Character not built in defeat, it’s simply revealed

One point.

There’s so much in just one point. There can be the difference between winning and losing and the wildly contrasting emotions those two imposters evoke, and what you could have done different and what you’ll do different to finish on the right side of that marginal but so definite divide.

What doesn’t change is the wisdom of that line from that movie: On any given Sunday you’re going to win or you’re going to lose — the point is can you win or lose like a man.

As someone who has been privileged enough to have done some performance psychology work with Ballymun Kickhams over the last two years, I’ve seen firsthand how Paul Curran’s team have had the good grace to win and lose like men — plus the good fortune to win and lose huge games against teams who could take the result like men.

Last October the club won its first Dublin county final in 27 years, beating Kilmacud Crokes in another epic battle by — you guessed — a point. For all the class displayed by both teams in Parnell Park that night, one act of class off the pitch lasts in the memory. After the game a bottle of champagne was passed into our dressing room. Kilmacud had obviously intended to have their own celebrations but instead of just leaving it there or bringing it home, someone in their camp had the nobility to bring it down the corridor: “Here, ye have that, ye earned that.” Even in defeat Kilmacud had remained winners.

Last Sunday night mixing with the Ballymun camp in their reliable refuge, the Autobahn, it was striking just how much respect they had for St Brigid’s, both in how they won and how they’d conducted themselves after they’d won.

Virtually any other club team would have wilted in the onslaught of Ballymun’s start; instead Brigid’s withstood it, matched it, even surpassed it. Ted Furman has never come across a more vocal or eccentric opponent than Shane Curran but after the game he was amazed by how gracious the Brigid’s goalkeeper was. Other players were astonished by how many Brigid’s players went out of their way to extend their empathy and sympathy; when they said “We know how you feel”, the sincerity of the words and sentiments could not be questioned.

That’s perhaps no coincidence in light of the two men coaching Brigid’s. As Kevin McStay pointed out, last Sunday was Liam McHale’s 10th All-Ireland final as a player or coach and the first that he won. In eight of the previous nine attempts he was denied by just a single score. Even though he won many big games to get to so many big games and was the dominant Irish basketballer of his generation, guiding a rural club to national honours, McHale had to contend with suspicions that he wasn’t a ‘winner’.

It was a ludicrous assertion. If Anthony Finnerty’s shot had gone an inch the other side of that post in ’89, if John Madden hadn’t let Colm Coyle’s clearance bounce, if Ballina had shot just 14 instead of 16 wides in the ’99 club final, if he had stayed on one more year playing with the club and being there when they won — by a point — in 2005, he would have been long seen as the county treasure that he is. But he persisted. He learned. At half time in the one All-Ireland final blowout he was subjected to, the 2004 senior decider, he all but admitted defeat on national television.

Last Sunday when his side again went eight down, his belief remained intact. For sure his team got some luck in the second half but if any man and team deserved it, it was McHale and Brigid’s.

Paul Curran certainly didn’t complain. It’s not his style. In 1992 he was beaten in an All-Ireland club final — by a point.

In 1995 he won an All-Ireland senior final — by a point. The last time his team were beaten in championship football was 18 months ago to another team called St Brigid’s. Deep in injury time of that Dublin county semi-final Ballymun were a point up when the referee adjudged one of their defenders illegally handpassed. It was an extremely harsh decision but after Brigid’s converted the free-in and won in extra-time, Curran and his team looked towards only themselves and what they could improve; as team captain Davy Byrne often reminded the group since, their job was to be ahead by enough near the end as to not be at the mercy of a refereeing decision.

Last Sunday it didn’t work out like that but just losing to Dublin Brigid’s propelled them to success 12 months later, the hurt and lessons from last Sunday will prompt another huge effort.

This team put Ballymun back on the GAA map. The towers might have been bulldozed but there’ll be no moving this team. They’ll persist. McHale and the Currans will testify to the value of that.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2021

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