The late Noel Duignan, pictured in the background, watches Annaduff U17 team stretching out after the resumption of club training following the Covid-19 lockdown
Football returns to the fields of Leitrim this Friday with the meeting of Annaduff and Kiltubrid in Cloone and it is probably only when it returns do we realise just how much we've all missed it.
Sometimes we forget the pleasure of simply watching a game. We can all be fans of varying degree, rabid or passing, but you wonder sometimes do we get caught up in the wrong things?
The gamut of emotions we experience when we watch or talk about the teams we support and the game we love is mind-blowing.
From rage at the actions of the man in the middle or the hatchet man we'd secretly love to have in our colours to the outright blinkers we don when it is our own heroes who cross the line and the worship of our match winning heroes.
You only have to look at the way Dubs and Mayo folk regard the many battles of Diarmuid Connolly and Lee Keegan over the years to know how much this holds true. I'm a true blue Dub with blue tinted glasses and there were times I'd have gladly burned the Westport man but in my more lucid moments (take my word for it - I do have them) I wonder did Mayo miss a trick by turning Keegan into a destroyer rather than utilising his talents the way Jack McCaffrey was allowed free rein with the Dubs.
It is that wild emotion that drives us, causes us to invest so much of our mental well-being in what is supposed to be a healthy leisure time pursuit; causing us sleepless nights and hours, days, weeks and even months of frustration when a match we're not even playing doesn't go our way.
But I find myself wondering how often do I just enjoy a game. When you're in this business and games keep coming at you a mile a minute and seemingly every weekend of the year, you can get burned out with the prospect of yet another match.
Are we all forgetting the simple pleasure of watching a match, not really caring who won or who lost, who made mistakes or who didn't but simply enjoying the contest, the spectacle, for what it is?
That thought has been rattling around my head since the untimely passing of Noel Duignan of Annaduff and Carrick-on- Shannon last week, a man I first met when he came to cut the grass on my lawn but who, over the years, became a good friend.
Noel was a great GAA man - not because he was an Annaduff fanatic and he most certainly was. And not because he had some “fior-Gael” view that other sports didn't exist because they did and he enjoyed them but mainly because Noel simply loved gaelic football , so much so that his family smiled when recounting how Noel attended every training session Karl Foley was putting his Annaduff side through since their return to the playing fields after lockdown.
Noel followed Annaduff with religious like devotion and the exploits of his son David for Annaduff and Leitrim and daughter Aislin in the colours of Annaduff brought him immense, a pride only matched by seeing his grandkids coming through the ranks in the maroon & yellow.
It wasn't just football either for many a time I saw Noel leaning on the fence at IT Sligo watching the grandkids competing in the colours of Carrick AC and he took enormous pride in the achievements of his niece Joanna on the athletics track.
But there was nothing Noel like better than having a natter about football over the fence, be it club, county or whatever, it didn't matter if his team won or lost because Noel simply loved football. Hours were spent debating the rights and wrongs of football, who was going well, who wasn't.
It wasn't just me who enjoyed these chats with Noel, Willie Donnellan telling me over the weekend how Noel always had time for a chat down by the wire fence at whatever match they were both at.
“What games are on this weekend?” was his frequent question and hearing that an underage final or a club game from Dublin was being televised, Noel went away happy, his plans set for the evening, my lawn cut and the football discussed - job done!
Noel's last words to me was how much he was looking forward to the football returning this weekend - you'd like to think that after the long, long lockdown we've all been through that maybe we'll all be a bit more like Noel and enjoy the games for the games' sake.
To Nancy, Shirley, Aislinn and David, his grandkids and many relatives and all in the Annaduff GAA community, our deepest sympathy on your great loss. May Noel Rest In Peace.