Helping the penny to drop

The author with broadcaster Matt Cooper, presenter of The Last Word on Today FM.

There is one moment that occurs in every interview or every conversation about the book.

It comes when the person I’m talking to realises that playing Gaelic football – wherever you may be – is not actually that weird after all.

It’s who we are.

It’s what we do.

And where we do it should make no difference.

When that particular penny drops, it all becomes clear. When we leave Ireland, we do not leave our Irishness behind us.

We take it with us wherever we go.

Then the conversation moves quickly on to the people, and that is where the real story is. As I’ve said many times, it might be my book, but it’s our story.

The other great thing has been the love and support of so many people – friends, family and total strangers- who see the value in what we have done and wish us every success with it.

I’ve met a lot of people this week that I haven’t seen for many years, and to hear their words of encouragement and support replenishes and boosts the energy levels.

Much as I miss my family back in Stockholm, this needs to be done, if only to let everyone know that it can be done – that we can go abroad and succeed and not lose our sense of who we are.

And after this visit, we will redouble our efforts. In doing so, we will try harder than ever to help our people back home in any way we can.

Enjoying the silence

The first half-dozen books arrived, and the Gaels were like moths to a flame. The showers were avoided after training on Tuesday as the lads jumped in their cars to race to my apartment and snap up a copy.

For now, I’m enjoying the silence as they get to grips with what I’ve written about them. Because that silence might end abruptly when they see what I’ve written about them.

It’s not that I’ve deliberately written anything bad about anyone; it’s just that you can never tell how people will interpret things, especially things about themselves.

The first to read it were some of those most involved in the the story, and thankfully the reaction has so far been positive from them, and even if that reaction can’t be guaranteed from everyone, it feels like a good start.

 

And so it begins…

The courier arrived this morning with the first copies of the book and, as yet another dream came true for me, once again I felt like the luckiest man in the world.

This game and this life and these people are a gift that just keeps on giving, and at the same time as I’m very proud and humbled and grateful, I feel an enormous sense of responsibility as the book hits the shelves.

Even though it’s my book, it’s our story, and it’s not just those of us in Stockholm or Sweden or Scandinavia either. It’s a story of Irish people triumphing over adversity all over the world.

I’m looking forward to giving a new perspective on our country, our games and our people. These are exciting times.

On Saturday I head back to Ireland to begin promoting it, but first I’m looking forward to presenting it to my two daughters after dinner tonight to see what they say.

Because even though I now have the book in my hands, this story is not over yet.

Not by a long way.

Was it worth it?

The John Aherne trophy- staying in Stockholm for another year.

Every midnight call. Every e-mail. Every sms saying “I can’t come to training”.

Every bruising training session. Every pulled calf muscle. Every tight hamstring.

Every night spent pacing a pitch in the darkness.

Every kit order. Every bank transfer. Every missed DHL delivery.

Every referee. Every player. Every volunteer.

Every missed point. Every fluffed chance. Every bad bounce.

Every late night. Every early morning. Everything inbetween.

Yesterday we did it.

We retained our crown against some fantastic footballers, in some horrible conditions.

Was it worth it?

Damn right it was. And it’ll be worth it again next year. And the year after that.

Twas the night before championship…

… and for the first time, we get to sleep in our own beds.

Not for long of course. We’ve all to be there before half nine to finish the last of the preparations- put up the tents, hang the nets, set up the PA and a million other small jobs that make for a great day.

It’s our first home tournament, and we intend to make it brilliant for everyone- but the best way to do that is to win matches on the pitch.

Despite all the work that’s gone into it, I won’t be too bothered if the bar tent takes off like something out of the Wizard of Oz as long as we’re standing there with armfuls of trophies tomorrow night.

I’m looking forward to this one. With three teams in two competitions, there’ll be plenty of playing time for all and plenty of chances to contribute. There are nerves, but not the bad kind- just enough to keep me on my toes.

A year’s work has come down to this, and it’s basically between ourselves and Malmö for the title- whoever gets furthest wins.

We started training back in January, coaching the girls, bringing in the new lads, running, doing drills, eating, driving around at all hours of the day and night sorting stuff out.

Was it all worth it?

Check back here tomorrow night and see.

First in, best dressed

It’s all happening for the Gaels this week, on and off the field.

Tonight is the last training session before the championship at Årstafältet on Saturday, and yesterday the book became available for pre-order in Sweden via the Bokus web site.

As if that wasn’t enough, today our sportswear supplier O’Neills launched the Stockholm Gaels range of merchandise on their website.

Great achievements for our club and we’re all very proud, but it’ll all count for very little if we don’t do the business on the pitch on Saturday…

Let the games begin…

Thanks to Con Murphy, Robbie, Micil and the rest at RTE for having me on Sport at 7 on RTE last night to talk about the Scandinavian Championship, the book, Pat Gilroy and the rest. If you missed it, you should be able to check out the podcast here:

http://www.rte.ie/sport/gaa/championship/av_index.html

Anyone who knows Sweden will tell you how quick they are on the uptake, and already the book is available for sale in the home of the Gaels. They might be quick, but Ciarán O’Reilly wasn’t too far behind when he became the first person in the club to buy the book! Swedes can order it here:

http://www.bokus.com/bok/9780717150182/a-parish-far-from-home/

Why Micheal might be the man for Ireland

Micheál ó Muircheartaigh - foreword (sic) to the Aras?

When I was looking for someone to write the foreword for this book, there weren’t too many suitable candidates.

It’s not that I’m choosy, it’s just that both the publisher and I didn’t want a foreword for the sake of it. We wanted someone who could add something to the story.

Broadcaster- and now possible Irish presidential candidate – Micheál ó Muircheartaigh was one of few who fit the bill.

It’s not just his lifelong love of Gaelic games, or the Irish language, or Irish culture that made him a perfect choice.

It was obvious from the moment that he got on the phone to me to discuss it that, not only did he understand what our club and our games and this book meant to us, he understood our situation as Irish people abroad trying to make a go of it.

I’m never star-struck, but I’ll admit to being nervous as I waited for him to come on the line. All that melted away as the voice of a thousand Sunday afternoons greeted me and started to ask about the Stockholm Gaels and the state of football and fishing and dog racing in Scandinavia.

Micheál has travelled all over the world to act as a guest commentator for Gaelic games played from San Francisco to Shanghai. He has handed out medals and trophies and comhgairdeagaises to players on every continent.

He has listened to our stories, our troubles and our triumphs and treated us no differently to any other club at home.

Because at the heart of it, after a long, illustrious broadcasting career based on a powerful grá for the games, Micheál understood why we have to do this. Even at the age of 80, the love burns as brightly as it ever has.

I know nothing of Micheál’s politics so I cannot recommend that anyone vote for him. But what I do know is that you will travel far and wide to find a more intelligent, sensitive soul with such an instinctive understanding of the Irish people.

Loved by many and respected by most, he is the kind of non-political figure, a father of the nation, that we could all rally behind.

And just as he has described so many marches to glory in the past, he might finally feature in one of his own – up the North Circular Road, and all the way to the Phoenix Park.

 

You heard it here first

Dublin hurling boss Anthony Daly- next stop Shanghai?

Having watched the Dublin hurlers perform heroically yesterday, winning a minor but losing a senior All-Ireland semifinal, I found myself wondering why this isn’t the most popular game on the planet.

On a weekend where the Premiership started with a whimper with barely an incident of note and the Irish rugby team went through the motions against France, Croke Park became a sporting Colosseum. Even hurling’s most ardent critics would find it hard to fault the display of strength, speed, skill and sheer bravery that was witnessed there yesterday.

Given the right circumstances, I have no doubt that hurling could become a massively popular sport overseas, and the emergence of Dublin as a hurling power is ample evidence.

Here was a city whose indifference to hurling for the last forty years was worn like a badge of pride; it was a “country” game, nothing for the sophisticated citizens of the capital.

But those who believed put the structures in place, coached the kids and oversaw the development of the game in every detail. The result is not just a testimony to their work; it is a vital component in keeping the game competitive and adding to the drama.

The rest of the world is as oblivious to hurling as Dublin once was, but that could all change should the same approach be taken and the time and money invested in bringing it to their attention.

After all, there are many corners of the world in which sports based on the stick and ball are popular- ice hockey and unihoc are huge in Scandinavia and North America, and the likes of lacrosse and field or land hockey are played on American college campuses and dusty Asian sports fields alike.

If we could somehow put aside the notion that Gaelic games are really only for the Irish for a while, we could examine the possibility of really making an effort to spread them to the four corners of the earth.

When my imagination is allowed to run wild I look at my team-mate on the Gaels, Guo Guodong of China, and I think of how brilliant it would be to see him and his countrymen come to Croke Park for the Hurling World Cup in 2024.

Make no mistake- these are our games and we love them, but they are not lessened in any way by sharing them with the rest of the world.

It’s about… 2:46 long.