Tuesday 27 September 2016

We're so lucky to have something to be part of that is part of us all

Published 02/07/2016 | 02:30

Gaelic games keep our emigrants in touch with home. Photo: Dáire Brennan/Sportsfile
Gaelic games keep our emigrants in touch with home. Photo: Dáire Brennan/Sportsfile

We might change The Year of the Monkey to the Year of the Underdog, if the Chinese have no objections. You'd hate to fall out with the Chinese now that England have left us.

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Everyone loves the underdog. Did you ever hear of a young lad named after Goliath? Leicester won. Connacht won. Ireland took Italy, again. Iceland, a place some of the people from 'over there' thought was a supermarket specialising in frozen food, beat England handy.

All of which gives great hope to Tipperary, who play Kerry tomorrow in the Munster final.

The European Union is a ball of wool unravelling in a kitten's paws, and England finally won their independence from Ireland.

But there are some solid GAA constants keeping order. Feile is the U-14 All-Ireland and last weekend Listowel Emmets hosted some of the teams. The Portlaoise girls were well drilled and well skilled, but full of their fun too, as it should be in underage football.

Their elders had good cause to give out. Laois built a beautiful stadium in Portlaoise. The Leinster Council decided to grant Laois a 'home game' against Dublin. But the GAA must have been away the day they did the counties of Leinster in the primary school. Laois played their 'home game' against Dublin in Kilkenny.

Laois were supported by all the businesses in Portlaoise. It would have made for a great day's trade for the town. But fair play, sources close to the GAA say it has been decided to award the next Rod Stewart concert to Portlaoise.

The GAA do so much right. New York were also based here in Listowel for a few days. They were beaten by a single point by a superb Castleknock team in the Division 1 final. So close for those who came so far.

Gaelic games keep our emigrants in touch with home. The club is a meeting place, a support group and a job centre. Our friends in New York were able to teach their kids the shared values that bind us and mind us through the playing of our games.

Killygarry is a small enough place in Cavan. Much smaller than New York. But then again not everyone in New York plays Gaelic football. Killygarry won the Feile double.

Frank Walls from Killygarry had his thumb pulled clean off in a horse accident. "Take a look at this Billy." Out went Frank's hand and there was his big toe stitched on to where the thumb used to be.

Not long after the exchange Frank was togging out in the Killygarry dressing-room. The young lad next to him couldn't help but stare at the missing big toe. "Here young lad," asked Frank, "can you do me a wee favour? "Okay Frank," replied the young player.

"Can you have a look there in my shoes and socks to see if you can find me toe?"

And while we were talking Frank's daughter Ashling was kicking a point from an angle as acute as an elbow drinking tea.

Joanne Reilly, the Killygarry goalie, saved a goal. She chased up on the rebound and couriered a 30-metre footpass to her pal. Joanne let a little whoop out of her, a private wahoo, only barely heard by me. Joanne's smile was as wide as Gowna. Oh but it was then remembered why it was we played this game for hours and hours here in this field when we were kids. What I wouldn't give to be able to do that now.

St Malachy's Edendork from Tyrone were heartbroken. Their girls lost the Feile quarter-final to the heroines of Kilmurry Ibrickane in a shoot-out, after extra-time. By just one point.

I coached girls' football for four years. There will be tears but hugs too, and the few sweets, encouraging words, and words of hope. Before long the smiles will come back. This is the way of girls' GAA. The best way.

It only just dawned on me now, there was no mention of the Troubles or the worry of travelling home. Lovely people they were from Edendork, looking out for their kids, chatting about the games, and enjoying the trip away for Feile, where the 32 counties meet.

Before I forget I had a seven-page letter from Kilkenny victors Thomastown in praise of their hosts in Ballydonoghue. Girls' football thrives in Kilkenny. Dicksboro beat Scotland and DJ Carey will coach the county U-14s.

"Is it that time already?" as the publican said when the Gardai called. It's a long, long way to Iceland but can Tipp bite Kerry? Tipp have scoring forwards and bested most of these Kerry players at underage level. They beat Cork too. You'd never know. But this Kerry team kick very few wides. Maybe we should go on a training weekend to Killygarry.

We will leave the last quote with Killygarry chairman Andreas McGovern: "This was the best weekend of all of our lives. Two All-Ireland champion teams. Can you believe it?"

I was so proud when Andreas praised our club's hospitality and our girls who gave Killygarry a game of it.

The GAA brings continuity and love of place. We have something to be part of that is part of us. But most of all, we must never forget, the story is all about kicking ball with your forever friends. And the public and private wahoos.

Irish Independent

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