You know, it’s not the things that you would imagine are the things that you take from a day like the 7th September 2014. All Ireland day. The pinnacle. The ultimate aim for any professional working in Irish sport, any GAA person and especially any Tipperary fanatic ….. and I am lucky enough to be in a position to tick all three of those boxes simultaneously.
It’s a tricky line to tread really. As a professional and a member of the backroom team you need to be calm, objective and removed from the barrage of emotions that such a day will throw at you. A huge task in itself. But a colossal task when there’s a screaming lunatic of a Tipperary hurling supporter just underneath the surface only too keen to voice his opinions and display his unchecked reactions to the unfoldings of the day. Thankfully, over the years, I have learned to use the supporter within to energise me, keep me in the moment and push me to go the extra mile for the cause.
Don’t get me wrong, I look forward to the day that I can unleash that supporter again but I realise that it will be a different supporter to the one that was consumed by the professional 7 years ago. I will be a supporter who is more informed, more measured in distributing opinion, more aware of the fact that I do not have the full facts or knowledge of the internal goings-on within the dressing room walls and that I do not have an inkling of the level of sacrifice that each person within that dressing room makes from kitman to captain.
I do fear that my experience of the past 7 years will render me unable to blissfully disengage and enjoy a live game as I did before. I’m afraid I will not be able to attend without scrutinising the injury status of players of both teams, monitoring player fatigue, watching off the ball movement, checking that players are getting adequate water, watching sideline dynamics and observing injury management. I hope that I will be able to return to the passionate, appreciative, ‘child at Christmas’ supporter of the game that Donal Og has rediscovered after his 5 Munster, 2 All Irelands and 2 All Stars that was evident in his radio commentary of the last few minutes of the game.
I suppose All Ireland day is the same for no one. The experience is dependent on the individual and the circumstances. I have seen the devastation it can reap on the losers and the unbridled joy it can bestow on the victors. I have also seen the loneliness it imposes on those on foreign shores as they struggle with a whole other spectrum of emotions. I have seen the most timid of people become monsters in their seats and old men put father time in reverse to become boys again. The power of an All Ireland day is hard to explain and to fathom.
One of our strength and conditioning coaches is a Polish man named Lukas. Lukas has been involved for two years. He has attended training 5 times each week with the lads, every game and is an amazing professional at what he does. Lukas was new to hurling two years ago. I have watched his relationship with hurling develop and I have watched and shared his devestation at our championship exit to Kilkenny in Nowlan Park in 2013. Lukas came to me after the All Ireland in 2014 and simply said ‘I thought I knew this game, now I get it’. That spoke volumes to me.
The part of the day I enjoy most on All Ireland day is meeting the lads in Portlaoise and our bus trip to the hotel for pre-match preparations. This may be a little strange but it is the only part of the day that I can really relax. My gear is on the bus and I am completely organised. I am aware of what I need to do from the minute the bus stops at the hotel but until then I can do nothing. I sit at the window and watch the supporters as we pass with their waves and taunts depending on the colours they are wearing but it’s generally all good natured. I watch people in Dublin going about their usual Sunday routines still taking time to wave to the bus or beep their horns even though I know none of them will be at the game. The fact that they reach out is great. They know what an All Ireland is.
My abiding memory of the 2014 All Ireland will be something I saw on my drive to Portlaoise to meet the lads and the bus. Just past the Borris-in-Ossary exit I saw a father and a son standing on the bridge. The son was holding a Tipperary flag that was as big as himself and the father was holding the son. The little lad was waving furiously at the steady stream of cars that were passing under his feet. Maybe it hit me because of the stage of life that I am at, but it hit me hard. They were not going to the game but they were doing their bit. They knew what an All Ireland was.
They got it.