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Cricket And Maradona - A Few Bizarre, Delightful Facts About Martin McGuinness And Sport

Cricket And Maradona - A Few Bizarre, Delightful Facts About Martin McGuinness And Sport
By Conor Neville
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Martin McGuinness, the former Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland and one of the biggest political figures in Ireland, died last night at the age of 66.

In the wake of his sad passing, we look back over his intense, sometimes fascinating, sometimes hilarious, relationship with sport.

Many tributes will be paid to McGuinness over the course of today, especially for his contributions to his city and to the peace process. But he also had a brilliant sense of humour, especially when it came to football.

When it comes to examples of Martin McGuinness reaching out, we think of his (sadly deleted) tweet in the early days of the 2014 World Cup.

As Holland shocked the football world by spanking the hell out of Spain, McGuinness expressed his support for the Dutch.

McGuinness was on fire in the early days of that World Cup. Someone had to pull the name of 'England' out in the Sinn FĂ©in office draw and that someone was Marty. He informed all and sundry that he was now supporting England in the World Cup.

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Alastair Campbell wisely told him he was wasting his time and he may as well put it in the bin.

HIS BROTHER PLAYED AGAINST MARADONA

McGuinness was a product of the Bogside and of Derry City, a place with a rich sporting pedigree. He spoke to Paul Campbell about his sporting passions in an interview with the Observer fifteen years ago. He played Gaelic football and soccer, plus a bit of hurling. He told the Belfast Telegraph that he was a goalkeeper.

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He reminded us that one of his brothers, Tom McGuinness played midfield for Derry during the 1970s. He has been hailed as one of the best GAA players to ever emerge from Derry City, which is typically regarded as a soccer environment. Tom won an U21 All-Ireland title with Derry in 1968. At senior level, he won three Ulster titles in 1970, 1975 and 1976 but they faltered at the semi-final stage every time.

*1968 was an historic year for GAA in the north. Down won the All-Ireland, Derry won the U21 All-Ireland and Antrim won the Vocational Schools All-Ireland. Brian McEniff told Balls.ie last year that Ulster football was poised for a great era in the 1970s until the Troubles intervened.

Martin's younger brother Paul played soccer for Derry City and Finn Harps in the 1970s. Also a Gaelic footballer, the tyrants in the Christian Brothers forced him to choose his sport and he plumped for soccer. In 1980, while a Finn Harps player, he battled against Diego Maradona in the famous League of Ireland v Argentina game.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VUmoW7dPv4c

Not surprisingly, McGuinness was a big supporter of the Republic of Ireland football team, though he wasn't averse to taking in a Northern Ireland match. Last year, he suggested that Arlene Foster attend the France-Ireland game in Euro 2016 with him and that he would attend the Wales-Northern Ireland match with her.

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The DUP leader wasn't keen and ended up watching Wales-Northern Ireland before leaving. McGuinness attended both games.

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Unsurprisingly, he recently cited fellow Derry man James McClean as his current sporting hero. McGuinness was central to one of McClean's latest political interventions.

While the Irish political class were fretting about Brexit, McClean took the long game view and saw the vote as a shot in the arm to the cause of a United Ireland.

Inevitably, his twitter account didn't long survive this political address and was de-activated within a couple of days.

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"HE IS ABLE TO RECITE MATCH STATISTICS AND COMMENT EXPERTLY"

All this is perhaps to be expected. But McGuinness, a man of unusual charm, kept on surprising us.

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In recent years, we learned that Martin McGuinness was a lover of cricket. The most surprising politico-sporting revelation since Formula 1 mogul Max Mosley revealed his love of hurling.

Even more stunningly, McGuinness was far from a recent convert to cricket. He was not someone who leaped on the nascent cricket bandwagon when Ireland beat Pakistan and England in successive World Cups.

Peter Hain, the former Labour MP and Northern Ireland secretary of state, revealed this beauty in his memoirs.

Incredibly for a hardline Irish republican he was also a big fan of the English cricket team. England's victory over Australia in the Ashes series in 2005 especially enthralled him.

McGuinness, according to Hain, "is able to recite match statistics and comment expertly."

He told Patrick Kingsley in the Guardian that his love his cricket was founded on watching late night highlights packages in the 1960s.

I thought it was really interesting," he recalls, though he can't remember who was playing. "It was a game where discipline was required. An intriguing battle between bowler and batsman. I became very interested in the different techniques and strategies that were deployed around it.

While he supported England in the Ashes, McGuinness, according to Kingsley, was at his "most animated" when talking about the Irish cricket team.

People say it's mostly Protestants who take an interest in cricket. But I don't think that's the case. All over the north, we have people from the Catholic tradition who also play. And I have to say I'm very proud of that.

HIS FIRST LOVE: HIS ULTIMATE DREAM

Derry City have won two League of Ireland titles since joining back in 1985. McGuinness was delighted that Derry left the Irish League behind and recalled the huge excitement when the club captured an historic Treble in the 1988-89 season. But he said his ultimate sporting dream would be to see Derry City win an All-Ireland League in a United Ireland.

As a nationalist and a republican, I want to see a united Ireland; everyone knows that. I would love to see an all-Ireland league and an all-Ireland soccer team, like the rugby team. When Gerry Adams and I were walking down the street in Dublin a couple of years ago going to support Ulster in the European Cup rugby final, some young fellas from East Belfast who were waving the Ulster flag shouted over: 'Hello Gerry, Hello Martin, how's it going?' That was an incredible eye-opener. Sport can be something that brings people together. My ultimate dream would be for Derry City to become champions of an all-Ireland league in a united Ireland.

McGuinness never got to see his dream fulfilled. A day after Derry City tragically lost its captain, it now loses perhaps its most significant fan.

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