Friday 28 November 2014

Rangers' incredible journey shows how GAA keeps the Irish spirit alive

Miriam Donohue

Published 17/03/2014 | 02:30

Mount Leinster Rangers' players, from left, Hugh Paddy O'Brien, team captain David Phelan and James Hickey pictured in advance of their AIB GAA Club Championship All-Ireland Hurling Final against Portumna today in Croke Park.  Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
Mount Leinster Rangers' players, from left, Hugh Paddy O'Brien, team captain David Phelan and James Hickey pictured in advance of their AIB GAA Club Championship All-Ireland Hurling Final against Portumna today in Croke Park. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
Edward Coady of Mount Leinster Rangers, who will be the first Carlow side to line out in an All-Ireland Club Hurling Final today. Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

IF there was ever proof needed that the GAA is the glue that uniquely binds Irish communities together, go no further than the beautiful village of Borris in Co Carlow in the foothills of Mount Leinster.

While the entire country cheered on the Irish rugby team and Brian O'Driscoll on Saturday as they achieved spectacular success on the international sporting stage in Paris to win the Six Nations Championship, this small corner of Ireland was in a massive sporting frenzy of its own.

The mighty men of Mount Leinster Rangers – a club that is only a baby compared with other, long-established GAA clubs – will make history tonight when it becomes the first Carlow side ever to line out in an All-Ireland Club Hurling Final in Croke Park, taking on Portumna in Galway.

Borris, Rathanna and Ballymurphy – the three communities from which Mount Leinster Rangers draws its members – will come to a standstill.

There won't be a sinner left in the parish, or indeed the county, as every man, woman and child spanning an age range from 90 years to nine months bail out to cheer on their heroes in the iconic GAA headquarters.

I have a strong connection with Borris, as I was born three miles away in Goresbridge, across the border in Co Kilkenny. Borris was where I had my first drink, went to my first disco and had my first kiss. I spent last week in the village and came away inspired and enthused.

It was impossible not to get carried away by the excitement, the sense of pride and the coming together of the community as it prepared for the battle ahead.

Every house and business premises in the parish is festooned in the red and black colours of MLR. There are banners of support from the local schools. The talk is of who will be left to serve in the local shops while the match is on. Not that there will be any customers.

A marquee has been erected in front of Joyce's pub – the unofficial MLR headquarters – for the homecoming tonight.

The boys will be given a tremendous welcome, win, lose or draw.

Former 'Voice of Ireland' winner and Borris man, Pat Byrne, has penned a new song that will hopefully prove to be the soundtrack to the club's greatest success.

Even more significantly, St Patrick's Day has been put on hold in this part of the world.

The parade in Borris was cancelled – and the bigger parade in Carlow town was moved to yesterday to allow people to head to Dublin for the big game.

This has been quite a journey for MLR. To think, they were not even in existence 27 years ago.

The club was born after a meeting in Borris school back in 1987. On that night, a committee agreed on colours for the new club. There was discussion about getting a field from a local farmer to play.

Within a year, they had bought a pitch and soon they were on a winning streak.

MLR won county titles at intermediate hurling and football and by 1990 started winning 'B' hurling competitions at under-12 and under-14 levels.

Progress was slow but steady. The big breakthrough was reaching a county final in 2001. They were beaten but it was another step along the road.

Over the years the team has been filled with families and sets of brothers – the Murphys, O'Byrnes, Lawlors and Nolans.

Today, four brothers will tog out – Edward, John, Richard and Paul Coady.

There are two Doyles and two Byrnes also on the panel.

This club has endured good and bad times. Like lots of other Irish towns and villages, Borris suffered from the devastating economic crash, emigration, and unemployment. But it has arrived at a glorious day that will never be forgotten in the parish, no matter what the result.

The team – led by 28-year-old local dairy farmer David Phelan – works together, socialises together and plays hurling and football together. They look out for each other.

Some players will sadly be missing today. One is a former captain, Karl Lawlor, who led the team to an intermediate All-Ireland win two years ago. An electrician, he emigrated to Australia to get work. He has been in touch with team members this week and will be up with his family in the middle of the night to watch a live streaming of the game.

He won't be alone. Borris and Carlow men, women and children from the four corners of the globe will be doing the same.

There are those who are lucky enough to be coming home for the big day, from the USA and London and further afield.

It won't be entirely about the winning today. It will be about how a community can passionately bind together for the love of our national game.

It will be about hope. Forgotten will be our economic woes, discussion about our excessive drinking culture and negative talk about the future of Ireland.

If only the excitement generated in Borris this week could be bottled and shared around to remind us all that Ireland is a country we can be so proud of. An Ireland which has an amazing spirit, kept alive in every parish, village and town through the GAA.

Good luck today, you mighty men of Mount Leinster Rangers.

Irish Independent

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