Evolution is defined thus in the dictionary: Growth, development, progression. It is something which transcends all aspects of life, sporting and otherwise. Furthermore, given how sport is so intrinsically woven into the fabric of the lives of so many, it’s not a bad spot to start when assessing the rather astounding changes – within sport and without – which have occurred. Even in recent decades.
Recalling Meath’s two All Ireland SFC wins in 1987/’88 is a good start point. Perhaps the aftermath thereof firstly. My most vivid memories of those days revolve around being perched on John McCrory’s shoulders to try and catch a glimpse of my heroes when the team passed through Dunboyne the following night.
Thereafter, the simple thrill which it in those days was to get a bag of chips and maybe a sausage to round off such an occasion. Whether or not Sam Macari had opened his fine emporium at that juncture cannot be said for certain – if not it was very shortly after – but, in those days, the arrival of the ‘Nippy Chippy’ trailer in the evenings to take up station adjacent to the famed ‘Big Tree’ and later the Old School caused mighty excitement.
Were we to have a victorious club or county team return nowadays, any amount of eateries present themselves. Italian and Chinese and Indian and Lebanese among them. As well as cafes and pubs that do great grub and better drink. And ones that don’t do delicacies but the jorum is still excellent.
Some food halls have come and gone, many remain and thrive. There’s nearly two of everything around the place now. The latest addition being a fish monger who visits a couple of times a week, bringing produce from the great fishing heartlands of Donegal. In a way, it takes me back to an unforgettable week in that beautiful county two decades ago.
In a sporting context, returning thoughts to that period of time is also seminal. Within Gaelic football the changes – and perhaps positive change is the best definition of evolution – have been profound. Contentious in many instances also. However, surely even those with the most entrenched views would concede that the allowing of frees to be kicked from the hand and the permitting of five substitutions amounted to positive developments.
The introduction and distribution of cards of varying hue has been a decidedly harder sell and maybe always will be. Not entirely without merit in some cases. Their mere presence within the playing rules do, however, reinforce the inclination that deeply ingrained resistance can eventually be dissipated if proponents of the desired alterations are persistent enough.
Elsewhere in the sporting globe, far less debate and rancour tends to pertain to change. Even though it’s probable that pockets of resistance, admittedly with varying degrees of severity, exist relating to many things in life, the most discernible changes in any portion of the sporting landscape in the recent past has probably been in rugby and the sport is much the better for it.
Special memories remain from the oval ball code before the plunge was taken. Most especially, St Mary’s College winning the All Ireland League in 1999. Dunboyne’s David Clare propped on that team. What many mightn’t realise is that the connection with our town and the famed Templeville Road club goes back even further as the esteemed former Irish international Dr Tom Feighery – coincidentally also a prop forward – was another to wear the famed blue and white.
The most vivid memories of the College’s triumph were admittedly the festivities which took place a couple of days thereafter in Brady’s – where ‘Smersy’ – as David is known to most of us – once worked. Yours truly was privileged to spend some time with the incomparable Trevor Brennan – whom I have also been blessed to become quite close to – as well as other luminaries of Irish rugby such as Denis Hickie and Victor Costello and Malcolm O’Kelly.
Yet, what were perhaps genuine fears for the game at grassroots level with the onset of professionalism must surely have been countered by the enormity of success enjoyed by the provincial teams and – owing to thus – the national sides. Success generates interest and with the bountiful amounts thereof been garnered in the last decade or so it’s scarcely any wonder to see the numbers playing the game multiplying.
Cognisance of the reality that Dr Tom was a prop further underlines the magnitude of transformation which professionalism brought to rugby. Any deviation from players of the physical makeup of the likes of John Hayes or Cian Healy or Rory Best or Jack McGrath in the midst of a front row would be inconceivable.
For all that rugby is undoubtedly in good shape, ongoing incremental changes at present are no harm in terms of keeping it on a sound footing. Spells of dominance seem to be cyclical among the provinces. Inclination currently is that Ulster hold the ascendency. As a result of which Iain Henderson has emerged as the greatest springer from Joe Schmidt’s pack. Whether he can graduate from bench duty by autumn will be intriguing.