It is perhaps entirely appropriate that the GAA is renowned for its penchant for closing ranks and offering unstinting practical and moral support when a member or constituent unit is dealt a cruel blow.
Indeed, it is doubtful if the Association’s ability to prove a source of help and indeed inspiration when circumstances are at their most trying has been put to a greater test than over the course of the past year.
The passing of Leitrim county football star Philly McGuinness following an accidental injury in a club game, the sudden death of St Peter’s, Warrenpoint teenager Patrick Dinsmore during an under-age club game, the loss of the legendary Dermot Earley and the death of Michaela McAreavey, daughter of Tyrone manager Mickey Harte, have over recent months brought home to us all that tragedy can strike at any time.
This week that feeling of vulnerability has been further emphasised with the deaths of my own cousin Frank Kernan, Mickey Harte’s brother Paddy and the Armagh County Board’s official video recording technician Oliver Toal.
Paddy Harte’s death on Saturday followed the passing of Mickey Harte’s mother-in-law in August, then the death of another brother Peter, an ex-chairman of the Ulster GAA Council, in October and the tragic death of Michaela last month.
My own family has been particularly saddened by the passing this week of my cousin Frank who was aged 76. Frank played on the 1953 Armagh team that lost in the All Ireland final to Kerry. He won an All Ireland Minor medal in 1949 and gave outstanding service to his county and to Crossmaglen Rangers.
He set the tone for the family’s involvement with Armagh and I was honoured to follow in his footsteps and play in the 1977 All Ireland final.
Frank derived tremendous satisfaction from the fact that four of my five sons — Aaron, Stephen, Tony and Paul — have all represented Armagh and hopefully will continue to do so.