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Rachel Wyse: Signing off after a summer to linger long in the memory

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Kilkenny's TJ Reid shakes hands with Tipperary's James Barry after the drawn All-Ireland final. Picture credit: Dáire Brennan / SPORTSFILE

Kilkenny's TJ Reid shakes hands with Tipperary's James Barry after the drawn All-Ireland final. Picture credit: Dáire Brennan / SPORTSFILE

Kilkenny's TJ Reid shakes hands with Tipperary's James Barry after the drawn All-Ireland final. Picture credit: Dáire Brennan / SPORTSFILE

In late October 2012 when I sat down to write my first opinion piece for this column, my thoughts were consumed by a man and the genius he displayed in handling the greatest racehorse I suspect I will ever see.

Sadly in the intervening two years, much has changed. Henry Cecil is no longer with us and the wonder horse Frankel is retired from racing.

And as I sat this week to write this final piece I find myself once again captured by the talents of two men expert in the process of readying their men for one final push towards the summit of the football championship.

For some different yet many similar reasons both Jim McGuinness and Eamonn Fitzmaurice have given a masterclass this past summer.

Many will argue that with Dublin watching on, the best teams are not in the final, but there can be no disputing that the game's two best managers will stare each other down tomorrow.

Whatever the outcome, I'm certain it will be a contest to provide a fitting conclusion to the first season of Gaelic football on Sky Sports.

ANTICIPATION

And as I put together this final piece I can scarcely believe the path I have travelled over the past two years. The summer has been one I will never forget, one where my career took a turn in a direction which provided excitement, fear, and anticipation and generated plenty of controversy.

I hope our work on Sky Sports has demonstrated to people who were sceptical that we at Sky want nothing but prosperity for Gaelic games and the honour which has been bestowed upon us by sharing in the broadcasting rights has been treated with the utmost duty and care.

Positive reactions in places as far away as New Zealand suggest the magic of our games is continuing to spread far and wide, surely developments that can only be positive for the organisation. That Sky Sports can play a small part in such a contribution is most rewarding for my colleagues and I.

Viewing figures have grown steadily and reported figures for the hurling final suggest that new imaginations are been captured with every passing week.

The opportunity to travel all over Ireland to be welcomed by local supporters to their towns and grounds was a highlight that will live with me for a long time.

Gaa fans are different. Special people who have an ability to make others feel special. I will be forever grateful to all the warm and generous people I encountered from groundsmen to those young and old decked in their county colours.

The Gaa is a community, one with no comparable equivalent anywhere.

Right from our first game, in Kilkenny, that community extended a most sincere welcome and while beforehand I never really fully factored in the merits of visiting local GAA grounds, those early mornings and many miles of travel were worth every moment.

And it was in two of those grounds we witnessed clashes that lit up the summer -occasions that captured all the great elements of the Association both on and off the field.

They provided an insight into the values Gaa supporters cherish most. And they provided images that when recalled will brighten the dullest of my days.

Much was made of the authorities' decision to fix the replay between Kerry & Mayo in Limerick's Gaelic grounds, and critical arguments were persuasive and without much scope for disagreement.

Yet the Ennis Road transpired to be a fitting host to an unforgettable occasion. The intensity and willingness of players from both counties to put everything on the line was jaw-dropping.

They fought like men possessed, men without much care for neither life nor limb.

The value of an opportunity to grace Croke Park on All-Ireland final day was never more forcefully captured. No words were needed, we just had to sit and watch.

For the Wexford hurlers, an All-Ireland final proved beyond them in 2014 yet their contribution to the Championship marked a suggestion that the purple & gold may be on the verge of a renaissance.

In mid-July they met neighbours Waterford.

We wondered could Liam Dunne's men repeat the heroics of Wexford Park when they lowered the colours of reigning All-Ireland champions Clare. We shouldn't have wondered.

Roared on by a massive Wexford following, they came good when it mattered most to run out convincing victors.

The joyous scenes afterwards were uplifting and regardless of allegiance it was impossible not to smile as the Wexford people paid tribute to their heroes all across the Nowlan Park pitch.

Sporting people with remarkable pride, and when the day comes for these people to once again know success in Croke Park I sincerely hope I'm there to witness it.

Of course, no summer would be complete without a spectacle from Gaa headquarters, and the hurlers of Kilkenny and Tipperary had indeed read the script.

For the hurling Championship, it was a case of keeping the best until last.

Some judges have suggested it was the greatest final ever and whether this is true or not, the mere fact it's even being mentioned in those terms is indicative of the fare we were treated to on September 7.

Upon the final whistle both teams had much to ponder but I suspect it has been the think tank within the Kilkenny camp doing overtime since Barry Kelly blew the final whistle.

I, like everyone else, relish the prospect of what these teams have in store for us in a week's time.

And that very sentiment encapsulates Gaelic games. It gives hope. People always have cause to look forward as the dream of great days shared with their own people never dies. May it always be the case.

GRATITUDE

To conclude, I wish to express my gratitude to the Irish Independent for affording me a wonderful opportunity. On occasions it's difficult for women in the world of sport to gain any traction, especially in the context of offering opinions.

For their support and the opportunities this column has presented, I am most grateful.

Finally, to the Irish Independent readers, I thank you for each piece of feedback I received, some of which was easier to read than others, but it was all considered and valued.

Irish Independent