The Club Jersey. This weekend the famous old colours will get their day in the sun. Club players stepping on to Croke Park, the latest in line, the first in line, maybe god forbid the last in the line. It showcases all that is great about our club game. Thankfully too the junior and intermediate footballers and hurlers have the same opportunity.
The Club Jersey. Players have worn it since before the current squad can remember. Who can remember the first time, pulling it on, oversized, overstretched. Maybe with a number on the back in the high twenties as a young lad waited impatiently for a bit of game time.
The Club Jersey. Running down the years watching dads, brothers, uncles, mums, sisters, and friends pulling on the jersey on a big day. All they wanted was one day to be part of it. A winter’s slog and hard work boils down to one afternoon in Croke Park. Win, lose or draw, memories to last a lifetime. Disappointment to fuel another campaign.
The Club Jersey. What you do for it, it’s massive. Think of the Irish winters we’ve had, club pitches under water, under snow, flooded and wrecked, or brick hard in the frost. Funding for clubs is tough enough. Training is brutal. Trying to get to a field with lights. The college ground. . . maybe there’s a new 4G with lights. Or the rich neighbours up the road will give a dig out. It all costs time, and money. Travelling in the worst of days. Is it worth it? Of course it is.
The Club Jersey. The extra mile. The whole club together. Feeding players after training, stocking up on O’Neills sliotars, new All Ireland footballs. Training gear, a new club half zip and maybe a set of skinny joggers. All gets the lads looking the part. The food rota, sandwiches, soup, sausage rolls as a treat, the dietician frowning at the thought of it. Fruit. Plenty of water.
The Club Jersey. The club people rise to the challenge. Strapped for cash themselves but sure it’s for the club. Going back to the same people again and again, it’s always the same people in the Parish. But they wouldn’t have it any other way. Ten here twenty there. Men buying tickets for the hundredth time, the GAA is an organisation full of optimists. How else could we sell so many tickets? If it meant the neighbours nephew or niece going up those Hogan steps to lift that piece of tin, sure its worth every ticket and every drop of ink ever printed on the cursed thing.
The Club Jersey. For the players, stepping off the bus deep in the heart of Croke Park, getting togged in those immaculate changing rooms. Pulling on a fresh O’Neills club jersey. The warm up room. The last few words. The run out those last few metres onto that sacred pitch. It’s what dreams are made of. For every team, those are details to remember after. The goal, to play the game and not the occasion. With the players you grew up with and a few you looked up to. Maybe in days to come the lads peering through the wire will look up to you too. Isn’t that what its about they say, leaving the club jersey in a better place? Winning brings a certain satisfaction, those seconds after the whistle blows. Losing, the gnawing feeling in the pit of the stomach, the grieving for the training that was and that may never be again. The sense of loss. In time it fades. To go back to being a winner. Remember the saying, its how you make people feel that is important. And it’s true.
On Saturday four panels of players will run out onto the Croke Park sod for the GAA senior club finals. On Sunday, the club camogs will have their turn. For anyone in that position this weekend they should savour every minute. The Club Jersey.