Sports Review 2018: Mullinalaghta march to their own beat to light up GAA landscape

Story of tiny Longford club’s Leinster title win is one for the ages as they beat Dublin superclub

 Mullinalaghta’s Patrick Fox celebrates their win over Kilmacud. Photograph: Oisin Keniry/Inpho

Mullinalaghta’s Patrick Fox celebrates their win over Kilmacud. Photograph: Oisin Keniry/Inpho

 

Leinster Club SFC final: Mullinalaghta 1-8 Kilmacud Crokes 1-6 - December 9th, Tullamore

Going with Mullinalaghta as the highlight of 2018 could easily be construed as the act of a contrarian. It is probably, at the very least, wilfully esoteric. Dublin’s four-in-a-row was only the fourth such achievement in the history of Gaelic football, after all. To elevate the relatively small potatoes of the Leinster club championship above it is surely an insult to one of history’s great teams.

Think about it though. What’s going to stick? When we’re old and grey - or older and greyer, more accurately - what will last? If you wanted to pick a stand-out moment from their 2018 All-Ireland, what would you go with?

Stephen Cluxton’s kick-out to send Jack McCaffrey away in the final when Tyrone were 0-5 to 0-1 ahead is probably the one bit of genius to hang on to. But otherwise, Dublin’s supreme excellence is the air we breathe now. It’s just there, a simple fact of life for everyone to deal with.

Sport, at its best, can get like that. A team or a person can click into a groove and become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The Dubs are flying at their own height now and it’s all very impressive. But it doesn’t get you out of your seat. It can’t.

Certainly not in the way a story like Mullinalaghta’s can. The numbers are a well-told tale at this point, a parish of less than 450 people, a team made up of a handful of different families. Most of all, the pull of the club providing just enough elastic to drag young lads back home to Longford from the cities to play to a high level on the weekends.

Mullinalaghta’s triumph is their own, of course. But its resonance is universal. So much of sport now is about size and resources and economics. In pro sports, the best payers are the best winners. In our little GAA corner of the sporting planet, the battle still generally tends to go to the strong. Sheer weight of numbers, coupled with a general war on inefficiencies, dictates that it must.

And so, a tiny club from the second smallest county in the country winning a provincial title would have been incredible no matter how they did it. The fact that they overcame one of the Dublin superclubs to do so brings with it an obvious deliciousness, Goliath taken down by the little kid David used to bully at school. Outside of Stillorgan, did anyone hear the result and not crack into a mile-wide smile?

Mullinalaghta deserve to spend the winter cosying up to their achievement, embracing it for themselves. But at a time when the GAA needs more than ever to keep hope alive for the little guy, their success will sing out across the country all the same.

Low point

No competition here. The Irish soccer team have been circling the plughole for most of the year. Rotten to watch, dreary to cover, no goals, no hope. The one thing Mick McCarthy has going for him is that it can’t get any worse. It can’t, right?

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