Fethard hurlers inspired by Rory Whelan's courage
By John Harrington
The inspirational courage of Rory Whelan will be a source of motivation for the Fethard St. Mogue’s hurlers when they play Ardmore in Sunday’s AIB All-Ireland Junior Hurling Final on Sunday.
13-year-old Whelan was the club’s U-14 goalkeeper until he was struck down last year with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a serious disorder that leads to the body’s immune system attacking its nervous system.
Whelan’s recovery has been slow and difficult but he has been energised by his club’s run to the All-Ireland Final and in turn has helped drive the players on with his unstinting support.
“Rory is an underage club player for us and he was on Wexford underage teams as a goalkeeper,” said Fethard captain Garrett Foley.
“He'd be fanatical GAA supporter. He got a serious illness and it’s left him in a difficult spot.
“His immune system attack itself and he lost the use of his muscles, his body basically. He was fighting for his life for a long time. He was in Temple Street Children's Hospital.
“After the county final, a couple of us went up to him. I wouldn't have really known him that well because there's a big age gap.
“I actually met him in the hospital and saw how helpless he was. He had improved a long way at that stage. It really struck home how much what we're doing means to him. Then a picture went up on social media of us in the hospital with him.
“It really made you aware how fortunate we are to be doing what we are doing - what it means to so many people. He's living for our success at the minute. He was at the game the other day (the All-Ireland semi-final win over Sylane) and we got a picture with him.
“You can only imagine how much that means to him. It makes your grateful for the position that we're in and what we're able to do - our health. If anyone deserves a bit of enjoyment through the GAA, it's him. He's a great young fella, he's fighting constantly.
“After meeting him several times in the last few months, for a fella that's in his position, he's so incredibly happy - laughing and joking. If you were in his position you'd think, would you be able to put on the same front?”
Whelan still has a journey to travel, but he’s making steady progress on the road to recovery with the help of friends and family.
“He has in fairness to him,” said Foley. “His mother and father are excellent. It's not easy on them, their whole life has changed.
“Only in the last number of weeks has he been able to get home at the weekends. It's bringing a bit of normality - slight normality - back to their life. He's loving that meeting his friends on the weekends.
“I know he will be here on Sunday. Hopefully, we'll be able to meet him after the game and hopefully we'll have a bit of silverware for him to hold. Either way, it's going to be a great day for him and the club to be up there.”
Were Fethard St. Mogues to lift the Cup on Sunday, you can be sure that Rory Whelan will make it out onto the pitch to celebrate with his heroes.
“It'd be a good steward to stop him getting out now!”, said Foley. “If we can at all, I'm sure they'd let him. He'd love to get out.
“Hopefully, down the line, he might hurl himself out there himself. He's a great goalkeeper. Please God, down the line, he'll be able to get out there and hurl himself - that's the dream.”