Celebrating underage sporting successes with the copious consumption of crisps and minerals is a tradition which, one suspects, extends far beyond these shores. It would be wagered, also, that such practices are utterly frowned upon now by elements of a society far too conscious of itself. Ah, for simpler times…
Dunboyne’s annexation of the Meath U-14 FC in 1996 was no different to any others in terms of its aftermath. However, while the players gorged on light refreshments back at the clubhouse, commemoration of a great occasion was taken to another level as father and son adjourned to Anthony Gogan’s famed – and sadly now defunct – hostelry in Dunshaughlin.
Lapland at Christmas, Disneyland, make any comparison you like, this was big business. Bountiful memories of the evening abide. The company of Larry O’Brien behind the bar, the presence of a rather imposing Rottweiler at Larry’s hip and, most especially and now poignantly, being introduced to Fergus O’Rourke for the first time.
Now, Colm O’Rourke was always my hero in his playing days. And though I’d met him a couple of years beforehand and presented him with a ‘book’ (a ramshackle, error strewn ensemble which having the audacity to present to the man now causes shudders!) but, for whatever reason, befriending Fergus felt like getting that little bit closer.
My folks had been friends with Fergus for many years at that stage as well as other great characters from the locality such as John Sullivan and Ollie O’Neill and the late Dinny McCarthy. Friendships which blessedly endured over the generations. Among countless others in the Dunshaughlin area it must hastily be added!
Sometime after the Gogan’s encounter, friendships with the extended O’Rourke family were cemented still further when Fergus’s sons, Tiernan and Brian, and after time Fergus Og and his daughter Breffni became dear friends of mine also. I can still recall Brian’s amazement at me being able to recall him being part of the 1992 All Ireland MFC winning Meath outfit – which also included Dunboyne’s Denis Gallagher as well as Brendan Murphy, Paul Shankey, Paul Nestor and one T. Giles.
A sense of feeling unqualified to write a tribute to Fergus abounds. Other, more rounded works have emerged and will doubtless continue to do so. However, I feel compelled – yet equally blessed – to have the opportunity to recall some wonderful memories from what will eternally be considered a blessing to have known him.
From serving a certain part of life’s apprenticeship in the company of Fergus, Tiernan and Brian, Greg and Nick Crawford and the late Bert Gill. To memories of Fergus’s unique football management style – in conjunction with his long time sidekick, the late Neil Halpin. No duo ever made B League football seem so glamorous or important!
You don’t become as successful in business as Fergus indisputably was without having high expectations and a clear vision of how things should be done. Thus, while “Let the ball long into Michael McHale” may have appeared tactically simplistic, it more often than not reaped rich dividends. Yes, things had to be done a certain way. So, forwards dropping back into midfield – or Heaven forbid further – was absolutely forbidden. Which prompted Fergus to proclaim to his son one day in a Junior match against Dunboyne at Donaghmore/Ashbourne’s old ground in The Wotton “Tiernan, if you kick that ball from there, I shall take you off!”
Yours truly didn’t escape the odd blunt – if entirely jest-laden – riposte either. Fate decreed, perhaps predictably, that Dunboyne’s first match of the 1999 season – as outgoing county champions – was against…Dunshaughlin…away! On a wet, windy February morning which ensured an entirely mud spattered occasion.
As was custom at the time, the wheels of the day here endeavoured to hall themselves towards the dugout. About half way over, the unmistakably deep, booming voice was heard around the trees – now gone – observing “Boylan, you are cutting up my pitch”! To which it was quickly stated “If it was that good a field a quality vehicle like mine wouldn’t leave a mark on it”! All in good humour and the sort of banter Fergus revelled in.
Maybe the greatest quip of all, though, was when somebody would ask to whether he was Colm’s brother – “No, he’s my brother” was the time honoured response. And it carried much credence. Fergus was a noteworthy, highly successful individual in his own right.
As a footballer, with Aughavas, Leitrim Connacht and Skryne. And in business, throughout many years of service to Renault Ireland – probably among others unknown to me – culminating in his successful stewardship of a great team in Blanchardstown Renault for many years.
Above all else, he was a gentle giant, great character and a very special and loyal friend who will be terribly missed by those of us whose lives were blessed by his unforgettable presence therein. To Aidie, Tiernan, Brian, Fergus Og and Breffni and the extended O’Rourke family I extend my deepest sympathies. Rest in peace, dear friend.