This is a county final that it’s virtually impossible not to be drawn to. How can you not relish the menu on offer at Hyde Park this Sunday? There is the novelty of an all-northern final…the romance at the heart of this slightly unlikely pairing, the sense of an air of history shuffling in the shadows. We know the history books are waiting for the ink to drip.
The competing clubs have an aura that has something to do with where they come from. Boyle and Strokestown are two parts of our beautiful county which are steeped in history.
When my family moved to Strokestown for a couple of years in the 1980s, I was immediately smitten by the town’s charm and character. Those majestic wide streets, which lead to the gates of Strokestown House – the rows of houses and businesses standing proudly in line – were reputedly once the widest in Europe, and are still deemed to be the second widest in Ireland (after O’Connell Street, I gather).
Back in the 1980s, Strokestown was brimming with characters. My family were in the hospitality business. The town had well over 20 pubs in those days; many more in previous decades. Only a handful remain now.
When I got involved with Strokestown United FC for a couple of very enjoyable seasons, I soon realised most of my teammates were starring for Strokestown GAA. It was obvious something special was brewing; within a few years, the 1992 county title win was secured.
Boyle is close to my heart too, for reasons of a sentimental nature, I guess. My late father was a native of Knockvicar, Boyle. From time to time over the decades we made trips to the area, sometimes by water. Arriving into Lough Key on a cruiser can take your breath away. Trips to nearby Cootehall were always enjoyable, time seeming to stall.
There is a great history to both towns; they are jewels in our tourism crown, so to speak.
I was amazed with the ‘stat’ that emerged from Hyde Park after Boyle stunned St. Brigid’s recently. I had no idea that Boyle hadn’t even been in a county final since 1927, much less won the title. It seems hard to reconcile that bleak line from the history books with the decades of toil put in by proud Boyle Gaels, including the many fine players and teams there over the years.
Speaking to a few Boyle people this week, the sense of excitement, anticipation and hope was so evident. They are focussed on winning, but they’ve also allowed themselves to enjoy the build-up. They deserve this moment; the stylish, attacking team that carries their dreams came from amongst them.
There is great excitement in Strokestown too, where the aim is to bridge a 20-year gap. Traditionally, they play with swagger and flair. They too were great in the semi-final.
History will be in all our footsteps at the Hyde on Sunday. Then it will rest on the shoulders of one team. They are two great finalists, two great clubs from special parts of our county. Every player will give their all. Ultimately, it will be a day for heroes and history.