2020 - how can we describe it?
Unexpected, Incomparable, Challenging, Difficult, Lonely? Indeed, we can use any and all of these words, and more. It has now become a rather tiresome cliché to describe it as a year like no other, nevertheless it is difficult to argue.
Our daily vocabulary has been bolstered with new phrases such as “working from home”, “Zoom meetings”, “wear your mask”, “sanitise your hands” and, perhaps most alien to our players, “non-contact training”. That said, people have responded with a positive attitude and if we can continue to do so then hopefully we can see off Covid-19 in the months ahead.
The year started on a sombre note with the sad passing of one of Longwood GAA’s true greats, the late Fergus Foran. It struck a poignant note that, on the day of his passing, over in Páirc Tailteann a number of Longwood’s current crop of stars were representing the Royal County in the National Football and Hurling Leagues. It was a path that Fer had trodden on many a day.
Recognised as one of the finest exponents of our national games, Fergus Foran togged out for Longwood from the mid 1940’s until his last appearance in a Longwood jersey in the Intermediate Hurling Final of 1968 when Longwood defeated Martinstown. He also togged out for short periods with Ballivor in senior football and with Trim in senior hurling. Along the way he picked up almost every available club honour in both hurling and football. In addition, he collected several inter-county hurling honours, most notably as a member of the Meath Hurling team of 1948.
After his illustrious playing career came to an end, Fergus devoted years of service to his club. He served as club chairman in 1985 and 1986. He also coached and managed teams for his beloved Longwood for a time. The huge crowd that gathered at Fer’s funeral was testament to the man. Gaels from all around Meath and beyond the county boundaries came to pay their respects and offer condolences to the Foran family. Gone but never to be forgotten, a true hero of Longwood and Meath. Rest in peace Fer.
Looking back, it’s hard to believe that back in January, GAA clubs were preparing for what they assumed would be another busy season. While we were aware of an outbreak of a potentially serious virus in China few, if any, could have foretold the impact it would have across the world.
For the first couple of months, we soldiered on, hoping for the best but fearing the worst.
By mid-March, the virus had reached our shores. Schools were closed, GAA clubs quickly followed. It was unquestionably the right thing to do. Sport, while important, had to take a back seat. The health and well-being of our people was the primary concern.
Longwood GAA's club grounds became eerily quiet. Games and training sessions were cancelled. The community was required to restrict their movements to within 2km of their front doors. Cars remained parked up for weeks on end as people were encouraged to work from home. Strange times indeed.
Féile na nGael was one of the early sporting casualties, much to the disappointment of Longwood’s young hurlers who had been due to host a visiting club from Mayo. Hopefully, they will get to enjoy this fabulous festival of hurling in the coming year.
As the pandemic took hold, Longwood’s fantastic community spirit came to the fore as people volunteered to help the most vulnerable in our parish and beyond. Whether it was to deliver groceries or collect medical prescriptions, the WhatsApp groups were buzzing with people offering to help their neighbours. The worst of situations brought out the very best in people.
Fundraising reached new levels across the months of April, May and June. Rather than feeling sorry for themselves, our community strove to help those less fortunate. The Longwood family helped raise awareness and funds for many incredibly worthwhile causes; our senior players got involved in the 65 Roses Challenge for Cystic Fibrosis Ireland while the community also rowed in behind a couple of heart-breaking appeals – “Do It For Dan” and “A Better Life for Livie” – for young children who required life-saving medical procedures which could only be performed in the United States.
But perhaps the most impressive fundraiser of all was undertaken by our Juvenile Club Treasurer, Hugh Hannon. Hugh set himself the herculean task of walking 100km in just 24 hours (I’m tired just typing the words!). Saturday 30th May was selected as D-Day. The route was drawn up, not an easy task given that the restrictions in place; 10 laps of 8.5 km combined with 2 laps of 7.5 km with the walk due to commence at midnight as Friday became Saturday.
It is testament to (i) Hugh's popularity and (ii) Longwood's appetite to support a good cause, that Hugh had walking companions for each and every step along the way. In tag-team style, a different group of walkers (some pictured below) joined Hugh for each lap. Most were pretty tired at the end of their lap, there's no doubt that Hugh was also tired but after a couple of minutes rest, off he went on the next circuit. And he repeated the process again and again and again...........
As darkness fell late on Saturday night, it became apparent that Hugh was going to complete his venture within the 24 hours. Applause echoed around the village as friends and neighbours lined the roads to show their appreciation for their local hero. The bar was set very high, but the task was completed. That he did so is both amazing and inspirational and we were all justifiably proud of Hugh. The fact that he has raised over €5,000 for a number of charities - Laura Lynn Children's Hospice, The Irish Hospice Foundation, Pieta House and Bumbleance - only served to enhance his achievement and our sense of pride.
As we moved through June, some green shoots appeared; club championship draws were made, fixture planners were circulated to clubs. What had been a far distant light at the end of a very dark tunnel, was becoming brighter with each passing day.
More good news arrived with the re-opening of club pitches and news that training could restart. Rarely have players, young and old, been so excited to return to training. Games were to recommence in late July with Championship to get underway in August. The sting in the tail was that these games would have to take place, initially at least, behind closed doors.
But before any of this could happen, a raft of Covid-19 procedures and practices had to be introduced. Our hard-working club executive left no stone unturned as they installed hand sanitisers, ensured appropriate signage was in place, purchased equipment to sanitise gear, footballs and sliotars before and after training/matches. Most important of all, the club worked hard to educate players, coaches and all members on the need for absolute compliance with the new guidelines. The virus would not respect our love of all things GAA. We needed to remain vigilant at all times.
All players were obliged to complete a Return to Play form and this was to be renewed before every training session and game. The new normal had arrived. As expected, players, coaches and parents fully embraced the guidelines.
When the games finally kicked off, the sense of relief and excitement was palpable. Longwood’s Intermediate Footballers performed well in their championship campaign. After a slow start against Meath Hill, they trailed by seven points at half-time, the boys clawed the deficit back before running out of time and ultimately losing by just two points. The second round saw the boys travel the short journey to Clonard where they would square up to 2019 JFC champions, Clann Na nGael. Longwood played very well and looked set for victory only to be denied by a last gasp goal.
Despite being out of the running for championship glory, the final group game took on great importance as defeat would see the boys being dragged into a relegation play-off. We needn’t have worried as Longwood, up against our old rivals from Ballinlough, produced their best display of the campaign to ensure their IFC status for next year. The displays of Sean Coloe and Ryan Moore on this particular day will live long in the memory of the small number of supporters permitted to attend the game.
Back Row (L-R): Damien Healy, Brendan Hanna, Bob Maguire, Anthony Healy, Gavin Griffin, Aaron Ennis, Thomas Coloe, Harry Hogan, Sean Coloe, Jim Mahon
Front Row (L-R): Conor Molloy, Edward Maguire, Adam O’Brien, Johnny Furey, Mickey Burke, Cathal Campbell, Jacob Baldwin, Ryan Moore, Ross Kerrigan, Karl Ennis, Kevin Maguire
Longwood’s Senior Hurlers started their campaign with a local derby against Killyon. Playing against the wind in the opening half, Longwood kept their opponents within touching distance and trailed by only three points at the interval. The second half saw the Healy brothers, Anthony and Damien, exert more control on the game and Longwood eventually edged home by 0-16 to 0-14.
The second round saw the boys produce yet another spirited display against Trim, ultimately losing out by 3 points in an excellent game of hurling. This meant that Longwood would face Na Fianna in SHC quarter-finals just a week later. For whatever reason, the team just did not perform on the day. It certainly wasn’t for lack of effort as the players never stopped trying but things just didn’t click and Na Fianna ran out deserving winners in the end. A disappointing end to what initially looked as though it could be a promising campaign.
Back Row (L-R): Brendan Hanna, Damien Healy, Gavin Griffin, Sean Coloe, Anthony Healy, Bob Maguire, Jim Dorran, Aaron Ennis, Johnny Furey, Karl Ennis
Front Row (L-R): Thomas Coloe, Ross Kerrigan, Kevin Maguire, Enda Dixon, Mickey Burke, Ryan Moore, Barry Ennis, Cathal Campbell
Our juvenile teams continued to perform well during 2020. Despite the loss of Féile, our young hurlers, in particular our U13 panel, played some wonderful hurling during the shortened season. After progressing out of the group stages of their division, the boys won an exhilarating semi-final away to Boardsmill in near darkness. Ultimately the boys lost out to a strong Kiltale team in the final which, while disappointing at the time, cannot take away from the fact that these young players have a bright future ahead of them.
Longwood’s Minor Footballers also performed strongly in 2020. Securing four out of a possible six points ensured they finished top of their championship group. Their opening round victory, away to Round Towers (who would go on to win the championship) demonstrated the enormous potential that these boys possess. Alas, injuries were to catch up with them and they lost out to Dunderry at the semi-final stages. But with a significant number of the panel still eligible for Minor Football next season, there is much to be optimistic about for the future. We look forward to seeing many of these boys playing for our adult teams in the years ahead. A special note of congratulations to Billy Hogan who went on to represent Meath in the Leinster Minor Football Championship. Comprehensive victories over Dublin, Westmeath and Laois has seen the team qualify for the provincial final and we wish Billy and his team mates the very best of luck in the final.
Our U13 Footballers warrant a special mention, showing real progress throughout the season, they finished their league campaign with a number of impressive victories. It was due reward for this group of players and their mentors.
Our younger players from Nursery right through U7, U9 and U11 age brackets, continue to display a love of hurling and football as they play with their friends every Wednesday/Friday/Saturday. The pride they take in wearing the Longwood jersey is a joy to see.
We owe a huge debt of gratitude to all our juvenile coaches who nurture our young players week after week throughout the season.
It has been an incredibly difficult year for all our coaches. More demands than ever before have been placed on them in relation to Covid procedures, but they have taken on the extra responsibility without a murmur of complaint. We thank them all for their commitment and dedication.
And finally, a special message of thanks to all who keep the wheels turning in our club; our loyal and generous sponsors, the club members and volunteers who maintain our club facilities in pristine condition for our membership, our club lotto sellers and supporters, our club executive who have ably navigated us through such a turbulent year, the list goes on and on. The club simply could not function without everybody’s co-operation and work ethic.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh.
And so we say Slán to 2020 and Céad Míle Fáilte to 2021. A further lockdown tells us we have not yet reached the finish line but positive news of a vaccine, gives us hope. We will clutch on to this hope and look forward to better days ahead.
Maigh Dearmhaí abú!