How much do you remember about the National Football League of 1990? Apart from the fact Meath won it, that is. Other noteworthy points about the secondary competition that term were: the eventual winners were thrashed by both Roscommon and Antrim, games were played over four quarters and Down’s appearance in the final was the first signal of their re-emergence as a power at that time. On a personal level, that spring campaign was memorable for altogether different – and life changing – reasons. Specifically the semi final. At the time, the Meath-Cork rivalry was the big soap opera in the GAA. More often filled with rancour than romance, mind you. In the grand scheme of things, this particular collision was largely uneventful – bar one incident which isn’t about to be ploughed up here.
Being photographed with Brian Smyth as well as current Co Committee Chairman Conor Tormey and another esteemed former holder of that office, Fintan Ginnitty, was the personal highlight of a historic, unforgettable and emotional evening.
For me, however, on that day, it was the most important game that ever took place. My first time in Croke Park. Or at a Meath match of any kind for that matter. An early birthday present if memory serves correctly. Meath had, of course, being going well for nearly half a decade at the time and I’d been pestering the powers that be to get me to a game for a long time before it actually occurred.
Brian Smyth was the man who got me that first wheelchair ticket. Admittedly, I didn’t know much about him at the time. Other than that he was secretary of the local club and heavily involved at Co Committee level as well. Over the years, Brian has become a great friend, and was a great mentor to me when involved in GAA administration myself.
It has only been with time that the enormity of Brian’s lifelong contribution to the association has been fully appreciated. His has been a journey that shaped the road for generations that followed him. And is still doing so. That’s why it was an absolute honour to be in attendance and represent our family at the function recently hosted by St Peter’s GAA Club to honour his lifetime of dedication and service to Gaelic games in Dunboyne, Meath and further afield.
Brendan Cummins – who as ever played a stormer as MC – said at the beginning of the evening that “It’s impossible to know where to begin telling the story of Brian Smyth”. With that in mind, this writer has no intention of trying to do so. Mostly for fear of leaving something out.
Naturally, his captaining of Meath to their first All Ireland SFC in 1949 stands out above everything. That’s only a fraction of it though. There can’t be that many players in Meath with All Ireland medals in both football and hurling. Indeed, Brian won his All Ireland JHC medal in 1948 – a year before he and his colleagues changed Meath football forever.
All of which is even more noteworthy because it would be thought by many – and most likely confirmed by the many himself – that hurling is his first love. Similar sentiments could be used in reference to Sean Boylan. And that story needs no further elaboration! Though perhaps – if it’s possible – the greatest part of the Brian Smyth GAA story revolves around his many years involved in administration within the GAA. He was, remember, Chairman of the Co Committee between 1979 and 1985. A role which also saw him act as one of Sean Boylan’s selectors when he set out first.
And yet there’s more. Brian’s service to the Meath Hurling Board and to the promotion of hurling within the county is something that will surely never be equalled. He served as secretary of the board for over four decades. And it was in hurling that he made history in another way too – by becoming the first and so far only Meath man to referee a Leinster SHC Final, in 1965.
It may come as a surprise to some, but, our family have a treasured link to this remarkable story as well. My late uncle Jimmy would’ve been treasurer of the local club for much of the time Brian was involved at that level. More than that, however, Jimmy was one of Brian’s umpires for the majority of his refereeing days. Along with Ronnie Keague, George Gilsenan and Jim Yourell, all sadly no longer with us.
All of that detailed above probably only depicts a fraction of Brian’s service to and accomplishments within our national games. Little wonder then, that people – including the GAA President Liam O’Neill – came from far and wide to honour this unassuming, inspirational man. The St Peter’s club merit highest commendation for staging such a memorable, historic and emotional occasion.
If one was to look for a personal highlight from the evening, it was undoubtedly hearing Brian himself speaking. In doing so, realising how in tune with and active within the GAA he still remains. My only wish would be that the younger people present would realise that they were in the presence of true greatness.
May they – and indeed those that come behind them – be inspired by this wonderful, gentle man like so many of us have been. Best wishes Brian, thank you for everything you have done for me personally and so many through your love of and dedication to GAA.