How Cian Got His Groove Back

I’ve always battled against the ideals and requirements of the G.A.A. I never had a problem with the ideas of friendship, community and togetherness. It was the hidden agendas that I fought. The coaches who played the local lads; the local lads who thought they were kings because their father was a coach; the referees who weren’t up to the standard but became God on the pitch; the trainers who felt that their chosen sport should transcend all life. I was cynical and had fallen out of love with the sport that, in all honesty, I had fallen out of love with years ago. It had taken me eight years to realise that I could not pretend to give any bit of myself to G.A.A. anymore. It took me six months to realise I would never give up again.

Three or four of us sat in the hall out in Blarney. Our coaches and manager sat in front of us behind the desk.
“I know ye have exams, lads, but we expect ye to be at training and playing games.”
He might as well have used the drill to get the nails deep into the coffin. I wasn’t the most academic of young fellas, but the pendulum swung clear of G.A.A. for the first time ever.
I stopped playing. Ultimatums piss me off. I went to college, drank the absolute shit out of it for my first semester, and then returned to play for Rathpeacon.

I started off OK in my first year. I underestimated the physicality and skill level of Junior B, mind. We won a few cups and I didn’t play horribly. So that was grand. What followed was four more years of the odd good game followed by several mediocre ones. I went to America, played OK there in the Junior league but again, the desire tailed off. Blaming others – coaches, players, referees – was my strength. Admitting that my own desire and drive was the problem was not.
I came home last year relishing the chance to play in Ireland for the mighty Rathpeacon again. Pints down the Squire with the lads made me excited to return to Rathpeacon Pitch, Ballyphehane’s field and Ballinlough to try and score a winning point or shut out a Whitechurch attack. Halfway into the year, after a depressing friendly in which nine fellas showed up, I threw in the towel. But, in typical Cian Dalton fashion, I didn’t tell anyone and just stopped showing up. I let the anxiety build up inside of me until it was too late and I accepted that I had let everybody down.
Except I didn’t. I was down the local over Christmas and back training in Feb and while I was slagged a bit, nobody cared. The club is more than just the sport. I still struggle with texting and letting people know if I can’t do something but I know that at training and out on the pitch it won’t matter. The club is a community. 15 lads that just want to see everyone else do well.

This title was sitting in my drafts for months. I had an idea of a comedy article where I cursed the coronavirus for depriving the world of my return to Junior B. I wrote that too, which you can read here. As I wrote, it transformed into a self-examination, which became this post, where I realised the importance that GAA has in my life. For an organisation, community and set of sports that frustrate me so much, it holds such a special place in my heart. I may still battle my need to play and the bureaucracy that I hate, but I miss it now that it’s gone and this time, it wasn’t my choice.
There are so many things I am looking forward to; the banter in the dressing room before training/ a game; the collective moan when the coach tells you to do one more set of running drills; the universal laughter when someone gets sick at the first training back; and of course, most importantly, the feeling of winning a game. Scratch that: the feeling alone of playing a competitive game. I can’t wait to get back out there. We’ll give it one more year, lads.

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