Life

Lynette Fay: This is the most wonderful time of year for anyone interested in GAA

A ‘true GAA person' is represented by someone deeply rooted in the same parish, with the same club, going back generations, and I didn't tick these boxes. So, I am proudly a ‘county person'. Tyrone through and through

Tyrone's Kevin McCabe in action – the moustache is still going, as is his 1986 penalty kick against Kerry Picture: Brendan Murphy

IT’S the most wonderful time of the year – yes, for some reason the first line of this Christmas song rings in my ears in May every year. Why? It’s the start of the GAA hurling and football Championships of course.

Hope springs eternal and we dare to dream of our county lining out on All Ireland final day to bring home an All Ireland title.

My earliest engagement with the GAA was at the age of nine. The year was 1986. Tyrone were in the All Ireland final for the first time ever. Even then, I remember our estate closing down for throw-in. I can still feel the excitement that I didn’t fully understand.

The memories of that match? Pat Spillane became the arch-enemy, as did the county of Kerry. I have since built the bridge, I hasten to add, but it took a few years.

I also remember Plunkett Donaghy’s mane of blonde hair, the dual moustaches of Damien O’Hagan and Kevin McCabe (both of which still exist – good work) and, speaking of Kevin, there was that penalty – which is currently in orbit around Pluto.

Kerry beat Tyrone, but something in me had ignited.

Then there was the '89 semi-final. My brother got to go to Croke Park that day. We lost to Mayo.

Given my love of An Ghaeilge and Irish history and music, it’s often presumed that I have been steeped in the GAA since an early age. I haven’t at all, despite growing up beside Páirc Uí Néill in Dungannon. My immediate family just weren’t involved, but I still love the GAA.

It further complicates things when one parent is from Eglish, the other from The Moy, I was born in Dungannon, my family now lives in Donaghmore and I live in Belfast.

I should explain – there’s no love lost between Eglish and The Moy, Dungannon are ‘townies’ and Donaghmore is where my family have lived for quite some time but we’re still ‘blow-ins’.

As for Belfast – the clubs down there couldn’t agree on the colour of grass. I say that in jest, because I love the loyalty, community and unique identity that each club brings to the table.

A ‘true GAA person’ is represented by someone deeply rooted in the same parish, with the same club, going back generations, and I didn’t tick these boxes so I didn’t feel that the club would welcome someone like me. I have never tried to be part of a club for this reason. I found it quite intimidating.

So, I am proudly a ‘county person’. Tyrone through and through.

As such, Ulster final and All Ireland final days are the biggest of days. Any day in Croke Park is a thrill.

I was 17 in 1995 when Tyrone got to the All Ireland final again, and we played Dublin. Must I remind myself what happened that day?

We had a history class on the Monday. I remember that Mr Donoghue could hardly speak. He postponed the test we were supposed to have the next morning and told us to go to the homecoming.

The '95 homecoming to Dungannon was like a wake. Down, Donegal, Derry, Down again had taken Sam Maguire to Ulster for four years in a row. Why, oh why couldn’t it have worked out for us, just this once?

I went to university in Galway in the late 90s and was lucky enough to be there in 98. I was friendly with girls from Tuam and Corofin, who knew all the footballers. I accidentally got scooped up into the middle of the euphoria of Galway winning the All Ireland, never dreaming that I might experience this with my own county.

Then came 2003, 2005 and 2008. THREE All Irelands. Unimaginable. A credit to all involved at all levels. I still get goosebumps thinking about it. The euphoria of those years is indescribable.

We beat Kerry in each of these years, twice in the final. That was sweet.

After last year’s semi-final loss to Dublin, we still have a score to settle there. Will it happen this year? We’ll see.

For Tyrone, the 2018 journey begins in Omagh tomorrow. Monaghan will come to Healy Park to try to dethrone us as reigning Ulster champions.

That’s why this is really the most wonderful time of the year. The debate, the speculation, the anticipation, not forgetting the sandwiches and flasks of tea.

Tomorrow will tell the tale. Tír Eoghain Abú.

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