Tuesday 13 November 2018

Donnchadh Boyle: 'Brave Clonkill help restore faith and send important reminder of the power of sport for good'

Westmeath champions raise spirits of a heartbroken community and remind us what a force for good our sporting heroes can be

True sportsmanship: Ballyboden St Enda’s form a guard of honour for Clonkill manager Kevin O’Brien and his players after the Leinster Club SHC quarter-final at Parnell Park. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
True sportsmanship: Ballyboden St Enda’s form a guard of honour for Clonkill manager Kevin O’Brien and his players after the Leinster Club SHC quarter-final at Parnell Park. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

It was the week when sport showed its politics. Start wherever you like but politics and sport have been uncomfortable bedfellows over the past while.

Time and again the issue raised its head, most recently with Liverpool's decision to leave Xherdan Shaqiri at home for their Champions League trip to Serbia to take on Red Star Belgrade.

Or perhaps with the never-ending story of James McClean and his decision not to wear a poppy, particularly when some of the reportage of his stance is compared with the Nemanja Matic coverage.

A report from two years ago shows that one outlet reported how McClean "continues to abstain from showing respect for members of the armed forces".

War-torn

The same paper reported this week that Matic, "emotionally explains" that "he will not wear a remembrance poppy due to his childhood in war-torn Yugoslavia."

True sportsmanship: Ballyboden St Enda’s form a guard of honour for Clonkill manager Kevin O’Brien and his players after the Leinster Club SHC quarter-final at Parnell Park. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
True sportsmanship: Ballyboden St Enda’s form a guard of honour for Clonkill manager Kevin O’Brien and his players after the Leinster Club SHC quarter-final at Parnell Park. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
6 November 2018; Clonkill players and officials are applauded from the pitch by the Ballyboden St Enda's team after the AIB Leinster GAA Hurling Senior Club Championship quarter-final match between Ballyboden St Endas and Clonkill at Parnell Park, in Dublin. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
6 November 2018; Clonkill players and officials are applauded from the pitch by the Ballyboden St Enda's team after the AIB Leinster GAA Hurling Senior Club Championship quarter-final match between Ballyboden St Endas and Clonkill at Parnell Park, in Dublin. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
6 November 2018; Clonkill players and officials are applauded from the pitch by the Ballyboden St Enda's team after the AIB Leinster GAA Hurling Senior Club Championship quarter-final match between Ballyboden St Endas and Clonkill at Parnell Park, in Dublin. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
6 November 2018; Members of the Clonkill team stand for a minute's silence in menory of the late Annabel Loughlin prior to the AIB Leinster GAA Hurling Senior Club Championship quarter-final match between Ballyboden St Endas and Clonkill at Parnell Park, in Dublin. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
6 November 2018; Clonkill players and officials are applauded from the pitch by the Ballyboden St Enda's team after the AIB Leinster GAA Hurling Senior Club Championship quarter-final match between Ballyboden St Endas and Clonkill at Parnell Park, in Dublin. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
6 November 2018; Clonkill players and officials are applauded from the pitch by the Ballyboden St Enda's team after the AIB Leinster GAA Hurling Senior Club Championship quarter-final match between Ballyboden St Endas and Clonkill at Parnell Park, in Dublin. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

At times, sport couldn't be more political no matter how hard it tries.

The same was true of Liverpool. As much as manager Jurgen Klopp tried to distance the club from the decision to leave Shaqiri at home, it was a call mired in politics.

On the face of it there's little to catch your interest. Shaqiri is a Swiss international but crucially he is of is of Kosovan-Albanian heritage.

During the World Cup, he scored the winning goal against Serbia and celebrated by making an gesture referencing the Albanian flag. Serbians and Albanians fought on the opposite sides of the war in Kosovo in the late 1990s meaning Shaqiri's gesture was provocative.

Before the Red Star game, Klopp issued a carefully worded statement through the club's website explaining his decision.

But more than anything Shaqiri's heritage and worldview was the driver behind the decision to leave the 27-year-old behind on their ill-fated trip.

"We are keen to be respectful and keen to avoid any distractions that would take focus away from a 90-minute-plus contest that is important for football and only football," Klopp said.

"So for that reason, Shaq is not involved and he accepts and understands this. Shaq is our player, we love him, and he will play for us a lot of times, but not on Tuesday."

Given that the chant of choice for a portion of Red Star's support was 'F**k You Liverpool', it may have been the prudent move.

There have been other examples too. Golf's European Tour came under pressure to cancel its maiden event in Saudi Arabia after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey.

The same can be said of a scheduled tennis exhibition match between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal in the country next month. Whether it likes it or not, sport and politics mix. Most of the time, they have to.

And that's why Tuesday night's Leinster club SHC game between Clonkill and Ballyboden St Enda's was an important reminder of the power of sport for good.

There was no politics at play. No huge amounts of money exchanging hands. Just people bound by geography and tragedy and love of their game.

On the night, Clonkill were hurling for much more than a place in the Leinster semi-final.

They were hurling for themselves, for a distraction from the day's events and for the Loughlin family who are grappling with unimaginable grief after the tragic death of their three-year-old daughter Annabel.

In the morning, the people of Clonkill gathered at the Church of The Assumption in Delvin and watched as a hurley was brought up to the altar as a gift representing her short life, before moving on to Taghmon Cemetery.

In the evening, they came together once more, this time at Parnell Park. With two cousins and an uncle involved in the set-up, Annabel was well represented. Clonkill summoned a fury and extra-time was needed.

Ballyboden eventually came out on top, but Clonkill left on their shields to a spontaneous guard of honour from the Dublin champions.

Prayer

"We had a little prayer in the dressing-room before the match and then we just concentrated on hurling," manager Kevin O'Brien said.

"Enda (Annabel's father) said to tell the boys to do it for him and the family. 'Tear into them' were his exact words and that's what we did. It's an awful tragedy.

"They're in for a long road and hopefully they'll come through it. Everyone in Clonkill will be there to support them."

And that was it. A game in its rawest form. A community drowning in grief.

And for a moment at least there was a distraction. No politics. Just sport.

Irish Independent

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