Every time in this wet late summer, when the skies opened and the heavens poured down upon us with a level of unprecedented ferocity, what followed brought a silver lining. Every soaking was followed by a drying; every flu was followed by sunburn. Every soaking cloud followed by the most blue of skies.
And in some sense, this has been the fashion of the Galway GAA summer — there have been moments when it felt like it permanently lashed this sporting summer, right from the moment Kilkenny and Wexford drew on that fateful evening; right from that night in Limerick when Mayo got revenge for the “batings” of recent years; right from the moment we lost the manager of not just one senior team, but two.
The misfortune continued last weekend when our talented minors were denied at the death in a game in which victory and defeat was passed around like a parcel in a party game.
But there has been some sunshine...the minor hurlers excelled when winning three in a row, and ensured that maroon ribbons were tied onto silverware, and right at the end of this rainy day, comes the possibility of a glorious sunset that could see three national titles come our way.
Next Sunday in Croke Park, the Galway senior and intermediate camogie teams carry the pride of the west as they battle for glory in the senior final against Kilkenny, and in the Intermediate final against Westmeath. Galway have only won the All-Ireland senior title on two occasions; that wonderful day in 1996 when Imelda Hobbins lifted the O’Duffy Cup; and then again in 2013, when Lorraine Ryan did the honours. This time, we wait and hope that the talented Sarah Dervan as senior captain and Laura Ward as Intermediate captain will follow in their footsteps. On Sunday week, the ladies footballers take on the Dubs in the Croke Park decider.
But first, to this weekend. When Sarah and Laura lead their teams onto that green swathe, bursting into the light, their muscles glistening, feeling as fit as they have ever been, their hurls swinging, they will feel the breath of those who adore them; they will run towards that bench and stand shoulder to shoulder with their colleagues who are feeling the same thing. Finals like this are rare, so opportunities for victory must be grasped. To them, we send our support and unwavering belief that they will do the job; that they won’t come home without it.
To the teams, you will look around and hear the power of what wraps you. A sea of maroon and white, a chorus of Galway voices, of young girls wishing to be you; who will be you because you will inspire them. There will be a symphony of souls willing you on, a maroon army of knights behind you, all shielded in armour. Their lungs will be your second lungs and your third lungs.
They will breathe oxygen into you when you have expended yours, they will take the pain that you will feel when you have those hits, they will double the pain you inflict when you crash into the black and amber shirts, when you enter the challenges that you will win. They will add elasticity to your hamstrings, extension to your arms. They will add spring to your step as you bounce off those attempts to derail you. And when there is pain, and there will be pain, the shouts from the stands will help dull it.
And you will look around and realise that this is your time, this is your time. It has been a long year’s journey into fight, and you have earned your right to be here on this Sunday afternoon, in the shadows of those vast stands, with the eyes of Ireland looking on at you.
And you look around at your teammates, and you see in their eyes that they have the same thing in their hearts. They have vowed that today they will all win their duel. That’s all you ask of them.
You see those posts at either end, one lost against the greyness of the Hill; the other clear against the darkness of the Davin; their white lines branded into your retinas so that as a target they are set into your brain. You feel the wide expanse of the greenness that your colleagues will run into; eating up space to grasp the sliotar you lash in.
But you know today that deserving counts for nothing, and wanting counts for everything. Here is what you have trained for across muddy pitches of winter on damp back pitches, dressing rooms smelling of sweat, spit and wintercream; what you have prepared for since you were playing under eight, under 10, under 12...here is what you have travelled and run thousands of miles to be fit for; nights sharing a camaraderie that today will face its biggest test, and you know that these women here will die for you, just as you would die for them. Nights when you stretched your aching legs through routine after routine. And you feel the pull of those colours on your swelling chest, your heart beating out a drumbeat that syncs with each wallop that the Artane drumsticks ring out around this hallowed arena.
And then you see the challengers. You look at them, you’ve seen them before, but you see in their eyes that they don’t have the same hunger as you, they don’t want it as much as you do.
They say they do, but they don’t. They can’t. Nobody does. Nobody.
Kilkenny have been sated at the table here on many’s the occasion. Their want is not as great.
Now is your time.
And as you face the flag and hear the whistle blow, you meet them head on, you pit your bulk against them; You hear each collision resonate with approval from the packed stands.
Because you are women of Galway and you will not be beaten....you will not leave anything on the pitch....and you won’t come home without it.