Ciarán Murphy: No resisting the pull of GAA and home on this Sunday morning

Milltown’s progress in the Galway championship meant much more than just a game

Sunday morning, 10.30am. I have already finished a training session with my football club in Dublin, and I’m about to hit the road to watch my old club, my first club, play a vital final group game in the Galway senior football championship.

I’m 39, and the vast majority of my friends would need every single part of that last sentence explained to them. Voluntary, outdoor, physical exertion before 9am? On a Sunday? Followed by a trip across the country to watch possibly Galway’s eighth and ninth best senior football teams face off against each other?

Self-examination, and rigorous self-assessment are of course vital components in a happy life . . . but they’re not things I’m overly interested in right now. Best just to get a coffee and sit in the car, and try not to think too much about it.

This happens every year. Milltown will begin their senior football championship run in Galway and I'll barely know that it was on until after I'd heard the final score. Then I'll tune in for the second game on local radio, or on a live stream as we've been fortunate enough to do in recent years, and by the time the third game comes around, I'm hooked.


This year, it was a spirited draw second time out with one of the favourites Mountbellew-Moylough, the first team to beat Corofin in the senior championship since 2012 last year, that piqued my interest sufficiently to forego a Sunday on the couch watching Sky Sports.

The game would be played in Athenry, where two of my brothers live, and so a number of factors were aligning – it's just off the motorway, a leisurely Sunday morning drive, with a dinner cooked by someone other than myself thrown into the bargain . . . this, to me, seemed a fairly compelling case.

There’s also just the sensation of going to a game, in a stadium, with like-minded individuals. That’s still a novelty. It’s basically what we promised ourselves we’d do more of last summer.

All three possibilities lay in wait for Milltown before the start of the game – we could seal a place in the quarter-finals with a win, we could finish clear of the relegation playoff places in the mid-table respectability of third, or we could finish last and see that trap-door yawning (the ‘we’ weaselled its way into that sentence almost unheeded).

The team features certainly no more than three players that I had played senior football with, in a previous decade (the decade in question being the one before the last one.) The presumption is that one’s attachment should weaken, or at least modify itself in some way, when that happens but if anything these last few years have been even more enjoyable.

Whatever leaver’s guilt I may have felt as a former player even five years ago is long gone by now. Sons of former team-mates have started appearing. And so it is that I find myself roaring on young fellas I’ve barely ever spoken a word to.

By the time Milltown’s decisive second goal goes in, I’m on my feet punching the air. My former team-mate now in charge of the team can barely speak at the final whistle he’s so relieved. I’m fairly drained of energy myself, and a little curious as to why I care so much.

I hang around for a little while, bathing in the reflected glory of a three-point win, and then sit in my car for the journey home. I’m in a service station, eating some chicken McNuggets later that evening, when I think to myself – what on earth would I say to someone who walked in and asked me what I was doing eating chicken McNuggets in the midlands at 8pm on a Sunday night by myself?

Any answer I would try and give that person would lean heavily on a beautiful book I've been reading this week called Minor Monuments, by Ian Maleney, where he talks about his upbringing outside Tullamore in Offaly.

Much of the book is about why he loves the place but does not live there – the idealised image of his childhood, the lonesome beauty of his home place, set against the idea that he had to leave to see all of that, and what is missing from his life as a result. There are several beautiful passages in the book on this theme, the loss you made a decision to suffer, but one line in particular stood out to me: “I have so many choices in life, but I have lost the ability to say: this is the centre of the world. Maybe this is what being local really is – the ability to say, without doubt or any subsequent clauses, this is my home.”

Milltown got their win, and then went and got themselves drawn against Corofin in the quarter-finals. That should obviously be the end of the story for 2021, but . . . we live in hope.

And in the end, as my mother said to me walking out of Kenny Park, "it got us out of the house at least – it felt like normal life in there, didn't it?"; and I make it a habit not to disagree with her.