JOE BROLLY: Donal Convery and the Wattys on tour

THE Dublin and Galway game on Saturday began with the usual musical diazepam. If the soldiers whose lives were pledged to Ireland had been marching behind this singing they would have come over very sleepy, then changed their minds and gone home. The mood didn’t improve after the throw-in.

Éamonn Fitzmaurice was co-commentator on RTÉ. He has a great knowledge of the game and is very insightful, but a voice like Uncle Colm in Derry Girls. If you turned the sound off and just watched him you would think he was giving you some terrible news. “I’m sorry to say Joe it’s terminal, you only have three months to live.”

I was in Harrison’s bar in Ballina with a crowd of the Watty Grahams men who had travelled down for the Derry-Mayo game on Sunday. “It might be an idea to use an actor to voice him over,” said Fergal McCusker, which got a big laugh. “Who would you suggest?” “Conor Sketches?” said Stevie Murtagh. ” Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh,” said Enda Gormley. “Donald Trump?” said McCusker.

In Derry, we had become a bit tipsy, dreaming of winning Sam. Then Dublin came to Celtic Park and sobered us up. “We are a mile away from them” said my brother Proinsias. The capacity crowd at Celtic Park were silent that night, our dreams demoted to a third Ulster title.

The previous week the Dubs had sobered up Kerry, walloping them in the way that Kerry’s Golden Years crew used to wallop them. In Salthill it was the same story, a pitiless destruction of a team that were highly competitive in the All-Ireland final just two years ago. Again, the home crowd was quiet. My mother texted me to say, “Nobody is within a hound’s gowl of them.”

Dessie Farrell is expertly overseeing another Dublin team. The conservatism that threatened to bring an end to their dynasty has been replaced with confidence. His team are seeing every opportunity and they are trying to take them. On several occasions in this game, they kicked long and high over the sweeper. In the eighth minute, Scully looked up from the half-back line and launched a 50-metre kick into the square, where all three Dublin full-forwards were in position.

Con O’Callaghan won the ball and fisted a point. Sometimes, they worked it through with intricate passing. In terrible conditions, it was a masterclass. Players that are not known to the general public kicked points expertly. When the game was won, Dessie ran the bench. Jack McCaffrey. “Jaysus,” said McCusker, “has he a bit of a belly?” Then Paul Mannion. “Thank God Kilmacud didn’t kick the ball to him in our semi-final.” Then Colm Basquel.

The final score was 0-22 to 0-14. Nothing to see here.

The Watty’s men were reflective. A few weeks ago, they had a night in Peter’s Bar in Maghera with Donal Convery. Donal coached all of these boys. All the Derry and Watty All-Ireland winners. At the final whistle against St Brigid’s, the Watty’s players ran to him in the stand and the TG4 cameras captured him weeping as his son hugged him. He was dying. Terminal cancer. In Peter’s on a Tuesday night, the team and faithful gathered.

Two good Dungiven men (I played with both of them), Eunan and Gareth Murphy played the music. Eunan on the harmonica, Gareth on the guitar. The three cups were there. Donal sang his heart out, punched the air and raised the cups aloft. Throughout the night he was embraced. An atmosphere of love and reverence. When everyone sang “The Town I loved so well” Donal held his face in his hands and wept. He died on the 17th of February, the day his beloved county played Monaghan in the league. Donal wasn’t there. But he will always be there.

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