These clubs are fighting for the holy grail

Are Michael Daragh McAuley or Barry Moran the most important people in Castlebar and Ballyboden this week?

These clubs are fighting for the holy grail

To many the answer is yes, yet to anyone else in the know they are just big cogs in the many wheels that keep a club turning out teams, never mind preparing to challenge for the holy grail of club football.

Anyone ever heard of Seamie Murtagh or Paddy ‘The Bishop’ McNamee? Probably not, but I can tell you now that without guys like them we would not have won six All-Ireland club titles in Crossmaglen.

Every club has them guys behind the scenes, the guys who are there every night when you arrive at training with the cones, bibs, poles, water bottles ready and the lights on.

These men are priceless and they make everything else within the club’s structures work. They are not highly paid or highly recognised.

In fact, in a lot of cases rarely mentioned and always taken for granted.

“We are doing for the parish, for the guys we grew up with, went to school with, next door neighbours, friends and family.” Of course, this is all true and this makes it oh so special, but there is so much more of a belonging running out onto Croke Park on St Patrick’s Day.

When I first heard that the St Patrick’s Day club finals were up for debate. I have to say I was horrified. On reflection, though, I thought for the greater good of the fixtures calendar that it was perhaps a good idea.

Congress then soured that thought when they voted not to condense the All-Ireland series by a mere two weeks.

The two-fingered approach by the delegates to clubs up and down the country has since, I believe, been a rallying cry to finally say “enough is enough”.

Whatever clubs get wrong or get right now, they will have to fight tooth and nail for. In the spirit of 1916, Padráig Pearse once said: “We have preserved Ireland’s honour and our own. Our deeds of last week are the most splendid in Ireland’s history.”

A bit much Oisin, I hear you say. Perhaps it is but if you rewind 20 years to when rugby went professional and you consider the dramatic downward spiral of the long-suffering club game, given their time again they may well fight somewhat harder to “preserve” their place in rugby’s natural order.

The last bastion for club footballers is St Patrick’s Day in the field of dreams.

Let’s face it, when you think of the muck and gutters they plough through for that one hour on the hallowed turf, they should be made feel special in the real sense of the word. Not trespassers getting shepherded in and out with the minimum of fuss.

The most asked question in the GAA is which medal would you prefer: An All-Ireland with your club or county?

That’s the sort of question that can make Vincent Browne look like a novice. It’s a bit like asking which child do you love the most. All-Irelands are hard come by. Ask a Kilkenny hurler — they will tell you that.

On March 17, 1997, when I walked out on to Croke Park with my brothers Jim and Jarlath, it felt like a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

To win that day with my brothers who I had grown up watching and idolising was the one of those things that can never be taken away. Not even the passage of time can quell the pride we all felt that day watching Jim lift the first of our club titles.

That first year was very much a journey into the unknown. The other years were special but more a job of work.

We were now a team who knew what we were about, no longer wet behind the ears, an unstoppable force carrying the weight of expectation from a small village in south Armagh. In ‘97 we weren’t just playing to win, but to find an identity that perhaps was lost in the rubbles of The Troubles.

This is not entirely new ground for Castlebar and some of the Ballyboden team.

The walk of glory to receive the Andy Merrigan Cup, however, will. When you walk up those steps, you are making that trip for the Seamies, the Paddy ‘The Bishops’ and for everyone in that club who has had your back since you tore onto the field at six years of age in a club you can call your own.

It will be with a tinge of sadness and a large dollop of envy that I will travel to Croke Park today to watch these two big hitters of modern day club football go at it in the mightiest and manliest of jousts.

Remembering they are there to “preserve” the honour and the mights of every club player in the land and long may that continue. I believe we are in safe hands.

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