Eamonn Sweeney’s column in the Sunday Independent is often worth the price of buying the paper in itself. This weekend was no exception when he looked back on how we got from a statement in May that no GAA games would take place while social distancing was in place to another 48 hours in which champions were crowned, records broken and history made that will not be forgotten in the lifetime of those in towns, villages and areas around the country.
He evokes the memory of the Tipperary Senior Hurling Final, won with a goal deep into added time on extra time by Kiladangan.
Even neutrals were so caught up in the exhilaration of the exchanges and racked by the tension of the final stages we wondered what it must feel like to be a fan of one of the teams involved.
As McLoughney’s shot hit the rigging we got an inkling. The TG4 cameras captured three women in the stands, one of them almost falling from sheer jubilation, another waving her arms up and down like she was conducting an invisible band and the third sprinting out of the picture as though jet-propelled by the excitement of what she’d just witnessed.
It was like watching the pure undiluted essence of sporting joy. We were seeing what it felt like to be part of a moment which had never happened before in the 105-year history of Kiladangan GAA. Because what made this victory extra special was that it represented that greatest of all landmarks for any club, a first-ever county senior title.
And he outlined just why the landscape had changed so much in just four short months of the most unimaginable disruption to the way we live our lives.
How did we get here? Well, John Horan deserves a lot of credit. His May statement wasn’t long out of his mouth before the president realised that this hard-line policy was a dead-end for the GAA.
Irish life is often bedevilled by the fact that when a person in a high profile position makes a mistake, they prefer to double down rather than admit than they’re wrong. The consequences of this are generally disastrous.
Horan, on the other hand, had the good sense to abandon Plan A when he could see it wouldn’t work. That was real leadership. Often the subject of unfair criticism simply because he comes from Dublin, the lead he’s given as the GAA made the best out of an unprecedented situation marks Horan as one of the Association’s great presidents.
This club season has been one of the GAA’s greatest achievements. County boards and clubs went about their business in such an unfussy way that it’s easy to forget how insurmountable the obstacles initially seemed.
Horan spoke at the Sport for Business Sporting Year Ahead event in January where he delivered a strong and impassioned tale of his views and perspectives on the Association and on the power of sport in a wider context.
Little could we have known then what was to unfold but we did get a glimpse that were such a thing to threaten what we hold so dear that he was the right man for the job of seeing us through.
And Sweeney went on to summarise just how much the games meant this year, up and down the country, and not an inter-county Championship ball yet kicked or pucked in anger.
The games didn’t matter less this year. They mattered more than ever. In a country reeling from the effect of the virus and its attendant restrictions, the club championships were a welcome harbinger of relative normality. The GAA’s role as the great national machine for the production of communal joy has never been more valuable.
Keeping the championships going was an immense feat of organisation and discipline. It also required courage on the part of the players. That 22 per cent who didn’t think they’d play until a vaccine was discovered must have been nervous about returning.
They returned all the same. Not, like professional soccer and rugby players, because their jobs were on the line. But because they felt this was something they owed to their clubs and their communities. They took a leap of faith and deserve our gratitude for doing so.
You never realise or appreciate just how much your local club can mean until you get involved.
That can be as an official, a player, a mentor or even a parent on the sidelines. These past few weeks of triumph and despair have only been witnessed live by very limited numbers and yet the excitement has still coursed through the communities.
The club game has always been the bedrock, ask any player to compare an All Ireland win at Club or County and it is the triumph in front of family and alongside friends from school and the road beside you that will get the vote.
It is something special that we have in Ireland. Not everyone can see it, not everyone can feel it but when you do you get that it is indeed as Sweeney puts it the very essence of why sport matters most.
It brings us together, even in times when we are encouraged to stay apart.