For the people of Dunboyne, Sean Cox represents all that's good about sport
Football fans don't need any reminding of that famous Bill Shankly quote. Football. Life and death. We all know how it goes.
It's become cliché over the years precisely because it resonates with everyone who puts their heart and soul into the love of a sport. It truly encapsulates what it means to place your trust in the 11 men out on the field, and their manager, and leave them responsible for your joy or your sorrow over the next 90 minutes or indeed longer.
It is a sentiment that strikes profoundly at what it means to be a football fan — and allow it to overcome all reason and sense in your mind, simply for the exhilaration and ecstasy it can bring.
But every so often, after rare tragic occasions that are sadly not rare enough, Shankly's wisdom falls hard and falls flat.
The aftermath of Liverpool's spectacular 5-2 victory over AS Roma in the first-leg of their Champions League semi-final on Tuesday was one of those times.
While Mo Salah's wizardry, Bobby Firmino's industry and Sadio Mané's tenacity tantalised the Anfield faithful as they have done throughout a sterling season for Jurgen Klopp's men, an Irish man was fighting for his life.
Sean Cox, a 53-year-old from Dunboyne in Co. Meath, had been attacked outside The Albert pub beside Anfield and has been in critical condition ever since. Two Roma fans were subsequently arrested and charged with violent disorder and inflicting grievous bodily harm. Video footage from outside Anfield ahead of the game shows dozens of Roma fans with their faces covered, some armed, looking to start trouble amongst the home supporters.
Tributes and support have poured in for a man who has been described this week as a "community leader."
Cox is well known to the town of Dunboyne, having served as the chairman of his local GAA club — St Peter's. Speaking to JOE, the club's current chairman Fergus McNulty spoke of the shock that has hit the town.
"We’re all shocked. We’re very lucky in Dunboyne to have a close community and Sean has been prominent through the years. He’s a community leader. The overriding feeling is one of shock, of trying to process it."
McNulty spoke about his predecessor in glowing terms, saying, "He's hugely popular, very much a part of Dunboyne life. It’s a small community so I’d say his base of friends, they extend right across, not just in GAA circles. He’s in the athletics club, he plays golf. Hugely popular."
Outlining Sean's role ever-present role in the town, McNulty said "Sean was the previous chairman of St. Peter's but he was also club secretary before that, and he’s currently the club treasurer. He’s an integral part of a club with more than 700 players. He’s been a key leader in helping to develop the club down through the years."
McNulty, who has worked closely with Cox for 10 years, spoke of the town's great respect for Cox's qualities. "He's a very quiet guy but determined, he’s the director of a company, very capable. People respect those qualities. He’s typically somebody whose main interest is trying to help others and in our case make the GAA club a better club."
"He'd be hugely popular, very much a part of Dunboyne life. It’s a small community so I’d say his base of friends, they extend right across… not just in GAA circles. He’s in the athletics club, he plays golf. Hugely popular man."
A statement from Cox's family reads: "We want the world to know that Sean is the most amazing and wonderful husband, dad, friend, son, uncle, and brother and he has brought us all nothing but joy. We are completely devastated by what has happened to our lovely, caring, Sean and all we want is for him to come home to his loving wife and three children."
In a testament to Cox's standing in his community, more than €35,000 was raised in less than 24 hours through a GoFundMe campaign set up in order to cover Cox's medical costs.
It was Cox's love of football and his love of Liverpool that took him to Merseyside on Tuesday, buzzing with expectation and hope for the night ahead.
"He loves Liverpool, he is a frequent visitor to Anfield. It’s one of his passions. It was something he would have been greatly looking forward to," McNulty says.
Of course, the night delivered on its promise and the tireless work of Liverpool's players saw the Anfield atmosphere reach its infernal best. A 15 minute ambulance drive away, Sean Cox's family now sits by his bedside. It is a scene as far removed from the highs and lows of football as one can imagine.
Bill Shankly's quote sounded good, but he got it wrong. Only the worst treat football as a matter of death, an excuse to unleash their cruellest demons in a space where so many have gathered to celebrate what they love. Football is only a matter of life — something to breathe in, to savour, and to live for.