Thursday 14 December 2017

Heads bowed in honour... and grief

GAA players pay tribute to Joel Richards at Páirc na hÉireann in England
GAA players pay tribute to Joel Richards at Páirc na hÉireann in England

Graham Clifford

Heads turned when the Warwickshire under-14 boys called out to each other during their games in the 2009 Féile Peil na nÓg championships in Kildare - their British Midlands accents feeling slightly out of place.

But for players like young Joel Richards, Gaelic football felt right and, though he had no Irish blood-connection, he felt at home on a GAA pitch and in the bosom of his club - James Connolly's of Birmingham.

He was first introduced to the game by Tyrone-born Tony Donoghue who visited his school educating local children about the game of catch-and-kick.

Joel grew into a fine player and he, and his grandfather Patrick, became key members of the James Connolly's GFC family.

And so when news came through that 19-year-old Joel had died in the Tunisian gun attack, hearts broke. When it transpired that his grandfather and uncle had also perished, the feeling of loss was overwhelming.

Tony Donoghue's daughter, Tracey, told Review: "We couldn't believe the news. Joel was so young, so talented and had his life in front of him. He was a lovely young man and so close to his grandfather, Patrick. His granddad would come to all his games to support Joel. Everyone involved in our club and in GAA across Warwickshire are shell-shocked. Some of the lads in our club would have known Joel most of his life; the loss is particularly hard-felt by them."

Joel's brother, Owen, who survived the beach attack, played for the club at under-12 level.

During the week, GAA players from four clubs, including James Connolly's, came together at Páirc na hÉireann, the HQ of GAA in the British Midlands, to pay their respects to Joel.

One club brought a wreath and players huddled in a circle with heads bowed, the tricolour flying at half-mast.

A young man who'd known Joel since a child had the words 'RIP Joel' written on his GAA jersey and Tracey Donoghue brought a large banner with the words 'Remember Joel Richards, Patrick Evans and Adrian Evans - May they rest in peace' printed on it.

Training to become a professional football referee and loved by all those he met, the loss of young Joel Richards has devastated this area - compounded of course by the fact three generations of the one family were killed in the attack.

"It's impossible to make any sense of what's happened," says Tracey Donoghue. "All we can do is remember Joel fondly and if needed support his family."

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