Belfast Telegraph

Declan Bogue: Losing a sense of perspective

So much of GAA journalism is devoted to the art and science of winning. Such is the fetish for coming out on the right side of a result that losing is seen as a sin.

Sometimes, it's not. Sometimes it is just unavoidable. I think of Lisnaskea, and Brian Óg Maguire when I write this.

Last Saturday night my own club Tempo Maguires won the Fermanagh senior football final, beating Lisnaskea. In the lead-up to the game, it was too difficult to call. Nobody knew how the emotion of the occasion was going to affect either team.

In last Saturday's feature interview with Lisnaskea manager Mark Henry, he articulated the odd position they found themselves in, saying; “One of the things I say is if we get beaten, there won't be too many people getting annoyed…if at the final whistle we are beaten, they will shrug their shoulders. They will put it into perspective.”

In the fortnight between Ogies' death and the final, perspective was everything. The main street in Lisnaskea was left unadorned of flags and bunting. Nobody wore his number 8 jersey in the final, instead the number appeared above the club crest on their shirts.

The important thing was to honour his memory by playing the game the way he would have played; with force and passion. Both sides managed that but Lisnaskea looked like a group that had spent a great deal of time grieving.

There are those that felt it was too soon to play again, but as Henry explained, “They wanted the next time they put on a jersey to be a match that really meant something. If we had postponed the county final we were going to have to play league games, and we had no stomach for that.”

At the final whistle, Tempo asked Lisnaskea captain Mark McKenna up on the podium to raise the New York Cup up with their captain, Conor Foy, before he shook Foy's hand and left them to it.

After that, it was an odd evening of celebration. We say odd because in the village, there hasn't been much celebration in recent years, but there has been plenty of tragedy with untimely deaths directly affecting the club.

Over the past few years, the village has become a ghost town, devoid of much spark; a by-pass away from anonymity. On Saturday night, life returned to it with a party that drifted towards morning.

There was some talk in local papers of them putting to bed a 39-year gap without the Championship. But most don't acknowledge the trophy drought.

After the likes of the Campbell brothers Damian, Paul and Ciaran beat — strangely enough — Lisnaskea in that 1973 final, my father made his way to a pay-phone in Leicestershire for a pre-determined time, to hear that utterly devoted Tempo and Fermanagh Gael, Charlie McNally, tell him the good news.

Once the cup was won, it took residence in Campbell's shopfront window for the rest of the year.

No big deal. It was the third time they won it in four years.

39 years later, Damien's son Declan is the elder statesman of the team and held everything together at corner-back. Paul's son Thomas is a rising threat at full-forward. Ciaran is a selector. 39 years ago is a lifetime.

On Saturday night, the usual conversations took place. For fifteen years, Declan Campbell was making the trip down from Belfast or Larne where he was working as a pharmacist, for mid-week training. Other boys in the parish spent the evening sofa-surfing, staring at Champions' League soccer.

When it was suggested to him that it was a sacrifice — especially in the year that his car radio was out of action — he furrowed his brow. Why was it a sacrifice? It was just what he did, he reasoned. Tempo was Tempo, a part of him. Not something he would just walk away from.

There is a rush to glorify the inter-county game and we forget that 98% of players are club players. The inter-county game brings in the big bucks, but creates a world of heartache with club schedules at the whim of county coaches.

After the weekend and all the dignity, pride and glory of the Fermanagh final, it's tempting to think the GAA have created a monster with the treatment of inter-county competition, in comparison to club.

Perhaps it has.

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