Cormac Scullion hurled for Glenravel Con Magees for more years than he cares to remember. Now he is reduced to the ‘Half Pace’ hurling on a Tuesday evening, which he helps organise and writes about with great wit and humour. He penned this piece a couple of weeks ago for the club Facebook page before they played Naomh Colum Cille in the quarter final, so I shared it here before their semi-final at Craobh Rua.
I’m 36 years old and I still glance over at my da for his verdict as I walk off the pitch at the final whistle. A wink. A thumb in the air. A shake of the head. All instantly summing up our most recent performance on the hurling field. That’ll do for now, I’ll head on in and get changed, as I know we’ll chat about it on and off for the next few days, regardless of the result. He’s seen it all before. So have I at this stage I suppose, so we have plenty to chew over at the kitchen table or wherever we happen to be.
Growing up listening to stories of matches won and lost, Championship wins and the heroes involved, you can’t help but absorb that love for the club, that sense of belonging. It’s hard to put a finger on it, and I suppose everyone’s different, but the older you get the more you come to realise what it all means, why we all do it through good times and bad. You’re just one of the current playing generation and you’ll eventually pass the baton on to the next one, having tried your best to leave the team in a better place, happily sacrificing blood, bones and the odd tooth along the way.
At 38 the boots are hung up and the furthest the hurl gets now is the back garden. No Feystown on a wet Wednesday night or hot sun and even hotter tempers over at Dreen. Plenty to smile about and a few regrets too, that’s how it goes really. You won’t remember what you had for lunch this time last week but that ball you caught under the bar to hold out for the win 17 years ago is as clear in your mind today as it was when the final whistle was blown that night.
I see my neice, nephew and daughter starting out on what may or may not be a long career inside the white lines. Who knows? They could decide it’s not for them sooner or later. Hopefully not though, them getting involved just seems like a natural progression, like me from my Da, him from his. Families play such an important role in the conveyor belt. They’re the foundations every club is built on and each new generation is another row of bricks.
The parents bring the wee ones when they’re just about big enough to hold a hurl or push a football about. They don’t really know why they’re there or what it’s all about but everyone seems to be enjoying themselves so they’ll come back again next week, sure somebody said there might be sweets!
For so many parishes, the GAA club is at the centre of the community. On the surface it’s matches on a Sunday or a midweek summers evening and for those not directly involved that’s maybe all they see. But a local club is so much more than that. Handfuls of coaches for every age group, plotting, planning, preparing, dreaming. The pitches are full every night of the week from February to October as training and matches carry on whatever the weather.
Social media has everyone connected more than ever before and conversations never stop. If you went back and told your Grandparents you could talk to 10, 20, 50 people at once, without saying a word, they’d think your head was cut. Fundraising efforts, fitness programs, concerts, quizzes, reunions and countless old stories of battles won and lost, growing in heroic detail each time they’re told. But success and titles on the pitch come and go and today’s hero is replaced with the next one tomorrow. It becomes part of who you are and that bond you form with your team mates growing up is rarely broken as the years pass.
I just turned 40 and the playing days are well behind me now. I’m still inside the white lines, but this time coaching and trying to convince a bunch of minors that it’ll all be over in the blink of an eye, so take every opportunity that comes their way. I vividly remember being that age and thinking I had a lifetime to gather up county medals. You don’t. Its over in a flash and you’re suddenly on the wrong side of the fence looking in, not walking off the pitch and glancing over for a wink from your Da.
Still, that’s how it goes. Do your bit then tap out and hope it’s in safe hands.
The boys head into an Ulster Championship this weekend. I couldn’t be more delighted and proud to see the flag flying high but it kills to not be playing one last time. To feel that unmistakable buzz in the air at training and see that look in the eyes staring back at you ready for war. Local heroes through the winter chill, making history once again.
Life throws challenges at you every chance it gets, but the white lines keep them out. Inside the white lines nothing matters except what’s about to go down over the next 60 minutes as 15 men come together as 1 to represent not only their club and their parish, but every man that’s gone before them wearing that very same crest with pride.
Leave nothing behind lads. Everyone’s behind you every step of the way.
“In the end, the things we regret most are the chances we never took”.
Good luck to our Senior Hurlers and Management. Con Mag Aoidh abú