Peter Canavan, former Tyrone hurler, Davy Fitzgerald, Wexford manager, and Bernard Dunne, IABA High Performance Director at the sixth annual Hurling for Cancer Research game, a celebrity hurling match in aid of the Irish Cancer Society in St Conleth’s Park, Newbridge. The event, organised by legendary racehorse trainer Jim Bolger and National Hunt jockey Davy Russell, has raised €540,000 to date to fund the Irish Cancer Society’s innovative cancer research projects. The final score was: JJim Bolger’s Best: 7-21, Davy Russell’s Stars 8-13. St. Conleth’s Park, Newbridge, Co Kildare. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Over the course of my intercounty career, the same sort of remark was made to me in many different ways.
‘It's some commitment’. ‘You make some sacrifices’. ‘You miss out on so much’. ‘You never get to go on a summer holiday’. ‘You can go nowhere’.
And always followed by the same question – ‘How do you do it?’
I would just nod away, not giving an answer either way to allow the conversation to move onto the next topic as quickly as possible.
But my inner thought was always the same – ‘I do it because I love it’.
You see, I was blessed from a young age to be taught by people who loved our great game.
And the message we constantly heard from Brian Cody above all else was how lucky we were.
Sacrifices? What sacrifices?! There were hurlers around the country that would beat down our door to be part of what we had.
I was listening to Lee Chin speaking about how he prioritises his hurling above all else at the moment. Above college, above work, above socialising.
The question was put to him, ‘why?’
'Because it makes me happy’, he replied.
‘Was he worried about his future?’
‘It will all work out’, he replied.
The famous Steve Jobs once said, ‘Do what you love and the rest will look after itself, the dots will join’.
So, fair play to Lee Chin. Well done, I say.
In 20 years’ time he will remember this magical year 2017. Those great moments that Wexford have been part of since January.
Because he loves it.
The Feile Na Gael was in Kilkenny, Wexford and Carlow this summer and as a host club our officers in Tullaroan worked around the clock to ensure everything was right.
Great men. Great women. Great people. Every club has them.
I was down in the field looking at an underage game and I was standing beside two of our stalwart club men.
We were standing on one side of the field looking across the whole grounds. It looked magnificent. It looked magical. I was so proud and I could sense they were too.
Because it didn't just turn out like that. It took years of planning. Years of fundraising. Years of pressure and stress.
Why did these men and women put every waking hour into building this place?
Fundraising through a recession. Club Draws, fashion Shows, breakfast mornings, walks, cycles. Every club did it.
The stress of having to meet repayments.
Because they love it. They love the club. They love the camaraderie. They love the tea and biscuits. They love the spirit. They love the hurling.
And when those women and men look at the field they built for us players, us parents, our children, they can think like the Bull McCabe did in the film 'The Field'.
‘It's my field. It's my child. I nursed it. I nourished it. I saw to its every want. I dug the rocks out of it with my bare hands and I made a living thing of it!’
The two men beside me that day, one of them I grew up with. He has given his life to our club. Always in the field. Always pucking, always running, always leading by example, a role model for our young players.
He helped bring great joy back to our club last year by managing our under-21s to win the championship.
Unfortunately, he tore his cruciate and has just had his operation and he will do what he always does. He will train. He will stretch. He will lead by example.
Because he loves it.
And the other man, he served as treasurer for years. Served on countless committees. Lines the field. Does anything that's asked of him.
His sons were hurlers. His sons are now ploughing their efforts back in to our club like he did.
When I describe these guys I know all the great clubs have men just like them. All the great clubs can tell the same story except replace one name with the other.
Why do all these guys put so much in to their clubs?
Because they love it.
And why do I bring up these great club men now? Because All Ireland Final Day is a massive day for the club too.
You see, having played on both sides of the fence, both club and county I can relate to both.
While the argument is usually club v county, the bottom line is that the county needs the club and the club needs the county.
With the All-Ireland Final on Sunday it isn't just a day for the county. This is a great time for the club too.
Imagine the excitement around Kinvara these last few weeks. Two of their players are hurling out of their skins with Galway and will line out in front of 80,000 people in Croker on Sunday.
Pride will be bursting out of every man woman and child in the parish. ‘I know his uncle’, ‘I sat beside him in school’, and so on and so forth.
Imagine the emotions around Clashmore/Kinsalebeg as everyone there looks forward to seeing their star man Tadhg De Búrca back for the All-Ireland Final.
This is a great day for all the club officers and coaches. The under-8 management in Ballysaggart that can say they set Shane Bennett on the road.
The under-10 coaches in St. Thomas’ that showed Conor Cooney how to catch a ball. The underage coaches in Ballygunner who helped Padraig Mahony to perfect his free taking.
Pride. Satisfaction. Knowing that there might not have been a Senior All-Ireland Hurling Final for this player without the time your club spent with him since he was four or five.
Every young boy or girl in Galway or Waterford will be trying to be the next Daithi Burke, the next Noel Connors.
If we didn't have these county-men there's no doubt these youngsters would want to be the next Ronaldo or Neymar. The club needs the county too.
To get these players to All Ireland Final day has not taken 11 months of training, 11 months of preparation. It has taken years.
Years of happiness and heartache, ups and downs, joy and excitement, hurt and pain, stories and memories, legends big and small.
The club is in your heart and soul. It is where you will live and die.
So, let's enjoy All Ireland Final day as a great day for the club as well as the county.
Behind all those great players on Sunday are great clubs, behind those great clubs are great club men and women, and behind those men and women are great families. That is the GAA.
Sunday’s Final will be the most eagerly awaited final for years. We will have new champions. Champions that have not walked up the steps of the Hogan since either 1988 or 1959.
When Galway last won the All Ireland, Nelson Mandela was still in prison. When Waterford last won the All Ireland we were still waiting on our first man to land on the Moon.
For me, if Galway are to win they must be like a greyhound out of the traps. Sunday is not the day to be waiting around for the perfect moment to catch your prey.
Every moment in the All Ireland Final is a perfect moment. If Galway attack Waterford from the first minute and attack them all day I believe the Liam MacCarthy will head back West.
If they go back in to their shells at any stage on Sunday, wait for things to happen, whether that be the first, 10th or 70th minute, the Liam MacCarthy will go to the South East.
I have one final story that the Waterford lads might take note of for Sunday.
Before the 2009 All Ireland Final against Tipp - the first time we played them in a final since 1991 - I was below in the graveyard.
It's not a ritual of mine, I just do it from time to time. A local man, a hero in our parish, Dick of the Church, came up to me.
He was 91 at the time. He caught me by the hand. It was such a strong grip I knew he had something important to say. I knew he was up for it.
He said: "Be ready for these Tipp lads, they won't be like anything you have ever played before. In All Ireland finals against Kilkenny they will die to win that ball like no other".
He was right but, more importantly, I was ready.
I believe the Galway lads will die to win that ball on Sunday and the Waterford lads must be ready too.