'We approached the game as a distraction from real life' - Emotional Clonkill pay tribute to tragic Annabel
TUESDAY was not a normal evening in Parnell Park.
Those who arrived did so in drips and spoke quietly as they congregated.
No-one talked about hurling until it started and then, only hurling until it was over as the Clonkill support lost themselves in battle for an hour and a half.
The message on the electronic scoreboard read 'REST IN PEACE LITTLE ANNABEL' during a minute’s silence that was respectfully sustained after the whistle to end it.
Afterwards, the Ballyboden St Enda’s players formed a guard of honour at the steel gate that opens from the pitch towards the dressing-rooms and applauded their beaten opponents, Clonkill, as they walked off.
Given the circumstances, it was an extremely delicate occasion.
But it was, through the dignified front presented by ’Boden and the Dublin County Board and most admirably, the full-blooded efforts of Clonkill in the match itself, that this match was played out as close to normal as humanly possible.
"The last four days were quite exhausting," admitted Clonkill manager Kevin O’Brien afterwards.
"It’s exhausting. But it’s a distraction for people. It’s something to take their minds off the awful tragedy.”
Earlier in the day, three-year-old Annabel Loughlin was buried in Taghmon Cemetery.
Her father, Enda, hurled for Westmeath for nearly a decade and for Clonkill all his life.
Two of Annabel’s second cousins, Adam and Luke Loughlin, were involved in this year’s Westmeath county SHC title success, and the latter even played in Tuesday’s dramatic extra-time loss to Ballyboden, and scored 1-2.
"We spoke to the Loughlin family and they wanted it played on Tuesday," O’Brien clarified.
"We wanted it played Tuesday, the Loughlin family agreed.
"They’re serious club people. They’re Clonkill to the core. They wanted it played and Enda Loughlin – the father of the tragic girl who died, Annabel – told me to tell the boys to go out and leave everything on the pitch.
"And that’s what they did.
"As I said to the boys," O’Brien went on, "sport can be a great distraction at times.
"We approached this game as that – as a distraction from real life, from tragedy. And we just said we’d empty the tank.
"We did that. It didn’t work out for us tonight. But I don’t think anyone can question our effort.”
Taking Ballyboden St Enda’s to extra-time was unexpected.
At several junctures before that additional period, Clonkill looked to be beaten but just kept on hanging in.
Eventually, they succumbed to their fatigue in extra-time while Ballyboden simply maintained a gallop.
First round provincial club championship matches have been notoriously tricky affairs for Ballyboden when they have won Dublin in the past.
The spectre of tragedy that suddenly draped this match last weekend made this one even more delicate.
"As a GAA community, we have to remember that clubs are based on family," noted Ballyboden’s manager, Joe Fortune afterwards after emerging from the Clonkill dressing-room.
"Our club have had tragedy like that as well.
"And we were conscious of the fact that tragedy has hit most GAA clubs around Ireland and we just wanted to make sure we respected those lads, both on the field and off the field.
"I’ve nothing but respect for the players there on both sides for the performances they put on tonight given the circumstances.
"Were we asked questions? Yes. We had to work for that result and I suppose that’s what we were here to do.”
It was to Ballyboden’s credit that they managed to show both genuine sympathy and competitive instinct to Clonkill on the night.
The guard of honour, O’Brien noted, was "a lovely touch".
"Look, they’re a classy club. They’re littered with stars
"They’re a classy outfit and all we can do it wish them the best in the rest of the club championship and hope they go on and win it."
Ballyboden’s (2-25 to 2-19) win puts them in a Leinster semi-final (against Offaly’s Coolderry on Sunday, November 18 in Parnell Park) as expected but the evening isn’t one either set of players will forget too quickly.
"Maybe sport for them has been a distraction for them," Fortune reckoned.
"I’ve asked them to mind each other," he added, "because the next weeks and months are going to be tough for a club like that."