Donegal boss Jim McGuinness

Hands up all those who knew that Christopher Columbus would one day be linked with a story related to the decline in the fortunes of Donegal’s Gaelic football team.

Can’t see too many hands going up out there in the Bronx or Brooklyn, and it’s hardly surprising seeing as how Columbus, as far as I know, didn’t stop off in Killybegs on his way to the New World.

He may have made it to the Canary Islands on his travels. Again, not wishing to be a geography buff and no longer with the time to study history, I don’t know of any link between Chris and the Canaries.

But he’s more likely to have stopped off on the sunshine isles in the Atlantic, now under Spanish rule, than he was to sample the delights of Killybegs or the great golf courses of Donegal.

Today, it is sun worshippers and not explorers who visit the islands of Tenerife, Gran Canaria and Lanzarote, many of them starting off from Irish airports when we’re not enjoying endless hours of sunshine as we currently are.

Just a year ago, those same tourists brought back great stories and YouTube footage of a man from Senegal who paid tribute to the football heroes of Donegal on the beaches of Lanzarote in the company of young Irish songwriter Rory Gallagher.

Now, like the original and great Rory Gallagher who was born in the town of Ballyshannon, this is a Rory from Donegal.

And his song “Jimmy’s Winning Matches” became the anthem for Donegal fans home and abroad last year as their team went all the way to All-Ireland success under boss Jim McGuinness.

Jimmy was wining matches and Jimmy was winning games as the song goes, and said song became so successful that the modern day Rory Gallagher was able to open the Island Live music bar in Lanzarote.

I know this because my journalistic colleague Alan Foley, himself a proud Donegal man, alerted me to an interesting story on Monday as all of Ireland came to terms with the fact that Jimmy – as in McGuinness – had lost a first ever Ulster championship game the day before.

The footballers of Monaghan decided that imitation was the best form of flattery in Clones on Sunday and did a Donegal on Donegal with a performance that richly deserved their first Ulster title in 25 years.

In the process, as more than one commentator noted, they burst the myth that Jim McGuinness is the Messiah, that Donegal can’t do anything but win matches under his leadership.

It was a fall from grace that had been coming if Donegal’s poor form in the league was anything to take note of, but it still came as a big shock to their legions of fans, less than a year after Sam returned to their hills.
And even out in far-flung Lanzarote the defeat had an impact for Donegal men and women in general and young Rory Gallagher in particular.

As Alan told me, countless Irish tourists decided to rewrite Rory’s song in front of him and more than one sang “Jimmy’s Losing Matches” in his direction from Sunday afternoon onwards.

Rory himself took to his bar’s Facebook page to offer a response and wrote, “Do you see the comedy gold within the substituting of ‘winning’ with ‘losing’ in the sentence? My tummy hurts from laughing.

“It’s magic and deserves an Edinburgh comedy festival award. It would be really funny if that hadn’t happened about 68 times in one evening and every single person that did it thought they were the Christopher Columbus who discovered that amazing joke!”

And that’s how Christopher Columbus came to be linked with the Donegal footballers, thanks to the first Ulster championship defeat of the Jim McGuinness era and an Irish bar in Lanzarote.

At least Rory and Jim won’t have to wait too long for the chance to reverse the lyrics to their original ditty.
Donegal must now face Laois in the All-Ireland qualifiers on Saturday, and the likelihood is that Jimmy will be winning matches again and Rory’s song can return to its former glory.

Even with only six days to recover from their Monaghan disaster, Donegal should be too strong for a Laois side which somehow scrambled a win over a wasteful Wexford last Saturday.

This is their chance to prove that Clones was a one-off, that Donegal’s place as favorites for another All-Ireland this year, a title now handed on to Mayo, was justified prior to last weekend.

If they lose, the Jim McGuinness aura will be gone forever. And young Rory may well have to go and write a lament.

(Cathal Dervan is sports editor of the Irish Sun newspaper in Dublin)

Sideline Views 
GOLF: Nice of new British Open champion Phil Mickelson to remember his Irish roots on Sunday as he lifted the Claret Jug at Muirfield and broke Lee Westwood’s heart into the bargain. Lefty first tasted links golf in Ireland. He played Walker Cup against Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley at Portmarnock in 1991, is an honorary member of Lahinch and is infamous in Kerry for chipping balls over telegraph wires on a visit to Ballybunion.

Speaking minutes after collecting golf’s most coveted prize on Sunday, Mickelson said, “Well, I did enjoy links golf when I first played at the Walker Cup in ‘91 at Portmarnock. It was a wonderful test. I played well.

“But the conditions and the penalty for missed shots in The Open Championship are much more severe than we played then. And it took me a while to figure it out.”

My regular reader will know that Mickelson blew a big bet for me when he lost the U.S. Open at Merion a few weeks back. I still haven’t forgiven him so I didn’t back him at Muirfield. More’s the pity!

GAA: Kieran McGeeney labeled some of his critics “cowards” in a radio interview after his team’s defeat to Tyrone in the All-Ireland qualifiers on Saturday night.  It’s an interesting choice of words but I doubt it will detract from the real issue for McGeeney right now – his team has failed to make any real progress over his six years in charge. That failure, and not any criticism from cowards or others, will force him out of his job in the coming weeks. Nothing else.

SOCCER: The Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova has been forced to resign his position in his ongoing battle with throat cancer and football fans the world over will wish him well. Argentinean Gerardo Martino will replace Tito after making a name for himself with the wonderfully title Newell’s Old Boys in his native land, one of Lionel Messi’s old clubs. Let’s hope Martino continues the good work of Pep Guardiola and Vilanova at Barca.

BOXING: Pugilistic skills clearly run in the blood. Steve Collins will be forever known as one of Ireland’s great world champions and now his son, Steve Junior, is following in his footsteps with two wins from two pro fights, the latest in London on Saturday night when he outpointed Paul Morris at Wembley Arena.
RUGBY: Those who fear that rugby is a game dominated by blazers from South Dublin can rest easy – Pat Fitzgerald from Longford is the new president of the IRFU. He’s the first member of Longford rugby club to be elected to the post and far from a city snob, I’m glad to report.

SOCCER: God bless the optimist that is Real Madrid president Florentino Perez, who announced on Tuesday that he believes the great Ronaldo will see out his career in the Spanish capital. There’s more chance of me winning the Irish state lottery.
BOXING: Ireland’s ladies boxing team have enlisted the services of the Wolfe Tones for a fundraising concert at Dublin’s National Stadium in August, a band with more than one fighting tune to their name!

ANYTHING is possible with a mixture of belief and courage in sport, and Monaghan proved just that as they ended their 25-year wait for an Ulster title in such emphatic style against the All-Ireland and provincial champions Donegal on Sunday. Malachy O’Rourke’s side took a leaf out of Donegal’s book with their tactics in Clones and it worked so fair play to them. Their win was richly deserved and long overdue.

A small minority of Kildare fans decided to vent their anger on referee Joe McQuillan at the end of Saturday night’s All-Ireland qualifier defeat to Tyrone in Newbridge. Their behavior forced the local police to escort the ref off the pitch and may yet result in a ban on Kildare using the venue for championship matches. Those fans should look at their players and their management before they start blaming the referee for their continued shortcomings.