FIRST coined by the Roman poet Horace more than 2,000 years ago, carpe diem is one of the oldest philosophical mottos in Western history.
Krznaric, the author of a recent book called, Carpe Diem Regained: The Vanishing Art of Seizing the Day, commented that, “The concept has great resonance in today’s popular culture, inspiring songs by Metallica and Green Day and movies such as the Dead Poets Society”. He described it as “a different way of having agency in the face of death, of feeling that you’re fully alive.”
After our heart-breaking loss in the Ulster Intermediate hurling final, I sat out the back of my house with my son on my lap trying to put life and sport into perspective. Maybe I have become more philosophical in my old age or maybe it just hurts more when you can no longer rage against the dying of the light.
I thought about the effort that had been put in this year: we put our lives on hold in the pursuit of something greater than the sum of our parts. We wanted glory, legacy, history, but more than anything we wanted to win for each other.
The weekend of the Ulster quarter-final against Eoghan Rua in Celtic Park, I received the heart-breaking news that my friend and teammate Kieran McKernan’s mother had passed away following a short illness. I was stunned by the suddenness and cruelty of it all. I pulled the car over trying to comprehend the gravity of the loss that Kieran and his family must have been coming to terms with in that moment. Tomorrow is never promised.
The game was on Sunday and I thought about my own life and how there was no way I could have played if I was called to bear the cross. Kieran was present on Sunday afternoon, his mother had made him promise her that if she passed he would still play and she promised that she would be watching over him. The promise of a son to his mother on her death bed.
On that cold winter’s afternoon in Celtic Park, Kieran was a colossus. Chasing the game with ten minutes to go, from more than 80 yards out, Kieran stood up and struck the levelling score.
As I watched the ball float over my head, direct and true, the floodlights kissing its side, I felt the presence of God. It was a spellbinding moment and if anyone does not believe in life after death, those seconds in Celtic Park were proof that we were all being watched over.
After a titanic battle, the Eoghan Rua players to their immense credit shook our hands and told us to win it for number two. People criticise the GAA all too flippantly but as I stood on the hallowed turf, I felt honoured to share the field with men of such stature.
After the game, all of the team called to the wake house, talking hurling, memories and a chance at tomorrow.
The game had been on in the small television in the house, the family gathering round to watch. Francie, Kiernan’s father, told me that he couldn’t bear to sit down and he had to ask his daughter to shout in the score from the next room. We all agreed that Genevieve would have been so proud of how Kiernan carried himself that afternoon. A promise fulfilled.
In the semi-final, God’s hand was once again with us, bringing us back from seven points down with ten minutes to go, we were never beaten that day.
If you could bottle the feeling at the final whistle in the Athletic Grounds you would be a millionaire. A feeling borne out of sacrifice, hurt, relief and knowing that you haven’t let your team-mate down. The first person to congratulate me after the extra-time win was Francie, he hugged me and squeezed me tight, with the whole family and gang of grandchildren in tow. It’s truly amazing what the GAA does for a community.
I said in a recent interview that it was community spirit that drove us back from the brink so many times this year.
When you walk beside the hearse knowing a friend is hurting you do what you can, what we did was give of our best when we crossed the white line.
A changing room after a final defeat is a tough place to be. Heads down, silence – the air filled with regret and broken dreams. As I sat there and looked around I remained defiant, at 36 I remain proud of the team, of who we are as individuals and who we represent. Family, community and hurling, us border people have that in our blood and we are very proud of it.
Life is never linear, with this Middletown team, with my brothers and friends, we have experienced the highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows, but through it all we stand together. We have walked on water and we have been there for each other in our hour of need. Trust the process, trust the journey and trust in your teammates.
My baby son came to all the games this year, with his noise cancelling headphones on he never heard the ‘clash of the ash’ or the roar of the crowd but he was there.
My great friend and teammate Ryan Gaffney texted me on Friday night to tell me that his wife Catherine had safely welcomed their first child, Lily, into the world. He promised me at training the week of the Ulster final that I’d be the first to know. Lily was due to arrive that same week but she was good enough to hold off for a couple more days. Even in the womb she knew how important hurling was to the Gaffney clan. In that quiet changing room after the loss I hugged Kieran, neither of us had to speak, it was enough just to be there.
‘Sambo’ McNaughton once said your club mates will carry your coffin and some day that will be true but before that happens (hopefully many years from now) the memories we made this year and, in the years to come and the years gone by, will bind us forever.
Carpe Diem, to have agency in the face of death and to know that you are fully alive. When we pull on the Middletown jersey, when we cross that white line, life has never been more fulfilled.
In memory of Genevieve McKernan.