In 1969, Francie McCloskey, a quiet, well-liked 67-year-old farmer, was batoned to death by members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary in the door-front of Hasson's draper's shop on Dungiven's Main Street. The joke told about suits from Hasson's was that the trousers were so flared you had to take two strides before the trousers moved, but they famously lasted forever, made from thick material that, as Packie Kealey put it, "a nail couldn't pierce".
A bachelor, Francie had come into town that morning to buy his weekly groceries, get a haircut in Doran's, have a glass of stout in McReynolds' Bar and shoot the breeze with the boys. The old man was minding his own business and they killed him. No point calling the police when the police are doing the killing.
Francie was the first fatality of what came to be known across the world as 'The Troubles'. His wanton murder changed everything. It was covered up by the state. No one was arrested.
After that, the Catholic people knew where their loyalties lay. I heard the adults talking about it and even if I didn't understand, I felt glad I was on the good team.
There is a persistent myth that the Troubles were very damaging to the GAA community in the North. Although it is accurate to say members were harassed and imprisoned and sometimes murdered, the opposite is the truth.
The Troubles created a 'them and us' mentality. We were forced to rely on ourselves and trust no one. The GAA was our identity, part of a 'f*** you' to the rotten state we lived in. The result was that the games flourished and our expression of them was fanatical and ferocious.
The other point to remember is that human beings quickly adjust to a new reality, whether it is fighting in trenches for years or being imprisoned or being diagnosed with terminal illness. Tougher than rats, we fight on and make the best of it. What was happening to us during the Troubles was happening to everyone else across the North and being in it together meant it was no big deal. It was just the way things were and no point in making a fuss.
One Saturday night in the 1970s, there was a big night in the club after the first day of our annual senior hurling tournament. Freshford from Kilkenny, Kinnity of Offaly, Moneygall of Tipperary and Dungiven were the teams. Eddie Keher and Brian Cody and other household names had travelled for the weekend and were being put up in local people's houses. Keher stayed in ours.
Anyway, my ma and da were singing flat out on the stage when a huge explosion rocked the walls and showered dust on the audience. Our southern visitors threw themselves on the floor and my father sent one of the Hasson lads out to check. Young Hasson came back in and shouted up to the stage, "It's only the Ministry of Agriculture, Francie." Whereupon, to the bemusement of the southern contingent, the music resumed and all returned to normal. It was only a bomb after all.
This must seem highly dysfunctional to those looking in from the outside, and by any objective standards it was. But it was our reality. On Saturday October 23, 1993, the IRA bombed Frizzell's fishmongers on the Shankill Road, believing (wrongly) that a meeting of the UDA inner council was taking place upstairs.
The bomb went off prematurely, taking the lives of nine people including two children and one UDA member. One of the bombers, Thomas Begley, also died. It was a grotesque atrocity in the middle of Belfast's killing fields and it was apparent that there would be grim reprisals.
The UDA made a statement that night saying that "John Hume, Gerry Adams and the nationalist electorate will pay a heavy price for today's atrocity".
At Begley's wake, a British soldier, Andrew Clarke, opened up with his armalite, firing a volley of shots into the crowd of mourners outside, badly injuring one man. In the seven days that followed the bomb, the UDA killed 14 civilians including eight men, women and children of both main religions in the massacre of innocents at the Rising Sun Bar in Greysteel.
The day after the bombing, Derry were slated to play Donegal in the National League. The 1992 All-Ireland champions versus the 1993 champions was going to bring such a huge crowd that it was moved from Celtic Park to Casement Park. But after the bomb, Donegal did not want to travel.
The GAA insisted that the game would proceed. We were incredulous when we heard Donegal were reluctant to play.
They came onto the field looking over their shoulders. Two army helicopters hovered over the pitch throughout. The ball was thrown in and it was clear that Donegal were spooked. At half-time, Eamonn Coleman said, "These boys are fucking terrified. They're shitting themselves. Now go out and fucking destroy them." We did precisely that, winning 3-16 to 0-7 against our fiercest rivals.
Afterwards, we had a good chuckle in the dressing room about what had happened, as they departed ashen faced. In an interview later, Tony Boyle said, "It was alien for us to be involved in something like that. We didn't want to be there. There had been a statement that GAA players were legitimate targets. We just wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible."
If you take that fateful July day in Dungiven in 1969 as the starting point, the evidence is overwhelming. Wind forward 20 odd years and the children of the Troubles were poised to dominate the game.
In 1991, Lavey of Derry became All-Ireland club football champions, walloping Salthill in the final. Six months later, Down - having beaten us in a titanic two-game series in Ulster - became All-Ireland senior football champions.
Derry in 1993, followed by Down again in 1994 established the supremacy of the six counties. Tyrone were beaten by a point in the 1995 final, but this should not have happened as Peter Canavan most certainly did not handle the ball on the ground in the lead up to Seán McLaughlin's 'equaliser'.
Dublin, a team of chokers who had panicked against Donegal (1992), Derry (1993, having been five up at half-time), and Down (1994), were in the middle of another collapse and had that equaliser stood, Tyrone would almost certainly have gone on to win that championship, a championship that created one of my favourite jokes: What is the difference between Peter Canavan and a black taxi? A black taxi only carries seven.
Those All-Ireland championships created a bridge for the Armagh-Tyrone axis that dominated the 2000s, crushing Dublin and cracking Kerry, Kerry's sole consolation coming in 2006 when Kieran Donaghy almost single-handedly defeated Armagh. Again, those boys were all children of the Troubles, born into a fanatical six-county GAA culture. It was during this period that clubs all over the North were transformed into state of the art community and sport centres.
Club football in the North underlines the point. In 1972, Bellaghy had won the All-Ireland club title. It was not until 1986 that another six-county team won, Burren of Down.
All those players were young infants or children when it kicked off. When Lavey destroyed all-comers in 1990/91 another 'Troubles surge' had begun in earnest. Nine All-Ireland club titles followed in the next 20 years, with Crossmaglen, St Gall's of West Belfast and Ballinderry triumphant.
Crossmaglen, the greatest club football dynasty, had their grounds confiscated by the British army in 1971, like a passage from a Walter Macken novel where the landlord casually whips the Irish peasants as he trots past them on his thoroughbred.
On the strip of ground that was spared, they created a pitch and to the backdrop of the toing and froing of heavily armed military helicopters, the children of the parish tore into their football with a maniacal zeal.
Twenty years after the army began squatting, they were ready to rock. In 1996, they won the Armagh senior championship and in March 1997 they were All-Ireland club champions.
They went on to win 13 Armagh championships in a row, 11 Ulster club titles and six All-Irelands. I like to think of them as the Gallic village in the Asterix stories, besieged by a mighty empire, unbowed and unbeatable.
Our communities' resistance to this oppression was manifest primarily through our football. My own club Dungiven threw away an All-Ireland in 1998. This northern club dominance created a bridge for the likes of Slaughtneil and others. A crucial part of this was that feeling of 'ourselves alone', a sense that we were doing this for the greater good.
That the British could throw whatever they liked at us but it would make no difference. This is not to be confused with another myth, peddled by some unionist politicians including Peter Robinson and Gregory Campbell, that the GAA was 'the IRA at play'.
The IRA had nothing to do with it. It was about a community expressing itself, a community driven together by external forces and one that was not going to be suppressed. The GAA was our language.
By any objective standard, we were of course treated appallingly by the state. Young people nowadays would not believe the sort of things that went on.
In August 1971, Operation Demetrius was put into action by the British government. Their army, which was used to doing what it liked in colonies all over the world and getting away with it, began taking Catholic men away without charge and detaining them in a camp outside Belfast - 342 lads were lifted in that first swoop.
My own father was taken. We were thrown out of our beds and knocked about. He was dragged out of the house by soldiers as my mother screamed and tried to drag him back.
Suddenly he was gone. We were told nothing. We did not know where he was. Later we found out he was at a place called Long Kesh. We didn't see him again - apart from the odd visit - for three years.
The next door neighbour (who had a phone), came to the house one morning and said, "Ann, you have to go and pick up Francie". There he was, standing outside in the middle of nowhere, waiting for a lift.
In all, almost 2,000 were interned. Of course, as the Americans found out in Vietnam and as the British eventually discovered in every country in the world they plundered and degraded, you cannot beat the people. In Long Kesh, the detainees quickly organised their own Ulster football championship, with Derry winning the inaugural Long Kesh Cup, a certain Francis Richard Gerard Brolly togging out at centre half-back for the victors.
Like me 20 years later, he was on the good team.
Sunday Indo Sport