“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster And treat those two impostors just the same …. Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son.”
This is the famous extract from Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If”, a copy of the poem was presented to the great Tony O’Reilly by his father before he began his final year of rugby at Belvedere College in Dublin. In the years to come, O’Reilly would always keep this extract close to his heart.
Over the past two weeks, when a spare moment presented itself, I have been totally engrossed in the book “The Maximalist” by Matt Cooper, O’Reilly’s unauthorised biography, following his rise and fall from starring as a British and Irish Lion to becoming Ireland’s richest man, to then ultimately losing it all, declaring bankruptcy in the Bahamas in November last year.
Having first encountered this line some years ago during my time as a student at St Patrick’s Grammar School, Armagh, it resonated at the final whistle on Saturday. For more times than I care to remember, Down have always had the upper hand on us, dishing out some hammerings that left me questioning what was the point of it all?
This current Armagh group is different, however, and it is the total belief possessed by the group that was the main catalyst for our victory on Saturday. Having played Down in the first round of the league this year and having been on the wrong side of a two-point defeat, we knew what was required to turn the tide and in my mind on Saturday, we epitomised the saying “fratrem in armis” (brothers in arms). It really was an unprecedented turnaround for a team that had only three years previously been fighting for its very survival in the division.
The choice of field for the game in Dowdallshill in Dundalk was an odd one, as there had, for a brief moment, been some suggestion that the game would be played as a double header in Croke Park along with the Division 2A final. This was not to be however and as I ran on to the field for the warm up, Michael Johnston, the Down manager, commented that it was an awful field to host the game. I shouted back that it reminded me of playing on the silage field at home and that it would be no problem to us Armagh boys.
In my experience, the game is won or lost in the warm up; as a team you are either switched on or you’re not. Conor Corvan hit me a shoulder in one of the drills and nearly landed me on my backside and it was at that moment I knew we were ready.
The game that followed was one were again the strength and depth of the panel was plain to see: the beauty of where we are as a county is the level of quality not on the field but on the bench. The likes of Adam Toal, Paddy McGrane, Paddy Kelly, Stevie Keenan, Pauric Hughes, Liam Woods and Dylan McKenna to name just a few, would grace any Armagh team in any other year but this season, the competition for places is unparalleled.
When the final whistle went, to see the subs running on to the field and the delirium of it all was something very special. It was extra special to be embraced at the end by Paul Duggan, a great servant to Armagh hurling and a man whose passion for Armagh hurling knows no bounds.
On a personal level, the real joy for me was seeing the faces of the players and managers when I lifted the trophy. We have put in a tremendous amount of effort so far this year and the win on Saturday was testament to the dedication and single mindedness of the group of players. Being an Armagh hurler is by no means the most glamorous title in the GAA but the reaction to our win on social media and the various forums showed that there are a lot of very passionate Armagh hurling people out there. The hashtag #ArmaghIsAHurlingCounty was even trending on Twitter at one point, or so I’m told.
After the game I sat in the changing rooms watching the players embrace and take photos with the trophy. The management team were busy reassembling the table in the middle of the room that had been rearranged through some motivational techniques during halftime, most of which involved broken hurling sticks.
As I sat there, I thought again of the words of Kipling, cherished by O’Reilly, and recalling the hammerings that Down had dished out to us in the past, I thought to myself: “They can keep the Earth and everything that is in it because this particular Triumph means more than the world to me”
To end this column, it would be remiss of me not to mention and wish all the very best to my sister Olivia and her new fiancé Thomas McArdle. As I was travelling home on the team bus on Saturday, I got a call from my sister who had been staying at Dromoland Castle Estate in Co. Clare over the Easter break. A lifelong supporter of Armagh and Middletown, having played camogie for both, she was following the game throughout the day on Saturday and Thomas had to wait his turn before popping the question.
As a reluctant supporter at many of our games this year, my future brother-in-law now knows all too well that although true love may last forever, at least in the Carvill household, it would have to wait until after the hurling was over.