hate them they have certainly put themselves on the map. Can’t help wondering how they’d cope if they found themselves thrown into the deep end against say Ballynacargy or The Downs. Now that would be worth watching.
Young footballer of the year went to Donegal's Michael Murphy while Tipperary's Noel McGrath picked up young hurler of the year.
ZZZZ: Kilkenny win the hurling title again, will anyone be able to step up to the mark next year?