In these uncertain times a little bit of humour can sometimes help if only for a few minutes. Below is a poem Kenny McElroy wrote many years ago about a famous game played up in Ballyshannon, on a very exposed pitch near the Finner Irish Army Camp on the road between Ballyshannon and Bundoran. The elements virtually threw everything at the thirty poor souls and the referee involved in the game. I don’t think there was even a supporter watching apart from the two unfortunate touch judges. A strong biting cold wind from the Atlantic carried in flurries of snow, heavy rain and a hail storm and occasionally blinding shafts of sunlight would penetrate the clouds. Towards the end of the game an Irish Army Helicopter trying to land in the hail storm just about cleared the top of the goal posts.
As he mentions at the end of the poem, one of the players that day was Martin Sweeney, a former club secretary who died just a few weeks ago.
Here’s to Ballyshannon by Kenny McElroy.
You may talk about your Ravenhill’s or even Lansdowne Road,
Of Thomond Park or Donnybrook, of pitches by the load,
But you have never ever lived the game, or experienced a thrill,
Until you play in Ballyshannon, on that pitch atop the hill.
There’s Ben-Bulben in the distance, the Atlantic at your rear,
And the Flag on Finner Army Camp, is flapping bright and clear,
As the gale howls from the Ocean, in around the dry-stone walls,
The hail beats in right through your skin, and numbs with piercing squalls.
As your fingers lose all feeling and your spirit starts to wane,
And a voice from deep inside you, vows to never play again,
Then a fired up local kicks you, blood trickles down your shin,
Your sodden shirt starts chafing and your boots keep letting in
Next a shaft of brilliant sunshine, takes all vision from your eyes,
And snowflakes start to flutter down, “No more your body cries”,
It’s the seven plagues of Egypt a voice sounds loud and shrill,
Watch out for swarms of locusts come sweeping down that hill
As you pray that you’ll survive the game, ere your will begins to crack,
Next an Army Helicopter sweeps down on your full back,
Then the Referee joins in the fun, to drive you o’er the brink,
When he sends off your right winger, just because he couldn’t think.
But when the game is over and you hear the friendly brogues,
And the singing getting started around the fire inside ‘Sean Og’s’
Keep the copper kettle boiling, hot whiskey’s for to fill,
Let’s raise a glass to good times and that ‘Pitch upon the Hill’.
This poem is dedicated to those fifteen brave souls from Banbridge, who survived the locals and everything that the Atlantic and the winter elements could throw at them on that famous pitch at ‘Finner Irish Army Camp’ near Ballyshannon, Co Donegal on Saturday the 29th January 1983. Particularly
dedicated to one of that team Martin Sweeney who died a few weeks ago.
NB. The referee sent off Davy Mitchell the right winger who was so numbed with cold he was virtually hypothermic. The Ref said “That guys so cold he can’t even think”.