Michael Jack O’Donnell’s sad passing on Saturday afternoon will have hit hard and, hit many.
Michael’s immediate family and closest friends had battled with him these past number of years as he looked to fend off life’s greatest opposition – illness.
How fortunate we now were that he did manage, for a while at least, to get the upper hand in that battle and return to the sidelines he owned.
In a world and era now where authority, a piece of paper or a press card is the currency that entitles you to your own small piece of turf, Michael remained unique, different.
‘Sure they’ll know me’ was the answer I’d get when, as sports editor of the Donegal Post, I’d ask him if he’d filled out the required documents at the start of every season or, just prior to a McKenna Cup, NFL or Championship game.
And much to my annoyance but, in the end complete amusement, he was right.
The templated and stereotypical looking Ulster Council man (are they produced on a conveyor belt?) at every GAA gate inside the province would, more often than not, look me up and down, despite the right credentials and accreditation to hand, before eventually waving me in with the most reluctant of ‘go on ahead’s.
Michael, well he could have charmed his way into Fort Knox. They’d have his first name, share a quick laugh, and joke about something way above my head or long before my time. I’d ask who was that and Michael would often respond with ‘haven’t a clue’!
Michael was dauntless, cool even and in every sense of the word. He never panicked. He was the Han Solo of the sports photography world. And what a photographer he was.
It’s been mentioned elsewhere but the accessibility and trust he had with so many Donegal players and managers over the years was an endorsement of both the man and the professional.
Again, in these paranoid and modern sporting times, the likes of Jim McGuinness, Rory Gallagher and Declan Bonner all allowed Michael into the most inner sanctums of their world. He’d unrestricted access to training sessions, talks and dressing rooms.
Indeed, Michael has probably lifted more Anglo Celts than both Anthony Molloy and Michael Murphy! But the bounce and life those images breathed into the sports pages was amazing and, I hope others don’t mind me saying, unrivalled.
Michael’s other great love was coffee. There was always time for coffee. He drank copious amounts of the stuff.
With so many pop up vans, cans and boxes now, he’d have been in his element this summer going to the games. When we did travel together, one of the most important decisions to be made was where we’d get our java fix.
But it didn’t matter how good the coffee was in certain places. A quiet establishment with no back ground music was a deal-breaker and often resulted in Michael instantly turning on his heels.
For some reason Michael hated that silence. He wanted to look through the papers and talk football. It would be reaching to say there had to be melody to the process.
The truth is he just hated listening to other people’s chirping and gossip!
Come Saturday, May 15, it’s going to be both strange and sad to know that Michael won’t be there in person, in Omagh, as Donegal finally open their season away to Tyrone, their greatest of foes.
But there is absolutely no doubt we’ll all carry him in our hearts from here on in. And because of that, he’ll never miss a game again.
To Michael’s mother Nora, partner Bernie, bothers Dessie, John, Gerard and Brendan, sisters Ita, Mary, Teresa and Siobhan, everyone at the Donegal News offers their sincerest condolences.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.