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DR CROKES COUNTY CHAMPIONS 2011

(“A GREAT DAY FOR THE CLUB”)

So much happened in the last two days of October that it would take a tome to record everything.  Coverage on TV, radio and press has given adequate expression of the game itself.  While central to everything, much, much more happened over these two days than a game of football.  The following relates a tiny selection of moments that enveloped the game itself.

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Arriving into the Crokes grounds, just as the lads are also landing, I join a few other observers, who are hanging around.  Soon the lads are out, warming up on their own field, where they feel at home, comfortable, safe.  The warm-up is silent, focused, determined.  They mean business.  One visitor, who has just popped in before staking out his pitch on the terrace across the road, observes this scene and comments “Jaysus lads, today’s the day”.

Warm-up finished; back to the dressing room; collect gear; short march out under the tunnel; new home behind us; former home in front; guard of honour from the Saturday Morning boys and girls and their mentors; black and amber flying in the wind; through a side gate and into Fitzgerald Stadium; fresh tarmac; new dressing room; final preparations; final words; let’s go; out on the field; team photo; more warm-ups; parade; minute’s silence; Amhrán na bhFiann; game on. 

Then, the game is over and I am privileged to witness some special moments, terrific moments, intimate moments.  Moments I observe and absorb and in some cases am lucky enough to record in picture.  First are the blood-curdling roars, usually accompanied by clenched fists shooting to the heavens; an exhalation of anxiety, worry, tension; an inhalation of relief, joy, ecstasy; an exorcism of past doubts, past losses, past hurts; a conception of future hopes, future possibilities, future glories.  All this is internal, within the individual.  But it quickly coalesces with the wider community.  Upstretched arms are now outstretched to those close by.  Harry, Vince and Donie are clenched in a tight embrace; all three jumping, hugging, roaring.  This is replicated around the field, with small groups of players converging and diverging only to re-converge in different groups - mercurial.  The subs are now on the field and they too partake in this ritual.   

I am sorry, girls, and I am not being sexist - but this is something that can only be experienced between men; men who have battled side by side, men who have backed each other to the hilt in the face of battle, men who have shed blood, sweat and tears for a cause they all hold so dearly.  It is a special bond that those, who have not been a part of it, can ever infiltrate.  It is a bond, a devotion, a love like no other.  It is a tough, rough, robust merging of hearts, souls and minds.  The embrace is hard, tight, violent even.  The eyes are to the skies, over shoulders, in the distance – very rarely eye to eye and even when this does happen, it is fleeting.  This is not the love or devotion of warm embraces, of soft touches, of lingering glances nor of sweet tender words.  No.  That, girls, is reserved for ye and ye alone.  

All this happens before the gates are opened and those on the terraces and stands are released among their heroes.  And now the scene changes.  They say that there are seven stages of grief, which one must travel through.  Moving from one stage to the next may not be discernable, when you are caught up in it.  But closer scrutiny, will clearly define each phase.  Perhaps, it is the same with celebration. The scenes remain very similar.  But, that more violent element diminishes and tenderness begins to emerge, as parents, children, wives, lovers, girlfriends make contact.  Clubmates, colleagues, neighbours, relatives, acquaintances and the odd stranger are now congratulating our boys.  Sometimes it is difficult to get to someone, as the team and management are pulled this way and that for presentation of the Cup and Man of the Match, photo’s here and interviews there.  Everyone wants a picture taken with the cup and the lads.   

For all that macho stuff related earlier, some of the most tender moments still occur between men; father and son; mentor and player; elder Club member and younger; sometimes unnoticed; but they happen all the same.  I observe and photographe – unfortunately not very well – some of these.  One such moment - Eoin Brosnan, a huge man in stature and a huge hero during the game is one of those much sought after for congratulations, photo’s and the like.  So much so that Niall can’t make the contact with him that I think he would like.  But, an outstretched hand, a soft pat on the back (probably not even felt by Eoin), a father’s chest bursting with pride says it all, says more than any amount of words could ever.  There is time enough for talking later on.  But contact was made in the moment.  Another such moment is when a young lad wants a photo with Colm.  Colm, as he did on numerous occasions, willingly obliges.  Then, he makes a young man’s day even better, when he gives him his no. 13 jersey, which is proudly donned – soaking and sweaty, as it is. 

Getting off the pitch was problematic.  Nobody wants to leave.  But, eventually, one by one, the lads make out the dressing room, again.  Last man standing is Captain Fantastic himself, as he obliges for one last photo’.  But Luke does not leave until he first climbes the steps of the terraces, that is roof to the dressing rooms, in order to meet the same young boys and girls that had stood in the guard of honour, as the team left the Crokes’ grounds over two hours earlier.  More photo’s and a rousing rendition of “We are the Boys…”.  It won’t be the last time we’ll hear that tonight. 

Eventually, everyone is back in the dressing room.  Again, I am privileged to be granted access to this sanctuary; a place where only the team, management and a few lucky souls dare enter.  This is another arena preserved soley for men, where no woman may enter.  Although… Rumour has it that last year, sanctity and security were breached and a certain female broke through to the inner sanctum.  However, in deference to this lady’s honour, her name shall remain secret.  OK EILEEN!!! (Information sourced and betrayed by her loving husband Mike… Buckly that is… Yes, Johnny’s mam… Just in case you hadn’t figured out who Eileen was.)  The joy of winning, of attaining our goals, of summitting that mountain still abounds.  The banter has already started, ribbing teammates about mis-kicks, missed tackles, missed scores; over-exaggerating one’s input to the game, huge kicks, pinpoint passes, magnificent scores.  The joking and craic are fine, now that the game is won. 

Now, a few visitors arrive.  First, Fr. Tom enters to congratulate the players.  It’s fitting that Bishop Moynihan has the company of his confrere of the cloth.  And as if in Dingle Church on Good Friday, Fr. Tom does a round of the stations, visiting player after player.  Unlike Dingle Church of a Good Friday, Fr. Tom wears his 125 hat and scarf, proudly displaying the black and amber…  Then again, he might just… I’ve never been to Dingle on a Good Friday! 

Another to enter the citadel of victors is Paddy ‘Bomber’ O’Shea.  Another man to do a round of the stations.  Paddy spends a little extra time at one station, that of Colm’s.  He has placed a firm hand on Colm’s shoulder and pulls their heads close together.  A deep conversation is taking place.  The initial smiles and handshakes are over.  This is serious.  There is plotting afoot.  This is a great day and needs to be celebrated.  But, there are higher mountains, bigger fields, greater days.  Swiftly, the conversation is over.  Point made.  But not before both men look one another eyeball to eyeball, the look of collaborators, the look that challenges, the look that promises.  I am so engrossed in the sight of this collusion, that I miss the opportunity to record the moment.  But, I get a photo close to the moment. 

It is worth recording one final gesture transacted before the dressing room is vacated.  Before the euphoria of retaining the County title subsides, as subside it must; for who could survive such high levels of intoxication for too long; Harry completes the final round of the stations.  Every player visited and thanked for their hard work.  A thank you given quietly, individual, personal and up close, especially those younger ones, who were never going to feature, who never had grand illusions of gracing the field of play.  It is imperative that they understand the importance of their contribution, their effort, their time.  They are important to today’s victory and their day will come. 

The meal in Scotts is very welcome.  They say hunger is the best sauce.  I suggest that hunger with a splash of victory is even better.  Wash it all down with the company of kindred souls and the conversation that rebounds time and time again to the Club… to Crokes… and you have a feast fit for kings.  And, indeed, we are all kings tonight – even those of us who are merely bathing in the reflected glory of our senior team.  And why not? 

On to the back of the lorry for a parade through town; players, team management, committee member, girlfriends, teenagers and children.  Everyone who wants to be there is accommodated and most importantly, Bishop Moynihan.  As we process through town, the ensuing troops gather in force with every street traversed, until we reach the top of High Street.  Words from Vince and Harry are well received.  Then, it is on to a few of the town’s hostelries to continue the celebrations.

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Monday and the sense of achievement, the satisfaction, still colours the air – black and amber.  The Brehon Hotel is the central point of focus for celebrations today, in the company of the Club’s main sponsor.  A large gathering, a more sedate gathering sits down to dine, a gathering that includes the team, family, relations and friends; players of years past, young members yet to take to the field; Club officers and the good and faithful Club members.  It is a mix of young and old, “blow-ins” like myself and life-long members, who can trace their seed, breed and generation through a black and amber bloodline to the very foundation of the Club in 1886.   

An over-riding theme of these celebrations is inclusiveness.  No-one should be left out.  Each and everyone in the Club had all played our part – be it large or small, in the past or in the present, on the field or on the terraces and everyone is invited to celebrate.  The Club is the winner and we are all of the Club. 

While the mood is still celebratory, there is a perceptible change in the winds that carry our conversations.  There is less looking back to the previous day’s game and more looking forward to next Sunday’s game.  However, it will take another day before we can fully engage the forward-looking gears.  There is still some celebrating to be done. 

The meal is in full swing and the buzz of conviviality abounds, when the door opens and in walks our Uachtarán, John Moynihan.  As if a switch is flicked, the entire room, in unison, as if rehearsed, raises a rousing ovation for a man who exudes Crokes, who wares his colours proudly, who is Crokes to the very core of his being.  A humble man has come to quietly pay homage to the newly crowned County Champions, but who, instead, receives the well-deserved homage of all present.  Uncomfortable at the epicentre of this accolade, this humble man reverses out the door he had entered to a quieter spot.  And in single file they come and queue to shake the hand of our own Laoch Ghaeil – Vince, Donie, Harry, Eoin, Kieran, Johnny, Daithi and Colm.  By the time Colm arrives, a small crowd of Club paparazzi has encompassed the scene and it is hard for the two to converse, as they might like to.  A strong congratulatory clasp of hands between the two men and a holding of eye contact, that is all too infrequent between men.  But all the conversation in the world could not impart that which transacts between these two men in that meeting of eyes.  There is no need for words.  But, words have to be uttered, if only to sate the onlookers’ desires.  Colm - “A great day for the Club”.  John – “Yes, a great day for the Club”.  Photo’s are taken to record the occasion and all too quickly our President has left us to continue with our celebrations; his part done – more for us than for himself. 

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I feel privileged to have been in the mingle of these two days, for having a small part to play.  I feel privileged to have witnessed the team’s performance at such close quarters.  I feel privileged to have witnessed those moments recounted above – and I am sure there were many, many more that went unnoticed by me or anyone else.  There is something deep and moving in these moments.  Moments that occurred in public; yet moments of such close intimacy; moments that neither word nor picture can adequately translate; moments, in the main between two men and moments only they understand the full depth and meaning of.   

Winning the game was huge and will be remembered for a long time to come.  But long after the game recedes in the mind’s eye and is overwritten by other games and other victories, the moments will still burn brightly – Niall’s pat to Eoin’s back, Paddy’s chat with Colm, Harry’s quiet thank you to each of his troops, the wordless conversation between John and Colm.  These and the many, many other moments are why the Club will continue to seek success, will yearn success, will achieve success.  It’s an addiction that must and will be satisfied. 

“Yes, a great day for the Club”

A Hurler on the Ditch

 P.S.

On Tuesday evening, to a man, the entire team were all present, if not fully correct, for training.  The small contingent of onlookers observed the training in the torrents of rain, with the wind battering everything around – a bitter, horrible night.  There were many grunts and groans - but not one word of complaint.  Celebrations are over, the boys are back and focused and ready to face the next challenge.  Ar aghaidh libh agus go n-eiri do bhothair libh.

 

Photos of DR CROKES COUNTY CHAMPIONS 2011click on the line below and click on slide show in top left screen.

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