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There is a box of chocolates on the table.
Half its contents remain in the box. The other half?
I’ve eaten them. And I may well eat the rest before this night is out.
It’s January 13.
This has to stop.
At the end of last season, I decided pretty quickly that it wouldn’t be my last. Five goals and a grubby fistful of points and assists in eight games at the tail-end of the season had me thinking that there was one more season left.
Like a politician, I am handing this to the gods, because I haven’t got the good sense to go at a time of my own choosing.
The indoor soccer is doing its usual job of keeping me sane but I’m not fooling anyone. There’s an awful lot of arse and gut that needs to be either shifted around or disposed of altogether, and the muscles of my upper body resemble nothing more than knotted pipe-cleaners.
But that’s OK, the season doesn’t start just yet.
Before it does, I have some work to do in the pool and the gym and on the bike. Not to mention on my shooting.
I’ll also have to get the souvenir I took home from Tallinn with me sorted out.
At some point on that hot summer day last year, I went to pick the ball up and got flattened by a Helsinki Harp.
Until that moment I was delighted with their arrival on the scene, but ever since I have a click in the joint of my right hip that pops inexplicably, mostly when I’m watching TV.
I’m doing so at the moment.
The men-mountains of the NFL, all rippling muscles and powerful running, are doing their best to shame me into lifting my stuffed-turkey carcass up and out its torpor.
Tomorrow is the beginning of what I expect to be my last season as a Gaelic footballer.
And I will be documenting every painful step of it here.
It’s hard enough having a job and a family and a book to promote, without having the chance to win a bunch of trophies on the field too.
We secured the first one in August when we retained the Scandinavian championship.
Next up was the Ambassador Cup., our annual 7-a-side internal tournament which is at least as competitive and divisive as any local championship or competition.
Because the last round was cancelled, it’s now up for decision in the committee room and needless to say the lobbyists are out in force to make sure their team takes the crown.
Last of all is probably the trophy some of us want the most- a European title.
After a bad start in the Belgium tournament we have no chance of winning the championship outright this year, but there’s still the final tournament of the year in Limerick to be won.
For me, it’s the last chance saloon.
Whatever about playing in Scandinavia, there’s little chance I’ll play in Europe next year- for a guy the wrong side of 40 the physical demands of playing against Europe’s elite are too much.
Which is all the more reason to go “balls out” (as Phil Cahill put it) in Limerick and try to win it.
Everyone wants to bow out on a high, and I’m no different.
It’s a long time since I spent a full week in Sweden, and even longer since I’ve felt as humbled as I did on Saturday.
The Irish Embassy had organised a reception to acknowledge the launch of the book, and it turned into a wonderful celebration of our club and our community and our games.
Displaying all the diplomatic skill he has honed on almost 40 years in the service of our country, Ambassador Donal Hamill made sure that his last official engagement before his retirement was dedicated to the ordinary people of Ireland, and his gracious speech highlighted not just my achievement with the book, but those of the whole club.
It might sound a bit far-fetched, but I don’t like being in the spotlight for my own achievements – I’d much rather share it with the lads or the girls or both – but I had to grab the bull by the horns.
I read two extracts from the book – the first in particular I still find tremendously difficult, a year after I forst wrote the lines- and then spoke about my gratitude to everyone there, and to the club.
I finished by saying that this book is but the first chapter in a new era for the Irish in Sweden, and that there was still plenty of time for everyone to make their mark.
I wasn’t joking. The previous Thursday the unstoppable Liam Kennedy had taken three others with him to a Swedish school and spent an afternoon teaching them to play hurling and Gaelic football. The kids loved it.
Our Embassy in Stockholm is in a beautiful location, with breathtaking views over the Stockholm archipelago.
As I stood by the window in the sunshine and read from our story of our first season, a thousand miles away in Dublin the future was taking shape – three of our girls had been selected to play for the European county in a seven-a-side competition.
Later we found out they’d made it to the final.
Long before that, we’d decided that this tale is far from over.
Stream All-Ireland football final free to fans around the globe- Philip O’Connor
Author Philip O’Connor has today (Sept 14) called on the GAA and RTE to stream this Sunday’s All-Ireland Gaelic football final free to fans around the world.
The writer and Dublin GAA fan is chairman of Stockholm Gaels in Sweden, where he has lived for the last 12 years. His book about the Gaels, “A Parish Far From Home”, was recently published by Gill and Macmillan.
“The football and hurling finals are the high-point of the Irish sporting year, whether you live in Ireland or not” O’Connor said.
“It’s bad enough seeing people forced to leave the country to find jobs, but the fact that many won’t even be able to see the match online is another return to the dark days of the 80s”.
“Live video of the final is currently only streamed within Ireland via the RTE website. That means that from America to Australia, Sweden to South Africa, thousands of Irish emigrants won’t have access to the biggest game of the year.”
“Many of the 27,000 people who left the country last year will be denied a chance to see the Dubs take on Kerry,” said O’Connor, who as a schoolboy was a teammate of Dublin manager Pat Gilroy.
“Even if tickets are hard to come by, Irish people at home are well-served with TV, radio and web coverage. But for those beyond Ireland’s shores, unless you live in a big city you have little chance of seeing the game.”
“I’m calling on the GAA and the RTE to reach an agreement to lift the restrictions so the match can be watched online anywhere in the world.”
The GAA boasts some 400 clubs outside the island of Ireland, many of whom have seen a sharp upswing in membership as Irish people once again emigrate in search of a better life.
A confident O’Connor hopes that the GAA and RTE will be able to reach an agreement. “It’s been a long time since Dublin claimed an All-Ireland crown, and I’d like to see Irish people all over the world the chance to share our joy!”
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.
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.
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.
… 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.
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…
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:
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: