Enda McGinley: Carving our names in history is what it all boils down to
‘WHAT we do today echoes for eternity’.
So said Maximus Decimus Meridius before he went to his gladiatorial battle.
It may be straight out of Hollywood, but this lofty sentiment is present in any team aiming to achieve something special.
Teams achieving firsts or records are breaking new ground.
On Saturday night, I witnessed Dublin put to the sword an improved Tyrone team that was clearly up for the battle.
The Red Hands showed elements of physicality and quality attacking play that had been asked of them. The kick-passing into the full-forward line in the first half was excellent and the scoreboard reflected that.
As Dublin adapted to this tactic in the second half and Tyrone played into the wind, the fact that it is a work in progress was obvious.
Tyrone reverted back to some of their weaker habits when, while playing against 14 men and several points down, there were still players dropping immediately to act as sweepers when Dublin won possession. That allowed Dublin to hold possession with relative ease in the middle third when Tyrone should have been chasing the game.
For Mickey Harte’s side, there were definite positives and evidence of the work in progress.
Dublin, meanwhile, are on a different trajectory. In their sights is immortality.
They will never ever admit it, but even though the fourth All-Ireland is still to be achieved, this Dublin team has the elusive five-in-a-row in their crosshairs.
I would fully accept that such a target has never been verbalised and certainly not within earshot of boss Jim Gavin, unless the player wants directly shown the exit door, but I can’t help think that in the back of their minds those Dublin players and management knows it is there for them to achieve.
Sitting in front of them is a level of greatness never before reached by any football team.
We have all been reared on stories of the Kerry golden years, while those that witnessed that period of dominance are clearly left with a lifelong admiration of the Kingdom.
While this level of impact and adulation on a national stage is beyond the reach of nearly everyone else, we all have huge opportunities through our games to do things that are remembered for lifetimes. Things that have a massive positive effect on our sense of identity and pride in where we come from.
Last weekend we saw Moy do just that by winning the All-Ireland intermediate title. As if to highlight the often-imperceptible way this influences the little things, I was a bystander for an interchange two days later between a patient and nurse up in Craigavon hospital where I work.
Nurse (checking the address): ‘Oh, you are from Dungannon are you?’
Patient (automatically): ‘No, no, not Dungannon, The Moy’.
Nurse (clarifying): ‘But your address says Dungannon.’
Patient: ‘Yeah, it says that but I’m from The Moy.’
I didn’t need to check.
‘Good celebrations at the weekend?’ I said.
‘Still going on,’ he said.
Only a GAA man would make such a definitive clarification of a five-mile difference.
Those of us who are a bit obsessed with our Gaelic games and our clubs can easily be accused of losing touch with reality when we appear to place much more emphasis on our club’s fortunes than participation with a small, local, amateur sports club would merit to outsiders.
There is logic in this perception, of course, but when we see the impact success can have on a community as we have seen with The Moy, we get evidence for what we have believed all along; that in our games and clubs we can gain a sense of spirit, pride and joy that little else in life can garner.
What’s more – and in contrast to many of the short-term gains modern life offers – such victories leave a massive legacy.
My own club, Errigal Ciaran, experienced a massive high of a first Ulster Club title 25 years ago in 1993. It was the first for a Tyrone club.
I remember well as a supporter the celebrations that accompanied the county final victory that year and remember heading to the Ulster Club first round game against then All-Ireland champions Lavey just to enjoy the novelty.
Thankfully the Errigal team had greater ambitions and not only took care of Lavey but went on to be crowned Ulster champions. Now, against the achievements of some illustrious clubs, this appears a relatively modest feat as unfortunately, and not for the last time, Nemo Rangers of Cork proved to be our nemesis on the All-Ireland stage. Yet I have seen and felt first hand how that win has and continues to echo through our club.
Yes, at times it has been like a shadow hanging over us players who were struggling to recapture those heady days, yet it also left an indelible imprint of the sheer nirvana that a club victory can achieve.
It has fostered the dreams and sense of identity of generations of future players, even those who weren’t even born at the time.
The club and, for that matter, county jersey that we hand down to the generations coming after us, carries within its fabric the memory of such great victories and of the great people that have gone before us.
That history, present at some level in all our clubs and counties, can never guarantee future success, but it is nonetheless there.
Maybe it is something that comes with age and having hung up the boots, but there seems an insatiable urge for GAA people to try to convey to those who are now pulling on those jerseys just how special they are.
That somehow everything and everyone one that went before is somehow woven in those jerseys.
On the one hand that can look like a typical old fella looking at the past through rose-tinted glasses. More often, however, it is driven by the dream of adding to the next chapter and experiencing again those very special days of Championship victory.
In terms of next chapters, this weekend sees Slaughtneil try to add to their quite phenomenal recent history.
Those players have already immeasurably changed that Slaughtneil jersey forever.
They represent all that we would wish to see in our own places and thus they are both admired and envied by most.
It is clear, though, that they feel there is one further thing that needs doing. The manner in which they have gone about their business over the past few years means few wouldn’t wish for them to earn another crack at the title by defeating Na Piarsaigh of Galway this weekend.