The greatest heroes are closest to home

Visitors to this space, or indeed sports aficionados of a certain vintage, might recall a time when Eurosport was the only such channel available with ‘mainstream’ television broadcasting. That is, if one was lucky enough to have ‘all’ the ‘normal’ television stations. Now read on…

Such was the situation in the homestead that until 1993 RTE 1 and 2 were the only available viewing. In the case of the ancestral family home (which was one of my most treasured places on earth with its mud walls, thatch roof, spring water, Stanley Range and an abundance of cattle sheds), that meant viewing on an old Bush black and white set. This was back in the days when RTE used to show English First Division – as it was then – games on a Saturday.

Insofar as watching ‘other’ channels was concerned, for many years that was reserved for visiting extended family. Which was usually on a Saturday and that in itself was a blessing as it afforded the chance to see the likes of Football Focus, Match Of The Day and Big Break and Noel Edmond’s House Party and, my especial favourite, Dad’s Army.

Anyway, to offer a bit of context to what you’re about to read, it was also thence that Eurosport was first encountered. Now, it was the case at the time – and still is – that any sport on television is not only welcome but needed in this corner. Thus, seeing things such as cycling, snooker and other less prominent codes was something of a novelty.

Also championed on the channel, mind you, are winter sports. And, ironically as it is now, there often seemed to be more skiing thereon than anything else. Little was it ever thought, however, that an Irish connection – let alone a local one – could be made with such pursuits.

Yet, recently that is exactly what transpired. Karl O’Dwyer was formerly a talented sportsman in the locality who, more recently appears to have found his true sporting calling in affairs of the slopes. For many, myself included, the extent of knowledge pertaining to skiing would’ve been that there was an artificial slope somewhere on the far side of Dublin. Even at that, it remained an obscure curiosity.

While it may be stretching it to say that is likely to change dramatically, Karl recently brought his chosen craft to centre stage with an outstanding performance at Speedski World Cup where he set a new Irish record by clocking an average speed of 153.9 KM/H. That turned out to be only the beginning of a very proud and productive period for sport in Dunboyne.

The special and cherished bond I was blessed to share with the late Tom Yourell is, I’m sure, well known in most places at this stage. However, what many mightn’t realise – and I admittedly didn’t know until after Tom’s passing – was that, as well as being a founding member of St Peter’s GAA, he was also secretary of what was thought to be the first organised boxing club in the area. What I do know about boxing of yesteryear in the area is that my grand-uncle, the late Joe Geoghegan, came from Leixlip to partake and was reputedly a competitor of some note.

Therefore, it was entirely fitting that, some years back, Dunboyne ABC found their home in his old home and business premises. In terms of pugilism in more recent times, for as long as I can recall, people such as David Curtis, Kevin and Shane Poleon and Eamonn Gilligan and his sons have been among the primary Lords of The Ring. It has to be said that boxing success in Dunboyne is nothing new – indeed a while back there was another poignant example of the link between matters inside the ropes and GAA as Jordan Kelly – grandson of the late Pat ‘Spoggy’ Kelly – has been making quite the name for himself with the gloves.

Yet, personally speaking, great pleasure was taken, in particular, from the national title recently attained by Eamonn J. Gilligan. For several reasons. Not least owing to the contribution to the sport in our area made by the young man and his family. Also, however, for other special reasons.

One of which was the fact that young Eamonn was a talented GAA player not all that long ago – on successful teams managed by his dad – but also because of matters outside of sport which touched an entire community and beyond. Often from adversity comes greatest inspiration.

It’s also true, of course, that the greatest heroes are closest to home. Eamonn’s achievement drew national attention – with his victory being acknowledged by the colourful Gary ‘Spike’ O’Sullivan among others. But then, he hasn’t been the only local making news on the national stage lately. Not even the only one from the same housing estate, in fact.

When I was younger, Beechdale was by far the biggest development in the area. Indeed, it still may be as the exact number in each of the plantations out the Summerhill road is not known. Though then again, on mature recollection, Millfarm probably trumps the lot of them.

Anyhow, the fact is that, for a long time, Beechdale supplied bountiful numbers for all the sports clubs around. Consider that building began thence shortly before I was born and wasn’t completed for a good while after. Put it this way, my brother ploughing where there are now houses is easily recalled. Mind you, the same can be said of Millfarm, Larchfield, St Peter’s College and even the Blanchardstown Centre.

To return to point however, for a time, Beechdale had the greatest numbers gathered in one area. Thus, many current and former residents have achieved sporting successes – across various codes – on stages near and far. With no disrespect meant to anybody, however, the sporting story of the old estate – and by extension the entire area – reached its greatest peak thus far with the selection of Darragh Lenihan in Martin O’Neill’s Ireland squad for the recent friendly against Turkey.

That was a day many of us had wanted to see and dreamed of for a long time. The much travelled and highly decorated Gary Rogers was the first Meath man to be picked for a Republic senior squad some months ago and while, akin to the Bohermeen man, Darragh didn’t see any action in Antalya, such an occurrence is surely only a matter of time away.

It will, when it surely happens, by merited reward for the trajectory which the local man’s career has taken. Those of us of a certain age can remember a time when Blackburn Rovers were perennially contending for and, ultimately, winning the Premiership. The dawn of the oligarch owner undoubtedly stunted their prospects (theirs and many more like them) while apparent mismanagement by their own controllers Venkhys compounded matters further.

Under Tony Mowbray, those who Jack Walker made great have – after admittedly dropping down at first – at least made shapes at returning to where a club of their profile should be. And Darragh has been at the fulcrum of that despite missing a large chunk of the season through injury.

For GAA fans, is there a more special time than the closing stages of the National League and – perhaps more pointedly – the beginning of club championships up and down the country. Outside of the country as well, probably. It’s that point in the year where everything appears possible for both club and county.

Now, there’s no escaping that it was a difficult league campaign for Meath. However, hindsight has proven the draw garnered in Roscommon on the opening weekend to be highly commendable and while there admittedly some disappointing results midstream, the correlation between the return of Donal Lenihan to the team and the up turn in fortune can hardly be coincidence.

In the aftermath of the last two rounds of the league, which as fate would have it, coincided with Darragh’s ascent to the Irish squad, someone posted online about Dunboyne’s deadly duo. That they are – and older brother Conor was a fine player with a cultured left boot – and it’s on foot of their achievements – indeed that of all those mentioned herein and anything to which a connection, however tenuous, can be made which keeps these wheels turning.

However, what’s doing most to fuel the engine at the minute is The Dream. The famous one that every GAA fan has this time of year. Except this season it, for me at least, is more than a dream. A need. A hunger. Simply because, as was admitted here at the time, in 28 years of following football, never has a result had such an effect on me as our loss to Simonstown Gaels last October.

And that, as anyone who knows me well enough will attest, is because sport has always and will always hold a far greater importance for me than simply the results which occur therein. That has never been more so the case than now. Far too much of the recent past has been an exercise in firefighting.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say the Simonstown result was the catalyst for all which has followed. No, seismic changes to circumstances at home and, even more so, the number of those held dear called ashore to above were the most significant contributors to the physical and mental health issues which have bookmarked proceedings for all too long now.

But it certainly didn’t help. Sporting successes like those outlined above most certainly do, however. And it is, after all, that time of year when we can all dream again…

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