Joe Brolly

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - FRONT PAGE - JOE BROLLY

The real sur­prise for me is why any­one would want to watch Done­gal hand-pass­ing over and back across the pitch. Or why the Done­gal man­age­ment would think any­one might want to.

It is only a mat­ter of time be­fore Done­gal are in­vest­ing in snif­fer dogs

WARN­ING. This doc­u­ment is clas­si­fied and can only be read by those with D1 se­cu­rity clear­ance. You may also read this if you have signed a con­fi­den­tial­ity agree­ment with the Done­gal County Board in the last five months.

A short-term job open­ing arose in Belfast ear­lier last week. The Done­gal se­nior squad were trav­el­ling to the city on Thurs­day for a three-day train­ing camp. The con­fi­den­tial plan en­tailed train­ing at pitch num­ber seven at QUB’s grounds at the Dub, on the up­per side of the cam­pus. They re­quired three se­cu­rity per­son­nel for the three days, to po­lice the pitch and its sur­round­ing wood­land area. Du­ties in­cluded: a) stop­ping all ve­hi­cles that ap­proach the perime­ter of pitch seven; b) stop­ping all pedes­tri­ans, dog walk­ers, jog­gers and the like from be­ing at a van­tage point over the pitch at any time; c) en­sure that any­one in the vicin­ity of the pitch was not us­ing cam­eras or video equip­ment; d) stripsearch any­one sus­pected to be car­ry­ing con­cealed cam­eras or record­ing de­vices. The three peo­ple hired were to be paid £50 cash-in-hand per ses­sion.

All of the above is true, save for the strip-search­ing bit, which I made up. Mind you, in this day and age you wouldn’t be sur­prised.

The real sur­prise for me is why any­one would want to watch Done­gal hand­pass­ing over and back across the pitch. Or why the Done­gal man­age­ment would think any­one might want to.

It was Done­gal’s un­lucky day. I found out about it be­cause a kid who lives with me was of­fered one of the se­cu­rity jobs. What are the chances?

In any event, such a grave se­cu­rity breach is pre­sum­ably a sack­able of­fence so it will in­ter­est­ing to see whose head rolls. Some­times one de­spairs.

In the sum­mer of 2011 I was in Done­gal with the kids for a week and we de­cided to go down to Let­terkenny and watch Done­gal se­nior train­ing un­der Jimmy McGuin­ness. It was less than a fort­night be­fore they played Dublin in that semi­fi­nal, the one where they spent 70 min­utes hand-pass­ing back­wards and for­wards across the pitch in­side their own 45.

We walked in to St Eu­nan’s grounds and, sur­prised that there was no one else there, we sat up at the back of the main stand, watch­ing the most gru­elling ses­sion I had ever seen. Af­ter two hours it was still go­ing, the young­sters were rest­less and we headed off to get ice­cream with­out ever get­ting the pic­tures I had promised them with Michael Mur­phy and Colm McFad­den.

A few days later we were in the lo­cal shop and one of them said, “Daddy, you’re in the pa­per.”

I had been cap­tured by the long lens of a cam­era­man at the ses­sion. I had in­tended to go to the train­ing again that night but when I rang my con­tact at St Eu­nan’s he said: “Sorry Joe, they’ve moved it to Bally­bofey and they have se­cu­rity on the gate who have been in­structed not to let you in.” “Se­ri­ously?”

“Se­ri­ously. Jim wasn’t happy about the other night. He wasn’t happy at all.”

Not that the Done­gal men are averse to a bit of sport­ing es­pi­onage them­selves. One re­calls, for ex­am­ple, the cu­ri­ous in­ci­dent of the Kil­lar­ney tree climber. Shortly be­fore the All-Ire­land fi­nal in 2014 between Done­gal and Kerry, Kerry were train­ing in Kil­lar­ney and Mikey Sheehy, one of the back­room team, thought he saw a rus­tle in the huge tree over­look­ing the ground at St Finian’s cor­ner. Mikey was stand­ing with Pa­trick ‘The Bag’ O’Sul­li­van, then Kerry chair­man and pointed this out to him. ‘The Bag’ wasn’t so sure, but then, isn’t every­one hu­man be­side Mikey. The great­est num­ber 13 to play the game was so sure of him­self that he asked Ed­die Walsh, bot­tle carrier and lo­cal Garda, and kit­man Niall ‘Botty’ O’Cal­laghan to drive over and check the tree for tres­passers.

In def­er­ence to Mikey, the scep­ti­cal duo duly drove around and stood squint­ing at the tree for a few min­utes, be­fore con­clud­ing Mikey’s imag­i­na­tion was play­ing up. They were no sooner back in the park than Mikey was over to them again, in­sist­ing he could still see some­one at the top of the tree. Back they went again, this time leav­ing the car and go­ing on foot. Ed­die, be­ing highly trained in the art of the cun­ning ar­rest, cir­cled around the tree and ap­proached from the rear with great stealth. Sure enough, af­ter a minute or two, the tree rus­tled and af­ter a mo­ment, the un­mis­take­able fig­ure of a man came into view, 40 foot up in the branches.

“Come down from that Ed­die, “You are tres­pass­ing prop­erty.”

The man never moved. “I am a mem­ber of the Garda Siochána,” said Ed­die, “and if you do not come down from that tree now I will call for back-up.”

A mo­ment later, the men looked on stunned as a grown man fell out of the fo­liage on to the ground, land­ing close to their feet.

“Where are you from?” said Ed­die. “Dublin” said the man, in a broad, west Done­gal ac­cent. He re­fused to an­swer any fur­ther ques­tions and, there be­ing no crim­i­nal of­fence iden­ti­fied, they let him go. Alas, in the tum­ble from the tree, his bank card had dropped out of his pocket, and when the in­truder had gone, the Kerry men dis­cov­ered it. Turns out he and Jimmy McGuin­ness were at each other’s wed­dings. A truly amaz­ing co­in­ci­dence.

Es­pi­onage is com­mon prac­tice in other sports. This is partly be­cause they have all be­gun to be­lieve the world re­volves around them. In that ob­ses­sive, un­healthy mi­cro-so­ci­ety they even­tu­ally be­come sep­a­rated from re­al­ity.

In Au­gust 2016, a so­phis­ti­cated lis­ten­ing de­vice was dis­cov­ered in the All Blacks’ team room in their ho­tel ahead of their Test match against Aus­tralia. The de­vice — the sort used by law en­force­ment and spy­ing agen­cies — had been planted in a chair in the team’s meet­ing room in the Dou­ble Bay In­ter­con­ti­nen­tal Syd­ney Ho­tel. Done­gal and other teams would do well to take the pre­cau­tions taken by the All Blacks, who have em­ployed se­cu­rity ad­vi­sors to check for breaches — in­clud­ing lis­ten­ing de­vices — since 2004.

They duly un­cov­ered the state-of-theart bug dur­ing a se­cu­rity sweep of the room. How­ever, New Zealand Rugby chief ex­ec­u­tive Steve Tew said the op­po­si­tion was likely to have recorded at least one team meet­ing. For­mer All Blacks coach Gra­ham Henry said that although he was shocked, “there had been plenty of spy­ing in the past with video­ing of train­ing or tak­ing notes. This sort of thing has hap­pened in world rugby be­fore, let’s be frank about that.” Funny thing, the All Blacks stuffed them any­way.

The Kil­lar­ney es­pi­onage plot shows the prob­lem with the old ways. If Mikey Sheehy weren’t so ea­gle-eyed, the spy would never have been spot­ted. It is pre­sum­ably only by the mercy of God that Kerry won that All-Ire­land fi­nal af­ter their en­tire game plan had been ex­posed. In the cir­cum­stances, it is only a mat­ter of time be­fore Done­gal and other se­ri­ous teams are in­vest­ing in snif­fer dogs, elec­tronic early-warn­ing in­truder sys­tems, sig­nal-block­ing satel­lites, stealth and cloak­ing tech­nol­ogy, and bug-sweep­ing de­vices. It would also be pru­dent to main­tain 24-hour sur­veil­lance on the move­ments, phones, smart de­vices and com­put­ers of all play­ers, their fam­i­lies, and back­room teams.

Oth­er­wise, it’s only a mat­ter of time be­fore op­po­nents find out that Done­gal like to hand-pass side­ways and back­wards.

It may only be a mat­ter of time be­fore op­po­nents find out that Done­gal like to hand-pass side­ways and back­ways

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