Support: friends of Rory Hegarty carry his coffin in Rathfarnham

It was just shy of 11.30 on Friday morning when they walked Rory Hegarty's coffin the short distance down to the church at the bottom of the hill. They took turns carrying the 16-year-old on their shoulders but each time the combination was the same – three Ballyboden St Enda's teammates on the right and three Terenure College schoolmates on the left. Striped jerseys and jeans, black jumpers and slacks, the uniforms of a boy's life. When they got to the door, the Church of the Annunciation in the south Dublin village of Rathfarnham was packed save for a few row of seats near the front. Just like in Eglish five years ago, a congregation numbed.

In the crowd, you could pick out a gathering of men in St Anne's tracksuit tops, representatives of the Tallaght club that had been Rory's last opponents. He played them last Sunday in a minor B football match before heading off to his weekend job in the River Island store. The following morning, he was found cold in his bed. Club officials say that although a final confirmation has still to come back, it bore all the hallmarks of Sudden Death Syndrome. The irony of Rory's death and that of Colm Geraghty (22) in Leixlip last weekend coming so near the anniversary of Cormac McAnallen's is both deep and grotesque.

And another sad GAA death occurred in Kilmacud Crokes when a promising 13-year-old footballer, Robert Shaw, passed away last week. Although possibly not related to Sudden Death Syndrome, the proximity of the three make it all the more heartrending.

On Friday morning, we heard about Rory, a sweet kid full of laughter and kindness. A vastly popular boy with a huge circle of friends. He was described variously as open-minded, alert, eager, a huge softie. He was academically gifted and his friends sometimes despaired of how easily he picked up whatever sport he turned his hand to. He tried a bit of rugby, a bit of soccer, even some hurling – although they delighted in sticking him between the posts for that.

They brought mementoes up to the altar at one point. A collage of photos of him with his friends, an economics schoolbook, his mobile phone. And a jersey made up of three parts – Ballyboden, Terenure and Manchester United. He loved the Ross O'Carroll-Kelly books and referred to himself sometimes as The Business. As one of his mates pointed out, if he'd known there'd be that many people in one room, Rory'd have found a way to charge admission.

They've been telling stories of his gone-in-a-fingersnap life all week. Of how after he left his primary school St Mary's, he still went back to help out on Sports Day because he wanted to give a little back. Of how committed he was on a football pitch and what a pleasure he was to know off it. "You either loved Rory or you didn't know Rory," a friend said.

He leaves behind him two devastated parents in Dermot and Sally Hegarty, a younger sister Sadbh and a younger brother Neil. The priest who led the funeral mass was a Limerick man, Fr Bernard McNamara. "When I arrived at the Hegarty's house last night, Sally asked me why God would do such a thing as this." he said. "I don't have the answer. I don't know why. I don't pretend to be able to rationalise it."

The mass finished with six of Rory's best friends taking to the altar and paying personal tributes. Young men declaring love for their now-gone brother, struggling through as best they could, trying to raise the odd laugh before the waves of grief swallowed them whole. One of them promised Rory he'd take care of his family, another promised Sally he'd call his first son Rory.

Fr McNamara said that he'd been struck by the image that had greeted him the previous night as he approached the Hegarty home – each house along their road had a candle in the window. Rathfarnham may be a world removed from the rural silence of Eglish and Benburb but, as with everything in the GAA, it all comes back to the parish in the end. It was no surprise then that all were invited back for tea and sandwiches in the Ballyboden clubhouse.