Thursday 18 January 2018

Talented Jack has left us with many special memories

On the Line with Alan Aherne

Alan Aherne
Alan Aherne

This column is dedicated to the memory of the late Jack Pettit, a very talented young sportsman who sadly left this world all too soon early last week.

I never had a conversation with the popular Our Lady's Island clubman, but I had admired his prowess in countless hurling and football games at various levels down through the years.

It was always a pleasure to report on Jack's exploits, because he mixed outstanding natural ability in both codes with honesty and spirit, traits that made him one of the finest prospects in the county.

I have been thinking a lot about 1997 since the news broke of Jack's tragic passing last Monday. On January 19 of that year, I had the honour in my capacity as Assistant Secretary of the County Board at the time of presenting the trophy to Jack's father, Liam, after Our Lady's Island won the delayed Junior 'B' county title of 1996, the club's first-ever adult football championship.

And some months later a star of the future was born as Jack came into the world, crowning a very special time for Liam and his wife, Julie, who went on to become their son's best sideline supporters.

I also got to know Jack's grandather, Seán, who was Wexford District Chairman, very well in those years as we served together on the county disciplinary committee.

Jack's talent was first developed in his local national school in Broadway, as much a hurling nursery as a seat of learning thanks to Marjorie McDonald's unbridled passion for the game.

And the sheer range of his involvement was highlighted at his funeral Mass on Friday when six jerseys were brought to the altar.

He marked his final term in St. Peter's College in 2016 by winning the coveted Senior sportsman of the year award.

And he was a fixture on inter-county hurling teams from the Under-13 development squad upwards, proudly representing Wexford at Minor level in 2015.

Jack played at centre-forward against Laois and Kilkenny and, though Westmeath enjoyed a shock win in the quarter-final, he was defiant to the last, emerging as the team's top scorer from play with three points from the edge of the square.

Given that form, it was no surprise that he graduated immediately to the county Intermediate team last year, scoring an impressive 1-2 in both the Leinster semi-final and final against Galway and Kilkenny respectively.

While Jack will always be associated with his beloved Our Lady's Island, he also figured with various other teams in recent years.

First there was the Forth and Bargy Gaels under-age combination, and he starred as an isolated player in Glynn-Barntown's march to the Wexford People Minor hurling Premier final two years ago.

And when the Island didn't field an adult football team last year, Jack threw in his lot with neighbouring St. Fintan's in the Intermediate grade.

He was a key team member everywhere he went, never merely making up the numbers. I believe it always takes an extra-special effort for a player from a smaller club to make the grade with Wexford, and Jack had passed that test with flying colours.

The church in Our Lady's Island was full to overflowing three-quarters of an hour before the start of Jack's funeral Mass last Friday.

And the scenes inside and out were an affront to our understanding of the way life should be, with hundreds of young people united in grief rather than joy in the middle of their summer holidays.

Helplessness, bewilderment and raw emotion rent the cold air in the churchyard, but in the midst of it all it was also possible to somehow find positivity amid such harrowing circumstances.

It came first and foremost in the genuine warmth and love displayed for Jack by his peers, and that was matched by the deep respect shown to the Pettit family by the wider community.

I hope that Liam, Julie and David draw heavily on that love and respect in the dark days to come, because they can rest assured it is there for them in abundance.

It saddens me to realise I won't get the chance to report on Jack's exploits any more, but I will always think of him when I see that blue and white Island jersey in particular. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

Wexford People

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