If they gave degrees for sheer passion, courage and determination then charismatic Fermanagh senior hurling team manager Joe Baldwin would have First Class honours.

For three weeks after suffering a “shocking stroke” he was back on the sideline to watch his boys give Leitrim a 1-26 to 1-05 hammering in the opening round of the NHL Division 3B in Ballinamore last Saturday.

By any standards that is phenomenal and just shows his great love for the game of hurling which he lyrically and beautifully describes as a “gift from the gods".

But there is another boy that is forever in Joe’s big heart as he lost his lovely son Conál to a rare heart condition called myocarditis on Christmas Eve 2012.

His stroke has brought back those memories of his gifted son, Conál, who was a great hurler and whose young life ended so tragically.

For death and memories are the dark angels of Christmas.

Speaking about his stroke to The Impartial Reporter, Joe said it was like the wheels of his life had stopped turning.

“I can’t remember the exact day it happened, but I think it was on a Wednesday three weeks ago that it happened.

“I was working in Portstewart, and I was actually standing talking to two colleagues about hurling at the time.

“I just felt my voice beginning to slur and I could not really make sense of what I was saying, and I looked at the two boys and one of them knew that something was not quite right.

“And then I got a pins and needles sensation on the right side of my face which went sort of numb and it carried on down to my right arm.

“I knew myself that I was possibly having a TIA or a mini-stroke and I knew it could lead to a full stroke.

“So, one of them brought me back to the house here where I live in Coleraine and my partner Frances is a nurse in the hospital and she phoned the GP and he said to bypass him and go straight to the Causeway Hospital.

“It is only two miles from where we live.”

Joe underwent a series of tests and he felt “quite ill.”

“My vision wasn’t great, and a CT scan confirmed that I had a clot on my brain, and I had a stroke.

Joe was kept in for three days and tests are ongoing and he wanted to know where it came from and what were the chances of it recurring.

“I have to pay tribute to the Causeway Hospital and the medical stroke team on the ward who were absolutely brilliant.

“I was sent to Antrim Hospital for an MRI scan, and it actually came back clear on the Friday.

“My blood pressure and cholesterol were high, but my diet is good now but in years leading up to it my diet would not have been the best.”

“I was allowed to go home but it was a huge shock.

“I found it very strange, but the hurling is even more important to me now.

“I have been involved in hurling and camogie since 2009 in Down and my father captained Kilkeel to a county Intermediate hurling title back in 1981 and have been involved with a lot of teams in different counties.

“It’s a five-hour return drive from Coleraine to Fermanagh and maybe four hours at training and that is nine hours extra on your day.

“Maybe I have to take a look at things but in terms of hurling I think back to the Christmas Eve in 2012 when I lost my lovely son Conál.

“That was a massive blow and he was only 12 and it was from a condition called myocarditis but we did not know this and he was a gifted hurler and footballer as you would have seen.

“He actually won the U-14 Féile skills at eleven years of age.

“Conál travelled with me to all the teams I took in Queen’s and Antrim and Down the whole time.

“This stroke has brought it all back and he never leaves my thoughts.”

Conál’s death was a crossroads in Joe’s life.

“I could have done two things.

“I could have walked away from hurling completely and never go near it but at that time I was actually making hurls.

“So hurling was more than a way of life for me - hurling was my life.