ONE could not but be moved by the standing ovation given by the Kiltimagh followers to their team about two minutes after the end of the All Ireland Junior Club Final against Castlegregory of Kerry in Croke Park.
Of the four clubs represented at HQ on Sunday, Kiltimagh had the biggest support. After such a heartbreaking defeat, the Kiltimagh contingent still waved their blue and white flags and gave the lads a memorable ovation.
Just out in front of us as we watched from the Hogan Stand, the hurt was etched on all their faces. Conor Heneghan epitomised those moments when memories are seared on the mind, that sense of being so close and yet so far, being a step from the mountain top and not being able to look over and see the Promised Land. Nearby, Aiden “Rudi” Lydon sat on the hallowed ground. There was a rawness about those few moments that touched the human spirit in all of us. You could almost feel the sadness and despair that pervaded their tired limbs.
Yet, they need not blame themselves in any way for they gave their supporters a season to remember. In faraway places from Chicago to London, people with connections to Kiltimagh joined the Mid West Radio commentary team of Mike Finnerty and Billy Fitzpatrick for the excitement of a game that never lagged in intensity and that held listeners spellbound to the final whistle.
Kiltimagh’s run to the All-Ireland Final and Croke Park served another purpose too. It rekindled that great love of place that is at the heart of Gaelic games and brought together many from the Kiltimagh area who had made their homes in Dublin and other counties over the years. People like Terry McHugh from Aidan Street and former journalist and PR consultant James Morrissey were just two of the many “in exile” who were there with hearts bursting with pride on Sunday.
Many of the young lads on the Kiltimagh panel will never be aware of the joy they brought to so many of these people whose young days were spent around the town of Kiltimagh.
But on Sunday, they were back home in their spiritual homeland again with memories of the famous Coillte Come Home festivals and sessions in the Raftery Room and Jerry Walsh welcoming the folks from America and England in the years when we thought Kiltimagh was the centre of the universe.
And for two hours last Sunday, Kiltimagh was again the centre of our universe. Along the Hogan Stand, their followers cheered every clearance and every attack. They willed them on and the cheers grew louder as the finishing straight came into view. Then came the fortuitous goal that rescued the Kerry cause. Ciaran Charlton tied the game to bring it to extra time.
Still just a point between them with a minute to play and a chance to equalise and bring it to a full replay next week ….but the attempted free conversion dropped short and Castlegregory added another with the last kick of the game. And, yet again, Croke Park looked on as another Mayo team were literally pipped at the post.
On the long road west, the blue and white flags still proudly flew from the Kiltimagh cars. And in the Park Hotel they gathered for a homecoming. I’m told Charlie Gilmartin gave a great speech that raised the spirits of one and all. And fair dues to Charlie for that.
This Kiltimagh panel has a lot to be proud of, they can hold their heads up high. The chant of Coillte, Coillte, Coillte will ring out again, another place another time. John Regan will continue to sing “There’s Devil the Town in Ireland like the town of Kiltimagh”. And folks from Kiltimagh will always be ready and willing to follow that dream. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever will be. Amen to that.