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Declan Bogue column: Club finals providing a shining light

Hanging in there: Derrygonnelly’s Kevin Cassidy is still going strong at the age of 44
Hanging in there: Derrygonnelly’s Kevin Cassidy is still going strong at the age of 44
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

Sometimes, a lot of times, the sports pages can make for grim reading. The start of this week is a case in point.

The rap sheet is fruitful. First up we have the eye-watering details of the settlement accompanying the departure from the Football Association of Ireland of former CEO and Executive vice-President John Delaney.

Then came the empty seats that greeted British athlete Dina Asher-Smith as she conducted her lap of honour after winning the World Championship 100m sprint; a symbol of the highly questionable decision-making that granted the event to Doha, not to mention the farce coming soon of the 2022 football World Cup in the same capital of Qatar.

On top of all that came the long-suspected revelations of Alberto Salazar - Mo Farah's former coach who runs the Nike Oregon Project - receiving a four-year ban for doping violations.

It seems that everywhere you look, there is unpleasance at play that is being excellently exposed by journalists working in these fields.

As well as all that, you have the spectacular sneering and delight that many are taking in the weekend defeat of the Irish Rugby team to Japan.

At the same time, we have something truly wholesome in our midst that deserves recognition. The GAA club Championships have been virtually swallowed up by coverage granted to the intercounty game, but there is an authenticity to this time of year that is absent in many other sporting pursuits.

Sportswriters are almost duty-bound to affect a cynical weariness to their trade, but it doesn't feel like that to this writer in his own specific beat.

Right now we are in the midst of the club finals, an arm of the GAA that has been championed by TG4 with their screening of live games at the weekend, and lately by RTÉ who broadcast two Donegal quarter-finals on Saturday.

To cover them is a total joy, an immersion in a world of authenticity.

Last weekend we were in Ballycastle for the Antrim hurling final, a personal highlight of any year.

In the weeks to come we will be in Corrigan Park to see Lamh Dhearg take on Erin's Own Cargin in the football decider, the Tyrone final between Trillick and Errigal Ciaran (October 13) and the Derry final (October 20) ahead of the Ulster club hurling semi-final double header on October 27.

Sunday was a real highlight but the entire month is going to be like that. When you consider it, you are covering an event that for many players and management, will be one of the highlights of their life in a sporting sense at the least. After a county game, it can be a nightmare to secure player interviews such is the misguided nonsense and paranoia of certain team managers.

The feeling of an Antrim hurling final soaks you to the marrow. The traditions, the earthiness of the people, the 1989 Antrim All-Ireland final team being recognised and applauded. Standing sentry just in sight is the magnificent view of Fair Head. It was a tonic for the soul.

All this gushing has to be placed in some context.

Playing sport, amateur sport especially, is essentially a frivolous activity.

For men who are coming to the end of the careers, real life threatens to get in the way. Growing families, the wishes and obligations towards partners and career progression demand time and effort.

The nightly slog of preparing dinners, baths and homework all require two people at home and commitment.

Instead, platoons of men skip out the door at night to spend time with 30 others slogging their guts around a field, sitting in team and tactical meetings.

It is with this backdrop that those lucky enough to win something must find their successes particularly sweet.

We are thinking of men such as the two Kevin Cassidys - Derrygonnelly's version recently completing a five-in-a-row of Fermanagh Championships and 44 on his last birthday; and Gaoth Dobhair's favourite son still going strong as a reinvented full-forward claiming an Ulster title, back in a Donegal semi-final at 38.

Davy Harte may be 38 before the year is out and has two All-Ireland medals but he is now hunkering down and preparing for another Tyrone final for Errigal Ciaran.

Spare a thought, though, for the team they beat in the semi-final, Carrickmore who featured Conor Gormley who will be 39 on October 10 and Martin Penrose not that far behind him.

There are plenty of Gormleys and Penroses.

Aidan Carr lost a Down semi-final against Kilcoo at the age of 37 last weekend. Staying with Down, Paul Murphy and Ronan Murtagh of Ballyholland also lost to Warrenpoint with both men celebrating their 40th birthdays next year.

What keeps them coming back is a devotion to their club, to the parish, in the hope there will be a huge payoff for all their hours and years of sacrifice.

For nothing more than a glorious, autumnal day.

What could be any more purer than that?

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