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Ger Bracken Memorial Sports Feature Writing


Killala student scoops award

Mike Finnerty

Seventeen year old Leaving Cert student Aoife Herbert from Killala was the unanimous choice as the very first U-18 winner of the Ger Bracken Memorial Sports Feature Writing competition at The Mayo News.
Aoife’s entry, ‘My biggest regret’ was written – in the first person – about Diego Maradona’s struggle with addiction and his attempts to rationalise his gradual descent from an international soccer icon to a fallen star.
The judging panel of Tom Humphries (The Irish Times), Sean Rice (The Mayo News) and Shane McGrath (Irish Daily Mail) agreed that Aoife’s entry was the pick of a quality field, and the talented young sportswoman was suitably shocked when informed of their decision.
“I can’t believe it,” she said. “But I’m delighted to have won. I had written the piece in advance, sent it off, and then almost forgot about it to be honest. But I love english, I’m a keen soccer fan, and the subject was something that I was very interested in.”
Shane McGrath had this to say about the winning entry: “This was a hugely imaginative piece, and also very courageous. I say that because Aoife invoked a style that could quite easily run out of the writer’s control, but it is to her considerable credit that this did not happen here.
“It is patently obvious after three pars that she has big talent, and there is an emotional depth to the work that is quite startling in a writer so young. She is a name I fully expect to see in the coming years gracing sports pages.”
Explaining his decision for choosing Aoife’s essay, Sean Rice said: “This is a fine imaginative piece of writing about the rise and fall of Diego Maradona. It a gripping account of the realistic reflections of a man who once had the world at his feet, but whose life now lays in ruins around him. Aoife’s is an absorbing piece of creative introspection. She paints in flowing terms the picture of world celebrity ‘inflated with the poison of regret’ for his drug addiction. An inspired piece of descriptive writing.”
And, in the opinion of award-winning sports journalist, Tom Humphries: “I liked this.  Written from an interesting perspective and develops the narrative well and finishes strongly. Showed the most potential of the entrants I thought. Overwritten in a few spots but looks like the writer has the intelligence to cure that in time.”

My biggest regret

Under 18 Winner
Aoife Herbert

Argentina’s Diego Maradona had the world at his feet but his fall from grace was extraordinary.

As I write from a drug rehabilitation and detoxifying centre in northern Thailand, a gripping surge of pain darts across my stomach. I try to come to terms with it, banish it from my mind, but a surge of a different kind rises to the surface, this pain is grasping me, it holds a tighter reign. Yes, this pain is definitely worse as it dashes from here to there, ever restless and unrelenting, accumulating memories and ripping the plaster from the laceration of the past. The expert execution of regret. My greatest regret is interwoven with the exact reason for me being in this desolate centre, there are no heroes or legends in this remote outpost of civilisation, no sanctimonious creatures like myself hibernate in this desperately lonely prison like structure. A place free from fickle materialistic devotion and mercenary. I gaze ruefully at the bulging heap emerging from just above my waistline, an angelic white adhesive tape disguises the staples that lie beneath, but little silver bars still poke through the pure innocence of the tape, like the events of my past, hidden, filed away in the regret cabinet of my decomposing brain. I force myself to look in the mirror, I look a little more healthy, a little less bloated, yet I am still inflated with the poison of regret. Under the rigid orders of my ruthless therapist I sit down and try to pin-point where, when and above all why it went so horribly wrong.As an stute kid growing up in the filthy slums of Argentina, sporting an uncomfortable mop of curly black metallic hair, I was happily in awe of my own talents. I found a little tin-foil ball and amused myself, keeping it in the air for hours, morphing it to life with my delicate touches. I studied its flight, the way it moves gracefully through the air, restoring its former elegance I transformed its tarnished complexion into a unique silvery glory. It was obvious from an early age that this Argentinean prodigy was going straight to the top. No regrets darken my childhood, I lived in a tin-garnished shelter and stole ingeniously to ensure the survival of my family. I’m beginning to suffocate in pathetic nostalgia but he orders me to continue and I lack the enthusiasm to argue… I was an adrenaline junkie back then, and not a cocaine addict, I lived off the high of stealing as I knew that should I be caught, it would sink us to undignified levels of destitution. Despite the harsh coarseness and difficult circumstances of my childhood, I managed to grasp some blissfully happy moments, most of which originated from Boca Juniors Football Club where my prestigious footballing career had its modest beginning.
As I developed into the greatest one footed player ever to grace the field of play, a devilish temperament grew like scorned weeds in a heavenly garden, deep within me. My career was plighted by the occasional violent outburst, crimes of passion which absorbed media attention. During my time at Barcelona, the media speculated with much interest over my split personality. One week I was a genius, a magician, a phenomenal striker, the next I was a passionate thug. This particular phrase swirled about in the papers after I saw red mist and karate kicked a fan in the Champions League semi-final at the Nou Camp. I was gradually revived and brought tumbling back to hero status, after all the club’s future and strength depended solely on my right foot. A sickening ankle injury sparked a nationwide search for a size 13 boot that would accommodate for the immense swelling. The medical staff injected me with a series of narcotic pain killers to ensure I could play on, to lock the future of the club in a safety position and prevent its downfall.
I became extremely wealthy, so much so that the local police force would send people who had their goods stolen to my premises where I would happily accommodate for their loss. It saved the lazy incompetents from wasting their relaxation time searching for thieves and to be perfectly honest I craved the company of ordinary human beings. At heart I was one myself. I loved and lost, many of the women I loved could no longer handle the person I was turning into. My dictating addiction to cocaine drove them to the brink of insanity, a penchant which I acquired during the peak of my playing career, which remains with me living as a sore regret which stings unbearably, more each day. I hurt the people who truly cared for me, and not for my substantial wealth. I became an obnoxious stranger, whose soul seemed to drift into another world. Under the influence of cocaine I was smothered by another character, which ate away at my old self, knawing away at my beautiful sense of humour, turning me into a sluggish pig, whose insides reflected the appearance of the outsides in their repulsive ugliness. I lost the  arrogant sparkle which glinted in my eyes and my fitness and physical conditions deteriorated through years of prolonged abuse. I needed the pleasure which cocaine granted me, to ease the unbearably heavy weight of expectation which lived on my shoulders. I wanted more and more, striving to reach the boiling point of ecstasy, nonchalant of the forthcoming fall. Football granted its pleasures, but cocaine was different, and it was this uncanny difference that held the lethal attraction, which still pangs me with cravings to this very day. This is my biggest regret, how I behaved behind the wall of football, the fact that this wall was constantly under siege doesn’t ease the hurt and humiliation. My insides churn in disgust when I think of the religious institution that has been set up in Argentina, as a tribute to a footballing God, worshipping a legend with immaculate ball control, nausea overcomes me as I imagine people praying before a statue of an out-stretched hand mischievously guiding a ball to an empty net. What sort of God is this, an obese drug addict who used to be the greatest striker that ever lived. I’m not a God, no supernatural power could live in this place, a place where I know if I stay I will undoubtedly lose my sanity, if I leave I will lose my life as the image of a neat row of white powder is just as desirable as it was all those years ago. Confusion occupies my mind as I wonder what is more important. My sanity or my life?
Unfortunately no one can answer this question for me. These are not the lamentations of a God, I am a human being and like all human beings I have made mistakes and paid dearly for them, like all people I have one unsubsiding regret that lives to torment me. How I wish I could have removed myself from that suffocating bathroom where the plastic cards lay in unison with a little bag of white powder, resting on a green peppered sink, like a king sitting proudly on his throne.
This colossal regret has driven a hole inside me, created a void which I have tried to fill watching replayed videos of the World Cup where I independently gained my own personal revenge over the English, sending the selfish animals crashing home to their many colonies. I watch as I salute the Argentinean die-hards thinking ‘The Falklands were ours, that’s for taking them away from us’. My entire childhood embodied itself in that wondrous goal which has since been labelled as ‘the Hand of God’. Improvisation, dexterity, imagination, creativity. No it still does not make me feel any better. I guess the remainder of my life will be spent chastising over-rated English dramatists like David Beckham! Well I have done as he said. It didn’t help. I close with the concluding statement:
‘The greatest regret in the life of Diego Maradona was the snorting of cocaine in a bathroom in Buenos Aires.’


Loughglynn teacher is a clear winner

Mike Finnerty

THE story of the legendary Hungarian soccer team of the 1950s and 60s provided the subject matter for Castlerea’s William Taylor as he scooped the inaugural Over 18 Ger Bracken Sports Feature Writing award.
The Bray based secondary school teacher – who hails from Loughglynn – produced an entertaining, informative and superbly-constructed essay, entitled ‘The Golden Team’ which, in the opinion of Tom Humphries, Sean Rice and Shane McGrath was the clear winner of the competition.
“I’m stunned,” William told The Mayo News. “I’m absolutely stunned and delighted. I lived in Hungary for a while and so got to know the history and tradition of the country over a period of time. I enjoy writing and I’m delighted that the judging panel chose my entry.”
Shane McGrath described the winning entry as follows: “William’s work has a solidity and style to it that lay a foundation for what is a very engaging piece of work.
“I think its beauty lies in its simplicity. It is uncomplicated, but no less valid for that. There is merit in an aspiring sportswriter taking that great team of Puskas and Hidegkuti as their inspiration, because they inspired modern football as we now know it, and the concomitant growth in wonderful reporting.
“William is obviously au fait and passionate about his topic, and this adds another layer to his piece.”
Tom Humphries of the Irish Times said: “It was a very good piece, cleanly written, tells it’s story without being hurried and benefits from an authoritive neutrality.”
Meanwhile, Sean Rice had this to say: “From the opening sentence, The Golden Team holds the interest right through. There is no extraneous language, yet every incident is clearly understood. Nothing is left hanging in the air, In a few paragraphs you have a vivid picture of the Hungarian team and of their brilliance . . . their rise to fame, and their fall from grace.
“You are told in three short sentences of the trend set by the goalkeeper: “They had a character between the posts also. Grasics was the first goalkeeper to wear all black because he once harboured notions of a life in the clergy. The black outfit became the fashion for net minders for many years afterwards.”  No elaborate language, yet the image is ingrained in your mind.
“It is skilled writing and compelling reading.”

The Golden Team

Over 18 Winner
William Taylor

The spectacular success of the Hungarian soccer team fifty years ago has left an indelible mark.
“WE’LL have no trouble here,” English captain, Billy Wright, quipped to a team-mate. He had just noticed opposing Hungarian captain, Fernc Puska’s cut-down boots. It was November 25, 1953 and both teams waited in the player’s tunnel. Outside a dull fog-filled Wembley day awaited them. England had never lost here to continental opposition, so few would have wondered at Wright’s supreme confidence. Even when players warmed up on the pitch, some fans mocked the chunky figure of Puskas.
The Hungarian team came to London with more than a little reputation. They were Olympic champions for the previous year in Finland. They had a shrewd and gifted coach, Gustar Sebes. His knowledge of tactics and motivation were legendary.
Sebes was not afraid to use innovative methods and utilised Nandor Hideykuti, the centre-forward, as a link man in midfield. This new tactic caused dreadful confusion in opposing defences. In 1958 Brazil modified this system in what became known as 4-2-4. Hideykuti was the play-maker from midfield with Puskas and Sandor Kocsis driving onwards. Zoltan Czibor and Polotas or Thoth raided from the wing.
They had a character between the posts also. Grasics was the first goalkeeper to wear all black because he once harboured notions of a life in the clergy. The black outfit became the fashion for net minders for many years afterwards. This was the foundation of ‘The Golden Team’. Many experts claim that it was the best eleven ever assembled. They lost one game between 1952 and 1956 – the World Cup Final of 1954. Even today when this game is mentioned Hungarians will shake their heads and wonder how on earth this game was lost. The only other issue which evokes similar passion in the average Magyar is loss of national territory. These are a very proud people.
The World Cup of 1954 was staged in Switzerland and the Golden Team opened with a 9-0 thrashing of South Korea. West Germany were the opponents for their second game. In a tactical move that would ensure an easier subsequent progression in these finals, the Germans fielded a weaker team and lost, 8-3 to Hungary. Victory came at a price as Puskas picked up an ankle injury and missed the next games against Turkey, Yugoslavia, Austria and Brazil in the quarter-final.
The game against Brazil is known as the ‘Battle of Berne’. Hungary were 3-2 to the good when Humberto of Brazil was sent to the line for kicking Lorant. Kocsis scored with two minutes left on the clock. The Brazilians became enraged. When the game finished they attacked the Hungarian dressing room. Fists flew and bottles were broken. However, FIFA did not administer any punishment.
In the semi-final Hungary beat Uruguay after extra time, 4-2, with Kocsis striking twice in the second period. He had scored eleven goals in these finals, then a World Cup record.
Hungary were installed as firm favourites for the final against the Germans in Berne. Puskas started though he had not fully recovered from his ankle injury. After six minutes he shot to the German net. This was added to by Czibor two minutes later, but Germany were level after only eighteen minutes with strikes by Morlock and Helmut. Hungary practically laid siege to the German goal for the remainder of the game. Turek, the German goalie, made amazing saves from Czibor, Kocsis and Puskas himself.
With six minutes to go, Rahn got the ball and steamed into the Hungarian penalty area. A quickly taken shot left Grosics floundering and Germany were ahead. Puskas scored later but the goal was disallowed and Turek made yet another astonishing save from Czibor. West Germany held out and were crowned World Cup winners.
Hungarians did not take defeat well. Expectation had been very high. Upon their return to Budapest the players had to be given protection. Two years later Hungary was in the grip of an uprising against Russian occupation. Several of the Golden Team were in Spain with army club side Honved. Many of them did not go home. Gibor, Kocsis and Puskas stayed in Spain. Puskas became part of the great Real Madrid team which also contained Argentinean Alfredo Di Stefano and Spaniard Gento. He was given the name ‘Canoncito’ or “little cannon” by Real fans. They won the European Cup on five occasions from 1956 to 1960, culminating in the ‘Game of the Century’ when Madrid beat Eintract Frankfurt 7-3 in the 1960 final at Hampden Park. Puskas scored four goals, making him the only player to score this amount in a European final. He scored three goals in the 1962 Final when Real lost 5 – 3 to Benfica. Puskas left the footballing stage in 1966.
Quite soon after the start of the Wembley match the England players’ pre-match confidence had evaporated. The role of Hideykuti was causing great confusion within their ranks. They did not know how to mark him. Should Billy Wright or Harry Johnston follow him to the midfield area? Hideykuti dashed forward causing panic in the English defence. Before the game was over he had scored a hat-trick.
Puskas answered his critics by trapping the ball under the sole of his boot, and turned like lightening, leaving the English defence stranded and cracked, an unstoppable left foot shot to the net. He would score another soon after. Bozsik completed the rout and England tasted defeat at Wembley for the first time. The Hungarians repeated the dose one year later in Budapest. A crowd of 92,000 were wedged into the Nepstadion to witness a 7-1 victory to Hungary, England’s largest ever defeat.
It was the movement and passing ability of the Magyars that had destroyed England on this November day in Wembley. Centre-half Owen later remarked that it was like playing against people that were not of this planet.
Forty-five years later a team of Hungarian parliamentarians played their British counterparts to celebrate this famous occasion. History was repeated and Hungary won again. Old films of the Hungarian team and the Wembley match were shown at the anniversary dinner. Sadly, only four members of the Golden Team remained. Guest of Honour, Ferenc Puskas was requested to recall once again, for the assembled guests, that foggy day in November all of forty-five years ago. Ferenc Puskas passed away in 1998.

The golden team will never be forgotten. The 6-3 bar or borozo lies on Longay Street in Budapest’s 9th District – a typical Hungarian wine bar, its walls covered in photographs of that game in Wembley. Since the 1980s times have been especially lean for Hungarian football. Even after the ’56 uprising, football in Hungary and the national team remained reasonably strong. Olympic titles were won. They defeated Brazil in Goodison Park in England’s World Cup of ’66. However, in 1986 they were thrashed 6-0 by the Soviet Union at the ’86 World Cup. Hungary has not qualified for a major tournament since. They were beaten 7-1 and 4-0 by Yugoslavia in play-offs for the World Cup on 1997.
The ghosts of the Golden Team remain very vivid in the Magyar imagination. They changed the very nature of football. Tom Finney, English football legend, summed it up when he stated that the 1954 Hungarian ‘soccer masters’ will not go into the record books as World Cup winners, but went into his memory and the memory of countless other lovers of football as the best team ever to figure out, with great success, the complexities of this wonderful game.

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