The journey of the chosen few

On the morning of a county final you’re in two minds about what to say to a member of the parish’s panel should you bump into one. 

The journey of the chosen few

You want to say the right thing: an incisive comment that shows ‘you know a thing or two about the game’ or — although advancing in years — that you haven’t ‘lost touch.’

Ideally, it would be something the player might even quote in the final moments in the dressing room as the team prepares to burst out into the sunshine and the crescendo of noise.

The kids start to feel a bit tense. So, we get our bikes out and set off on a five-mile round trip to the nearest big cross roads — the epicentre of our hopes.

The crossroads are bedecked with flags and bunting in the parish colours. Further up, there is a straggle of cottages, each of them with a flag displayed at the gate post.

Opposite them, the kids in the national school have festooned the windows with homemade bunting and colours.

We are not the only ones with the idea of getting out for a breath of fresh air. Soon, the dilemma of what to say to one of the panel is posed for us, not once, but three times over!

One of our neighbours, an acknowledged star of the team, has borrowed the family car to drive around for a while with his young sister, who is in class with our two, to take his mind off things.

Soon, another car pulls up on the opposite side of the road — the star’s younger brother and one of the full back line.

They are driving around to visit a friend to help keep their minds off the game. We chat for a little while, wish them luck and, as they drive away, I have a clear sense of young men who are confident of their destiny, but not brashly so.

The match is to start at four o’clock.

But even as we are returning to our house at half past two, one of the parents from the school pulls up and asks are we heading to the county town.

Her two daughters are in the back of the four-wheel drive in varying shades of the parish colours and she is already on her way to the game — an hour and a half before the throw-in.

We hurry the short distance remaining to the house, drop Plan A (leave the house at three) and implement Plan B (leave the house immediately).

On the way into the town, we listen to the sports programme on the local radio station. On the Fair Green, the parking spaces are filling up rapidly and we snaffle one of the last ones.

By the time we arrive in the county ground, the stand is almost full so we take our seats among a group from our opponents.

The vans, satellite dishes and ‘cherry pickers’ of TG4 are here because the game is being broadcast live.

Nor far from us, a man (not in the first flush of youth) has made some kind of a straw hat to wear, with our opponents’ colours festooned around the crown.

He is being gently ribbed by his neighbours that he has done this solely for the benefit of the TG4 cameras. Down below us, extended families, friends and supporters wait expectantly for the teams to appear.

Around us, we spot neighbours either arriving or already seated.

At the final whistle, our lads have bridged a long gap and defeated old rivals. There is a great surge of people onto the field.

Last year there were tears and hugs of commiseration but this time there are firm handshakes, claps on the back and cheers for all the sets of brothers on our team.

Our captain makes an inspiring speech and the hard-won cup is a fine trophy to grace any club sideboard.

Our young neighbour, whom we had met earlier that morning, deservedly takes the elegant trophy for ‘man-of-the-match’.

At around 8pm, the team finally arrive into the village on the back of a ‘lurry’ and park in the huge car park that stretches out before the well-appointed and welcoming clubhouse. After ‘All Ireland-style’ speeches from each and every one of them, they go inside for a meal and a great night.

The following day brings the parading of the cup to the two local schools — a wise investment for the future. Many a young boy or girl has been inspired to try for county glory by such a visit.

On the Monday night, around nine, a bus pulls up outside the clubhouse and, at a nod, players and supporters from our defeated opponents alight and literally sing their way into the clubhouse.

An eye-witness declares that the choreography is as good as Riverdance.

That post-match visit is the measure of our opponents. Like us, they are a small parish, probably containing not more than a few hundred households.

For them even to reach the county final is a major achievement. Already, there is some talk around the place of us taking on a provincial title but most of us in the parish are content to just savour the making of these memories.

More in this section

Sport Newsletter

Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up