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'It was just very emotional because he would have loved nothing more than to see that'

John Small pays tribute to his late father, Declan – ‘the heart and soul of the club’ – after Ballymun Kickham’s Dublin SFC win.

The Small brothers were overcome with emotion at the full-time whistle.
The Small brothers were overcome with emotion at the full-time whistle.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

AS THE FINAL whistle sounded and Ballymun Kickhams were confirmed as 2020 Dublin senior football champions last Sunday afternoon, it all hit home.

The Small brothers, John and Paddy, found one another on the field and they were understandably overcome with emotion. Having lost their father, longtime club chairman Declan, after a long battle with illness last December, he was the one person they wanted to share this moment with.

“The emotion just came over myself and Paddy at the end,” as the older of the brothers, Dublin star defender John, told Off The Ball last night after Ballymun’s 1-19 to 0-8 decider victory over Ballyboden St Enda’s.

“Just the thought that he… I can’t describe in words how much he loved that club. All he wanted to do was to see Ballymun progress and do well.

“The performance was so good, I was thinking what he would do to have seen that. The joy that would have brought to him, and that’s what [made it] so emotional.

“[He was] the heart and soul of the club, he did everything for that club, it was just like his second family. It was just very emotional because he would have loved nothing more than to see that on Sunday.”

paddy-small-james-mccarthy-and-john-small-lift-the-trophy Lifting the trophy with James McCarthy. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Their first Dublin title since 2012 and a memorable year for the north Dublin outfit was certainly tinged with sadness for the Small brothers, whose father was an influential figure at the club through the years.

Declan was involved before both John and Paddy were even born, so of course, they were thrown into the middle of all things Ballymun Kickhams from early days.

“Myself and Paddy, I don’t think I would even be playing GAA if it wasn’t for him,” Small explained. “He started up that Ballymun nursery, and he was the one that pushed us to play GAA so we could be players for Ballymun Kickhams, so he could help progress the club.

“His love for that club was incredible and his drive, things like sponsorship to just try and help the club improve and invest in the club, it was ridiculous. Everyone in the club appreciated him.

“That’s when the emotion comes out. Times like that: when you know someone loved something so much but didn’t get to witness it.”

paddy-and-john-small-are-over-come-with-emotion-after-the-game John (left) and Paddy Small. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

With both brothers central to Ballymun’s recent success — including their league title lift just days after Declan’s passing late last year — and both involved in Dublin senior squads over the past few years, John knows his father was incredibly proud.

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Though he may not have always shown it.

“I know that he loved going to watch us play,” he smiled, adding that his mother was present in Parnell Park on Sunday and “it meant a lot to her as well”.

“He probably wouldn’t have said it to us, he would have given us a hard time, a bit of slagging and stuff… but I know deep down that it made him proud, watching his sons play in Croke Park and seeing us representing Ballymun Kickhams as well.”

In a wide-ranging interview with Nathan Murphy, Small delved deeper into Ballymun’s impressive season, adding that he’d love a crack at the Leinster and All-Ireland club championship in this Covid-impacted year.

john-small-and-diarmuid-connolly-after-the-game

He also spoke about returning to Dessie Farrell’s Dublin set-up this week, and reflected on Diarmuid Connolly’s remarkable contribution to the game after the six-time All-Ireland winner announced his inter-county retirement on Wednesday night.

“Diarmuid’s an incredible footballer, one of the best and most skillful footballers and as well as that, just a really good human being,” Small noted.

“An incredible team-mate and he’s a really good friend of mine as well. I want to wish him all the best and I hope he really enjoys whatever lies ahead of him after this, and has a good time, whatever he does.”

“Diarmuid just had an unbelievably high skill level,” he added on his Dublin team-mate and club rival. “He’s so two-footed and just brilliant, a really good athlete. He’s an all-round really top footballer. 

“Top footballers produce really good moments and Diarmuid obviously had many of them.”

You can listen to the full interview here:

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Emma Duffy

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