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Reflections on a life well-lived

Sport

A FAMILY PHOTO  The late Ger Flanagan from Balla (right) is pictured with, left to right: his wife Pattie; and grandsons Matthew and Ger after Balla won the 2018 Mayo Junior club football championship final at MacHale Park, Castlebar. Pic: Michael McLaughlin

STANDING in MacHale Park, Castlebar last September — celebrating the end of the County Intermediate Final — little did we know that it would be the last game our grandfather would ever get to see us play.
A life-long supporter of Balla GAA Club, it now seems very appropriate that it was also the first time the club ever won the Sweeney Cup during the same time he was serving as President of the club.
It was said to me by a team-mate after the County Junior title win in 2018 that we were very lucky to have both our grandparents alive to experience the thrills of winning a county title. We were even luckier that we were able to win a second with both them around too.
But it’s only now as I write these lines, a week after the passing of my grandfather, that you truly realise how special those memories are and how much you will cherish them.
Ger Flanagan, my namesake and grandfather, passed away in Mayo University Hospital in the early hours of Saturday morning, November 7 after a short battle with Covid-19.
It was a tragic way to lose our grandfather, particularly because he was as active an 80 year-old man as you will find. He was still out farming the land, doing long, hard days in the bog, and attending as many football matches as he possibly could right up until his death.
He approached his short battle with Covid the same way he did everything in life – with a brave face, a positive outlook and without complaint.
He was synonymous with life in Balla and wider sporting circles and it was a very touching moment to see the many, many people from various clubs and aspects of life in our local community turn out for a guard of honour in terrible weather.
The local people really rallied over the past ten days and the amount of support, messages of condolences and offers of help we received was truly overwhelming.
Grandad was always very proud of his community and it was very easy to see why.
He wasn’t a formally educated man, as he would tell you himself, but he was definitely the smartest person I have ever met.
Back during the first lockdown he took to learning about social media, including Facebook, and was pretty in tune with how it all worked.
Thanks to this, we were able to see him during his last hours through video calling. It was far from ideal, but better than nothing. Even while he lay on the hospital bed, his unique wit and humorous demeanour remained as strong as ever.
In those calls he spoke of his hope that Joe Biden would beat Donald Trump in the US Election, about Mayo’s chances of beating Roscommon, some of the lovely people he met in the ward and the great care and attention the nurses in Mayo University Hospital were giving him.
He cracked a few jokes, told some stories and spoke of his admiration and respect for so many people, including Balla’s local GP Dr Jimmy Broderick, who, along with his daughter, Dr Elaine, went above and beyond for him and us as a family in recent weeks.
It was easy to see why our Grandad spoke of President Elect Joe Biden in his final days because, unknown to him, they shared many similarities.
Both are proud Mayo men, pillars in their respective communities, pioneers all their lives and both met adversity head-on and with the bravest of faces.
President Elect Biden was asked in an interview last May what advice he had for families grieving a loss due to Covid-19. It feels more relevant than ever right now.
“There will come a day, I promise you, when the thought of your loved one brings a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eye,” he said at the time.
With all the smiles our Grandad provided us during his long and happy life, those words have never rung truer.

Ger Flanagan

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