Danny Hughes: GAA family stands with Kieran O'Connor in his battle with illness

Kieran O’Connor celebrates with Cork skipper Graham Canty (left) and goalkeeper Alan Quirke (right) after the Rebels’ victory over Down in the 2010 All-Ireland SFC final. Kieran now faces an uncertain future due to a rare form of bone cancer but, like many others, goes forward in his battle with the unswerving support of both his immediate family and his GAA family

THE uniqueness of the GAA family is pretty much summed up in the reaction of people to the extraordinarily heart-breaking story last week that Kieran O'Connor, an ex-Cork inter-county footballer, is undergoing extensive chemotherapy for a rare form of bone cancer, having already had a lower leg amputated earlier this year.

Kieran didn't play any minutes in the game against Down in the

All-Ireland SFC final of 2010, however, he started both the 2007 and 2009 finals.

I remember him playing in a couple of challenge matches between our respective counties prior to 2010 and lifting the Munster title as captain in 2008.

In a way, it was perhaps a compliment to the 2010 All-Ireland winners that a player like Kieran didn't manage to get into the team for the decider as he was a fine footballer.

I can't even begin to imagine what he is currently going through.

Kieran has a wife and kids and their family's journey is the most uncertain road of all.

I witnessed the comfort of prayer first hand when my mum was dying from cancer, while retaining a critical view of the Catholic church.

In the absence of divine intervention in Kieran's case, Graham Canty, Cork's All-Ireland winning captain penned an excellent article recently pledging his admiration and support to raising funds for Kieran. In one day, €120,000 was raised as a result.

As I said, the uniqueness of our relationship to players, communities and each other within the GAA is unparalleled.

I am sure Kieran will receive the €250,000 needed to aid in any treatment or recovery he faces in the coming weeks and months.

However, where else in any form of life would people congregate to help a complete stranger to them like Kieran?

In the potential absence of a cure, should the funds raised make things for him and his family easier in the days and hopefully years ahead,

it will have been worth it.

With falling attendances and patrons opting to stay at home, the GAA has come in for criticism at corporate level in recent years. However, when compared to the current state of global politics or indeed the Church, the great institution of the GAA looks rather well governed in my view.

Is there more in the GAA, as leaders in our community? Of course there is.

In one way, Joe Brolly is right in saying that the GAA should take a stance on Irish unity and backing the idea of a new Ireland.

While all of us may not support the same counties or clubs; have the same religion or believe in any at all; may vote for different parties

or, again, abstain from this right; the one thing that binds us together is being part of the GAA. You don't even have to be Irish in an age

when there is so much diversity within our country.

Let us not pretend that the GAA has not always been closely aligned to politics.

The same can be said of the Church and vice-versa.

The big three – the GAA, Politics and the Church – have in the past been the holy trinity in shaping ideas and society in an Irish context.

GAA members were targeted and shot by Loyalist death squads and the British Army. Our lands and clubs were requisitioned and targeted.

At this point in our history, we cannot and should not conveniently forget this and begin to choose who and what we stand for.

I don't know, nor do I care, what religion Kieran O'Connor is. All I know is that he is in a crisis, staring into an unknown and, alongside him, are his family and GAA supporters.

Kieran is part of a unique GAA family and, regardless of county or club lines, I know how I would feel in his position had I the same level of support.

On April 6 and 7, 2019, I am due to participate in an Allstars weekend at Pearse Memorial Park, Ardara in memory of Pat Shovelin, who was a goalkeeping coach and a legend of Donegal GAA and the Ardara club.

Donegal's 2012 All-Ireland winners will play a selection of players from all over Ireland and the funds raised will help the oncology unit at Letterkenny University Hospital, the Irish Cancer Society and Donegal Hospice.

This event is helping people diagnosed with cancer face the biggest challenge in life with bravery, support and dignity.

Cancer doesn't care what religion you are, your skin colour, your gender or indeed your status in society. It respects nothing. It leaves in its wake devastated families, grieving widows and children.

The GAA, though, have helped so many communities, both directly and indirectly, over the years, whether the deaths occurred because of the Troubles, accidents or illness.

Going to a game. Helping at a training session. And for me, personally, it was and remains a place of sanctuary away from the chaos of life.

At the minute, there is nothing but uncertainty around Brexit and GAA rules and whether Liverpool have the minerals to win the league and whether Dublin will continue to dominate the League and Championship.

Nevertheless, in a real sense, none of this really matters when you see what Kieran O'Connor faces, what his family faces and what all those face daily in a battle with cancer.

Ask Pat Shovelin's family about Brexit.

In this context, the GAA family matters more than any other association. It is the GAA family who stand with you in the end.

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