By Damian Dolan
The outpouring of tributes to Siobhan McCann following her sad passing last week spoke volumes for the affection in which the Dulwich Harps footballer was held, and the impact her brave fight against cancer had on friends, and strangers alike.
Just as her struggle united the GAA community in London, her untimely death – she was just 26 – has also brought it together only this time in sadness.
News of her passing at her home in Clanvaraghan, Co Down, on the evening of 6 May triggered an overwhelming number of heart-felt tributes on social media.
Siobhan was laid to rest at a packed St Mary of the Angels Church in Castlewellan, just over a year after being diagnosed with colorectal cancer.
Dulwich Harps’ men’s team dedicated last Friday’s McArdle Cup final win over St Anthonys to Siobhan, with both sides observing a minute’s silence before throw in at McGovern Park.
And only last month, Siobhan’s Dulwich ladies teammates did likewise when they won the Tom O’Connor Cup final – ‘this one’s for Siobhan’ declared captain Maeve Wylie before lifting the cup to her teammates’ approval.
Paying tribute on its Facebook page, Dulwich Harps said that Siobhan had “left a lasting impression on us with her time here in London. We are honoured to call her a club mate, team mate and a close friend”.
A further statement posted on Saturday, added: “Siobhán, thank you for the memories which we will hold dear and for reminding us to always live our lives to the fullest.”
Diagnosed on 18 April, 2018, Siobhan completed 25 sessions of radiotherapy and chemotherapy in readiness for surgery to remove a tumour in her bowel.
However, on 18 July she received the devastating news that the cancer had spread to her liver and that surgery was no longer an option.
In-between, she somehow found the strength and courage to tog out for Dulwich in the junior county final at Ruislip in June.
When her cancer became inoperable, a fundraising drive under the banner ‘Siobhan’s Toughest Opponent’ was launched to fund a life-prolonging drug called Bevacizumab (Alvastin), not available on the NHS.
A GoFundMe page was set up with an initial target of £100,000. Double that figure was eventually raised.
The London GAA community, and Irish community at large, responded. A fundraising 7-a-side tournament and auction at Tir Chonaill Park in Greenford in October raised in excess of £32,000 in support of ‘one of our own’.
Siobhan’s plight had captured peoples’ hearts.
She even deferred her third treatment of the drug by one week so that she could attend, with her parents, Brendan and Geraldine, her brother and sister, Ciaran and Grainne, both of whom represented Siobhan’s hometown club in Down, St John’s GAC in the 7s.
It was the first time Siobhan had been back in London since June.
Despite it being a bitterly cold day in west London, she was there throughout, in her half-and-half St John’s and Dulwich Harps jersey, happy to meet everyone and anyone who’d taken the trouble to attend.
“I just can’t thank everyone enough,” Siobhan told the Irish World at the time. “It really pushes me on to keep fighting.
She added: “At the start I was angry. Now, I’ve accepted it and because of everyone’s support, love and prayers I’m fighting on, and that’s what I have to keep doing.”
And she was at McGovern Park the next day for the senior county final replay between Tir Chonaill Gaels and Fulham Irish, where she was a physiotherapist.
Fulham manager, and former Tyrone star, Owen Mulligan, who was among those to carry Siobhan’s coffin, tweeted, “People like Siobhan are few and far between in this lifetime. One of the nicest girls, I had the pleasure of calling my friend. Thinking of her family and friends at this very sad time. Rest In Peace Siobhan”.
People like Siobhan are few and far between in this lifetime. One of the nicest girls, i had the pleasure of calling my friend. Thinking of her family and friends at this very sad time.
Rest In Peace Siobhan 🙏🏻 pic.twitter.com/GqYtgKgotw
— Owen Mulligan (@owen_mulligan) May 6, 2019
Fulham Irish’s club statement said that Siobhan would be remembered as “one of the most professional, friendly and vivacious characters the club has ever seen”.
London Ladies described Siobhan as a “brave beautiful inspirational young lady” and said she will be “sorely missed”.
They added that her October fundraiser in Greenford had “brought the London Gaelic community” together, galvanised a “great sense of community spirit”, and left “lasting impressions imprinted on all our hearts”.
Siobhan’s bravery and dignity touched everyone who met her.