There’s always one, isn’t there? During the summer, #Sportsfile published a time lapse of photos depicting the agony and ecstasy enveloping an Offaly football supporter on the terrace in #Tullamore, during and after his county’s capitulation against #Longford. Again, a similar shot emerged of a lone, disconsolate #Mayo fan mired on Hill 16 following the end of the green and red’s campaign for another year.
We’ve all been there. From my own viewpoint, there have been a few Dunboyne reversals over the years which delivered more acute pangs of heartache than others. Though it may for some reason surprise a few, defeats in the four SHC finals the club has reached during my lifetime, as there surely hasn’t been many bigger chasms between wins anywhere.
Other than those, a couple of defeats in Feis Cup deciders to Seneschalstown also hit very hard. Primarily as your columnist has something of a sentimental attachment to the old knockout competition and even though some treasured friendships have been established in the Yellow Furze over the years, it’s one competition the ups and downs of which are always felt a bit more.
That said, one of the greatest aspects of GAA life is indeed the connections forged with folk from other areas. The magnanimity shown by our conquerors on both occasions in this direction comfortingly reinforced such feelings. Even though an inability to connect with those who are held especially dear on both days will always be a deep regret.
The other competition with which there’s a special affinity is the Junior C Championship. I was honoured and proud to be a mentor – along with Ray Mitchell and Vinny Maguire – with the St Peter’s team that reached the county final in the grade in 2002. Including selectors, cough, there was a considerable overlap between our successful minors of that season and the third team. Three years later, 11 of them went on to win senior championship medals.
In more recent times, my involvement in supporting the C’s has taken on a different guise and, having seen different groups at the grade reach the knockout stages repeatedly and a couple of finals into the bargain and continually come up short, pondering was often engaged in as to whether the elusive line would ever be crossed.
It was exactly that which turned thoughts – around the same time – to long suffering Mayo followers. To Win Just Once. The ‘Saw Doctors’ song that never loses relevance. At the outset of their campaign, there was nothing to suggest that it would differ from any other ones of late for Fergus McNulty’s charges.
Except for ever present superstition on my part. Firstly, being mindful of our club winning the county minor championship last year. Thus ensuring a fresh infusion of talent into the adult ranks this term. Which, going on past experience, is always a decent barometer to expectations at such a grade.
There was another aspect to the superstition fuelled optimism. On the day before the game, a realisation dawned that the team captain, Denis Gallagher, had lifted silverware on two other occasions when he’d fulfilled the role in finals, namely, in Feis Cup and Keegan Cup deciders.
However, notwithstanding the continuing emergence and on field excellence of younger players such as Gavin Prior and Jack Cox, coupled with Conor McGrath’s excellent penalty save, greatest satisfaction was honestly derived from seeing Eoghan D’Arcy eventually attain the county championship medal he has striven for over such a long period.
Now, before any high horses are mounted, let it be said that of course there was equal delight felt for all those involved in the success. Maybe, too, a modicum of regret for those who’d soldiered for the same cause over an elongated period but missed out on deliverance. But, while loathe to employ clichés, it’s entirely applicable to say that Eoghan has been the life and soul of the Junior C team for a very long time.
Sporting utopia takes on various forms, which all depend on context. Besides that, as some will know but many may not, while circumstances have – to profound regret – in recent years restricted the amount of things, sporting and otherwise, which this hack is able to see ‘in the flesh’, a sizable proportion of what is accomplished in that regard these days wouldn’t be without him.
A bit of a nostalgic link and off-field inspiration never does any harm either. The former coming in the fact that Eoghan’s father, Declan, was part of the last St Peter’s team to triumph at the grade in the early 1980’s. When it comes to the latter, when one has been playing against the wind and under the cosh, one good break of the ball can make a demonstrable difference in turning things in a better direction.
Any competition is hard won and to be savoured. For special reasons though, this one will be treasured more than most.