Three- long weeks

Feature photograph: Kevin Herron ( Right) in Clones with Antrim ladies in his role as statistician for last years National League final against Fermanagh

By Kevin Herron

It’s been a long three-weeks since I was travelling down to Carlow IT with the Antrim ladies squad for their league clash with Carlow.

I would describe the build-up in the days previous as normal. A little context, I work in St. Mary’s CBGS as an AEN Classroom assistant and do some freelance journalism with the Andersonstown News and Saffron Gael – the journalism is more of a hobby than anything else if truth be told.

Friday is the last day of the school week and my good friend Chris ‘Rocky’ McDonnell (History teacher in St. Mary’s CBGS and Rossa clubman) had asked me some days earlier to attend their presentation evening at the Balmoral Hotel to take some photos for the Saffron Gael.

Having arranged to meet up at the Balmoral Hotel after 7 o’clock I was made most welcome and introduced to the evenings special guest Ciaran Barr- I had always heard so much about Ciaran but wasn’t born to see his exploits on the hurling pitches around Ireland.

My deceased father Michael and sister Caitriona – would have followed the Saffron Army in the late 80s and early 90s with train journeys to Thurles, Limerick, Cork and even an all-Ireland final appearance at Croke on the first Sunday in September.

Chris thought it might be a good idea to chat with Ciaran and so we headed into one of the lounges in the Balmoral Hotel for a 15-minute chat. It was absolutely inspiring to hear of his early memories at Rossa, 1989 his new job with the GPA, thoughts on Casement Park and his experience of St. Mary’s CBGS along with some advice for the younger generation.

Having interviewed Ciaran- we headed back inside and the presentation was soon underway both of us occupied new roles – I was now photographer and Ciaran was at centre-stage handing out individual and team honours. Despite my loyalties to Lamh Dhearg (although I previously had a 10-minute stint as a Rossa player last season in a south-Antrim football game) I had an enjoyable time and even had a laugh with my former Science teacher at La Salle – Gerard ‘Yash’ Armstrong.

The next-day involved a trip to the Oval to report on Cliftonville beating Glentoran and some comedy that evening as I headed to the SSE Arena to see Paddy Rafferty perform – ‘Me, Myself and Nigel’. Paddy lives across the street from me and for anybody fortunate enough to have tickets to see his rearranged show – it is fantastic.

Sunday involved a trip to Carlow in my role as statistician with the Antrim ladies football team. Little did I or anyone else know that day, it would be their last game together for a couple of months (possibly).

Tension was already in the air around the unfolding epidemic of Covid-19 in Ireland and worldwide – it would eventually come to a head a few days later when restrictions put in place by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar meant that gatherings of more than 500-people were banned. The GAA acted swiftly and decided to postpone National League games and advice clubs to shelve events until at least March 29th – which has now been extended.

Before this was announced the last game I attended was St. Mary’s Danske Bank Foresters Cup Quarter-final with Red High, Downpatrick. I also assist with our club minor football team and headed to Hannahstown to training that night- unaware it would be the last time we would be gathered for the foreseeable. Schools would soon fall victim to the sweeping pandemic and are not expected to open their doors again until late August / early September.

It’s been a long couple of weeks without a routine or any kind of sporting action. Thankfully these have been filled by uploads of past games, memories and player profiles as county and club social media attempt to lift the spirits of our Gaels in these challenging times.

No doubt the void we are experiencing will continue for weeks and possibly a month or two – but someday the game we all love will return and when that day comes we will rejoice. In the meantime- keep safe, look out for each other and continue to wash your hands!

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