Kildare 2-15 -
THE victory was historic but it was heroic in ways few could have imagined.
It was a heaven sent day and it was the least they deserved. On Friday they stood together in the sunshine for a much different and more important cause yet their heartache lay hidden behind wide eyes and beaming faces on Sunday.
Tearing around Croke Park with the Leinster Cup in his hands, Kildare panellist Craig Shannon is a bright, eyed teenager again. He is unremarkable amid the sea of happy footballers but his joy goes much deeper than the creased lines on his face. This moment is a precious gift at a time of immense sadness.
“We’ve crossed some really hard trials this week,” explained his manager Bryan Murphy in the aftermath of Kildare’s first Leinster minor football championship title in 22 years but that detail was insignificant went set against the circumstances of the previous week.
After a tough battle with cancer, Shannon’s mother had died only days earlier.
“(His) mother was buried on Friday. All the lads were at the funeral and paid their respects and Craig’s with us today, thankfully. That’s what teams are all about though,” said Murphy, who was tearful telling the tale.
“She’d been sick for a while, thankfully she’s not suffering anymore. We didn’t stop, life goes on, that’s the unfortunate thing. I lost my own mother and father this year as well. Things go on and that’s why teams are so important because teams are there for you and they pick you up when things are going down.”
It was a sentiment echoed by team selector Brian Lacey.
“There are more important things in life but the most important thing is to stick to the group whatever happens,” said the former Kildare all-star. “There’s been a lot of emotion with the panel since the start of the year. It separates sport from life. There are more important things in life and we had mentioned to them that it’s not all about today, it’s not all about the game.”
At half-time, Shannon’s name was mentioned, but even more sad news had broken before the day had even begun. An uncle of corner-forward, Chris Healy, had died during the night although his family decided not to tell him while the players had turned their phones off when they met before the game.
Healy’s man-of-the-match award, after scoring 1-3, was all the more poignant considering the news that awaited him after the final whistle. That the team produced a stunning performance as well as keeping their emotions in check for 60 minutes in the biggest game of their lives was remarkable.
“These guys have shown tremendous character over the last week,” said Murphy. “They’ve come up and they’ve responded with a performance like that out there and I know that takes character.”
Murphy, the goal-scoring hero of the 1998 Leinster final for Kildare, has given five, long years to the minor cause. There have been many heartbreaking moments along the way for him and his various sides in that time, and the emotional toll was plain to see at the final whistle.
“At half-time, he started welling up, you could see the emotion in him,” said full-back Niall Fleming.
The Cork native lost his own parents during the past 12 months and when Craig Shannon was mentioned at half-time, the tears quickly came to Murphy’s eyes.
“Kildare has given me everything,” he said, expressing a gratitude for his adopted county that was deeply sincere. “All I’m doing is giving something back and it’s an incredible feeling.”
Not for the first time, Murphy has helped a Kildare team realise the moment of a lifetime.