2 November 2015 Edition
Any given Sunday
BETWEEN THE POSTS
‘These jerseys are not ours, they don’t belong to us, but we are determined to leave them in a better place’
IT WAS A DAY never to be forgotten. Four hours driving. Two senior Gaelic football teams. Two county club championship finals. One Sunday in October.
“Congratulations – you’ve done the double!”
The words came from Brian McIver, a great man and a man of greatness in GAA circles. He walked onto Pairc Esler in Newry through the throngs of black and white to find me. His hand outstretched towards me as he uttered those words. I was still considering “the double” when he added the punchline: “Trillick have won as well!”
Brian and I had been together during the summer season. I was beside him when he stepped out of the changing rooms in Salthill last July after Derry were knocked out by Galway in the All-Ireland qualifiers. Now the two of us were standing amidst a jubilant crowd in Pairc Esler. Kilcoo had just won the County Down senior football championship for 2015. It was the club’s fourth consecutive title – a phenomenal achievement. No club in Down now has more senior championship titles than Kilcoo.
During the match itself, Brian had been in radio contact with the team management while I had been on the far sideline. Brian’s son Paul had taken on the role of manager earlier in the year. He had assembled a backroom team to assist him. I was happy to have been invited. A transition in management was stewarded smoothly and an excellent culture was evolving.
The work ethic, attitude and openness to the application of sport psychology in Gaelic games made it very rewarding for me. But the opportunity to see the players excel and achieve success was even sweeter. Driving back into the Mourne Mountains that night, the team bus arrived to a village with music, cheers and flag-waving families. It was a reminder of how much the event meant to the whole community. Speaking from a flat-bed lorry, one of the leaders in the team, Conor Laverty, made clear the intent of the players. “These jerseys are not ours, they don’t belong to us, but we are determined to leave them in a better place,” he said.
At the very same time, in a village on Tyrone’s border with Fermanagh, similar celebrations were underway.
After 29 years, Trillick had triumphed in the Tyrone Senior Football Championship. What made their achievement all the more remarkable was the previous season for the club. Then they had played the Intermediate Final and were comprehensively defeated by Dungannon. One year on, ‘The Spirit of the Reds’ was fully rejuvenated. Restored to Division One in Tyrone and 2015 Senior Football Champions, Trillick came out in numbers in the darkness to welcome home their sons.
The last time I had seen the players was when they circled together on their home pitch that morning before departing for the match. Thorough, unremitting preparation by the management and players laid the foundation for what happened next. But when he finally lifted the trophy in Healy Park after a gap of almost three decades, Trillick captain Mattie Donnelly talked not about his teammates, but his “brothers”.
This a not a story of personal success. It’s a personal story of witnessing success in sport.
Working with both Trillick and Kilcoo over many months this year has been a tremendous challenge and learning opportunity. Distilling that into a short article is difficult. Many aspects invite further attention and explanation. But part of this experience which stands out most are the people involved. People who came together in a common cause, and share an ambition to achieve something together that none of them could do alone.
There are people like this all over Ireland. People like Brian McIver, Paddy Tally and Seamus Shannon. I’ve met and helped players in Derry, Rossa and St Mary’s University College (known to alumni as “The Ranch”). All these all people I’ve met during 2015. As much as we shape modern Gaelic games together, we shape one another. The lives of others were truly shaped that day in Kilcoo and Trillick.
Walking back along Newry Canal to my car after the County Down final, I was turning this over in my mind. A short distance from the stadium is a nursing home where my father took his final breath. I stopped to recall my last visit with him a day or two beforehand. A poignant memory amidst feelings of great joy from the day’s events. My sporting passion had always been encouraged by him. He would have enjoyed this day too
Relationships help to make us who we are. Strong relationships make great teams. Ultimately, it is the values by which those relations function which will decide the final outcome.