HERE’S what the GAA means to me…
The challenge to consider the above arrives over the weekend via Twitter, a seven-word summons designed to hoist the recipient, for a little while at least, from Covid-19’s twin craters of monotony and anxiety.
Simply finish the sentence with your own montage of word pictures.
The GAA means childhood, dizzy with wonder as the old, ramshackle Croke Park appears like an exotic palace, an intergalactic spaceship rising above the 1970s landscape, Columbus setting eyes on the New World for the first time.
It means following Anton O’Toole’s coffin up Mount Argus hill, half the city stretched out in the cortege behind. Heffo’s team called to the altar to serenade their fallen comrade, a rendition of Dublin in the Rare Oul Times’ so freighted with emotion that it projected onto your watering eyes a reel of everybody you have ever loved.
It means matchday pints of stout in Briody’s or The Palace Bar or Mulligan’s or Pipers Corner or The Temple. Or, on the best of days, all five.
It means Liam Griffin making a bone-deep connection, causing the heart to beat a little faster just by describing hurling as the Riverdance of Sport.
It means the most profound sense of place. An inextinguishable glow of belonging.
It means the Sunday Game theme tune, the timeless soundtrack of summer, of a life lived. An evocative trigger disinterring and reanimating so many ancient memories.
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It means joy seeping into young, sick faces as the winning team bring Sam Maguire or Liam McCarthy to the children’s hospital the morning after the All-Ireland final.
It means Jim Gavin, even amid a fevered five-in-a-row schedule, selfless in twice visiting my desperately ill mother. Bringing a glow to her beautiful face. Making her last days better.
It means Maurice Fitzgerald or Ciaran McDonald, Diarmuid Connolly or Gooch, as balanced and in tune with their own bodies as Nureyev, capering to an entirely different beat, the kind audible only to the celestially gifted.
It means John Mullane, jolting and shuddering across a summer meadow as if he has trod on the third rail, shaved head aglow, a study in hyperactive poetry.
It means Anthony Daly in a commentary box or studio composing love letters to hurling, feeling moved by his pure, intense, infectious love for the game.
It means the surge of parish kinship on county final day.
It means club volunteers shopping on behalf of cocooning elder members of society.
It means Cody, apple-cheeked beneath his baseball cap visor, hurling’s Methuselah, a stripy, all-conquering Caesar still enslaved to the rush of competition.
It means the sensory overload of September 18th, 2011. Understanding, as first Kevin McManamon’s shot, then Stephen Cluxton’s free, hit the bull’s-eye, that never in all your existence will you know a day the equal of this.
It means the silly but lovely surge of pride as American tourists tune-in and are transfixed by the hurling game on TV in a bar.
It means Jones’ Road in August, a riot of colour, the familiar, grizzled buskers plucking their banjos on the canal bridge, everything in the world distilled down to this giddy magnificence.
It means the clans of Leitrim and Westmeath, the tiniest of them suddenly ten feet tall, tears cascading in a Niagara of liberation, after the 1994 Connacht and 2004 Leinster campaigns carried them to a euphoric wonderland.
It means the first waking thought of anybody with Donegal blood coursing through their veins on the morning after the 1992 All-Ireland final.
It means the forcefield of Ger Loughnane or Billy Morgan or Davy Fitz’s personality.
It means wondering how the planet might be sent spinning off its mooring on that day when Mayo, after a lifetime of striving and a universe of setbacks, finally plant the green and red flag on the roof of Everest.
It means the ache of loss. Dublin flags fluttering from the window of Mam’s house on All-Ireland week, a lace of bunting stretching down the garden, and her in the back yard, nerves shredded, praying, unable to watch.
It means those same Dublin flags now billowing by the headstone at Mam and Dad’s grave.
It means a postcard from all those days on the road, the smell of fresh-cut grass, provincial towns animated by summer’s roadshow, bars overflowing, hope in the air, troubles parked.
It means the visceral rush as the teams line up behind the Artane Band for the pre-match parade, the stadium a rumbling volcano that can no longer be contained.
It means the stardust of that first epic 2013 All-Ireland under Saturday night lights, Shane O’Donnell touching divinity to break Cork.
It means the past, a jam-packed Morrissey’s of Abbeyleix on the way home from Thurles or Pairc Ui Chaoimh, old friends and old ghosts meeting.
It means feeling a part of something that is so much bigger than our small lives.
It means the way the current absence of matches, the silence of Sunday after Sunday opens an immense void in your life.
It means home.
This Friday will feature the first ever Special Congress of the GAA to be held via video conference as delegates attempt to find a way through their own rulebook when it comes to staging some form of an All-Ireland championship in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.