But what does it mean?
Why are people so willing to sacrifice so much for their local club?
There is a story in Kilfinane lore of a hurler, Fuster Linnane, who suffered a bad blow to the head in a match and, with the blood dripping down his cheeks, was informed by a Fr. Buckley: “your face is ruined!”, to which Fuster replied: “I’d rather lose my eye than lose this match!”
We might laugh, but it’s not a joke. This weekend, 12 teams will take the field in the concluding stages of the AIB All Ireland Club championships.
We have the junior and intermediate hurling finals this evening, junior and intermediate football finals tomorrow afternoon, all in Croke Park, also the senior hurling semi-finals in Parnell Park and Thurles tomorrow.
In every one of those games, in the moments when lungs are bursting, leg muscles on fire, there will be players who will be inspired to launch one more massive effort, who will fight through the pain barrier.
Why? What inspires them?
A short story, a synopsis of the life of one man, Dermot Naughton, as told to us by a man who knew him well, Chris Morrissey.
Christmas week 2009, just a couple of weeks after his native Newtownshandrum had won their third Munster SHC title, Dermot was with a couple of his oldest friends, Tom O’Brien and James Coughlan, hanging up bunting in Newtown village, doing what he had been doing for decades – helping out.
Without warning, Dermot dropped, lifeless. Every effort was made to revive him, to no avail – gone, at 51. Within hours the news spread and a whole community was stopped in its tracks.
“Where do I start?” asks Chris. “Dermot was involved with the GAA since he was a child, played with Newtown at every grade and he was fairly lively there too, I can tell you, didn’t hold back! He won a county intermediate in 1981, remained involved after his retirement, was a selector when the team won the intermediate county again in 1996.
“He was a fantastic clubman, heavily involved in the development of the field, involved in everything really to do with the club. If there was a social to be arranged, an event to be organised, Dermot was one of the first fellas you’d approach, and the first fella to say yes, to offer a hand. He was a great community man also, first chairman of the Parish Council in Newtown, served in it right up to the time of his death. He was a fantastic businessman as well, a great salesman, but he had the personality for it, great man for meeting people, getting orders, doing what had to be done. He had a great way about him. And of course he was a great family man.
“I couldn’t say enough about him really, he was a man you’d hold in the highest esteem, no matter which way you turned him. He was excellent in every way, a man I had fierce time for. He was very a very reliable, very dependable man.
“And of course he was straight, very straight, said what he had to say but without any bitterness; there was no holding back but there was no holding on either, letting things fester. He was hugely respected in the club and in the parish, and he’s hugely missed, has left a gaping void.”
At Dermot’s wake and funeral, the whole community – man, woman, child – turned out to offer support to Josephine, Dermot’s wife, and his three fine sons, Shane, Diarmuid and Cathal. And it was there that you got an inkling of the influence of the GAA in the lives of people in places such as Newtownshandrum, it was there that you got an inkling of why fellas like Fuster Linnane are prepared to lose an eye rather than lose a game.
In every club there are people like Dermot Naughton, people who dedicate themselves to the betterment of their own community.
In return, they are never forgotten. A little like Fuster Linnane, their spirit lives on, becomes woven into the parish psyche so that when those hard moments come, backs to the wall, someone is inspired to lift the siege.
CHRIS continues: “Dermot would have loved this week. He’d be really enjoying it.
The fact that Cathal (Newtownshandrum midfielder) had improved so much, was coming on in leaps and bounds – mind you, he wasn’t slow about letting him know if he thought he’d had a bad game either, he’d be the first to tell him!
“But he was fiercely proud of him, and of Diarmuid and Shane.
“He loved the games, then coming back to the village afterwards, himself and the lads, down to Herlihy’s. Tom O’Brien, Willie Burke, James Coughlan, Denis O’Mahony and himself – four or five of them together always, and the craic would be mighty. They really enjoyed it, always made a day of it.
“There’s going to be a lot of very lonesome people in Thurles this Sunday, I can assure you.
“We miss him greatly, his neighbours miss him especially – Willie Burke there, they got on tremendously well.
“He was a great family-man, a great neighbour, a great friend, a great clubman – it was a desperate shock.
“And the way it happened, putting up the bunting – there was no hanging around when he arrived to get a job done, it was get on with it, get it finished.
“‘Come on now, guys,’ he said. ‘We’ll be finished in an hour’, turned to go away, and that was the last of him.”
But that isn’t the last of him. When Newtownshandrum take the field tomorrow, Dermot Naughton will still be there, in spirit, and a myriad other Dermot Naughtons alongside him, in Thurles, in Parnell Park, in Croke Park, and all lifting their own teams.
The pride of the parish, the honour of the little village – the spirit of the Gael.