Tuesday 22 January 2019

'Dear Ben, Joe Dolan's brother, in Westmeath'- This beautiful letter and gesture will make you proud to be a GAA fan

Westmeath's David Lynch consoles team-mate Ray Connellan after Connellan got injured during their defeat to Dublin yesterday. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Westmeath's David Lynch consoles team-mate Ray Connellan after Connellan got injured during their defeat to Dublin yesterday. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

Tom Rooney

The letter, written slightly haphazardly in pale blue biro, was addressed to Ben Dolan, brother of the late singer Joe, somewhere in Mullingar, but its sentiment and other contents were meant for Ray Connellan, who had stumbled on some bad luck.

When Westmeath footballer Ray Connellan posted a picture on his Twitter account of a letter he had received from an anonymous man who had watched him break his leg during the Leinster final against Dublin, it was, in and of itself, far from normal.

In an age where GAA stars are often relentlessly trolled on social media, it was downright astounding to see a hand-written note pledging an unsolicited donation to aid an injured athlete in his rehabilitation.

As it turns out, the horrific injury he sustained just on the stroke of half time of a contest that concluded with Dublin winning a fifth consecutive Leinster title, amounted to two breaks in the fibula above his ankle and ligament damage.

Two days later, Connellan underwent surgery at the Santry Clinic, which involved inserting plates into his leg.

It was only upon returning as a spectator to Westmeath’s training did he learn of his mysterious benefactor, but the singularity of the story doesn’t end there.

“I have no details of him,” Connellan told Independent.ie

 “I think he purposely wanted to be anonymous and was just doing it for a good deed.

“As he said, he was just trying to set an example. I hadn’t been back into the county set up until last night, when I just went to watch training.

“Tom Cribbin, the manager, just handed it to me and said that it had been a man just sitting in the stand, and he was talking to Ben Dolan from Mullingar, the brother of the late singer Joe.

“They had obviously been talking and he addressed the letter to Ben Dolan, brother of late Joe Dolan, somewhere in Mullingar Westmeath.

“He didn’t know the man’s address, he had only met him at the match. He just sent it then with a sum of money to help with any needs I might have.

“It was completely random, no connections and, from I what I can gather, he wasn’t even involved with Westmeath football, just a GAA supporter who felt sorry for someone getting a bad injury.

“This man was quite elderly, and this was not something that you would see too often in sport or anywhere else. It was a very touching and unexpected gesture,” he said.

Connellan’s doctors told him he could expect to be out of action for up to 14 weeks which, many speculated, would scupper his move to AFL side St Kilda.

According to the 22-year-old, his move to Australia will still go ahead, and he plans to travel there, as scheduled, late next month.

“Injuries happen in sport, they (St Kilda) know that, and I’m due to leave in September. Whether that gets pushed back a couple of weeks, that’ll be the height of it.

“It’s not going to be any major delay. Pere-season doesn’t start until November so it’s not going to affect it too much. My fitness will probably be a bit off, but it’s nothing I can’t deal with it.”

While Connellan is certainly looking forward to graduating to Aussie Rules and professional sport, it doesn’t mitigate the hurt of being unable to see out the current Championship with his Lake County brethren.

Westmeath take on Mayo this Sunday in Cork in the Round 4B qualifier, though Connellan is admirably sanguine in light of his absence.

“Given it’s going to be my last campaign for at least two years, I wanted to go out with a bit of a bang. It’s just one of those things and I’m going to have to deal with it,” he said.

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