It is a normally a once in a lifetime thing for most people, some get a second chance at it, but for the vast majority it is a one shot deal. Getting to an All Ireland Club final is the most special occasion for anyone involved in a club. It is the pure essence of what the GAA is about, the smallest unit of the organisation, making it all the way to the greatest stage that it possibly can. While the All Ireland senior club championships have been one of the highlights of the GAA calendar for decades now, the introduction of the All Ireland championship at junior and intermediate level has brought the ability to achieve the ultimate to every club in the country which has a rutted field, a run down club house, and puts out a team into championship action every year, against the odds of modern life, the depopulation of rural Ireland, and the mass youth emigration that is currently happening across the isle.
On Sunday the sons and daughters of Irishtown, Ballindine, and all the townlands in-between and around the two villages will make the long trek to Croke Park as a journey that began in January 2011 finally comes to an end 13 months later in the great citadel of Gaelic games with only one thing on their minds, that Davitts bring home an All Ireland title to the border club. Plenty of those who have left the area by choice or by necessity will join them on Sunday, where they will once again be placing their faith in a Galwayman to guide their boys to victory.
It has been a long road since the O’Mara Cup threw in early last spring and all that is standing in their way is the Kerry and Munster champions Miltown-Castlemaine, who have overcome the Clare, Cork, Tipperary, and Derry champions to get this far. When Mayo and Kerry sides meet in Croke Park, it usually strikes fear into the hearts of the Mayo men, but this Davitts side is something different and a little bit special. They have ground it out when they needed to in the Mayo championship and again in the Connacht semi-final, but since then they have lit the touchpaper and been a joy to watch.
Michael Conroy has been the go to man for scores and a leader on the field for the side in black and red, in the semi-final he kicked eight points. His scores came from all sides of the field, one late on the second half was a thing of beauty. It is not just putting the ball over the bar that Conroy has been excelling in, his work rate off the ball and the ability to create the space in the forward line has been exceptional. While the captain has been the go to man in attack, at the back Colm Boyle has been an inspirational force holding up the opponents’ attack and driving forward when he can. Boyle and Conroy have All Ireland u21 medals in their back pocket from the 2006 victory over Cork, but adding one with the club will be extra special. Behind Conroy in the full back spot is the veteran of the side Alan Roache, who only came out of retirement midway through the year and slotted into the full back spot when Davitts were under serious pressure in the Connacht final against Padraig Pearses. Come last month’s All Ireland semi-final against Eire Óg (Wicklow ) he did the duty again with ease, as Frankie Barrett who had emigrated after the Connacht final was absent, but Barrett came home a few weeks ago to give Davitts a major boost. The midfield pairing of Ronan McNamara and Paul Cary have been inspirational this year, with McNamara displaying the form that saw him earmarked as a potential senior inter-county star before he was affected by a series of injuries, he has also proved to be deadly accurate from long range frees over this campaign. While Conroy is the star in the forward line, the experience of David McDonagh is something that cannot be discounted. McDonagh, who seems to have been around for years, will have fond memories of Croke Park, having won a National League title there with Mayo against Galway who had Davitts manager Pete Warren acting as a selector at the time, under John O’Mahony. McDonagh even chipped in with a goal in the semi-final, as did full forward Fergal McGrath who along with Aidan McTigue will form a more than formidable full forward line alongside Conroy.
Come Sunday afternoon it will not be just those from Ballindine, Irishtown, and surrounds that will be hoping the most popular Galwayman this side of the border Pete Warren, alongside his local aides Ja Trench and John Treacy, will guide the Davitts men to the All Ireland title, even those near neighbouring clubs will surely put aside local rivalries for at least two hours. If everything goes to plan, the bonfires will be burning brightly all the way on the N17 and into the townlands and villages of Ballindine and Irishtown, where once in the past Michael Davitt kick-started a revolution that went on to change the country forever.