Clonkill hurlers in spirited display on an emotional evening
‘Rest in peace, little Annabel’.
So read the scoreboard at full time in Parnell Park last night. The fact that Clonkill and Ballyboden St Enda’s had played out a classic in the Leinster Club SHC, with the Dublin side advancing by 2-25 to 2-19, was only a side panel to the main story.
Sometimes, we take our sport way too seriously. Much has been said and written about the “win at all costs” culture creeping in, even in juvenile grades. It’s only a game; life is much more serious.
It all got a bit serious on social media last Monday, for example, with Leinster Council’s decision to run this club hurling quarter-final last night courting no shortage of controversy.
Some had remarked that it was insensitive of the provincial GAA authorities to go ahead with the game, given that little Annabel Loughlin – the three-year-old daughter of Eileen and decorated Clonkill clubman Enda Loughlin, who died tragically at her home in Delvin last Friday – had been laid to rest just hours beforehand.
However, there was no basis for the outrage – something made clear by Clonkill manager Kevin O’Brien after last night’s game.
“It was a very tragic few days, and it’s hard to concentrate on a hurling match,” he said. “But the Loughlins gave the club their blessing to go and play the game, and that’s what we did.
“[Annabel’s] father Enda Loughlin would have been a star from Clonkill and Westmeath, her uncle Sean is my maor foirne on the senior team this year, and her two cousins Adam and Luke Loughlin would have been playing.
“So they’re steeped in Clonkill and we went out and honoured them tonight.
“It’s a very tight group of players and as manager I’m very proud of them. They were asked last night to leave every bit of them out of the pitch for themselves, for our club, for Enda, and try and give the people of Clonkill a small little bit of a distraction with a game of ball.”
And his charges did just that – treating supporters to a thrilling 80 minutes of hurling against a fancied Ballyboden side.
The Loughegar men, clad with black armbands, bolted out of the traps and went into an early three-point lead.
Trailing by 1-9 to 0-10 at the interval, they kept battling away in the second half, and a late free from Brendan Murtagh secured a 1-17 to 1-17 draw to take the game into extra time.
Although ultimately it wasn’t to be for the Westmeath senior hurling champions, O’Brien said that he was intensely proud of their effort.
“Enda said to tell the boys to do it for him and the family. ‘Tear into them’ were his exact words, and that’s what we did,” he said.
“It’s an awful tragedy. They’re in for a long road and hopefully they’ll come through it. I know everyone in Clonkill will be there to support them.”
On an evening high in emotion, both Dublin GAA and Ballyboden paid a thoughtful and appropriate tribute to Clonkill and the Loughlin and O’Driscoll families, Clonkill and Delvin.
As well as the scoreboard display, the Ballyboden players formed a guard of honour as their defeated opponents made for the tunnel.
“Sport is put in perspective sometimes, with the things that have happened over the last couple of days,” Ballyboden manager Joe Fortune told RTÉ Sport. “They need to mind each other now.
“I’m very proud of my own lads but I’m very proud of the hurling community as well, that has stood behind Clonkill and made sure that there are other things that are more important than results.
“I’m very proud of our own lads but I’m very proud to play against a club like Clonkill as well.”