It is time for this week’s tribute. A lot of coverage has been attributed to hurling for the last few days. It was justifiable after the weekend but let’s take a break and look at football. Ahead of this weekend’s All-Ireland Football Semi-Final, we pay tribute to Mayo man Ciarán McDonald.
He was probably the flashiest footballer of the 1990’s and early 2000’s. The blonde hair was often styled in many stand out ways. The socks were generally up around the knees. When in possession, there was nobody better at kicking a football. The outside of the left boot was his trademark, but he was a playmaker, a scorer and a leader.
Ciarán McDonald really was brilliant footballer.
He had a publicised career in the green and red of Mayo. There were many moments of disputes and controversy. There were retirements, trouble with managers and many stories accompanying McDonald all through his years as a footballer, but he will be remembered for the right reasons.
1997 was his first big year in a Mayo jersey, playing at right-corner forward the man with the pony tail was threatening to take over from Jason Sherlock as the poster boy of GAA. Mayo fell at the final hurdle to Kerry that season. McDonald did score a penalty in the All-Ireland final but it was not enough to prevent the Kingdom from winning.
Mayo struggled for many years after this and McDonald was not always part of the Mayo side. 1998 to 2003 were poor seasons for Mayo overall. They did win Connacht in 1999 but fell to Cork in the All-Ireland semi-final and after that, the best they could do was a quarter-final loss in 2002, when McDonald was introduced as a first-half sub. He scored a late consolation penalty but Mayo were well beaten by the Rebels that day.
The turnaround for Mayo began in 2004. And it was no coincidence that it was led by McDonald from centre-forward. A Connacht title was secured by a side that was inspired by the presence of McDonald. He pulled all the strings from number eleven and orchestrated everything in the Mayo side. He had able assistance but he was the link.
His creativity was exceptional. Left foot, right foot, solo running, hand passing; McDonald just had the ability to unlock defences. And if he couldn’t find a way to unlock a defence, he would put the foot throught the O’Neills Size 5 from the bones of 50 yards and split the posts.
He was just one of those players who was blessed with unique football ability. His image made him more recongnisable, but there was so much more substance to McDonald then that.
One his final big moments in a Mayo shirt came in the 2006 All-Ireland semi-final. Mayo were underdogs against Dublin and both teams played out an incredible game of football. With the sides level in stoppage time McDonald linked with Kevin O’Neill down the left wig and wrapped the famous left boot around the ball to kick and incredible score to put Mayo in an All-Ireland final.
A cynic will point to the fact that McDonald never won an All-Ireland title, tainting his reputation. But that is nonsense.
Ciaran McDonald was such a brilliant player. He had every single attribute required to be a top class Gaelic Footballer. There were few better sights in GAA than McDonald throwing up the ball and caressing it with his left boot. His range of point scoring and kick passing are as good as there has ever been and he truly was a wonderful player.