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WHAT A WEEKEND A GAA afternoon that brought a glow to the skies transported an immortal line from the BBC’s golden age of broadcasting

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22 November 2020; Raymond Galligan and Gearoid McKiernan of Cavan celebrate after winning the Ulster championship

22 November 2020; Raymond Galligan and Gearoid McKiernan of Cavan celebrate after winning the Ulster championship

22 November 2020; Raymond Galligan and Gearoid McKiernan of Cavan celebrate after winning the Ulster championship

A GAA afternoon that brought a glow to the skies transported an immortal line from the BBC’s golden age of sports broadcasting skidding across the years.

As first Tipp and then Cavan staged miraculous, electrifying coups, it was as if the words of Barry Davies had been tailored on Saville Row, or by Louis Copeland himself, to fit a Sunday that can only have rolled off the production line in some fantasy factory.

As a verbal portrait of euphoria, it is without flaw or kink.

“Look at his face, just look at his face,” announces Davies after Franny Lee unleashes an unstoppable long-range missile that detonates in the Manchester City net.

A nine-word masterpiece, Davies’s voice cracking with emotion, and an instruction worth repeating after a day when the footballers of Cavan and Tipperary achieved something that will colour the rest of their lives.

Look at the face of Cavan’s Ciaran Brady as he dives into the embrace of his manager Mickey Graham.

Look at the face of Tipp’s returned Aussie exile Colin O’Riordan.

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Tipp top: Colin O’Riordan and Steven O’Brien of Tipperary celebrate after their Munster SFC final win against Cork at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Photo: Sportsfile

Tipp top: Colin O’Riordan and Steven O’Brien of Tipperary celebrate after their Munster SFC final win against Cork at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Photo: Sportsfile

Tipp top: Colin O’Riordan and Steven O’Brien of Tipperary celebrate after their Munster SFC final win against Cork at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Photo: Sportsfile

Look at the faces of every man in Breffni blue or Tipp’s specially commissioned Bloody Sunday centenary shirt as the final whistle breaks down the Bastille gates.

They are the faces of men set suddenly free from a lifetime of incarceration.

Rapture; wonder; incredulity; gratitude; visceral, uncontainable convulsions frame their features.In their eyes, wide-open windows to their souls, is the overflowing ecstasy of liberation.

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Now, listen to their voices.

O’Riordan, the minor All-Ireland winner turned Aussie Rules star, back among his own after five years in the mighty harbour town of Sydney, going where no Tipp man has gone in 85 years, overwhelmed by the weight of the moment.

Lost in its freakish beauty.

His voice trembles like a skyscraper in an earthquake, the seismic impact of the shifting Munster football tectonic plates throwing him beautifully off-balance.

It isn’t what O’Riordan says, though the words are persuasive and moving. It is his delivery. The genuineness that seeps from every sentence. The audience is given a ringside seat to the overwhelming power of that moment when an athlete touches his dream.

His words are a quivering instrument, making the music of elation.

“This is an emotional day for me. A few weeks ago, I didn’t think I’d be here. Just to be able to be out there with all the lads. Just giving your all for the sake of, for the sake of Tipperary. I can’t put it into words. It’s the best feeling. It’s the best feeling I’ve had for many years. It just fills me with pride so much. I get emotional even thinking about it.

By this stage he’s sniffling, shaking his head as if trying to clear his brain of the occasion’s concussive magnitude.

“To me it’s one of the best days of me life. This is not about Colin O’Riordan coming up here to give interviews. This is about the boys out here…”

Here, he takes a deep breath, gasping for any lingering remnants of the composure that has long ago fled the scene. A granite-bodied sportsman, one in the very prime of his life, who, minutes ago, soared to catch a ball that finally broke Cork, is now as helpless as a new-born.

“To me, it just means so much to be able to put on the Tipp jersey. It is something I’ll never ever take for granted. And something I’ll respect until the day I die.”

Dignity and thanksgiving seep from every syllable. All those nights on the other side of the world, living the professional athlete’s dream, but feeling the draw of his home place. Now here he is. With his own. Atop Everest.

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22 November 2020; Cavan manager Mickey Graham celebrates their Ulster championship victory

22 November 2020; Cavan manager Mickey Graham celebrates their Ulster championship victory

22 November 2020; Cavan manager Mickey Graham celebrates their Ulster championship victory

Some 240 miles away, Cavan will soon be transforming a little corner of Armagh into their own Theatre of Dreams.

Graham was on the last Breffni squad to touch greatness back in 1997. Now, his ruddy face peeking out from beneath a woolly cap, he brings to mind a surfer amid a tsunami.

Buffeted by this tidal wave of high achievement, impotent in the face of the mighty waves of emotion, his expression is as of the soil as any line from a poem composed by their Monaghan neighbour, Paddy Kavanagh.

“You got me at a bad time,” he apologises to his interviewer, though, the truth is we have caught him at the perfect hour, all his uncontainable passions bursting from every pixel of the screen.

“I’m just trying to catch me thoughts. What, what, what the lads, what can you say, it was just, they gave everything you can ask of a team. Honesty, guts, determination, belief, while nobody else had it, they had it. I’m just delighted for them.”

Asked about the impact this day of their lives will have on a county ravaged by Covid, one that has endured a disproportionate amount of pain over a brutally annulled year, he surrenders entirely to the depths of his fervour.

“Words can’t describe it. You know. It is just huge. That’s all I can say,” sobbing, he exits the frame.

Goalkeeper and captain Raymond Galligan has been the poster boy of a journey from the shadows that has seized the imagination of so many.

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Cavan captain Raymond Galligan lifts the cup following his side’s victory. Photo: Sportsfile

Cavan captain Raymond Galligan lifts the cup following his side’s victory. Photo: Sportsfile

Cavan captain Raymond Galligan lifts the cup following his side’s victory. Photo: Sportsfile

It was Galligan’s 55-yard free at the very death that brought down Monaghan last month and, literally, kick-started a journey into the territories of GAA folklore.

His face twisted with emotion, pausing constantly to gather himself, he merits the last word.

Quizzed about how this would lift the county, his entire body seems to shudder and jolt and tremble.

“Ah, massive. We had our doom and gloom over the last couple of months with Covid. There have been fantastic members of my own parish have passed away. My own community have had a lot of hurt. But, I hope we put a smile on everybody’s faces back home today.

“We knew there was thousands and thousands of people all over the world, all Cavan people, dressed in their Cavan jerseys, supporting us and screaming for us. We knew in the last quarter, there was every single mother and father and child was at home driving us on. We knew that and that got us over the line today.”

Listening to Galligan’s sincerity and sense of place, the happy ache in his voice rising and falling like the drumlins of his home county, was to understand that here was a man it would be an honour to follow into battle.

If you don’t believe me, arm yourself with a Kleenex and call up the clip.

Look at his face. Just look at his face.

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