'She's behind us and we want to get behind her'
County final day. On the face of it, it’s just a game of ball with some frills attached but each one is different. These are occasions drenched to the skin in emotion and that's vanishingly rare. When the curtain is drawn back to reveal a county final day, it shows us things, things we’ve seen before and things we’ll never see again.
The record books only recall the cold stats – the attendance, the scoreline, the Man of the Match maybe – but look deeper and every final produces something different. The room remains the same; the furniture changes.
The minor match saw a classic town and country clash and Cavan Gaels ascended the steps again. Cavan Town has changed and that was reflected in the make-up of the Gaels panel, with many ‘new’ surnames we haven’t seen on team sheets at this level before. The GAA has at times been slow to look beyond its traditional base for players but Cavan Gaels have taken that on, introduced the game to kids whose elder generations hadn’t been involved in football.
It was hard work and it paid off.
After the game, some of the club’s decorated veterans of the last 20 years could be seen celebrating on the pitch with the next generation. The old and the new.
To the main event. The senior final started with Kingscourt on top and their large travelling support in full voice but Gowna silenced the guns with a deadly salvo of their own – and when they got on top, like true champions, they didn’t stop. It was an awesome show of power.
Only supporters of a certain vintage could remember a county final like this. It was the second widest winning margin in history after the 1966 decider, which Crosserlough won by 3-13 to 0-0.
There have been some great young teams who have won championships but few if any have been as young as Gowna when they retained it – including even that great Gaels side. This was remarkable, a performance that will be talked about for years to come.
Other things, customs. A hearty rendition of the anthem by Thomas Hughes from Cornafean got the crowd going. The parade behind the Kingscourt Brass and Reed Band, the big drums pounding, building the tension to fever pitch.
And then, after the game, as is the norm, the winning camp declaring they had been rubbished by the media and so on, given no chance. It’s always amusing that despite how teams are now prepared to the nth degree, physically and every other way, they still see the need to convince themselves of the veracity of this perennial fairytale.
On Sunday, Gowna’s joint-manager reckoned that they were “wrote off”, that “from the start of the year, nobody gave us a chance”.
Of course, on these pages on January 5 last, a poll was taken of five local GAA media contributors. Three of the five tipped Gowna to retain the title, another gave Crosserlough the nod over them “in a coin toss”.
Still, it’s an annual thing now, tiresome as it is, with most winning teams. The match programme is another; this year’s was a cracking job by the PRO Susan Brady and her committee. It’s always fun to read the pen pics in particular.
Toughest opponent? “The alarm clock”, “My bad hip”, “Plastic cement bags”.
It’s light-hearted stuff but dig deeper and you’ll find buried treasure, sometimes in the throwaway lines.
A factfile on Conor Madden asked the question, “What is the best thing about the GAA?”
“The way,” answered Conor, “it can unite a community through good and bad times.”
I thought of that after the game, when we saw something we truly hadn’t witnessed at a county final before. The defining image of the football year.
The game won, the Gowna captain Ryan McGahern accepted the famous Oliver Plunkett Cup, the most cherished chunk of metal in the county, from the chairman Kieran Callaghan.
“Put it up!” someone shouted. And then he did and his teammates and their supporters partied on the pitch in front of the stand. So far, so normal.
But then, all of a sudden, they turned and headed to the opposite side of the pitch, marching en masse. Together, they climbed the steps of the terrace.
“Where are they going?” someone asked.
And then it became clear. “Yanna Harten was over there,” was how McGahern explained it, very simply, later on in his interview.
Yanna is a Leaving Cert student at Cnoc Mhuire in Granard who recently sustained life-changing injuries in an accident on her way to her summer job in the Farnham Estate Hotel.
She is the daughter of Gavin, who graced this pitch many times in the green and red and won five Senior Championship medals as a starting player, and Lukia, a native of Cornafean.
Yanna was watching the match from the new area in front of the sensory room and soon, she was surrounded by family and neighbours and clubmates and was cradling the cup herself.
She is a quadruplet – two boys, two girls – and all are deeply entrenched in the Gowna club, as her parents and cousins are. A handful of families constructed and maintain Loch Gowna GFC; the Hartins are one of its pillars.
“Yanna is one of the quads and two of her brothers were playing today, Seanie and Fionn, and two first cousins, Eoghan and Cian, are part of the team as well,” McGahern said.
“Look, she had a bad accident and she’s obviously away from home and getting treatment at the minute but they have never missed a day (at training or matches).
“She plays a big part in the club. I suppose she’s behind us and we want to get behind her. It was special for them boys, they have worked seriously hard in the circumstances that they’re under at the minute. It was nice for them.”
Asked about what a touching gesture it was, Ryan, on behalf of his team, didn’t dismiss it but modestly played it down.
“It was just sort of a thing that you do,” he said.
But, of course, it isn’t – not everyone, in their hour of victory, would think of others in this way, especially not young lads, understandably giddy with the win. This was an insight into a rare group. For all of their brilliance between the white lines, the enduring image of this season will not be a great score or a big catch, it will be this moment.
On the football field, the future stretches out in front of these supremely talented young Gowna men now, pregnant with possibility. It promises riches.
Yet the spirit and humility and love evident as they crossed the field with the cup is their most precious bounty of all.
The Gowna community have come together to launch a fundraiser called Yanna’s Four Leaf Clover, the four leaves signifying love, luck, hope and faith. Monies raised will be used to support Yanna by removing barriers in her return to independent community involvement.
If anybody would like to help or contact the committee, email email@example.com.
Click here to find out more or donate.