Even from the time of my school days, which is not all that long ago, how we ingest the daily news has altered seismically. Where once the day commenced with David Hanley on Morning Ireland and Gay Byrne followed, now a tap of a phone – even a dinosaur model of same – or comparable device can have one up to date with happenings around the globe in seconds.
When Dermot Weld, Mick Kinane and Vintage Crop brought home the Melbourne Cup, Hanley’s programme and part of Byrne’s had to be taken in to be brought up to speed with events. Jump forward to now. Within seconds of Tony Martin’s Heartbreak City going tantalisingly close to bringing joy to Moynalvey, Meath and the entire nation at the bottom of the world, the matter will have been dissected and analysed extensively. You wouldn’t have to look far in that regard.
So it was probably fitting that arguably the greatest happening in the history of Irish sport – in any code – caused waves across the world within seconds of its conclusion. But then, things always appear to resonate to a greater degree if some form of local connection can be attached to anything.
Dunboyne has a stronger link with rugby than many might realise. The Feighery brothers, Dr Tom and Professor Con, represented St Mary’s College and Lansdowne respectively and Ireland with distinction while David Clare won an All Ireland League title with St Mary’s in 1999 and Simon Crawford also performed to a high level in the oval ball code.
Within Meath as a county, the ties are even tighter. Perhaps started by former GAA stars such as Hugh Carolan and David Beggy and John Lacey and (current?) Graham Geraghty. It’s surely the case though that more recent years have been the most productive in the county’s rugby history. That feeling endures and gains credence by the season.
Shane Horgan was a Gaelic footballer of some note before going on to give decorated service to Leinster and Ireland. Which culminated in what for me was the greatest try scored by a team in green during my lifetime, against England in Croke Park. Personally, interest in Niall Ronan’s career was even greater. Simply as he, with St Colmcille’s, along with our own Ger Robinson, made up the two best juvenile footballers the one seeing eye has witnessed.
Having enjoyed a successful – if injury blighted – career with Leinster and Munster and been capped by the national team, Ronan more recently made a GAA return and played a pivotal role in the seaside parish’s return to the top table of Meath football. One hopes the recently declared retirement might be reconsidered. Either way, he’s had a career that he and Meath can be proud of and bestowed some great memories.
All the while, Devin Toner creates even more. There are certain things all of us would like to witness before we spin off the mortal coil. In sporting terms, to see Noel Meade win one of the major races at Cheltenham or Dunboyne and Meath win something noteworthy again would be closest to the heart here. Generations of rugby aficionados have been here and gone pining for conquest of New Zealand by a battalion clad in green without it happening.
Belief in superstition and fate is unwavering in this corner. Once Tom Yourell went to the football field in the sky in 2005, part of me knew Dunboyne would win the Senior Championship. Out of the unspeakable grief besetting the nation following the death of Anthony Foley, gut instinct was that there would follow a spiritual uprising.
Being over romantic regarding what was transpired in the interim runs the risk of losing sight of the depths of grief and loss inflicted on the Foley family and those closest to ‘Axel’. Still, the sense that there’s a stronger power at work appears inescapable. Munster haven’t lost a game since. A streak which included a scintillating display against the New Zealand Maori.
Brendan Foley was on the last team from Ireland to beat the All Blacks in 1978. Once the Irish players formed a figure of eight on Soldier Field, Chicago, prior to kick off, his son was there this time. This was big news alright – from Moynalvey to Ballinacree to Pungaheru. The occasion of Ireland’s sating of a 111 year hunger had a strong Meath garnish to it.
Toner continues to attain status in international rugby. Similar comments can apply to Beauden Barrett. The Kiwi fly half spent some of his formative years in Ballinacree – where his dad Kevin managed a dairy herd – before re-locating to Pungaheru. It now appears the cows of Ballinacree were tended to by greatness.
Indisputable though the rugby affluence of the game’s superpower may be, on this occasion they were surpassed by a different kind of greatness. The amount of things Joe Schmidt’s achieved which many hadn’t would constitute quite the list. Scoring five tries, putting 40 points past them, ending their 18 game winning run. Mostly, however, elevating the spirit of a nation.