‘A winter’s day, in a deep and dark December…’
Towards the end of my primary school education, our class went on a trip to the Olympia Theatre. As far as can be recalled, it was around this time of year. Obviously, conveyance on the bus wasn’t an option for yours truly, so, the school Principal at the time, the late Peter Clarke, brought me (I’d a fold up manual wheelchair at the time) in his car. It was neither the first nor last time he made such a gesture, God rest him.
What will come as little surprise to anyone is that a football discussion dominated the journeys in and home. As far as can be recalled, the Monaghan native also had a strong connection with Co Carlow. His vehicles always seemed to have Barrowside registrations anyway!
At the time, the Eire Og club thence had an exceptional team comprising the Hayden brothers, Garvan Ware and Anthony ‘Muckle’ Keating among others. Thus began my knowledge of and interest in the All Ireland Club Championships. With that came the realisation that sporting fare could even be attained at the time of year so fittingly depicted by Simon And Garfunkel above.
Now, as has oft been articulated previously, some great memories are retained of following other Meath clubs such as Dunderry and O’Mahonys and Seneschalstown and, in particular, Dunshaughlin, on their winter odysseys. Sadly, one has been unable to accompany the last half dozen or local representatives due to circumstance. It goes without saying, though, that support was and always would be, with them in spirit.
Nothing, however, can compare to your own scaling the mountain top. The thing is, in terms of our male footballers, on the two occasions they’ve sojourned into the province it has ended in heartache. In contrast, our lady footballers have been history making trail blazers. Now read on…
It is a source of great pride that yours truly played a (very) small roll in the formation of a Ladies Football team in Dunboyne in 1996. There had been a team in situ previously but, for whatever reason, that dispersed and our players plied their trade with the likes of Summerhill and Ratoath for many years.
However, following the reforming of what is now an extremely vibrant and valued part of our club, the ascent from Junior to Senior occurred rather rapidly. For whatever reason, mind you, despite bountiful successes at underage level, for some years at adult level, matters stagnated.
If, like me, one is of a superstitious nature, there are signs you look for. Such as when our ladies defeated St Ultan’s in a league final a couple of years back. The Bohermeen outfit have long been a superpower of the ladies game in the county, so to see ours not only compete with them but toppling them – in two finals as it happened – was signpost enough that something major was afoot.
‘A rock feels no pain, and an island never cries…’
I suspect that only on a handful of occasions has this corner shed tears after being on a football field. Two of those were this year, and one had absolutely nothing to do with what transpired on the pitch. The other, in contrast, was in the aftermath of our lads losing their championship quarter final to Simonstown Gaels. Seldom, if ever, has the result of a game hurt so much. It still does, and, to be frank, I don’t see it easing until there’s a shot had at redemption next season.
Then again, the great thing about GAA is that, in one sense, like the rock, you can feel no pain – there’s always something else to move on to. Whether that’s by way of the competitions which traditionally begin at the back of the season or – if you’re lucky – if the local unit are still active at the business end of championships or such.
Therefore, for the second time in three seasons, our lady footballers have immeasurably lifted the spirits, not only of the occupant of this seat, but also of an entire community and indeed further afield. As was said to Bernard Flynn in the aftermath of what takes up the following paragraphs, you see other clubs engaging in such feats, dreaming that one day it’ll be your own. For it to happen twice in three years is beyond words.
Gloriously – in some cases – gut feeling is seldom wrong. Allow me to explain. It’s superstition at play again. Doubtless, there will be those who’d question how qualified one could be to write on a topic given that these wheels didn’t actually park at any of the matches. But, for one thing, Con Houlihan proved in his later years that it was possible to stay in tune with things without seeing them in the flesh. And, for another, thanks to the wonders of social media, virtually every ball could be kicked upon the wonderful journey.
It’s part of GAA folklore that assignments in Wicklow can be notoriously difficult to survive – just ask St Vincent’s. So, two thoughts abound: (a) that it was no surprise to see our first round encounter with Tinahealy go all the way to a ‘45’ shoot-out; and (b) once Alison O’Sullivan’s heroics had enabled the act of escapology, instinct was to think the winter journey could be a long one.
To take the notion of good feelings a bit further, it was hard not to escape the thought that should we be able to overcome St Maur’s for Leinster success, outright triumph was then a realistic target. Simply because, such has been the dominance of all Dublin teams across all codes and grades that, if an entity were lucky enough to eliminate their ambassadors they would have to be considered to be in the box seat.
That said, after thereafter the campaign threw up plenty more twists. First of which was a trip to Latton, Co Monaghan, home of a certain Mr Clarke referred to earlier. In a heart-stopping trend which our girls patented during the season, they recovered from a laboured start to blitzkrieg their hosts – thanks mostly to what must rank as one of the most potent attacking forces anywhere in the game.
So to the final. Again my superstitious nature hit overdrive. As with our club’s All Ireland JFC triumph two years previous, the decider would take place on the first weekend in December. Once more, a team from Cork provided the opposition. Like last time too, our opponents, Kinsale, arrived bedecked in blue and white. Necessitating a change of kit for our gladiators.
All good omens, you’d think. However, what hadn’t been legislated for was our lot bolting from the start line and having 1-1 on the board before anyone was sure what was going on. Courtesy of a goal of imperious quality from Emma Duggan, crafted by build-up play which only guile, experience and understanding forged out of years of soldiering together can fashion.
You wouldn’t need Neven Maguire to garnish the reputations of our opponents – understandably so with the likes of Orla Finn and Sadhbh O’Leary aboard. Sometimes, though, something tells you that those in whom heart, soul and spirit are invested aren’t to be denied. Indeed, perhaps Vikki Wall’s brilliant ‘major’ shortly before half time – which all but reeled in the Cork side’s sustained salvo which saw them shoot five clear – was the greatest manifestation of same.
When it comes to navigating through life’s journey, one tries to abide by a nugget of wisdom imparted hence by a dear, departed advisor to whom greater reference will be made later. Basically, the idea of four walls. Or four pillars, if you will. Which, if relied upon, should aid negotiation of most of life’s pitfalls.
For me, that has always meant sport and farming and writing and reading. In the context of this latest magnificent achievement by a truly remarkable group of people, I think of the players who have been stalwarts since the re-incarnation of adult ladies football within the club. Being mindful of same, it was entirely fitting that it was Dee Blaney who essayed over that exquisite winner to crown the latest wonderful chapter in our history.
Obviously, delight for and immense pride in one and all involved are the strongest feelings. Most especially, mind you, as my niece, Niamh Farrell, also played her part. However, it was also a time for reflection. On how for we’ve come as a club. From the time my late and eternally missed friend, mentor and inspiration Tom Yourell started a football team here in 1947. It recalled what another dear departed font of wisdom once advised: “No matter where you end up, never forget where you come from”.
I thought, too, of generations of players – both lads and ladies – who had their formative grounding in our games in his beloved field. And of the countless people who have devoted so much – and continue to – in order that the club might be what it is today. Not to mention those who have represented club, county and country with distinction.
Each and every one of them were inspired by those who went before prior to they themselves becoming the drivers of those who followed. Undoubtedly, the greatest legacy of this special group of players can bestow will be when they inspire those who follow on to even more success.