Heart goes out to underage GAA players left behind in a season of limbo 1 year ago

Heart goes out to underage GAA players left behind in a season of limbo

'I ate my dinner in the bedroom yet the Roscommon minors won the Connacht Championship the following day. Where in good God's name are our priorities at?'

The list of people looking for sympathy this year has ran out of paper. The lads didn't get their annual St Stephen's day night out. Loved ones had to be left alone on Christmas day. Some causes are more tragic than others but in 2020's season of dread, not a sinner on this island has gotten away scot free. Complainers, for once, deserve a free pass because everyone has a scar and one thing we can all agree on is that 2021 can't come quick enough.

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Every scar leaves its own mark. People talk about sport transcending the game itself, but strictly speaking, what does that actually mean? A bittersweet tale from the west of Ireland gives a fair insight.

Conor Flaherty lost his father Enda this August in a blow that left a whole community reeling. A teacher in the local school, Enda was a stalwart defender for the Carnmore club who dedicated his life after hurling to the coaching of their future stars.

His son Conor is one of the club's brightest young stars and as he broke onto Galway underage hurling and football teams in the last few years, Enda was filled with pride.

Last weekend was the weekend of Conor's sporting life, as the dual star played centre back on the Galway U20 hurlers' Leinster semi-final triumph over Kilkenny just 24 hours before minding the goals in the footballers' All-Ireland final win over Dublin. The solace and the respite these moments of glory will have given Conor and the Flaherty family leading up to Christmas is unquantifiable, but it goes a long way to summing up what they mean. Some things are bigger than the game itself.

As the youngster showed his sportsmanship and composure after Saturday's final, when consoling Dublin's dejected full forward Luke Swan at the final whistle, there's no doubt that Enda Flaherty will have been smiling down.

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Just because you've been bitten bad in this cycle of setbacks, it doesn't mean that the joy should be taken out of everyone's lives.

The joy seen at the Connacht Centre of Excellence in Bekan on Saturday, as Roscommon defeated Sligo to win the Connacht minor title in an unforgettable St Stephen's day show-down, was a sight to behold. It shows that no matter how difficult the backdrop, there are always reasons to smile, and that's surely something to cherish rather than to call out.

Every cause has its own meaning but these are memories that young players will remember for the rest of their lives.

There was a hollow moment after the Galway U20s recent Leinster semi-final victory over Kilkenny, when manager Jeffrey Lynskey was asked about the upcoming final and their Dublin opponents. 'That's if it goes ahead,' the Liam Mellows club-man said candidly. Just minutes earlier, Lynskey had punched the air in sheer elation, his county's spirits, his players - one of whom was Conor Flaherty - to the forefront of his relief.

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That Under-20 Championship soon fell by the wayside, as did the minor inter-county championships and senior club championships in Offaly, Laois, Cork, Donegal and elsewhere. With all the evidence suggesting it's safe to play away, it's a shame that these players have been left on the edge of glory without a date and without a notion.

When Leo Varadkar said on the Late Late Show back in May that the All-Ireland was a possibility, many laughed his positivity out of the building. Seven months on, we have to be pleased with what was an incomparably refreshing season of GAA, but your heart still goes out to the players in limbo.

Did anyone actually eat the dinner in the bedroom anyway?