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Tonight’s the night.
An outsider in the field, I’ve been nominated for Sports Book of the Year, up against celebrities like Donncha O’Callaghan, Ronnie Whelan, Tony McCoy and Nicolas Roche, not to mind Paul Kimmage, who I am in awe of.
The awards ceremony will be held at a black-tie dinner in the RDS tonight, with our new president presiding.
Win or lose, I’m not sure that awards are the best way to judge a book – I’d rather see people interested in sport buy all six nominated books and make up their own minds.
But I’m nothing if not competitive, despite being the outsider by some distance a part of me really hopes I win, and not for the prize or prestige or anything else.
It’s because I feel that our story – the story of the Irish community abroad and how Gaelic games helps us keep it together – really needs to be told.
With a massively expanded media landscape, it can be very difficult to make your voice heard these days, and despite a slew of interviews and media appearances there are still people out there who don’t know that the GAA’s reach extends far beyond our borders.
It is for them that I wrote “A Parish Far From Home”.
It is written for those who keep it lit, as Hector would say. It is for the mothers and fathers, the families and friends of our emigrants that I put these words on paper.
So tonight when I put on the black tie and head for the RDS I’ll be fulfilling one of the first sentences I wrote when I started on this journey.
“We had a dream. And in sport, if you don’t have a dream, you don’t have anything.”
On Thursday, my countrymen will choose my president. I don’t get a say.
Somehow, by leaving the country, I have renounced my right to have a say in who represents me.
That I and thousands like me are essentially Ireland’s travelling sales people makes no difference.
Our country can call on us for our support, but doesn’t feel the need to ask for our opinion.
I don’t do conditional support. I believe in the principles on which our state was founded on, and for all our faults I believe in the innate goodness and beauty and talent of our people.
I would ask our next president, whoever it may be, to consider giving us a voice. Most of us will never waver in our support for our country. All we ask is a little in return.
Tuesday is the final day for expatriate voting at www.ballotbox.ie – this is YOUR chance to make your point.
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.
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.
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.