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Gerard O'Kane

GERARD O’KANE: The days of their lives

AS I look back over my columns in the last two months, I refrain from saying ‘I told you so’.

However, it has been quite evident where the main show in town has been over the last eight weeks.

On the weekend of the All Ireland Final, as two counties are getting ready for their weekend, the other 30 counties are preparing for the club championship season.

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The majority of the club finals have wrapped up over the last two or three weeks, and the sheer joy and elation can be contrasted with the heartbreak and disappointment in all the finals and the wider community.

It looks like 2021 has been the year of the breakthrough, though not necessarily the underdog.

In Derry, Glen Maghera (there is only ever one Glen in my eyes) were many people’s favourites for the championship and they duly lived up to that tag, claiming a first ever Derry senior championship title.

Having seen the celebrations in Glen Maghera over the last week or so, I have to say as my own career is winding down, that every community should get to experience that sort of joy across a lifetime. I have no major affiliation with either Glen Maghera or Sleacht Néill and whoever was to win it would have been very deserving so fair play.

However, the people of Glen Maghera will have been feeling like the people of Sleacht Néill did in 2004 when they won their first championship. As much as it is about the players themselves, to see older generations of people literally stating they will ‘die happy’ knowing they got to see the achievement hits home what it means to locals in each community.

You don’t have to go too far to Creggan, who bridged a 67-year gap on winning the Antrim Championship. For the majority of their club members it will be the first time they ever seen or experienced such a feat.

At a rough guess, only anyone over the ages of 7273 would have any vague memory of the last victory, so while it wasn’t a first for Creggan, it certainly is a first for a fair few generations of people. Again, as much as it is all about the players, I saw a few interviews with Creggan stalwarts who literally did say they could ‘die happy’. While this might sound extreme to non-GAA folk, these within the GAA will fully understand what is meant by such a statement.

Moving further south from Antrim to Armagh, a similar feat took place with Clann Eireann. Again, their breakthrough was not a first, but certainly was one that had passed many generations as they bridged a 58-year gap.

While each win will resonate with everyone within the parishes for different reason, there was a lovely symmetry about this one as the team from 58 years ago had spoken before the game about what it would mean to them to see their club at the top again. One member from the 1958 team had five grandchildren on the panel and the trophy in Armagh, the Gerry Fegan Cup, is named after a Clann Eireann clubman, so it will make their victory extra special.

These sorts of outpouring of emotion and elation are not confined to senior championships either as winning an Intermediate or Junior title at your level within your county means just as much to the players.

In my neighbouring county of Tyrone, Moortown won the Intermediate title on Sunday past and while I do not know any of them, I have seen plenty of celebration videos floating about on social media. And they’re completely right to enjoy the win because the bad times usually far outweigh the good times in GAA. It does make me jealous but also thankful for being able to cross the line with my own club in 2007.

Social media was not a thing back then, and I don’t even remember phones having cameras. Our generation had bridged a 22 year gap in our club and we enjoyed ourselves and celebrated as much as anyone.

The Sunday in the clubhouse was just about getting home and getting into our environment, meeting people, having that ‘finally we did it’ conversation. Then the next morning there was full fry all round and an early start in the social club.

Our club has never opened during the day but at 2pm on the Monday it was like a disco and at 5pm the place we standing room only. We had beaten Bellaghy the previous day and as it was our first ever experience of a final we were unaware there was a one-time ritual where the club who lost would call in with the club who won.

So that afternoon a mini bus full of Bellaghy players arrived, a proper sporting gesture led by their chairman, John Bosco O’Hagan. For the remainder of the evening the two communities had the craic and just relaxed. It was my one and only experience of the Monday club and I have to say if I had to go back to any point in my sporting career it would be that 48 hours again.

The players and a few others, taking the number to 50 or so people, did a Tuesday club which was maybe a bit more intimate but nonetheless it was still great fun. A few of us students even managed a Wednesday club in Belfast before we were back to routine again for a Thursday training and an Ulster club game 10 days later. They were the the days of our lives.

Just to finish, by way of a right of reply to my fellow columnist, the one and only Mr Brolly. Joe and I get on very well. He once introduced me to a group of his friends as ‘a magnificent footballer, the former All Ireland winning minor captain and Derry senior captain, whom I scored 56 points off one day’ (that’s a story in itself).

However, in his column last week he talked about Glenullin winning the championship in 1985 and described it like a scene from the Wild West as men from Dungiven came over for the craic but all in good heart, but for that reason in 2007, no Dungiven folk ventured over the mountain to Glenullin. Well, maybe Joe is just annoyed he was not invited. I have clear memories of a few car loads of Dungiven folk being in our club to the early hours on the Monday morning.

The same folk then stayed all day Monday too. They maybe had skipped town without him that night but in the event that Glenullin ever do win it again, I will make sure a personal invite is extended to Joe and he is more than welcome to join us for a Sunday to Wednesday club!

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