Four GAA families were plunged into mourning over the the festive season following a series of tragic deaths.
The unexpected passing of Shane McEntee, brother of former Meath All-Ireland winning midfield player Gerry, came only days after the sudden death of Kerry legend Páidí Ó Sé. And you can add to those, the deaths of Liatroim Fontenoys club member Ryan Doyle, following a road traffic accident in Australia, and the passing of 12-year-old Conal Baldwin from the An Riocht club which prompted a huge outpouring of grief in Down.
The four deaths stunned the GAA community, spanning as they did different generations and lifestyles and coming at a time when the families were about to celebrate Christmas.
Shane McEntee, the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture in the Republic’ government, had been heavily involved in the Association at club level both as a player and then as a manager when he took Ballinlough and Syddan to intermediate championship titles in Meath.
It is a measure of the esteem in which he was held that top officials from the GAA, including director general Paraic Duffy, were in attendance at his
funeral to hear An Taoiseach Enda Kenny deliver the oration.
Shane’s brother Gerry was a mainstay of the great Meath side that won the All-Ireland crown in 1987 and repeated the feat the following year under the astute tutelage of Sean Boylan.
Gerry, of course, is now one of the most eminent surgeons not just in this country but in Europe.
News of Ryan Doyle’s death in Australia numbed the Liatroim Fontenoys community while schoolboy Conal Baldwin’s sudden death occasioned deep sorrow in An Riocht.
His father Joe is a former Down hurler and is currently a high-profile coach.
He has worked to bring through many young players in Antrim and Down and is highly respected in Ulster GAA circles in particular.
Conal had played for An Riocht at U14 level and, by all accounts, was a youngster of rich promise.
Down and Meath played a challenge game on Saturday last the proceeds of which went to Ryan Doyle’s family — just another example of the manner in which the GAA unites behind families which find themselves overtaken by tragedy.