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19th Mar 2017

Moving picture of Slaughtneil physio really sums up everything that is good about the GAA

Never take anyone at your club for granted

Conan Doherty

For Moira Jane Devlin (née McEldowney), it was a 14-month season too.

The GAA is so much more than 15 players lucky enough to do the fun thing every Sunday, kicking and pucking ball.

The GAA is so much more than that field of play. It’s more than your senior team, the coaching make-up and all the trophies in Ireland.

The best thing about these games of ours is that there is a place for everyone. There’s a place for men and women, for soldiers and clerks. People of all abilities and talents and roles aren’t just welcomed in the GAA, they are probably the most important elements of it.

Where the like Patsy Bradley show their unrelenting passion and love for their club and county with displays of warrior-like bravery, others do it in different ways.

As heartbreaking as it was watching the Emmet’s men strewn across the Croke Park turf for a second time in three years, there was something beautiful – poetic – in how they went down.

Chrissy McKaigue never stopped. Any time his side wanted to get out of defence, they looked for McKaigue and no-one else. Any time a half inch of grass even threatened to open up, McKaigue was already trampling all over it with horse-like stamina.

When it looked like his club and his All-Ireland dreams were faltering once more, he stepped it up again. He ran harder and further. He went hunting for ball and he refused to give in. It’s rare you see a man so wholly committed to one game of football but as McKaigue strode across the hallowed grounds of headquarters, you could see he was a man possessed.

You could see what every ball meant to him. You could see he just wouldn’t accept leaving defeated this time.

Sometimes, it’s still not enough.

Brendan Rogers was assigned the task of man-marking the greatest forward of all time. With the brief respites he was afforded, he used them to scale the length of Croke Park time and time again. He’d take the ball whizzing by three men before he’d even think about what he was doing next. He’d surge up the pitch and then sprint faster in retreat to get his hands back on Colm Cooper.

And Patsy Bradley. Jesus Christ, Patsy Bradley.

It wasn’t even an untypical performance of the man. It was actually far enough from what have technically been his best displays. But when Patsy Bradley gives up his body as a weapon for Slaughtneil, the heavens shake. He hurls himself around like a human wrecking ball, crashing off anything that even dares to move in the direction of their goals. He slaps, he catches, he hits men with these almighty shoulder tackles that their ancestors would feel and then he picks himself up and does it again.

A Cork man sat in Croke Park on Friday and he was inspired like any soul with a pulse would be by what was unfolding before his disbelieving eyes. As Slaughtneil’s number eight rose above and then literally flew over the heads of four Dr Crokes men, everyone was sent tumbling chaotically to the floor and Patsy Bradley emerged with the ball in hand.

This guy sat glued to the game, team sheets on his lap, headphones in listening to commentary of the club final and he was transfixed. “Holy God above that’s some catch, boys.” He’s the sort of neutral that probably watches 10 games a week and he knew what he was witnessing here was something special.

And, ultimately, it was all fruitless. Their efforts were in vain and there was some sort of twisted magic to that too. Because these boys would do it all again in a heartbeat if they had the chance to. And they’d do it with even more obsession and drive than the last time.

But it isn’t all about those guys. It’s about the crowd in the stands. The next batch of hopefuls. The camógs who led the way with All-Ireland glory, the hurlers who’ve felt that pain too.

It’s about the treasurer pestering folk for money, opening the club late at night to collect whatever’s owed. It’s about the sandwiches and merchandise, the fun days and the groundsman. It’s about the water carriers and the physios.

Mary K Burke is a photographer from Derry who has seen more games in all codes at all levels than most will ever come close to doing in a lifetime.

She’s encyclopedia of GAA and she wouldn’t miss a beat in the Oak Leaf county. She’s seen it all but she’s also seen what others haven’t. And, in a very special Facebook post, she summed up the role of Slaughtneil’s physio Moira Jane Devlin to complete perfection.

That’s a beautiful sentiment that should hit home in every club in Ireland.

We all know those who grind behind the scenes for the love of it. We know those who give up their time, their energy and so much more for the good of the club.

Moira Jane is a physio for Slaughtneil but she’s been on that journey every step of the way and, in Croke Park on St. Patrick’s Day, the pain was etched on her face as much as the rest of them.

She’s a symbol of everything that is good about the GAA. She’s a symbol of just what it means to the entire community.

Just because you get to do the fun thing of playing the actual games, never take anyone at your club for granted. Never.

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