'The weekend just wouldn’t be the same without it ... ?' Please discuss Derek McGrath

'The weekend just wouldn’t be the same without it ... ?' Please discuss Derek McGrath
Sligo celebrate after the Nicky Rackard Cup final clash with Armagh at Croke Park. Picture: Matt Browne

Some years ago the accompanying headline was the title of an essay that appeared on the Leaving Certificate English paper. 

Having considered the title as a student myself I began to muse on the weekend gone and weekends to come. 

A symmetry emerged that is shared by all in the GAA community. We espouse the importance of family, of club, commitment and enjoyment. 

My challenge therefore to the reader is to equate my experience to your own and sit back and say “sure that’s the typical weekend for me”.

There’s comfort in following Robert Frost’s sense of togetherness outlined in ‘The Tuft of Flowers’.

He states that “Men work together whether they work together or apart”. 

Last weekend and every weekend taught me that no man works in isolation but is always part of a community, even when he is working alone.

THURSDAY

The evening took me to the beautiful village of Cappoquin. Memories stirred of classic Harty Cup games

between ourselves, led by Paul Flynn, and St Colman’s led by Fergal McCormack. 

The venue now consists of two beautiful pitches and recently constructed dressing rooms and pavilion. 

Both pitches were humming with activity, a sense of welcome and expectancy.

Maurice Shanahan duly delivered a masterclass, presenting himself in one of those moods that make him virtually unmarkable and reinforces his status as the best club hurler in Waterford over a prolonged period.

Watching him play I am struck by his leadership qualities, his encouragement to young guns Iarlaith Daly and Oisín O’Gorman and his acceptance with absolute single-mindedness the fact that at times it is him against three defenders.

He vehemently engages in self-talk, calling out to himself “Go on Shanny boy”. 

This is what he can be and is a perfect fusion of madness, honesty, and skill. For a minute I ponder and think of my own use of Maurice during the five years. 

There’s no doubt I absorb some lessons as the evening is topped off with the customary 99 from the local SuperValu.

FRIDAY

'The weekend just wouldn’t be the same without it ... ?' Please discuss Derek McGrath

Frost’s theme stayed in my mind as I read a brilliant interview with Jessie Barr, former Irish athlete and native of Waterford. 

Through her PhD studies she revealed a common perception around athletes and coaches concerning the area of mental health. 

A player’s reluctance to open up on issues affecting him and her can, as Jessie put it, stem from a coach “giving out about someone going to a psychologist”.

There is another study conducted by RTÉ deputy head of sport Cliodhna O Leary entitled An Exploration of the Literacy and Stigma of Coaches in Ireland in Depression, their Role Perception and their Engagement Supporting Young Athletes’ Mental Health. 

Like Jessie Barr’s work, it provides us with a sense of awareness and comfort that the tide is turning to ensure a communal approach to this whole area.

After the reading and thinking, it was back to my own club to watch my son’s U14 training whilst keeping an eye on our own senior team’s last-minute preparations for their weekend championship game against Passage.

SATURDAY

Early morning took me to Duneske in Cahir for a camogie workshop brilliantly organised and run by Rob Lotty and Brian Boyle. 

Coaches of camogie teams from 12 to 18 were present as well as the U14 development squads from Tipperary and Cork.

Brendan Cummins and Rena Buckley provided their expertise and their insight. 

The learning for all was incredible and it reminded me of Paul Kilgannon’s transformative book Coaching Children in Sport.

Kilgannon focuses on what he calls the Carver Framework: Connection, Awareness, Research, Values and Visions, Endorsing, and Reflection.

'The weekend just wouldn’t be the same without it ... ?' Please discuss Derek McGrath

Had he witnessed Rena, with her 18 All-Irelands, and Brendan, with his multiple awards, imparting their knowledge with grace, ordinariness, and humility, Kilgannon would have been proud to see his words made flesh: ‘No experts. No gurus. Just learners.’

A quick read of Éamonn Fitzmaurice’s Irish Examiner piece continued the learnings of the weekend before landing in Walsh Park to continue the camogie-based theme where Waterford entertained Dublin in the senior championship.

A tour de force from Niamh Rickett, as well as eight points from our club star Beth Carton, assured Waterford put two points on the board. 

Laziness crept in as I chose the recorded streamings of the Lory Meagher and Nicky Rackard Cup finals followed by the Munster football final instead of Abbeyside v Mount Sion in the local championship.

THE WEST’S AWAKE

Perhaps rightly, most focus was given to the passionate, articulate, and honest words of Leitrim captain Declan Molloy, as well as the brilliant story around Zak Moradi, after their team annexed the Lory Meagher. 

But several other issues emerged for me. One was the genuine delight of our Uactharán John Horan during the trophy presentations. 

Sincerity, honesty and gratitude were etched all over his face.

Over his right shoulder stood Sean Kelly, the man who introduced the respective competitions that induced such emotion. 

I sensed, perhaps incorrectly, that Horan cast his “inward eye” to the possibly of a Tier 2 or Tier 3 football captain displaying the same emotion. 

Certainly I allowed myself momentarily to dream of a Waterford football captain emulating Molloy’s inspirational words.

Perhaps even outdoing the Meath and Leitrim victories was Sligo’s achievement.

Back to back Lory Meagher and Nicky Rackard Cups is a serious accomplishment.

On the 19th of March last a text appeared on my phone asking me to present the Lory Meagher medals to the winning Sligo team of 2018.

The sender was Darragh Cox, joint manager with Daithí Hand of the 2018 team.

Sligo's Gary Cadden celebrates after the game. Picture: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo
Sligo's Gary Cadden celebrates after the game. Picture: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

I duly obliged and the passion, ambition and inclusivity of the night is something that will live long in my memory.

While Gerard O’Kelly-Lynch will get most of the headlines the tale of their goalkeeper Mark Burke is a more startling one.

Five years ago, aged 33, he actually retired from the game. Last year, when Cox and Hand needed a selector, he duly obliged before being thrown into the full-back-line during the final for the last three minutes.

The injury crisis resolved itself for the New Year and he initially returned as a selector before presenting himself ready and able for duty as a goalie at the ripe old age of 38. 

This year he played in every minute of the Rackard campaign.

The story doesn’t end there, however, as his club Tubercurry have pulled out of this year’s championship due to lack of numbers. 

So he has a Rackard medal in his pocket but no club to play with for the rest of the year.

SUNDAY

To continue the journey and the theme you probably followed in your own neck of the woods: A double-header in Walsh Park while keeping an eye on Clones and Croker.

Victory for De la Salle made it a good weekend all round. And you guessed it, how else do you top off any weekend but by watching The Sunday Game?

The speaker in Frost’s poem despairs at the beginning, believing that we are all alone. 

The reality is we are all together.

The weekend just wouldn’t be the same without it. Next weekend should be even better.

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