For a multiplicity of reasons, it seems scarcely believable that it’s November. The cattle are still out grazing and National Hunt racing is getting better every week.Those morsels presently represent the only beacons of positivity on the horizon. Desperately needed they are, as well.
All of that, of course, is another representation of the changing of the seasons. In sporting and other ways. Indeed, in ways, it would be fair to say it’s the most special part of the GAA year. That being County Final time in most parts of the country. If the club scene really does command the priority we are continually reassured is so by the Brains Trust, it is Mecca for those who are the very life’s blood of the association.
Wheels transporting yours truly were parked at every Meath senior football final – and a fair few hurling deciders – between 1992 and 2011. Nothing compares to the climax of the club GAA year. And if fortune decrees that one’s local tribe are still at war when the leaves vacate the trees, they can be the moments of several lifetimes. Dunboyne’s pair of Keegan Cup triumphs still rank as the two best days of my life, sporting or otherwise.
Circumstance has prevented a visit to the showpiece day since Summerhill defeated Dunshaughlin five years ago. Whoever said time’s a healer was upsettingly mistaken. The pang of heartbreak at missing what was once routine never wanes. If anything, it intensifies with every season away from the coalface.
During other campaigns, hope would always have been maintained up until near throw in time that an expedition was possible. No such luxury existed this term. Long before matters entered injury time for the season, it wasn’t a runner. Should the concept of an annus horribilis exist, very close to home there is an all too poignant realisation of what it entails, given some of the obstacles which have been negotiated thus far and those which remain.
Some of the hurdles could not have been navigated without the backup of family – first and foremost – but also a blessedly large circle of acquaintances who’ve proven invaluable in dealing with what life has thrown up in 2016. On the morning of this year’s Meath climax, an inquiry from a most special spot as to whether I was in Pairc Tailteann prompted a volcano of emotions.
Crestfallen would be best describe feelings at that time. Not only at not being up to attending but, more pointedly, at a sense that the beloved black and amber should also have been in situ – in both the curtain raiser and the main event. Even that wouldn’t fully encapsulate the depth of sadness engulfing things at the time. Part of me knew it’d be the loneliest place on earth at that moment.
There are certain words nobody ever wants to hear. Their mention in relation to those held dear can be distressing enough. Having them appear on one’s own agenda causes a mixture of feelings which border on the indescribable. At this point it must be openly acknowledged that relativity and perspective must be applied. That, however, doesn’t make dealing with unexpected earthquakes any easier. In such scenarios, maintaining some semblance of normality – or whatever constitutes that curiosity for a given individual – becomes essential. When malfunctioning mechanisms which are intended to aid conveyance through a body’s stay in the big circle end up having the opposite impact, you may as well be looking for a sun tan in a hurricane as something to lift the spirits.
Strangely, given the background outlined, events in our county’s homestead did their bit to add credence to the cherished belief that every road must turn. However difficult that may be to see at the minute. Undoubtedly, the most incalculable aspect of involvement in GAA, albeit loosely nowadays, or any social activity for that matter, are the friendships which accrue out thereof.
Thus, when friends become opponents, in a sporting sense, a tricky roundabout must be circumnavigated. Friendship runs deeper than anything on a football field though. Recently, thoughts were returned to the Meath Intermediate Championship Final of 2007 which pitted Andy McEntee’s Donaghmore/Ashbourne against the Sean Kelly and Sean Barry guided Castletown.
Comparable conundrums consumed the build up to this season’s end game. Again, a Kelly/Barry ensemble formed half the ticket. This time Simonstown Gaels were in the other corner. Some highly valued friendships have been made within the north Navan club over the years. Happiness would have abounded for whoever attained the ultimate prize. The lairs of intrigue didn’t end there.
Father opposed son. Former Meath U-21 player Shane Barry in the blue corner, his dad directing operations in the green. Given family connections here, a Donaghmore/Ashbourne win would’ve been fervently welcomed. Yet, the presence of one Simonstown player in particular on the field had part of me plumping for them too. From this vantage point in life, overcoming adversity – or at least striving to – is a standing dish.
There can hardly have been many more trying tales of endurance and resilience than that of Shane O’Rourke. Colm was my first sporting hero. Over time, he and the extended O’Rourke family have become great friends to me. Being in the company of Colm and his wife Patricia and Sean Boylan as Shane made his debut for Meath is easily recalled.
Knowing what he has gone through to get back playing any football – let alone inspiring Simonstown to a county title – is the sort of tale that keeps the wheels turning when the engine wants to seize.
I couldn’t but think of the late Seamus Heaney over the course of that Bank Holiday weekend. A man of the same name was feted for shaping masterpieces with words, my dear departed friend sculpted generations of Simonstown footballers.
At the end of a week which was blessedly spent in his company many years ago, such was the impact he had on me I asked him for his autograph. He wrote: “Lovely to meet you Brendan”. The pleasure was all mine old friend. No doubt you’re smiling down on the Gaels from afar.
Nothing, of course, compares to the primitive tribalism of seeing your own scale the mountain top. Too often this year, checks have had to be made to see how much fight remains in the tank. The one constant reassurance? Keeping that dream alive.