Wearing the Jersey, Living The Dream

This week on social media Tyrone GAA player Cathal McShane posted  a picture of himself in 2003 with Mickey Harte, juxtaposed alongside a shot taken with his manager in the aftermath of last week’s Ulster Final.  In 2003 as a youngster McShane would no doubt have had among his heroes the likes of Peter Canavan, Owen Mulligan and Sean Cavanagh.

They say you should never meet your heroes. But here is the young Cathal McShane playing alongside a man he likely idolised and for a manager he dreamt of player under. His short Instagram message said “20013-2016 – 13 years. Always work hard towards your goal in life. Unbelievable.” It’s good when a plan comes together.

The one thing about the GAA, among all the slings and arrows that point in its direction, is its ability to take a lad from the club at the end of a narrow winding lane and transport him all the way to Croke Park by virtue of hard work and dedication.

In 2014 Lester Ryan of the Clara club in Kilkenny captained his county to their All Ireland success. After the win footage emerged of a young Lester, practicing his All Ireland speech as a ten year old hurler, with his young mates looking on. Little did he know that the speech all delivered as Gaeilge, with which he won the Kilkenny Féile Irish speaking competition, would prefigure the real deal 16 years later.

Lester was a substitute on the Kilkenny final team in ’14 but not for him a sulk or a strop. His winning address from the step of the Hogan was literally a childhood dream come true. What young player hasn’t dreamed of leading their county or club up the Hogan Steps and uttering those immortal words? “Uachtarán na hÉireann agus Uachtarán Cumann Luthchleas Gael….”

Lester Ryan’s entire speech was delivered as Gaeilge, in Irish, as was his YouTube version 16 years earlier. The words give an insight into the workings of the mind of the collective mind of the Kilkenny GAA team, words translated for those of use rusty with the Irish: “I am certain today that our victory comes down to the fact that we believe in teamwork. This fantastic panel know that limits exist only in the mind.” From Brian Cody’s reaction that was a mantra from within the group.

In praising his manager Lester Ryan says: “Brian Cody is Blessed among men. Long life to him.” What a tribute.

It would be no surprise to hear Cathal McShane on Mickey Harte saying the same thing. The bond between player and manager in these groups is for real.

So what is the point of this? Well the point of it is that out there, maybe in the crowd this weekend at a match or pucking around in a club field at the end of the lane, or kicking ball against the gable end of a wall is a young player with dreams of their own. The next Lester Ryan or Cathal McShane. In his own mind he isn’t fielding the ball in a back garden, avoiding the dog. He is bestriding the Croke Park of his own mind like a Collossus, taking a pass from Mattie Donnelly before crashing the ball into the net, or fielding an Eoin Murphy puc out to set Richie Hogan through for another score.

Remember Lester Ryan’s words as he lived the dream. “Limits exist only in the mind”. If it’s your son or daughter, your brother or sister or indeed yourself, live a life without limits and make your own dreams come true. It may take you all the way to the steps of the Hogan Stand. And that is a good place to be.