The sudden death of 40-year-old Castlepollard hurler Donal Devine on the evening of February 14, 2017 sent shockwaves throughout the GAA. Affectionately known as 'Duck', Donal took ill following a training session with his beloved club and passed away at Mullingar General Hospital a short time later.
"Last night, a light went out in Castlepollard Hurling Club," read a club statement the following morning.
"Donal left us doing what he loved most in the world, playing hurling with his beloved club. A veteran of four senior championship victories and countless underage victories, Donal brings an impressive haul of silverware with him to the great hurling team in the sky. Always in our thoughts 'Duck', God bless."
The Devine family is steeped in Castlepollard hurling, with Donal's brother Alfie a well-known inter-county referee while his nephew Allan is a current member of the Westmeath senior hurling team.
Indeed, Alfie bravely took charge of the National Hurling League clash between Meath and Derry in Navan two days after Donal's funeral, while Allan lined out for Westmeath in their National League tie against Kildare on the same day.
Described as a "gentleman to his fingertips", Donal was a very talented hurler who represented his club and county with distinction. He was a regular on the Westmeath team in the early 2000s and was part of the squad when the Lake County won their inaugural Christy Ring Cup in 2005 by beating Down in Croke Park. That success made up for the disappointment Donal and his brothers Alfie and Ollie suffered four years earlier when they were part of the Westmeath team that lost the National League Division 2 final to Kerry at GAA headquarters.
Lining out mostly at midfield, Donal won his four county senior championship medals in 1995, '97, 2003 and 2005, and added a junior 'B' championship medal as recently as last November when he scored two points in the final victory. Even in the week prior to his untimely passing, Donal had lined out for 'Pollard in two challenge matches.
'Duck' was also an accomplished footballer and won a junior championship medal with Castletown-Finea/Coole/ Whitehall in 1998. He and his brothers Noel and Ollie formed the half back line in the final victory over Bunbrosna.
In paying tribute to Donal, whose funeral was one of the largest seen in Castlepollard in many years, Castlepollard Hurling Club president Donie Cassidy said: "He was an incredible influence as a player and club officer, particularly on young people coming through the ranks of the club.
"He was born on the Pakenham Hall Road, the road where Castlepollard Hurling Club has been for most of its time. When he walked out the door, the nearest property to him was the hurling field, and he gave morning, night and day to the club.
"He won many underage medals and, of course, went on to win four senior medals with the club. When we won the senior championship against Clonkill in 2003, Donal was the one who stopped the sliothar from going out over the sideline, passed to his brother Ollie who in turned passed to Darren McCormack, who scored a dramatic winning goal.
"Every time you met the 'Duck', he had a smile on his face. He is a severe loss to the community."
His employers Dromone Engineering said on Facebook: "We shared many great times with Donal over the last 23 years he spent in Dromone, and will greatly miss his sharp wit, his grit and determination, and his ability to see the positive side of every situation. Donal was liked by suppliers, customers and colleagues alike and will be greatly missed by everyone in Dromone."
Castlepollard and Castletown-Finea/Coole/
"He was a marvellous hurler and had a marvellous commitment to hurling from an awful early age. He was a shocking likeable gasun and he was the very same right to the very end."