Andy Watters: Our GAA clubs are pillars of strength in a cruel world

Andy Watters

Andy Watters

Andy is a sports reporter at The Irish News. His particular areas of expertise are Gaelic Football and professional boxing but he has an affinity for many other sports. Andy has been nominated three times for the Society of Editors Sports Journalist of the Year award and was commended for his inventiveness as a sub-editor in the IPR awards.

Kildress clubman Mattie McGuigan "Our shining light"
Kildress clubman Mattie McGuigan "Our shining light" Kildress clubman Mattie McGuigan "Our shining light"

IT’S AGM season at clubs and, from my experience, when you look around the room you’ll usually see the same faces there year after year.

As long as the dedicated stalwarts came turning up, the club will keep on rolling along but new faces coming through onto the committee are worth their weight in gold in every club because they bring with them new energy and new ideas.

It isn’t easy getting busy young people involved in off-the-field activities and that’s part of what made Mattie McGuigan – who passed away so tragically in Australia aged just 24 last week – so exceptional.

I never got the chance to meet Mattie, but I know enough about him to know that you didn’t meet people like him every day.

He was made captain of the Kildress senior team when he was 19 years-of-age and progressed to become a leader in his club on the pitch and off it. He was someone who had the confidence and charisma to step up and get involved and become a very positive influence.

A club statement described Mattie as “our shining light and captain on the field of play”.

“Mattie maintained those unrivalled standards off it,” it read.

“He managed underage teams, helped with events, sat on our committee, represented our players, sold tickets across Ulster in our record-breaking draw and even chaired the elections at last week's AGM.

“And all with the class, style, wisdom, good-naturedness, humour and integrity that others take decades to develop – if ever. Gifted with talent that he carried so well.”

Sincere condolences to Mattie’s heartbroken girlfriend Clodagh and to his family.

When you hear that a brilliant guy like Mattie McGuigan, who had so much to give and so much to live for, has been taken so long before his time you can’t help but wonder what life really is all about.

The funeral of Ciera Grimley who passed away after the accident on November 4
The funeral of Ciera Grimley who passed away after the accident on November 4 The funeral of Ciera Grimley who passed away after the accident on November 4

UNFORTUNATELY Mattie’s death came hard on the heels of other tragedies that touched our hearts over the last few months.

Last summer I went to an Armagh senior championship match between Maghery and Ballymacnab. It was a beautiful day – one of the few in July - on the loughshore and I took up a vantage spot behind the wire next to the Armagh TV lads and I got talking to a big fella who was on commentary that day.

His name was Paddy Grimley.

I’d never met Paddy before but he was one of those guys you could hit it off with easily. A very friendly fella who knew football inside and out and you could literally have chatted to him all day about club football or the county game.

He was secretary of the Madden Raparees who are a club I admire because they had played down the divisions for a long time but had moved up through the ranks to become established as a senior side. That was down to the hard work of Paddy and others like him at the club.  

Later last season I got in touch with Paddy to ask him for a number for his uncle Micky who was the Madden manager. Of course he helped me out and when he’d read the article he got in touch to say he’d enjoyed it. You don’t come across that very often.  

Like Mattie McGuigan, Paddy Grimley was a GAA man through-and-through and a shining light - a leader in his club.

When I heard the news that he had died in that terrible incident on the Armagh Road on November 4 after he’d celebrated his 40th birthday with family and friends, I was, like anyone else who had the pleasure of meeting and so many that hadn’t, gutted.

I can’t say I knew Paddy well, but you didn’t have to know him well to instantly realise the loss he would be to his club and, most importantly and poignantly, to his three children who, so sadly, have also lost their devoted mother Ciera.

And that same terrible incident also claimed the life of mother of four Ciara McElvanna who was heavily involved in the Madden club as a coach of underage teams in both football and camogie.

You don’t meet the likes of Ciara McElvanna, Paddy and Ciera Grimley or Mattie McGuigan every day and you wonder: What’s it all about? How can these things terrible happen to these good souls?

It has been a particularly difficult few months for the GAA community and if there is any crumb of consolation to be taken from this harrowing period it is the amazing solidarity and humanity that our clubs have shown toward the families of their bereaved during the hardest of times.

In Madden, the Raparees went above and beyond and did all they could to help organise three wakes and three funerals and the same will no doubt happen in Kildress when Mattie McGuigan’s remains return home from Australia.

Nothing could ever replace a loved one but whatever can be done, will be done: An arm around the shoulder, a cup of tea, running the car park, the amazing generosity shown to fundraising efforts…

It’s comforting to know you can depend on that if tragedy ever comes to your door.