Gaoth Dobhair – Leicester City of the GAA

It’s not just the historic football win, brilliant though it is. It’s the wonderful lifting of community spirit it will create.”

Such were the words of Bun na Leaca based Sinn Fein county councilor John Sheamais O’Fearraigh after Gaoth Dobhair’s exciting, extra-time Ulster club football final win over Monaghan’s Scotstown this week.

And events since have proved him right.

Gweedore win in Irish Examiner

Upon returning to Donegal with the coveted trophy, the entire squad have generously given of their free time to share their celebrations, bringing the silver cup to all corners of the community, including the Ionad Lae Gaoth Dobhair local daycare centre, Siopa Mhicí, the ‘Happy Days’ store, Teach Mhicí, and local schools and medical centers.

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Seniors at Ionad Lae Gaoth Dobhair Daycare Centre share celebrations with their gallant footballing heroes.

Support for the team has been terrific, and rising, with the GAA club brimming with celebrations until the wee hours of Sunday morning.

Thousands of people, both here and abroad in other countries, who couldn’t attend the tight, nail-biting game, watched and listened to it on TG4, Raidió na Gaeltachta, Highland Radio. Or any other media outlet they could find on the dial.

Take Sabba Curran, for example.

Crossing the Irish Sea didn’t stop the long-distance, truck-driving Dore man – captain of ‘The Cricket,’ the ferryboat that brings people back and forth from Gola Island – from tuning in.

I was lying in my lorry on the top deck of the Belfast-Cairnryan ferry and had the radio on RnaG in one hand and my app on Highland Radio on the other,” he said. “There was a five second delay so that added even more to the tension.  What a game, eh. Brilliant. The victory has done wonders for the morale of the parish. Everyone’s behind them. They deserve every credit for what they’ve achieved.”

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(photos – left to right) Danielle Ni Earlaigh (Sraith Mairtin), Brendan O’Baoill (Machaire Chlochair), Pat McGarvey (Glassagh), Myra Siddique (Bun na Leaca), Brendan O’Baoill, Jimmy Mhici O’Gallachoir (Sraith Mairtin) and John Ivors (Cnoc Fola) – all helping celebrate historic Gaoth Dobhair’s footballing victory.

Meanwhile, Brendan O’Baoill, whose son, Daire, the hat-trick hero against Crossmaglen in the semi-final, has been doing an outstanding job all week photographing members of the community, be they old, young, male or female, hoisting the cup high. I met him at several places and I could see plainly he was clearly delighted and proud. And rightly so.

Monday morning all talk at the check-out counters at Siopa Mhicí in Gaoth Dobhair – little wonder – focused on THE sporting event.

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Siopa Mhicí manager, Brendan Gallagher with members of his staff stand proudly with the victorious Gaoth Dobhair football players. Family trio. (l to r) Joe, who travelled all the way from New York for the Ulster final, with Paul and Ciara McFadden.

As blonde-haired Jackie Harris, the helpful check-out lady, listened intently, Fanny McGee, a gray-haired woman spoke as expertly as Pat Spillane, Joe Brolly, or any of the other well-paid RTE pundits. “The going was tough, there was no bounce in the ball at all,’ she said, reliving key moments of the game. A man beside her chimed in enthusiastically, “It was nail-biting stuff alright. Some people haven’t recovered yet.”

Baker Miriam Campbell from Meenaniller was checking her freshly-baked scones. Mid-morning and most of the daily supply of 170-plus coconut, raisin, blueberry, raspberry and white chocolate ones gone. “Good absorption material for the liquid celebrations last night at the club,” someone somewhere quipped. Colleague, Anne-Marie McGee from Arduns, glanced over, smiling.

John Sheamais O’Fearraigh Sinn Fein

Councillor John Sheamais O’Fhearraigh from Bun na Leaca shows his support for his local team, proudly wearing the Gaoth Dobhair jersey.

Suddenly, quiet banter rose to a lively buzz. Eyes turned to the front door. Standing there, dressed casually, looking relaxed, were the footballing heroes of Gaoth Dobhair, their prized trophy, the Ulster club championship, held proudly aloft – in Donegal for the first time in 43 years. Quiet-spoken, good-humoured, jostling each other. You’d never have believed they’d battled the day before through a pulsating, extra-time victory in wretched, wet, muddy conditions.

Word spread quickly. A table was set up for the silverware, three gleaming silver trophies – the Ulster Senior Club Cup, the Donegal Division One and the Championship. Mobile phones popped out of pockets. Selfies, family groups, a free-for-all. Players, customers, staff, intermingling, all in rousing celebratory mood.

Store manager, Brendan Gallagher, whose family-owned supermarket is a lynchpin in the community, summed up everyone’s feelings, “It’s a fantastic achievement for all the players, coaches and backroom management. They’ve put a lot of pride back in the parish winning in such a brilliant way. We’re all now hoping we’ll be enjoying a wonderful occasion at Croke Park on Saint Patrick’s Day for the All-Ireland final.

gweedore wins game gaa, sean hillen writer

If football followers be truthful, many wouldn’t have given the team a hope in hell last year of making it to the Ulster final. “But isn’t it great when a team defies the odds, especially when it’s your home team?” someone chipped in. “Gaoth Dobhair’s the Leicester City of the GAA.”

Gearoid McFadden, owner-manager of Teac Jack in Glassagh, was doubly delighted. Two of his bartenders, Seaghan Ferry and Gavin McBride, are in the squad, with the former scoring the winning point. “Absolutely delighted,” he said. “The bar was packed, a huge buzz about the place. It was a riveting game, very tense. This team’s got huge potential.

Máire Graham, 60, from Corveen, recently elected chairperson of Gaoth Dobhair club, one of the few women in such a position within the GAA, said the team’s “incredible performance has brought tremendous positivity to our club in all the multi-faceted activities we do in promoting traditional Irish culture, from football, hurling, camogie, handball and rounders to singing, set dancing, recitation, drama and of, course, the Irish language itself.”

gweedore winners of ulster championship

Can Gaoth Dobhair now become the first-ever Donegal club team to reach the All-Ireland final? “It won’t be for lack of trying,” says county councillor, Sinn Fein’s John Sheamais O’Fearraigh who lives in Bun na Leaca and has been a football coach for many years. “Come mid-February there’ll be a lot of voices hoarse from shouting for them. What has been achieved already is a credit to everyone, manager, coaches and players. There has been a huge drought over the last few years in terms of championships and league wins, so all these people are true history-makers.”

The team’s most devoted young trio –  Paul Joe McFadden, Declan Sailor and Eamon Sweeney – all three an integral part of backroom support, don’t doubt the team will be number one in the nation on March 17. Their motto, ‘We’ll be there!’

And so will many, many more. Cheering wildly. And maybe eating scones by the thousand afterwards.

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Mayo GAA: The Mighty and the Meek, They Shall Inherit the Earth

What I will write here may seem the realm of the fantastic, but bear with me and for a moment merely consider the possibility that it may be true.

Also, keep in mind, there is no existing evidence that it’s not true.

A few days ago, I had the utmost pleasure of sitting with novelist, playwright, radio and television social and political commentator and former public relations director of Sinn Fein, Danny Morrison, in the Upper Cusack Stand at the venerable Croke Park Coloseum to watch what – for me – was one of the most exciting, thrilling sporting spectacles I have every witnessed, either live or recorded.

Granted, my complete and utter support was with Mayo and I was devastated that particular, rather impoverished, mainly rural western county lost – especially in the aching way that it did. Though not half as heart-broken as the throngs of anguished people – hardy grown men, teenagers, young children, mothers and grandmothers – who shuffled past me for the exit gates at the final whistle, tears flowing profusely from their eyes.

For the purpose of this post, for those uninterested in Irish GAA football, Mayo – rank outsiders at 3-to1, considerable odds in view of the fact that there were only two teams on the pitch for this All-Ireland football final and both had 15 skilled, experienced able-bodied men each – lost its ninth final since 1989 and the chance to win its first Sam Maguire Cup in 66 years. Indeed, this was the third time in five years it has lost in the final (including a narrow defeat after a replay to Dublin last September, its rivals again this past Sunday). In sheer contrast, for Dublin Sunday’s victory marked their first three-in-a-row in 94 years.

In terms of probability, the cumulative odds of Mayo losing so many finals are probably calculated in the millions to one (not bad odds if you’re fond of punting a penny or two at the local bookmakers).

So how did this peculiar, bizarre defying-the-odds situation come to pass?

Let’s consider for a moment that it had nothing to do with football.

I know, I know you’re thinking: ‘that’s ridiculous, it’s football, one team wins and one team loses, that’s how the game is played, and the team that wins is the one that scores most goals/points.

But million to one odds of such a thing happening? By reason alone, is that even possible?

My contention is that something else – something strange, something far beyond football –could be at play here.

So, as a committed pantheist, this is my take on last Sunday’s fantastic football final.

It has been reported that there’s a curse on the Mayo football team that has prevented it winning the coveted All-Ireland football final since 1951. That curse, the reports go, was placed upon the team by an angry priest. The reason: the team on its victorious way back home across Ireland by bus with the Cup in safe stow came upon a funeral and failed to pay their rightful respects to the dead.

That story smells of a downright lie.

Why?

Because there are no funerals in Catholic Ireland on the Sabbath, the very day the football final is played. And don’t be telling me the Mayo team, any team, wouldn’t rush back home with the coveted trophy on the very day it won it.

You might then ask: ‘then where did this story originate, and why?

Credit where credit is due.

The Catholic Church, universally, not just in Ireland, has developed a highly-sophisticated propaganda machine over the centuries since it emerged from its ancient Egyptian forbearers (Google details on Isis and Osiris to find out how the Church unashamedly plagiarized and cunningly adapted an already existing mystery cult that also involved baptism in water).

mayo curse, GAA football

Thus, putting word out in the right circles, media and otherwise, that one of their priests had the power to curse a football team and prevent it from ever winning a national trophy after so many attempts is an easy-peasy task for such a rich and powerful institution.

But there’s another version, one that has been quashed quite easily by that same institution, for its own power-hungry, money-making purposes.

It’s not that the fine, upstanding people of Mayo – for which the players on the 1951 winning team are upstanding Ambassadors – are to blame. It’s not that they failed to pay their respects to the dead. As decent, honest people, they would surely have done so, with the same passion, dedication and sincerity that they showed last Sunday afternoon, even when three points down in the first 85 seconds and playing with just 14 men for almost the entire second half.

There is another possibility (remember, I merely asked at the beginning of this post that you humor me and consider a possibility).

That the players, coaches and management of that wonderful 1951 winning team were down-to-earth, honest-to-goodness people I have no doubt. And for this reason, I don’t agree for a second that they would not pay their sincere respects at the death of a fellow Man.

But what if it was not the dead person they didn’t respect (if there ever was one, which is now in grave doubt for the above mentioned reason), but the priest himself?

What if they didn’t believe, in their hearts of hearts, that this priest was neither dignified or decent enough to be a true representative of any God, regardless of its origin? Further, what if, in their heart of hearts, they actually believed they didn’t need Other Gods, that they themselves were Gods, mini-Gods all interlinked, like all of us here across the Earth, indeed throughout the Universe. That they were – to use Biblical terminology – among ‘the Mighty and the Meek, those who Shall Inherit the Earth.’

Mighty? Absolutely. Was there not more than ample evidence of that on the football pitch Sunday afternoon? In the way the Mayo players fought for every ball no matter how remote the chances were they’d catch it; supported each other so valiantly in every situation; placed themselves in considerable physical danger to capture every ball that came their way.

Meek? Absolutely. Was there not more than ample evidence of that on the football pitch Sunday afternoon? In the quiet, dignified way they accepted defeat, all the more admirable considering they were beaten by one single, solitary point scored by Dean Rock with mere seconds to go after six full minutes of extra time just after their own kicker, Cillian O’Connor, hit the woodwork in a grueling, hard-fought match.

You might now say: ‘it hardly makes a difference now anyway, the priest’s curse won the day, didn’t it?’ Maybe, or perhaps, just perhaps, it wasn’t the power of the priest at all. Maybe it was the misplaced power of belief in the priest by a mass of people. Maybe – as seems to be happening right now following multiple cases of horrendous clerical pedophilia resulting in lies and ruined lives – when more people stop believing in this misguided way, justice and righteousness will return to our Fair(y) Land.

All I ask, dear reader, is for you merely to consider the possibility that what I write here might just be true.

Then we can bang our drums for Mayo again in next year’s final –and hopefully cheer them on as they return Home to their Rightful place as Gods once again.