In Templenoe this week, they found themselves with fabric torn and hearts hollow. Last Sunday, a local man went missing on the water around Dromquinna Pier. The search was curtailed by darkness and the body was found quickly enough on Monday morning.
In between, everyone made tea or sandwiches or borrowed flashlights or loaned wetgear or whatever had to be done.
Bill Topham wasn't a member of the local GAA club but he had his flag out and his colours ready for the trip to Croke Park this weekend. Because of the tragedy, a series of plays in the community centre were shelved and a planned broadcast for Radio Kerry was cancelled.
When it came to burying him on Friday though, the family made sure that real life could only stand in football’s way for so long. In the Church of Ireland, funerals are usually in the afternoon. They said they’d have it in the morning though because Bill wouldn’t have wanted the team delayed in heading to Dublin.
"We're the smallest of the small," says the club's most storied son, Pat Spillane. "These junior and intermediate competitions are all about the small clubs but really, there can't be many smaller than us.
“We must be the only club in the country that doesn’t have a national school to feed into it. There was a time in the ’60s when there were five national schools feeding into the club but now we don’t even have one.
“So I’d say we’ve about 500 people in the area and we’ll probably bring about twice that to Croke Park. In Birmingham a few weeks ago, we brought 300. You look around here and the scenery is beautiful but there’s nobody in the houses. Most of them are holiday homes. So this is a special, special thing for us because we know it will never happen again in our lifetimes.”
Templenoe went from Division Five to Division One in Kerry in the space of six seasons. They’re by a distance the smallest club in that bearpit, with a season of games against the big beasts of Killarney and Tralee ahead of them. They have surfed the wave of a tight band of boys who were born within a few years of each other in the mid-’90s and have somehow got to Croke Park.
“Ten years ago, we were the worst club in Kerry,” says Spillane. “I was chairman for seven years and there were times when we really, really struggled. I’d say we probably won one match every two years around that time. So we know that this is going to be a short-lived thing . . .
“We know that in 20 years’ time, we will be barely fielding a team. That’s the reality of it. In most clubs, you look around and there are numbers coming through. We know that this will only last three or four years and most of these lads will be away somewhere else doing something else. We’ve no numbers coming through behind them to fill in the blanks. There’s no work here for young people so they’ll just head away off.
“This team has 12 students in it. Only one of the panel is living and working full-time in the area and he’s the only one of them that’s married. Two of the lads that aren’t students graduated last year and got teaching jobs in Dublin. You can’t be expecting them to be coming back to Kerry all their lives . . . .”
But today, for a gilded hour in Croke Park, the blue and white of Templenoe will try to bring home an All-Ireland. Pat Spillane did everything there ever was to do in football but he never dreamed of this.
“I’ll sit in Croke Park in my blue and white and it will be the best thing that ever happened in my lifetime. This is Seán Kelly’s greatest achievement as GAA president. It puts the spotlight back on the tiny GAA clubs that are the glue that holds rural Ireland together. There were six shops in Templenoe a few years ago, now there’s one. There’s two pubs and two churches and none of them are under pressure. Without the GAA, there’d be nothing in these communities.”