A few weekends back, myself and my cousin Siobhán travelled to the Bronx for a High School football game between Xavier and Fordham Prep. It was a mild evening in late October and I rushed through Grand Central to catch the Metro North, not looking up, as I always do, at that gorgeous ceiling.
Siobhán, after recently graduating from NCAD, had just moved to New York with her boyfriend Kyle. I had been here for a year, working as an assistant in a small theatre in Hell’s Kitchen. We share a grandfather, Fergus Ó Tighearnaigh, who passed away in 2009. Fergus' fourth child Fionán, moved to New York in the late eighties. His son Eamon was lining out at safety for Xavier.
That same morning, I listened from my room in Queens to a live stream of the Dublin Senior Hurling Final. Oisín Langan was shouting just a little louder for a Kilmacud Crokes attack than a Cuala one, while, earlier, Des Cahill, a Cualaman, quipped that the Sunday Sport studio would remain an unbiased space throughout the broadcast.
Through Twitter and texts and the stream I was listening to, the scoreline began to come in - Cuala braved a second half comeback from Crokes and secured a second consecutive Dublin Senior championship, their fifth in total.
My brother, Colum, didn't get a run out on the day, but Siobhán's brothers Cian, who started full back, and Con, who came on with 10 to go, had a big say in yesterday's result. Cian and Con are both going out with Kilmacud stars, Molly and Aoife. One of Cian's oldest friends Colm Cronin, who scored the decisive goal, is going out with Síofra, whose brother Ronan lined out for Crokes at fullback. Coláistí Eoin and Íosagáin knit many of these relationships together, which was well-documented in an interview with principal Proinsias De Poire in The Irish Times the day of the game.
It was our grandfather, Fergus who took the greatest interest in the Irish language and it was for this reason that we all attended the school. Fergus sent all his boys to Coláiste Eoin, including Fionán. Fergus also spent many years volunteering as stats-man for the Cuala seniors - many of those years were spent in the wilderness.
His meticulous notes and folios were things to marvel at. Always beside him at these games was John Hennessy, another club stalwart, who passed away the week before the final and whose absence was well and truly missed that evening in Parnell Park.
Siobhán and I sat watching the football game, trying to decipher the rules at the same time as our brothers, cousins and clubmates sat down for pints in Dalkey. We had been receiving texts and photos all day. From what we could decipher, Eamon, too, played a stormer in front of us, and formed a key presence in his high school’s defence. Xavier won well in the end.
Since then, Cuala have comfortably landed in successive Leinster Finals after wins against Borris - Kilcotton of Laois and St. Mullins of Carlow. My youngest brother Ruairí and Cillian ‘Jambo’ Cronin, younger brother of Colm, have for the last two games put together a band of young supporters, The Cuala Ultras, and have mustered enough excitement to power the borough.
When travelling to Carlow last weekend they chartered a bus and got Paddy Murdoch, who’s been with the club for thirty years, to be the designated adult. Paddy’s wife Niamh gave birth to their third child last week. Young Tom Murdoch was appointed honorary president of the Cuala Ultras on Monday last. That along with a retweet from former Irish International Stephen Elliot, has kept all the young Cuala supporters in great form ahead of the final against O’Loughlin Gaels this coming weekend. (Their take on the Yaya/Kolo Touré chant is worth a watch).
Con and Cian continue to light up the season and Colum has been coming off the bench regularly and making a positive difference. It’s a great source of pride for my cousin, uncle and I to read articles in all the news outlets about our family, made ever more poignant by the distance.
I used to cringe when Dublin people referred to ‘The Parish’ talking about their clubs or schools. But increasingly, it makes sense. In the ever-sprawling suburbs of Dublin, and the vast metropolis of New York, sports clubs offer a sense of community that we often take for granted. The club becomes a sort of parish and, increasingly in this secular world, becomes our religion and the thing that binds us together - even members of two different clubs.
That Saturday last month was not euphoric. I listened to the final in my boxers and I was late for the game at Fordham. But it was one of those days of reflection. So far from home, from family, from the club, the strange connections and bonds that sport creates is worth a few words, at least.
The most profound and important things that make up our lives were well represented on that county final day, and on two fields different sides of the Atlantic. Sport seems to tie up the randomness of life and death, pain, joy and silliness, in a hamper that need not be balanced on the thin line between victory and defeat.
I'm not a religious man, but I do like to think that John and Fergus, reunited after these few years are looking down on this extended club season with joy and excitement - Fergus, always keeping abreast with the New York City high school football season.