Saint Patrick’s journey to Ireland is similar to that of the four teams who will contest Sunday’s AIB All-Ireland club championship finals. OK, you must use your imagination a little to see those similarities but to those of us who possess an open mind, it is possible.
When Patrick was sixteen he was taken from his home and was sent to Ireland as a slave but managed to escape and return to his family six years later. Now I know what you are thinking, but bear with me and all will be revealed. Patrick remarkably returned to Ireland as an ordained bishop and while little else is known about where exactly he did work or preach, the call he answered was worth the struggle in the end.
Two letters survive which are generally accepted to have been written by Saint Patrick himself. The following is a short excerpt from the most important, the Declaration.
“I saw a man coming, as it were from Ireland. His name was Victoricus, and he carried many letters, and he gave me one of them. I read the heading: "The Voice of the Irish". As I began the letter, I imagined in that moment that I heard the voice of those very people who were near the wood of Foclut, which is beside the western sea—and they cried out, as with one voice: "We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.”
Four teams will open their eyes on Sunday morning knowing that that afternoon, they could be AIB All-Ireland champions. They will have battled and struggled many times before but will have failed to have even come close to where they now are. Ballymun Kickhams of Dublin take on St. Brigid’s of Roscommon and St. Thomas’s take on Kilcormac/K of Offaly. The journey these four teams have made to reach this point is of epic proportion in itself. Whether it is the struggle of St. Brigid’s and legends like Frankie Dolan who have knocked on the door before but failed at the fell at the final hurdle or the majestic rise to glory like a phoenix from the flames of St. Thomas’s. The men of Ballymun and Kilcormac too will hope that they can mimic the feats of their fellow county men in previous campaigns. All four teams deserve to win in their own right but sport does not subscribe to sentiment.
The similarity to St. Patrick’s journey is definitely fitting if a bit far-fetched in reality. But the overall concept of desire and passion for a cause out muscling the struggle is quite appropriate and anyone who has ever played the game will understand this. It wasn’t as if these four teams suddenly decided that they wanted to reach the AIB All-Ireland club finals, no. This has been an epic journey that has spanned decades for most of them and for another a chance to make up for falling short before.
The passion for the club is such that the good will and the encouragement offered to the teams from their friends and family is like the ‘voice of the Irish’ Saint Patrick had heard appealing to him to walk among them. The appetite for success those who have been starved of it for years is immense and the feeling of elation when the final whistle blows will be truly amazing for the eventual winners. The bitterness felt by those who will fall short will also sting in equal measure but the fact that they have reached the summit will give them real belief where once lay wishful thinking. We celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day on the day our patron saint died. We celebrate the AIB Club finals on the same day when we toast the top club teams in our land and take pride in how healthy and well our own games are.
So as you journey to the finals this weekend or watch on at home or in a public house, bear in mind that each and every individual on the field and affiliated to the team have sacrificed a lot to be there and that their journey has been a long and pain staking one. But like Saint Patrick himself as he returned to Ireland and into the unknown, the journey was ultimately worth the struggle.
Gach rath ar na fóirne uilig i bPáirc an Chrócaigh ar Lá Fhéile Pádraig.