I’m going to tell you a story about my family. Its a fairly typical one. I think that all Irish families have family members across the world (American cousins with impossibly straight teeth, who come to Ireland annually and want to spend time in the “homestead” – what is that when its at home?), but few get the chance to spend time with absolute legends. Like my granddad’s sister Nan. She is as Wexford as Wexford can be, and yet is utterly Birmingham. Its her adopted city, a place that offered a livelihood and a job and a future for her. As a similar annual migrants back ‘home’, we were always lucky enough to coincide with Nan Haycock’s visit. She swims in the sea every single day (its not warm kids), got a second ear piercing for her 95th birthday – announcing with great joy and delight that she had to keep us all guessing, and refuses to join the local *ahem* elderly persons Sunshine Club because, well, she’s just not old. Write her off at your peril she warned. And so, she continues, this utter force of nature, who has spent her who life between Wexford and the Midlands. But she didn’t come ‘home’ this summer. Such is.
Wolfe Tones Ladies from Liverpool will take on Belgium Ladies (and shoeless Pete) tomorrow at 2pm in Pairc na hEireann in Birmingham. This is a momentous, epic and historic moment. Honestly. We’re playing championship football, 15-a-side, traversing 3 countries to head to the heart of Britain’s GAA core, to take on a team we’ve never played before, and we’ll finally see what we’re made of. Its a first of of a first of, and they’re rare and special.
Capitana Fent, Anay the Awesome and shoeless Pete have been drilling away and working towards this. We’ve all of the hours thundering up and down the pitches in VUB to add up. We’ve the of the kilometres travelled to tournaments the length and breadth of the Benelux, the eggs cracked and cakes baked to fundraise to pay for the pitches we train on week in week out. We’ve the hours of analytics and dissection and plotting and planning to fall back on. The emails, the logistics, the teamer, the endless doodles, we’ve our lives and loves and all of the other things that make people people. But more importantly and most tellingly, we’ve got this wonderful game. A game we love to play and play well. A love that binds. A love that bonds.
When settled, confident, we have passages of such beautiful play that it makes me want to and be able to wax lyrical about the way the ball flies, how players move faster than they have any right to, how people jump and field and catch and block balls they have no earthly right (according to the laws of physics) to be able to do so, kicking impossible angles and yet making the seemingly impossible possible. Its almost absurd. And yet it happens.
And its what holds players still on the goal line, waiting to see what’s in store next, ready to face down any challengers, and knowing that their body will be the difference, pain or no pain, in a game of millimetres and infinitesimally quick reactions.
And what makes this happen? What makes this work? I believe it’s because we love this game, and we also love each other. We choose to spend this time together, creating a home, a team, a history, and a spirit together. There are no better women. There are no better women to stand beside, proud and strong and nervous/excited – that absurdly delicious feeling of shi**ing it a bit before a match – well, its all there. My adopted family, these women I’d do anything for, they’ll be there beside me tomorrow.
And for our opposition – they’re just people too. They could be the Nan’s for their families. They could be 2nd, 3rd generation. They could be, gasp, county players! We don’t know their stories. And yet, despite all the unknowns, the knowns, and the known unknowns: we know them. We are them. They’re us. They’re people who love nothing more than chasing each other and a ball around a pitch. What could be more simple? And with that, my love song for Belgium GAA should stop. But know that come tomorrow afternoon, the paradox of being far from home, but with a family that we’ve knit together close to hand, and family members who might never make it home home right beside us, makes for a fairly emotional me. It’s going to be a great day. I can’t wait.