Saturday 19 January 2019

Sinead Kissane: 'Mullinalaghta and Mourneabbey both bring living to life'

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Mourneabbey players celebrate with the Dolores Tyrrell Memorial Cup following their All-Ireland Ladies Football Senior Club Championship Final victory over Foxrock-Cabinteely at Parnell Park last weekend. Photo: Sportsfile
Mourneabbey players celebrate with the Dolores Tyrrell Memorial Cup following their All-Ireland Ladies Football Senior Club Championship Final victory over Foxrock-Cabinteely at Parnell Park last weekend. Photo: Sportsfile
Sinead Kissane

Sinead Kissane

Remember the old ESB ad that was on TV in the 1990s? It was called 'Going Home' and featured a son being collected at the train station by his dad with his mother at home warming up the house for his return.

It was so heavy on wholesomeness that you could almost smell the baking bread in the oven.

The ad finished with the son running out of the car and into the arms of his mother with a neatly wrapped message at the end: 'electricity brings living to life'.

Maybe it's with Christmas coming but the stories of Mullinalaghta and Mourneabbey have been reminders about what home means.

After winning their first Leinster club senior football title earlier that day, it was around 8.30pm last Sunday night when the Mullinalaghta players gathered at the local graveyard to continue a tradition they started two years ago.

There they met the parish priest Fr Michael Bannon and the Granard parish priest Fr Simon Cadam who gave the players candles and they went to their family graves to say a few prayers.

They did this in private, away from the cameras, away from the madness that would soon surround them again.

They also wanted to give recognition to those who passed away and who never had days like this with Mullinalaghta.

Even with the breadth of Irish sporting success this past year it's hard to think of a line which had a similar rallying effect than captain Shane Mulligan's closer in his victory speech: "light the bonfires, we're coming home".

The beauty of Mullinalaghta's success was how it was shared. Their neighbours in Gowna had the first bonfire lit for them. The local gardaí gave them an unexpected champions' reception with an escort from Edgeworthstown to Mullinalaghta.

The squad don't use a team bus, instead they travel together in cars, so it meant that players, families and supporters were in the one procession home on Sunday.

"It's been an enormous lift to the entire community and it's a lift for the surrounding parishes," said club chairman John Keegan Sr, whose son, John, is on the team.

Keegan isn't aware of anyone in their half-parish, with a population of fewer than 450, who didn't travel to Tullamore last Sunday to watch the final.

"It gives hope to every small parish struggling to keep itself running."

The win has brought a sense of wonder and magic to the village. Keegan says there were times this week when he asked himself, "is this really happening?".

He doesn't need to stretch too far back to remember when his answer to anyone who asked him where he was from was: "Granard, because if you said Mullinalaghta, they'd say 'where?'"

While it was Mullinalaghta's first time in a Leinster final, Mourneabbey had travelled the road of returning home from a women's All-Ireland club final before.

Last Saturday the Mourneabbey team bus was about 10 minutes away from Parnell Park when captain Bríd O'Sullivan stood up and said a few words.

She didn't talk about tactics ahead of their final a few hours later against Dublin champions Foxrock-Cabinteely.

Instead O'Sullivan asked her team-mates to go back and remember how they felt when they had to make the journey back to Cork after losing an All-Ireland final.

O'Sullivan's words brought a silence to the bus. For the final 10 minutes of their journey to Parnell Park, players retraced their own feelings which helped harden their determination that this time would be different.

Mourneabbey lost the 2014 All-Ireland final by five points to Termon of Donegal, they lost the 2015 All-Ireland final by three points to Monaghan's Donaghmoyne, and they lost the 2017 All-Ireland final by two points to Mayo's Carnacon.

Cathy Ann Stack was one of the players on the bus last Saturday. For her, it wasn't just hurt but also anger that they hadn't done themselves justice in those finals. Stack has been resident full-back on the Mourneabbey team since 2005.

She's the kind of player who cancelled her hen party last year when she discovered it clashed with a club game.

"It didn't really bother me because at the time football was coming first no matter what," Stack added.

Their All-Ireland final against Carnacon last year took place three weeks before her wedding.

Stack has been saying "I do" to football since she was 14 but after losing that final she was very close to walking away.

"A lot of the girls came to me and just said: 'Cathy give it one more year, it's in you, you can do it'," Stack recalls.

"I just always felt that we were so close every year that we could give it one more year. I didn't want to give up without getting the All-Ireland, to be honest with you."

She didn't give up, thanks to the help of her family, friends and team-mates. When the final whistle went after their victory over Fox-Cab last Saturday, it was a blur of elation and relief.

They stayed in Dublin that night and travelled back home on Sunday. This was the journey they spent years waiting to make.

And when the team bus pulled into the gates of their community centre and they saw their own people waiting for them, it was then that the victory was really brought to life.

Stack is one of nine players in her club who has now won an Ireland club junior, intermediate and senior club medal. It's a rare, if not historic, treble.

"To be honest, I'll probably be hanging up the boots. I've got everything I absolutely wanted out of it," Stack admits.

The success of Mullinalaghta and Mourneabbey is more than just about the clubs. They brought communities together. They kept each other going. They brought living to life.

Irish Independent

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