How do you bounce back from a major defeat? You just do
For Killarney Legion and me, losing a bunch of finals is just a small chapter in our story
We’ll be back: Conor Keane of Killarney Legion is dejected after their loss to South Kerry in the Kerry Senior Football Championship final replay in November 2015. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
Sometimes life just is not fair. You want to be the richest, the prettiest, the nicest, and all you are left with are the gifts and talents and life that the poker game of life has dealt you.
My dad and I attend football matches on an almost regular basis. One weekend we found ourselves heading to Donegal for a county final, just because we were in Sligo the night before. My dad’s attitude to going to games was, why the hell not – even if Storm Ophelia was following us the whole way home.
I am eternally grateful for how my life has developed ever since my debut into public life, and it has led to wild, beautiful and weird places. In early 2015, for a reason I still to this day do not understand, I was made a lifelong member of the Killarney Legion GAA team. It was weird hopping that county boundary but, in my dad’s words, why the hell not?
The wacky trip Killarney Legion has taken us on is something to be bestowed. They are 1-5 in finals and have left me, my dad and my whole family clawing their eyes out. I’ve seen the jubilation when teams win, and it’s nice to honour them and let them have their moment in the sun. But, as the great writer Jimmy Breslin used to say, the loser’s dressing room can be so much more interesting.
In a bizarre East Kerry competition which saw Killarney Legion brought to the final by default as no team would play them, it all came to a head last Sunday. As usual for this season, it seems, the team did all that it could and came up short, a one-point loss to Rathmore which, no offence to Rathmore, would leave that bitter taste in your mouth.
Rathmore did the job. Killarney Legion didn’t, but is it as simple as that? No. It never is. But at the end of a season, it’s incredibly hard to let go of a loss like that. It stings.
I’ve written about how awful that pity look is before, and, well, when I returned home to Millstreet my mother had that look on her when I came in the door. The coaches had that sorry look, the chairman and his family had that look: it was almost the theme for Sunday’s game.
For the taking
Killarney Legion had the O’ Donoghue Cup almost right there in front of them for the taking and, poof, it was gone. I’m not going to lie to you and say that it was just another game. It wasn’t. The East Kerry competition is a decent competition with fraught and fierce rivalries. And . . . the job wasn’t finished, the mission was not accomplished. And honestly? It sucked. It still does. It probably always will.
But, just like every team, you have to face that terrible question nobody wants to ask: How do you bounce back from that?
And my answer is simple. You just do. Because you have to. Life does not wait for you to recover, it moves on. On top of that, what is done is done. There’s nothing that you can do to go back and change what happened. The past is in the past. Because all you can do is learn from it, use it as motivation and move on.
I don’t know about the rest of the guys, but for me, when I lose in anything, I use it as extra motivation for the future
Was I angry that Killarney Legion lost? Of course. I hate losing as much as I love winning. But you have to treat those two impostors just the same. After a win, you can ask questions like, “How do you avoid a let-down next week and keep this momentum going?” After a tough loss, you can ask, “How do you rebound for next week?”.
It has been done countless times. The stewards above in Donegal were gleefully telling me how Kilcar were bitter after their loss in the previous county final, yet they picked themselves up and won a county for their village and carried on to win the league and county double.
Planning the celebrations
So yes, Killarney Legion lost. Killarney Legion could have been champions. But they are not. They could have been planning the celebrations . . . but they’re not.
But don’t feel sorry for them, because, admittedly, they now don’t feel sorry for ourselves. And they shouldn’t. We’re fine . . . really, we are. Losing a bunch of finals in an excruciatingly close manner is always going to be a part of this group and their story. But it’s not the whole story of Killarney Legion. For them, and everyone else who have been wrongly identified as serial losers, it’s just a chapter in your story. And I don’t know about the rest of the guys, but for me, when I lose in anything, I use it as extra motivation for the future.
I cannot predict what the future holds for Killarney Legion, and, as I cast my eye over the other results and see other teams lose finals, all I can say to you right now is yes, it’s awful, and it sucks . . . but it gets better. If you have the hunger and desire to keep pushing forward and keep elevating yourself to further heights. Because, at the end of the day, the only fight that matters is the one you are in.