It has oft been aired here before that fifth class was the most enjoyable spell yours truly spent in the education system. That was because it was spent under the tutelage of Willie Lyons. Now, aside from the Mayo native being an absolute gentleman and very good teacher, to say he was a GAA enthusiast would be the understatement of several lifetimes.
In fact, the Ballyhaunis man shaped the way for several generations of Dunboyne and Meath footballers, both through his efforts in the school and decades of involvement with the St Peter’s club. Indeed, he’s still having an input as football – both boys and girls – thrives in the school.
At this point, it must be admitted that I’ve always enjoyed a special affinity with a man – like Sean Ruane in St Peter’s College – that I always got very hard to call “Sir”. Simply as Willie has always been more of a friend than anything else. Owing to my following of football teams he was involved with before he ever taught me. And, even more so, when we served together for many years on club committees.
It was probably this unique situation that allowed him to turn a blind eye when I not so much asked him as simply just went out to observe some agricultural activity in the field at the back of the school. You see, he was well aware of my fondness for such things. As it happens, my brother Paul was working with Pat Clarke at the time and they were sowing spring wheat. So whatever educational nuggets muinteoir had hoped to impart were off the menu!
Farming has changed dramatically since then. On that day, there were four tractors in the field: ploughing, harrowing, sowing and one with the seed trailer. Then, when the ploughman had finished he went off to get the ring roller. Nowadays, the ground is, in some cases, ploughed before being tilled and planted in the one go with a one-pass system.
However, increasingly, ground tends not to be ploughed at all. Rather, forthcoming crops are direct-drilled into the stubble of the preceding yield. This may seem odd – though to anyone who knows me it shouldn’t – but, the concept of direct-drilling was to the forefront of thoughts during another memorable trip to Thomond Park for the recent European quarter final between Munster and Toulouse.
Direct drilling seems to be the way of the forward thinkers. Or so it seemed in the early part of the fifth Munster victory witnessed in the flesh. The burgeoning John Ryan went over for the home team’s first ‘major’ and, though the backs also got among the scorers, the repeated boring and probing of the pack – Ryan, Dave Kilcoyne, Peter O’Mahony and, yet again, Peter O’Mahony – put in vital shifts in a game during a game in which the home side struggled to make their obvious superiority tell.
Yet, the contribution of the backs was seminal. Not only as Simon Zebo continues to grow in stature as a player. So much so that it’s at least rumoured that Warren Gatland is considering him as a bolter for the rapidly approaching Lions tour. More telling, though, was (a) that Darren Sweetnam displaced the ever-improving Andrew Conway and (b) the contributions of both when they were on the field together. Most notably when the first named former Cork hurler displayed commendable ingenuity to cross for his try near the end.
For all that, as much as Munster’s resources have definitely been buffered, they are not as well endowed in that department as Leinster. Whilst listening to their stop-start disposal of the much vaunted Wasps en route to Limerick, it was remarked that Leo Cullen’s charges can currently count two steadfast contenders in each of the 15 positions.
Perhaps that was best exemplified by the deployment of Joey Carbery at full back in the Aviva Stadium. There’s no doubt that at times the youngsters played a little bit too loose and blasé, but it’s also beyond doubt that the youngster seems assured of a huge future in the game. Similar sentiments can be attributed to Jack Conan. The loss of Jamie Heaslip was more or less, negated,
Looking forward to the penultimate hurdles for the two Irish representatives, both are facing into jousts with formidable opponents. Logic would say both will be up against it. But, certainly in the case of Munster, logic need not apply. Consider that, since Anthony Foley’s passing, they’ve been on the sort of run that stoked memories of the glories of old.
For Leinster, the bountiful resources available to them will be sternly examined as they travel to France to tackle Clermont. Over the course of the same weekend, Munster will face a task that would be deemed impossible by many – namely trying to circumnavigate a marauding Saracens outfit. Then again, if there’s anyone in rugby who could pull off such a task, it’s them!
Gut feeling is that the outcome of what are likely to be two cracking games will be an all Irish climax. Which, to paraphrase the old butter ad, presents the question, who’s the wheelchair to Scotland?! To be continued…