DONAL REID COLUMN: The importance of the club when grief visits a family

DONAL REID COLUMN: The importance of the club when grief visits a family

Success is failure turned inside out...

And you can never tell how close you are

It may be near when it seems so far.

So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit

It’s when things seem worst that you must not quit.
(EDGAR ALLAN POE)

Pat Gallen and Paula Glackin got married in St. Patrick’s Church, Castlederg on the 18th May 1985. Pat is a native of Lismulladuff, Killygordon and was a regular member of the Red Hughs team in the 80s and 90s. Mr and Mrs Gallen moved permanently to Castlederg and were blessed with four sons, Hugh, Conor, Niall and Steafáin. Life was never easy for Pat or his siblings. Their humble parents Hugh and Mamie were hard-working grounded people who showered their children with love and instilled sound principles that would stand to all of them in later life. Hughie passed away when he was just 47. He was a founding member of the Finn Valley Athletic Club and was a very well-respected member of the community for his work with the youth which he carried out without pomp or ceremony.

While Pat remains a true and loyal son of Donegal, his own sons are avid Tyrone supporters. Things took a turn for the worse for the Gallen family when Pat’s wife Paula was diagnosed with cancer on September 12th 2001, the day after the Twin Towers collapsed in New York. Paula was tough and fought her illness with strength and dignity. She ran the Dublin Marathon in 2004 to raise money and create awareness for breast cancer.

After a titanic battle, Paula succumbed and God took her to her eternal home on February 20th 2008. The family was devastated. Coping with his wife’s death and rearing four young boys was going to challenge Pat massively. As the weeks, months and years slowly and agonisingly passed, things improved gradually.

Then, the Gallen family were struck by another very sad event. Pat’s brother Adrian died suddenly on April 7th 2013 which added to the Gallen’s relatives’ and families’ heartache even more. Adrian was a dual player and was an excellent hurler who played for our local club Setanta. Pat and I often talked and shared stories. Pat Gallen and his family never looked for sympathy, only support. I recently asked Pat if I could tell this story to you the reader. He agreed without hesitation because his and his family’s story was one of despair that has turned into hope and success. I respect that many families go through what may seem unbearable distress and sadness. This, too, is their story.

It’s not easy for anyone to cope with the trials of this world, especially death. But when death does come to a family, particularly a young life or suddenly, a whole heap of emotions can overwhelm those closest and dearest. Some people seem to manage and move on and deal with their grief in their own way. Then we have those who are unable to fully cope with the loss of a loved one. Words often fail us at these times but sometimes words aren’t needed. There are occasions when you and I simply just need to be there with those who are mourning. Often, presence is the best gift we can ever give to someone in need.

The GAA has been part and parcel of the Gallen family all of their lives. Pat and Paula’s sons were and still are an integral part of their local GAA club in Castlederg. Even when Paula was at her lowest, she insisted that the boys kept going to training and playing for their club.

After Paula’s passing, her youngest son Steafáin was finding life difficult and missed his mum dearly. As close friends, Pat confided in me in respect of Steafáin’s grief and how he’d lost a bit of interest in football. Consequently, Steafáin and I talked on a few occasions in the hope that together we could find a solution to his lack of motivation. He was passive about his football and was unmotivated to train as often as he used to. The youngster was so overwhelmed by his mum’s passing that he recoiled and went into his shell.

Slowly but surely with great support from his father and fantastic friend Rhonda along with his brothers, Steafáin rediscovered his zeal for Gaelic football and for life itself. Living close to the border of your father’s native county of Donegal and playing for a Tyrone club isn’t easy for Steafáin. His allegiances are firmly with Castlederg and Tyrone; period. There’s always the harmless banter though, which would be expected and should be taken with a pinch of salt. Pat is a Donegal man through and through and is well able to give as good as he takes.

Although Steafáin was stunned with grief, football would come to the rescue. Steafáin’s form on and off the football pitch improved so much in recent times that he was selected for the ‘Underdogs’ final panel after a series of trials at the end of the summer just past. The television programme was aired on TG4 every Thursday evening from September 12th culminating in a challenge game where Steafáin along with his ‘underdogs’ team mates took on the mighty Mayo inter-county team last Saturday week 26th October in Castlebar.

In order to qualify to be selected for the ‘Underdogs’, players must not have played senior inter-county football. I am continuously impressing on the importance of club football because it is a source of social interaction and distraction from the worries and cares of daily living. In most rural towns and villages, the club is the heartbeat of the community.

Having talked to Steafán in recent days, he is literally ‘walking on air’. No amount of medication or counselling could ever have given this young man the injection of confidence and self-worth that the ‘Underdogs’ has given him. Gaoth Dobhair’s Kevin Cassidy was the assistant manager of the team while Michael McGeehin was team trainer. Steafáin was full of praise for Kevin and Michael, both of whom who would have been totally unaware of Steafáin’s circumstances. Well done lads.

Steafáin was an underdog from his early adolescent years when his mum passed away. I’ve watched this young man mature over the years. He has a wonderful bubbly personality, is very compassionate and is a brilliant ambassador for his family. From me personally, I would like to extend my congratulations not only to Steafáin, but to his family too. You all deserve this acknowledgement.

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
(RUDYARD KIPLING).