KEVIN HINPHEY: To stay or to go

By Kevin Hinphey

MY club, Kevin Lynch’s in Dungiven, is preparing for an exodus of a number of our top young players over the winter months.

Four players have flights booked to travel to Australia for at least a year, with a few more planning to do the same in the coming weeks. We could be losing up to eight players after this season has finished.

Covid curtailed a lot of travel for a two-year period and a lot of young Gaels are now looking at the possibility of taking the opportunity to travel, having been denied the opportunity over that time.

I’ve taken every opportunity to discourage the exodus by highlighting the extreme dangers involved in their venture. Talk of great white sharks, poisonous snakes and spiders, baby eating dingos, extreme heat waves and most terrifyingly, having no mammies to look after them, have all been used in vain, to put the notion out of their heads.

For a lot of clubs, losing talented young players is a bitter blow but the reality is that young people have this window in their lives to travel and experience other parts of the world.

From a selfish standpoint we would love for the players to stay but it’s important to try to see the bigger picture and concede if we genuinely want what is best for those young people in our club communities then we have to accept that this is something that they want to do and hope that the experience will be a positive one which will ultimately enrich their lives.

My hope is that they go and have a good time but ultimately realise that life in Ireland also has a lot to offer and that they return after having sampled a taste of life in Australia. The reality however, is that some may not return. It is this prospect that clubs and families probably fear the most.

Knowing that players are due to travel following the championship this year has given an added impetus to preparations for the upcoming county final. Kevin Lynch’s will meet Sleacht Néill on Sunday, September 25 in the Derry hurling final.

Watching the preparations from afar it reminds me of how special it is to be involved with your club team at this time of the year.

As summer turns to Autumn, training takes on an added sense of urgency as clubs and players prepare for the championship test. The atmosphere amongst the panel becomes more intense and the sense of togetherness is heightened.

For myself, I can remember the feeling of only being fully comfortable and settled when I was with my team mates at training during this period of the season.

I loved getting to training at this time of the year as it was the only time when I was with the lads who were going through the same experience as myself. Our focus was almost completely on the championship game on the horizon and preparing for it. We had the same feelings of anxiousness, excitement, hope, worry and the myriad of emotions that players feel during championship week.

Being at work or at home I could be very distracted or agitated as my head was always with the team and the challenge ahead. I only felt content when I was at training with my teammates.

Playing in important championship fixtures alongside your friends, and often family, in championship games is a uniquely Irish experience. The ecstasy in victory, the bitter sorrow in defeat, celebrating or commiserating together, the shared experiences and bonds of friendship are special. A junior championship victory holds the same value to any player or team as success at senior level. It all means everything.

This will undoubtedly be one of the things the lads miss the most when they are on their travels and hopefully it will help fuel their desire to come home, sooner rather than later.  Whilst there are Gaelic Games and teams in Australia, America or practically everywhere else in the world, it will never replicate the feeling of being part of your club team during a championship campaign at home.

In the meantime I hope all players savour this time of the season. Older players used to preach to us that our playing days are short and to value and enjoy the time. Hearing this message in my twenties, it normally went in one ear and straight out the other! Now, watching from outside the wire, I understand and appreciate fully what those men were talking about.

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