Taking stock of the things that really matter

Gaelic football, and sport in general, can be all consuming for those of us at the coalface. Whether you are a player, coach, supporter or anything in between, we allow everything from training to games, and from stats to systems dominate our priorities all too often.

Taking stock of the things that really matter

We all regularly bitch and moan about referees, or hard training, or the sacrifices we must make to be involved with a team.

Wins and losses become magnified into something far more significant than they are.

We get lost in our own little world.

Like many of the supporters wedged into the freezing cold tundra that was Austin Stack Park last Sunday afternoon to watch Kerry take on Galway, I can’t say I cared all that much about the result if I’m being truthful. We were there with a cloud hanging over our heads.

When details began to emerge last Friday as to why the Munster colleges final between Tralee CBS and Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne from Dingle was called off, all anybody was concerned about was the young 14-year-old boy fighting for his life after being involved in an accidental collision in a school’s game earlier in the week.

The story was nearly too tragic to comprehend.

Word came through on Sunday morning that Aodhán Ó Conchúir had passed away.

There are certain moments that bring a strong sense of perspective flooding back to your life, like a tsunami battering the shore, and last weekend was one of those times for those of us embedded in the GAA.

I didn’t know Aodhán at all. But like many others I’d imagine, it was difficult not to feel terribly sad by his untimely passing and not be struck by the overpowering sense of devastation and loss being felt by his parents, family and friends, teachers and the entire Dingle community.

All too sudden and far too young.

14-year-old Aodhán Ó Conchúir who passed away after suffering a fatal injury while playing for Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne against St Brendan’s College, Killarney in Corn Ruiseál in Páirc an Ághasaigh on Wednesday.
14-year-old Aodhán Ó Conchúir who passed away after suffering a fatal injury while playing for Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne against St Brendan’s College, Killarney in Corn Ruiseál in Páirc an Ághasaigh on Wednesday.

As I watched Paul Geaney struggle on Sunday afternoon, against the tenacity of the Galway defensive structure, I wondered if he knew Aodhán well. Or if Barry O’Sullivan did, or Mathew Flaherty or Tom O’Sullivan.

All proud Dingle men concentrating on their business of performing and trying to win for Kerry.

And while West Kerry struggled to come to terms with the shock of Aodhán’s passing, Dr Crokes and specifically the parents, family and friends of Amy O’Connor are feeling a similar sense of devastation in Killarney at losing their 11-year-old girl to a remorseless disease.

You might remember Amy from the Dr Crokes All-Ireland club title presentation on the steps of the Hogan stand last year, when captain Johnny Buckley spoke about how her bravery and fight had inspired them.

His words seemed more meaningful than just mere tokenism.

He brought Amy down from her seat to help lift the cup in what was a beautiful moment that encapsulated the best of the GAA being about community.

Funnily enough, I don’t remember anything else he said that day, not who he thanked or praised in his speech. But I remember Amy.

It was a classy and selfless touch to share such a once-in-a-lifetime moment with someone who would treasure it as much as any player who had been on the field.

She lost her battle for life at only 11 years of age at the weekend.

That’s real-life stuff.

And within that context, the game itself did little to lift the solemn mood within the ground.

Galway set up like Donegal during peak Jim McGuinness era. With the benefit of a strong wind at their back in the first half, Kevin Walsh’s charges played with 12 and 13 men back in a defensive wall and married it with quick counter-attacking play.

Amy lifts the trophy with Dr Crokes’ captain Johnny Buckley. Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson
Amy lifts the trophy with Dr Crokes’ captain Johnny Buckley. Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson

It appeared a very negative game plan, to come out and try to contain as opposed to attack, as though they were trying not to lose as opposed to go out and try to win.

This wasn’t traditional Galway, but as they found their rhythm, their tactics became hugely effective.

Similar to last year’s All-Ireland quarter-final between the same two counties in Croke Park, the Tribesmen’s hard running caused Kerry no end of defensive breakdowns that saw the visitors create a plethora of high-quality goal chances.

But for the excellent reactions of Brian Kelly, and some butchered opportunities by Galway, the final score may have been far less flattering to those in green and gold.

Their defensive structure filled the crucial pockets of available grass inside their 45 and suffocated the creativity of Kerry’s young attacking unit.

As a consequence, Eamonn Fitz’s defenders came up the field to get involved in the play to try and draw their marker out, but as soon as Galway turned them over, they were off to the races against a transition defence that was marked absent all afternoon.

Comer, Conroy, and Brannigan among others, were punching holes in the Kerry rearguard with every piercing run and, with each free and tap over score they won, confidence began to surge through their team.

They knew they had Kerry’s number and were fully deserving of their victory.

Though Kerry made a late run at getting something out of the game, it would have been unjust, given the quality of their performance on the day.

But to their credit, as they have done since the first round of this league campaign, the kept fighting all the way to the last blast of the referee’s whistle.

Both Amy O’Connor and Aodhán Ó Conchúir were remembered during a minute’s silence on Sunday before throw-in and it provided a shuddering moment of reflection of just how precious life can be, and how what we take for granted isn’t always guaranteed.

I’m sure it won’t be long before we get back to worrying about results and performances again, but for these few days at least, they seem like fairly insignificant details in the grand scheme of things.

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