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22nd Feb 2018

Incredibly moving letter received by Chrissy McKaigue reminds us why GAA is so special

Patrick McCarry

“I borrowed a line from The Shawshank Redemption and told him he had to get busy living.”

Sometimes it is easy to lose track of why we got involved in sport in the first place. It often starts out as the following of an impulse, the urge to get involved with older siblings or children on the road or even that basic want to have fun.

Somewhere along the line, that motivation can get side-tracked by chasing glory, juggling far too many commitments, being driven to distraction by the game to love. But the memorable moments – those reminders why we play the games we love – are never far away.

For Chrissy McKaigue, he recently got such a reminder in the post.

On Wednesday evening, the Slaughtneil and Derry star shared a wonderful, touching letter sent to him by a doctor in Donegal, Charles McManus.

The letter was to inform McKaigue that he had been selected in the half-back line to face the 2012 All-Ireland-winning Donegal team in a charity match. McKaigue was selected in a best of the rest of Ireland starting fifteen by Pat Shovelin, a man who dedicated so much of his life to GAA in Donegal and who, unfortunately, passed away last October.

Shovelin was involved in the coaching of Donegal’s underage and senior sides for two decades and, according to Dr. McManus, passed away after a ‘Herculean effort to remain with his wife and two young boys’.

Upon learning, last autumn, that he had a matter of weeks to live, McManus delivered that famous Shawshank Redemption line about getting busy living and the two men started plotting for that charity game.

“I write to inform you, that you made the team.

“I know it’s not a county final medal, a provincial medal or a Celtic cross. I know it’s not an All Star or a team of the century award.

“However, I can assure you that such was the esteem, respect and absolute love the people f Donegal had for Pat Shovelin, that your place on the team, for me and many more, is amongst the highest of accolades.

“Perhaps, at some time of your life, on or off the field, when things are not going to plan and you need a pick up, that you can draw inspiration and confidence from his letter and realise that a great man, a man you never met, thought you were the best in your position to face his beloved Donegal.”

Truly powerful stuff and a reminder, again, of just what the GAA means to so many people.

It may have taken a while for McKaigue to receive the letter [sent in December 2017] but it will have a long-lasting effect on the Derryman.