Friday 30 September 2016

Paddy embodied the GAA at its best

Eamonn Sweeney

Published 06/12/2015 | 17:00

'I’m telling you about Paddy Hurley not just because I liked him a great deal but because he seemed emblematic to me of the best kind of GAA man'
'I’m telling you about Paddy Hurley not just because I liked him a great deal but because he seemed emblematic to me of the best kind of GAA man'

Paddy Hurley told me a story once about when, in the early days of the Castlehaven club, they were looking for goalposts, a man in the local forestry said he'd leave out four suitable trees for them. His friends and himself went down to collect them and threw them up on a small cart. Halfway to their destination the cart collapsed and they dragged the trees the rest of the way along the road.

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I've always thought that story summed up just why the GAA is the most extraordinary organisation on this island, and probably the greatest amateur sporting organisation in the world. To me at any rate, it said something important about the doggedness that enables the unsung everyday miracle which keeps so many teams going in so many small places.

Paddy Hurley died last Sunday at the age of 79.

He had been sick for a while but it still came as a shock. He'd had to fight illness in recent years but had bounced back before. I'll always remember him leading the singing for a good part of the journey home on the team bus after 'Haven won the 2013 Cork county final. He was one of those men who seemed a walking talking definition of the word 'irrepressible'.

I'm telling you about Paddy Hurley not just because I liked him a great deal but because he seemed emblematic to me of the best kind of GAA man. He'd been involved in the club for seven decades, as a chairman, a manager, a sponsor, a player of the melodeon at victory gatherings and a doer of anything else that needed doing. Every club has a Paddy Hurley, a man who seems like the very embodiment of their spirit and they more than anyone else have made the organisation special.

To someone like Paddy Hurley the GAA wasn't just a sporting body, it was a creed, a way of being in the world. After almost every big Castlehaven match the first stop I made afterwards would be in his pub and restaurant, Annie Mays on Bridge Street in Skibbereen. There would be discussion, stories, memories of games from the past and sometimes singing.

I remember one time many years ago meeting a man going into a pub on a Monday evening carrying an Evening Press under his arm. "What did you think of the game yesterday," I asked. "Sure I don't know what I think of it till I see what Con Houlihan thought of it." I felt the same way about Paddy Hurley. The match wasn't complete for me until we'd set it to rights in Annie Mays.

Paddy was a representative of an older Ireland in some ways from a generation which kept the GAA thriving in rockier times, one which believed strongly in decency and giving people the benefit of the doubt. I recall meeting another GAA man of this ilk at his club over a decade ago, a man I'd given a tough time in print. We were introduced. "Do you know Eamonn," "Sure don't I know him well, didn't he call me a troglodyte in the paper," said your man, who then gave me a tour of the parish and never said one cross word. There was a kind of innocence about those GAA men of the old school which strikes me as a far finer quality than today's cynicism. They were bigger men than us in many ways.

I suppose the best way to sum up Paddy Hurley is to say that he was well liked and deserved to be. And I beg your indulgence if I'm being sentimental about the man but there were few people I liked as much. To his wife Angela and his children Siún, Micheál, Miriam and Paudie, I extend my deepest sympathies. The man will be sorely missed.

I'm not sure if there's an afterlife but if there is I hope I meet Paddy Hurley there. There's a few matches we hadn't got round to.

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