Wexford hurling manager Davy Fitzgerald was among the thousands of people who lined the streets of Declan Sexton’s home town of Lahinch, Co. Clare, on Friday (May 29) to pay their final respects to the young hurler, who lost his brave battle with cancer last week.
Declan was just 27.
A guard of honour accompanied Declan on his final journey from the family home in Killaspuglonane, where he passed away on 25 May, to the Church of Our Lady & St. Michael, Ennistymon, and then on to Ennistymon cemetery.
The coffin was draped in jerseys from Declan’s two cherished GAA clubs – Brothers Pearse and Ennistymon.
The town of Lahinch came to a complete standstill as the funeral procession passed through it.
The Pearse’s – the club Declan hurled with for five years – are still trying to come to terms with his tragic and sudden loss – a “gentleman in the truest sense” is how they described him.
His death has left Pearse’s players, members and supporters in “total shock”, as they mourn the passing of a valued friend and teammate.
“Declan was just a really genuine person and a really nice guy – he will be hugely missed,” selector JP Rea told the Irish World.
Pearse’s plan to pay tribute to Declan by returning to his home town to play a game against Ennistymon.
When the club will undertake that pilgrimage will be governed by Covid-19, but Rea says it’s something they are determined to do, so that the Pearse’s can give their teammate a “proper send off”.
After graduating from University of Limerick in 2015 with a degree in Civil Engineering, Declan moved to London where he worked as a site engineer with Keltbray.
He immediately followed in his father Tom’s footsteps by joining Brothers Pearse.
He proceeded to make the number five jersey his own, starting the 2017 county and provincial finals.
Indeed, it was Declan who set Pearse’s on their way to All-Britain final victory over Manchester’s Fullen Gaels at Pairc na hEireann by setting up two of the London side’s opening three scores.
“Six points up at half-time we were in the dressing room making sure we had the tactics right for the second half,” recalls Rea.
“A few of the boys were talking and saying what we had to do, but the last word before we went back out on to the pitch came unusually from Declan.
“He said ‘Jesus lads! We are not losing this game!’. Everyone just went quiet.
“Declan was quiet, but when he did talk everyone listened. If he said something, it was because it meant something. He wouldn’t say things just for the sake of it.”
They wouldn’t lose it. Pearses ended up winning by 3-18 to 2-10. Rea was manager of Pearse’s that year and describes Declan as the “perfect player”.
“He never missed training and would always turn up early for games. He was fit and would get stuck in,” he said.
Declan had already played his part in Pearse’s London intermediate final win over Thomas McCurtains at Ruislip.
Following victory over Fullen, Declan subsequently started the club’s All Ireland Club JHC quarter-final against St Mogues of Wexford.
A historic occasion for the club, it was the first time Pearse’s had played in the club championship since 1998.
2017 also saw Declan and Pearse’s claim the McCullagh Cup.
He was called up to the London county senior hurling panel in late 2018, but was forced to withdraw due to ill health. He was diagnosed with cancer in 2019.
A fundraising night in aid of Declan and Cancer Research UK was held at Hennessey’s Bar in Kingsbury on 1 June 2019.
It was hoped the event would raise £1,000. In the end more than £5,000 was donated.
Rea was working on the same site as Declan in Slough, Berkshire, when the coronavirus pandemic struck.
Declan received a letter from the NHS in March advising him to stop work for 12 weeks, and he decided to return home to Clare. He’d been in “good form” recalls JP.
“He’d been getting back to his normal self – he was down at training at the beginning of the year, just helping out,” said Rea.
JP kept in contact, as did Pearse’s Tom Ryan – a member of the Pearse’s senior title winning team of 1998 – who also works for Keltbray. Tom’s support, in particular, was hugely appreciated by Declan’s family.
All seemed fine, but then his condition began to deteriorate and he underwent tests.
Declan’s condition worsened and he sadly he passed away at the family home in Killaspuglonane on 25 May.
In a statement posted on social media, Brothers Pearse extended its “heartfelt condolences to the Sexton family on the devastating loss of Declan” – a “gentleman in the truest sense”.
The club added: “He dealt remarkably with his diagnosis last year, always with a positive outlook and during his time out from playing he emerged as a more vocal figure on the sideline during club action last year.
“It makes his sudden loss all the more cruel that although he was invaluable on the sideline last year, it truly was Declan’s aim and belief that he would be back where he belonged on the field this year.
“He was the best representative any club could ask for, hard working, decent and always lending support. On his road from recovery since last summer he immersed himself in various club activities and social gatherings such as weddings, engagement parties and the London Gala Dance in Clayton Chiswick just this February.
“Anyone who spent any amount of time with Declan were all the better for it, and he is already gravely missed by all the lads he played alongside, as well as all who crossed his path within the club over the past few years.”
It prompted a huge number of tributes.
Fr Murphy’s called Declan a “fine hurler and a gentleman” and they were joined by Fr Murphys Camogie and Ladies Football Club and Kilburn Gaels in passing on their condolences to Declan’s family and to the Pearse’s club.
With his home club, Ennistymon, Declan played at all levels across both codes, and was part of their 2011 county minor A football championship winning team before lining out with the North Clare club’s adult sides.
Ennistymon GAA club, said: “Always giving huge commitment, always willing to learn and work, and always improving his skills, which were evident to all who saw him play.
“We hope these traits along with the courage and dignity with which he bore his illness, will provide some solace for his family going forward, knowing that though his lifepath was cut cruelly short, Declan lived it with an honesty and enthusiasm that is an example to all.”
Civil Engineering at University of Limerick described Declan as a “great student, classmate and friend”, and remembered him as always smiling.