Leitrim kicks off its Gathering with a night in Croke Park that brought it all back home

There were a lot of reasons to love Leitrim in the Celtic Suite of the Cusack Stand in Croke Park on Wednesday evening last.

There were a lot of reasons to love Leitrim in the Celtic Suite of the Cusack Stand in Croke Park on Wednesday evening last.

This Sporting Life - Colin Regan

The night was officially about the launch of the 27th annual fundraising drive of the Leitrim Supporter’s Club (Dublin branch). As a player I always appreciated the lengths these loyal supporters from ‘The Special Branch’ went to in order to attend every Leitrim match they could. At away games in Limerick in the cavernous Gaelic Park their shouts of support often shocked and shamed the few locals who came out to support the home team. In Waterford their green and gold flags stood out like tricolours in the middle of Carnivale in Rio.

On our run to the final of the Tommy Murphy in 2006 they were there for the away wins over Tipperary and Carlow when the competition hadn’t even registered in the lives of many others from the county. Down through the years I became good friends with Eamon Duignan, who was at its helm for countless years, and Mike Feeney, who took over as chairman last year and when Mike asked myself and Fergal McGill to try and rustle up some more Dublin-based Leitrimites (particularly of a younger generation) to attend the event I was delighted to get involved.

Having Seamus O’Rourke as our special guest was always going to draw a crowd and make the night an easy sell so we set about getting a bit of a buzz going on Facebook and we asked those we knew from Leitrim to ask those they knew from Leitrim to come along to Croke Park and be part of what we were sure would be a great night.

It’s always hard to know how many people to expect for such a night and as Mike said in his address when he first came into the Celtic Suite he was worried there were too many seats laid out (about 200) and the place would look empty if they weren’t all occupied. But by the time Seamus took the mic and had the room erupting in outrageous laughter at his equally outrageous renditions and recitations there were an additional 20 or 30 people taking up the standing room only at the back.

When you factor in the fanatics from home who boarded a bus to make the trip to Dublin, or the three men from my own club – Gareth and Simon Foley and Micheal McGowan – who drove the round six hour round trip from Kinlough, you get a fuller feel for the sort of fantastic supporters Leitrim has to boast about.

While the night was primarily about kick starting one of the most vital annual elements of fundraising that ensures the Leitrim County Board can cater for the needs of its various teams, as with most gatherings of Leitrim people it was about much more than just that. It was a great inter-generational gathering of locals and natives and emigrants and migrants who have an unbreakable common bond that binds them all together – a fervent love for the place they call home no matter where they now might live: Leitrim. (In fact you say it was, in our own special way, Leitrim’s first unofficial event as part of The Gathering.)

On the social media page I created to publicise the event and recruit some new souls I wrote a short piece about what it means to follow Leitrim and to come from our fine wee county. Some people in attendance last Wednesday who had seen it suggested I should reproduce it in my Observer column for the benefit of those who do not engage in such silly pursuits as social media. So here it is:

‘This isn’t just about the GAA, it’s about identity. It’s about why you always cheer for the underdog; it’s about haydogs and tipping trailers; it’s about believing in something that’s worth believing in; it’s about coming from the best little county in the whole feckin’ country; it’s about community; it’s about standing on the hairy shoulders of our forefathers; it’s about knowing your neighbours instead of fearing them; it’s about the craic down the back of the bus; it’s about Lough Melvin and Lough Allen; it’s about ‘27 and ‘94; it’s about cultured culchies; it’s about Sheemore; it’s about always being the first person from Leitrim one of your new friends has ever met; it’s about all the backs we broke in the bog; it’s about 2,000 people singing inappropriate songs in Cartown after the semi-final in 2000; it’s about being sentimental for square bales; it’s about Ruined Liver; it’s about training in the Pheonix Park with Frank Darcy; it’s about Love Leitrim; it’s about being part of the biggest clan in the Big Smoke; it’s about New York in May; it’s about the Mart in Dowra; it’s about the shortest coastline on the island; it’s about John McGahern and knowing what it means to be blessed amongst women; it’s about trying to see the driver of every car you see around the country with an LM number plate in case you know them; it’s about the mighty Shannon; it’s about An Dobharchú; it’s about the first salmon of the year; it’s about invisible St. Patrick’s Day Parades in Keshcarrigan; it’s about the Hideout Bar on the 3rd Sunday of September; it’s about Fenagh Abbey; it’s about knowing the worth of a good pair of wellies; it’s about the Lurganboys on Tour; it’s about Charlie and his Rock ‘n’ Roll kids; it’s about doing it for all the people that wish they were still back home in Lovely Leitrim; and most importantly it’s about the Boys in Green and Gold.’