Saturday, 21 May 2016

Beating Tyrone the height of Derry's ambitions

It's hard to figure out where it’s all gone wrong for Derry: Once among the real heavyweights of Ulster football; these days their year would be deemed a success - no doubt about it - if they beat Tyrone in Celtic Park tomorrow. Derry people might even concede, privately, that avoiding humiliation would be the height of their ambitions.

Yes, the narrow confines of Celtic Park might Tyrone’s style of play, but even allowing for Derry raising their game and all the usual vagaries of the Ulster Championship, it's hard to see anything but yet another win for Mickey Harte's men.

It's literally a lifetime since Derry were a force. It’s decades now since Derry and Tyrone was the mother of all derbies, an extension of that visceral loughshore rivalry between south Derry and east Tyrone. But while Tyrone have kicked on and consolidated their position as a serious contender at national level Derry football has closed in on itself.
The bookies have Derry as fifth favourite to win Ulster, and that's about right. Odds to win the All-Ireland are about 60-1 and that too is fair enough. 

How can this be in a county with, arguably, one of the most competitive, keenly fought club championships in Ireland? And how is it that every year Derry struggles to get its best players to field for the county? While Armagh might bemoan the loss of Jamie Clarke and Donegal might have to make do without Mark McHugh, Derry are missing the usual quota for a variety of reasons -  Ryan Bell, and Caolain O'Boyle and the McGoldricks, even Eoin Bradley and Gerard O'Kane would still have plenty to offer if they were playing football in any other county. And year in year out that seems to be the story.

The maxim that club will always prevail over county has never been truer, but that’s no excuse for the state of Derry at county level. From an outside perspective you would have to wonder why it is that so many of Derry’s best footballers don’t want to play for their county. Have they simply failed to keep the faith? Has the onwards and upwards trajectory of their deadly rivals left them so mortally demoralised? Whatever the answer, Derry football people need to take a cold, hard look at themselves. The warning signs are there: at underage level  Derry is falling away badly while at senior level they haven’t been in the mix in Ulster  for well over a decade

If Derry need a kick up the arse about where this might be going, they should take a good look at the inexorable decline of Down football. They might even take a look at their neighbours in lowly Antrim – a county with a clutch of strong club sides but with a county team that has  propped up the bottom of Ulster football for as long as anyone can remember.

Nobody’s saying that Derry are quite at that level just yet, but right now they seem to have a lot more in common with fellow qualifiers fodder than they have with a Tyrone side with realistic ambitions of days out in Clones and Croke Park.

- Maurice Kennedy is former founding editor of Gaelic Life

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Another new hospital?

Now that we have an opposition in Stormont -  Eamonn McCann, obviously, not Mike Nesbitt - it would be good to see someone in politics challenge some of the spectacularly idiotic things that government, in its many forms, has been getting away with.

Like building a brand new hospital in Omagh at the cost of several hundred million pounds when there's a perfectly new and woefully underused acute hospital some 28 miles down the road  in Enniskillen. 

To call it a scandal is probably an understatement: how  the Department of Health can justify this kind of outlay on a new hospital when the health service is, by all accounts, teetering on the brink, beggars belief. 

And if you think the new Omagh hospital might be, well, necessary consider this: if you're an adult living in Fermanagh and need to get your tonsills out you will find yourself making the four hour round trip to Derry. Yes, tonsills, not a liver transplant or open heart surgery. 
Which makes you wonder, if the new Enniskillen hospital (completed 2012) is in many ways surplus to requirements, how on earth will Omagh's new hospital be any different? 

At a time when the received wisdom is that future healthcare will see fewer, but bigger hospital serving society's every more complex needs, we're putting the finishing touches to a spanking new hospital 30 miles down the road from Altnagelvin. Mad.

And it's not just in health that our governors in the North of Ireland seem to have a fixation with capital projects. In education too there is a puzzling disconnect between the seemingly endless amount of money for new buildings and what we're being told by educators in our cash-strapped schools and colleges, namely that we're skint.

Maybe I'm missing something, but while literally shedloads of money are being pumped into the massive new Ulster University campus in Belfast the same UU is being forced to cut subject choices and 'let staff go'.

Down the road in Enniskillen we have the curious case of a proposed new campus for the South West College. We have yet to establish whether or not there's actually a need for it, although it must be said that the artist's impression of a swanky new glass and metal structure not unlike Arsenal's Emirates is rather nice. 
The point is, however, that there seems to be no end of money for these flashy building projects while secondary schools within spitting distance of this new college campus are suffocating under a mountain of debt as a result of swingeing cuts to their budgets. 

Now before you start the 'different pots of money routine', education and further education are devolved to Stormont and we all know how it works - we get a massive subvention from Westminster and,at the end of the day, our 'government' decides what to do with it.

Over to you Eamonn (or whoever the opposition is).