Here’s the piece I wrote for the All-Ireland club final supplement in this week’s Mayo News.
Standing between Castlebar Mitchels and the Andy Merrigan Cup on St Patrick’s Day is the formidable St Vincent’s club, which has its roots in the parish of Marino on the northside of Dublin. It’s the club my three kids gravitated towards soon after starting out at the St Vincent de Paul school on Griffith Avenue and it’s where, in time, I too became involved helping out with my son’s team. In other words, it’s the club I belong to.
History is everywhere in Vincent’s, with all those famous faces in the framed team photographs that line the corridors of the clubhouse, but it’s not a club held prisoner by its storied past either. True, Vinnies no longer win county championship titles for fun like they used to do back in the fifties and sixties. But operating as they do in the ultra-competitive Dublin senior championship, Vincents’ second county title in seven years last October has once more opened the road for them to Croke Park on St Patrick’s Day.
This time it’s been an odyssey that has taken in memorable trips to Mullingar, Tullamore and Newry, but on the big day there’ll be no need for any hired coaches, because Croke Park is well within walking distance of the clubhouse. When Vincent’s last reached the All-Ireland final in 2008, there was a big gathering beforehand at the club, from where the faithful set off on foot in one big procession down to HQ. A repeat march is being planned for this year’s decider.
I was at that 2008 final with my two girls (the small lad hadn’t got his call-up papers for active service back then), but our link to the club was just a tenuous one at that stage, my eldest daughter having only started playing camogie with them a few months previously. Truth be told, the main reason I wanted to go and shout for Vinnies that day was because of the two Kilmaine lads, Pat Kelly and Brian Maloney, who were playing for them then. It felt great all the same to be part of the winning ticket on All-Ireland final day on that occasion as Vincent’s edged out Cork’s Nemo Rangers by the narrowest of margins to claim their second national club title.
In the years since then, all of us have been drawn into the club’s orbit in a welter of training sessions, matches, fundraising events and all the rest. In mutating from being a parent standing on the sideline to someone who has become actively involved in helping out with an underage group myself, I’ve learned plenty about the club in recent years and have also seen at first hand the essential role the GAA plays in local communities. In so many ways – and this is equally true of Dublin as it is for elsewhere in the country – it’s the glue that binds localities together.
But despite my now strong club affiliations, I can’t avoid the fact that this final and all it entails represents a fairly serious conflict of interests for me. The best, indeed the only, logic I can come up with is that this isn’t a battle being fought at county level and is instead one club against another. So it’s not Dublin against Mayo, despite what everyone is claiming.
Only I know that isn’t wholly true, and so regardless of how the final goes, I also know that there’s no way I’ll be able to come away satisfied from it. The last thing I want to see is another loss being suffered by a team from Mayo in an All-Ireland final, but I don’t want to see my local club, the only club I’ve ever been a member of, fall at the final hurdle either. Some may look at my predicament and claim that this is one where I can’t lose, but I know full well that it’s one in which I can’t win.