An emotional mix of recollections

Recently, in the midst of another bout of insomnia, an airing of the All Ireland SFC semi final of 2006 between Dublin and Mayo was encountered at about 2am. At the time, what resonated greatest was hearing the dulcet tones of Kevin Mallon, formerly of LMFM, conveying the action.
To my mind, anyway, undoubtedly Kevin’s finest hour arrived when he declared “God must be a Meath man”. When I was younger, wholehearted agreement would’ve ensued on the premise that he was a corner forward who hailed from Skryne! However, in this instance, Kevin’s proclamation requires a bit of context. Now read on…

June 20th, 1997. Kildare finally appear to have cooked Meath’s goose. And thus ended a remarkable year’s journey. The pinnacle of which was annexation of Sam Maguire from a position of relative obscurity. Except that, on this particular day, Jody Devine’s unforgettable intervention staved off expulsion.

Now, with the best will in the world, the Ballinlough clubman wouldn’t have been regarded as a prolific shooter. On the occasion in question though, he may have been powered by the Almighty. Even though a very depleted Meath team – on foot of a tempestuous third tangle with Mick O’Dwyer’s side – ended up losing the Leinster final to Offaly, that middle joust holds court among the two greatest displays by Meath teams ever witnessed by the one seeing eye. The other being the fourth match against Dublin six years previously.

Both of those outings, and many more, were recently recalled during a day which prompted an emotional mix of recollections. The occasion being the Over 40s 7-a-side football tournament, hosted by St Peter’s GAA Club and championed by Denis Gallagher, Paul Barker and Colm Brennan Jnr to raise much needed funds for the ASD class in Dunboyne primary school.

First to the football side of things. It recalled the day when, as part of a college assignment, yours truly was dispatched to the GAA Museum at Croke Park for the purpose of surveying the place vis-à-vis wheelchair access. I headlined the piece which followed in Insight magazine ‘A day spent in Heaven for me’. This was similar.

Apart from the fact that, to me, football is football and being able to see any of it is good for the soul, what was even more special this time around was being able to catch up with so many not seen for so long. Which in this case meant plenty of those who initially started out as heroes afar who over time have blessedly become friends.

People like Martin O’Connell, Kevin Foley,  Evan Kelly, Ollie Murphy, Paul Shankey, Ray McGee, Mark O’Reilly, Daithi Regan, Alan Browne – owner of one of the most powerful left boots ever encountered – and many more.

Then there were the lads who are encountered more regularly but it was still great to see them on a football field again. Cormac Sullivan, Anthony Moyles, a plethora of Dunshaughlin men, including Aidan and Richie Kealy (in ‘foreign’ silks!), Ollie Flood (on tour from Carnaross) and Tiernan O’Rourke – complete with all the old on-field prowess!

Blackhall Gaels even wheeled out several old big guns – including former coach Leo Turley – while, speaking from the heart, the most especial viewing was seeing so many stalwarts of our own club back out strutting their stuff. Vinny Maguire is one of only a handful of Dunboyne players with Junior, Intermediate and Senior Championship medals, and there he was, along with Gary Byrne, Andy McEntee, Liam Duggan, Ken Gannon, Darragh Smyth, Robbie Brennan, Paul Watters and Denis Gallagher himself, to name but a few.

Even the old Meath ‘Backroom Boys’ Eoghan Lynch and Pat Kelly made comebacks for such a worthy cause. However, rumours that Kelly’s bus is now resident in an aforementioned museum cannot be substantiated. Several thoughts abound. Firstly, ‘Smoothie’ McGee and Shankey were born to play sevens. More than that, it’s easy to see why both – as well as several others – are still active on the club scene. Then there were musings about those who either wriggled out or hadn’t yet reached eligibility – Niall Kelly I’m looking at you!

Other than that, the sight of David Clare in a Summerhill jersey will be investigated whenever our paths cross again. All in all it was a great day’s entertainment (it went a long way into the night too!) which immeasurably lifted the spirits in this seat, at least. Yet, sight cannot be lost of why we were all there.

As you might imagine, it was an event that struck a serious chord with me. For all too well is it known how crucial support can be in making as smooth a journey through life as circumstances will allow. What’s also treasured, mind you, is that Dunboyne is an extremely special place – so is the GAA community far and wide – when a rallying call is required.

Personally, I recall the late Jack Murray and many others being to the fore efforts to get myself, mam and my brother Paul to Lourdes in 1985. So that the efforts of Denis, Paul, Colm et al were such a resounding success was no surprise. Nothing less would have been expected.

Indeed, such was the success of the day that any thoughts of it being a one-off can’t be countenanced. It couldn’t be, anyway, for very emotional reasons. Saying people going to the stadium above is part of life is like saying there’s seven days in a week. There’s been too much of it in these parts in the recent past.

On what was always destined to be an emotional day anyway, an altogether more poignant layer was added to proceedings as there were a Cup and Shield on offer after the day’s action. Namely, the Gallagher Cup – named in honour of Paddy, and the O’Grady Shield, remembering Martin – two dear friends to myself and our entire community who were called ashore way too soon.

Records will show that Gaeil Comcille claimed the inaugural Cup competition while the Shield went to Kilmainhamwood. In another way, however, everyone was a winner. Most importantly, the school and the youngsters who will benefit from the improvement in resources therein, but on a broader scale, this was a day to celebrate the best of our community. There’s no place like home. Roll on next year!

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