Fortitudo in Adversis

Did you ever consider some of the phrases we all use, maybe in the course of a day, in a throw-away fashion that, well, we don’t afford a thought to? Lately, two have been to the forefront of thoughts here: the importance of not taking anything for granted in life and, from a more personal viewpoint, the realisation that things can – and sometimes do – go full circle in life.

Before going into that in too much depth, though, I must first go back. To the day after my birthday. Now, many will know, strange as it might seem, it’s not my favourite day of the year by any means. Plenty will be aware also of the bond yours truly was blessed to share with the late Tom Yourell. He passed away on April 23rd 13 years ago so thereafter the day was never going to be the same again after that.

What very few would know, however, is the following – even though I was only four when my maternal grandfather went to the football field in the sky, recollection of him is as clear a summer sky. The thing is, his wife died the same year, yet I’ve no memory of her whatsoever. And here’s the thing, on the paternal side, both grandparents were in the farmyard away yonder before these wheels were ever set in motion.

Thus, in many ways, Tom was the nearest one ever had to a grandfather – in Dunboyne at least. From the time the first powered wheelchair arrived on the scene, circa December 1995, the old football field – known to generations of Dunboyne players and those from further afield – was always the destination of choice.

Now, remember that this was in the days before mobile phones had anything like the prevalence they currently command. It wasn’t uncommon for yours truly to disappear for hours on end and not arrive back at base camp until near – or occasionally after – dark. One great evening is forever fondly recalled of spending an evening imbibing with the late Vincent Poleon – in his garage! Simpler times.

Anyway, in what used to pass for normal circumstances up to a couple of years ago, upset surrounding commemoration of the wise old sage’s transition to the newsagents in the sky would dissipate after a day or two. Not this term. Things changed on April 24th – for a family, first and foremost, but also for a community and, perhaps, even for the world at large.

There’s always a sense of foreboding about receiving unexpected calls or texts late at night. Against that theory, to a chronic insomniac like myself such communiques are not only par for the course, but treasured. Yet, if a text message can have a tone, there was something about the way “Did you hear about Sean Cox?” came across which implied something significant had occurred.

Sean, our former Chairman here in Dunboyne. A man who has done so much to continue the prosperity and development of our club, on and off the field. Chairing a club nowadays is a world away even from whence it was when I joined the committee over two decades ago. It is tantamount, now, to running a business.

However, here’s a very personal observation. Despite all the welcome and necessary modernisation he oversaw during his tenure at the top, he never lost sight of where the club has come from in order to get where it now sits. Which is something that led to a very special and treasured gesture towards this corner.

It’s a source of immense pride to have been a selector when we won the county MFC for the first time in 2002. What was equally as special, mind you, was for Sean to bring every one of the 2014 panel that lifted the Delaney Cup over to me before they were presented with their medals that Christmas. A simple thing, but one which meant so very much.

That and a few other stories whirred in the mind feverishly when the realisation of the vile, unprovoked attack which befell our dear friend and colleague fully dawned. It is, in fact, beyond comprehension. In one sense, the mind was drawn to a Christy Moore song pertaining to another horrific event.

Such shouldn’t have been the case. Focus should’ve been on one of the best games seen in any code of football in a very long time. In particular, how blessed we are to be viewing the likes of Mo Salah lighting up the game. That’s without mentioning his colleagues who also illuminated the season just finished. Or, for that matter, the mere fact that Jurgen Klopp makes everything seem better – both in terms of the football his teams play and his general demeanour in life.

Yet, none of that seemed to matter a jot as club, community and indeed the entire country rallied around our friend in need and his family. A confession: I started working on this piece on May 12th and here I am, nearly exactly one month later, typing these very words and there’s no guarantee that the complete product will be on the market today. In fact, it’d be wagered it mightn’t.

Such a time span will tell you my own journey has been skewed of late. I am not for a millisecond comparing like with like here. But, while some amazing things have occurred out of times of greatest trial and tribulation, it cultivated the realisation that for all the silly memes etc that often crop up on social media sites, one that often appears and is forever relevant is thus: ‘Be kind, you have no idea what anyone is going through’.

Fortitudo in Adversis – it wouldn’t take a Grade A Latin scholar to figure the gist of that and close to home (without going into one’s own journey, for now) it’s been something that has been something that’s been (a) needed and (b) blessedly obvious since the events of April 24th.

Now, if this was solely down to my own case few would bat an eyelid, but, in an overall context, it is also true to say that the greatest strength has come from sport in times of greatest strife. There’s been a lot of talk lately regarding flying flags at GAA grounds, but, never did I think there would be a Liverpool FC flag in any capacity other than lads going on a solo run on the grounds of St Peter’s. And no, that’s not just because I’m a Manchester United fan!

However, such was the manner in which the Merseyside club, their manager and, in particular, their captain Jordan Henderson, stepped up to the plate that one suspects links between our club and theirs have been cemented forever.

Though in no way trying to draw a comparison, the heinous attack on Sean and all that has followed coincided with an extremely bumpy patch on the road that is life’s journey. Which takes me back to mention, at the beginning of this tome of things going full circle. You see, yours truly has been in considerable discomfort, physically, for some time, owing to the need for a new set of wheels.

The process of remedying said issue has meant returning to the Central Remedial Clinic in Clontarf having not been there for the best part of two decades. With the utmost respect to Kevin, Catherine and the staff with whom I’m currently dealing (Kevin is from Syddan, his colleague from Castlebar, so the Meath-Mayo banter distracts from the more unpalatable parts of the process!) it wouldn’t be my favourite place on earth by any means.

Until a couple of years ago, life had proceeded with many years of relative stability. Prior to that though, hospital or clinic visits were as regular as rain showers. So, being back in that setting after so long has taken quite the adjusting to again – emotionally as much as anything. Commenting on certain aspects of what life throws up – especially publicly – is not so much reluctantly done as shied away from completely.

Then again, there are some battles one cannot even enter into, never mind win, alone. Thankfully, dealing with mental health issues, and especially those pertaining to living with a disability, are not the taboo topics they once were. Yes, there are still considerable hurdles to cross to normalise it being ok to not be ok but it’s certainly easier to even begin dealing with these things than it might have been not all that long ago.

Mostly in recent years it has been physical constraints which precluded attendance at desired places and events. Latterly though, there’s been something else at play. Perhaps sinister is not the word, but, believe me, it’s a lot more unsettling than any physical discomfort.

Maybe, too, though, there’s reassurance of a sort in even a modicum of solace being attained from sporting matters. In terms of sport actually seen ‘in the flesh’ – yes there blessedly has been a bit of that lately – I’ll leave that for a separate splurge which won’t take as long to produce or digest as this has.

However, being the first of anything is something that can never be taken away. Therefore, it’s hard to know where to begin to quantify how special it was to see our own Darragh Lenihan become the first Meath man to be capped at Senior level for the Republic Of Ireland.

How momentous it was for so many reasons. First and foremost, for the man himself and his family. Mention was made here before of their sporting prowess – Donal remains an integral part of the Meath senior football setup while older brother Conor was a fine player too. Indeed, what wasn’t known when comment was last passed here on such things was that Conor was a history maker in his own right – being part of a Belvedere FC team that won a competition a full year out of their age. Thank you Brendan Keane for that nugget.

As ever in these situations, if I may, allow me to put a personal reflection on it. First off, how special it is to know and be friends with an Irish international (or two, more of that anon) and his family. Several former stars have been encountered in the past (I once met Jack Charlton and the entire squad in 1993), but to have one of our own therein is wonderfully different.

The fact that he replaced John O’Shea as the aforementioned exited centre stage for the final time added to the emotion of the occasion. There was something about the big Waterford man – then again, there is about most people from down that way, see John Mullane and Dan Shanahan as references!

Then there was the GAA connection – not only that Darragh, like his brothers, was very talented in that sphere before finding his true calling but also that he, as a former star in our native games should reach the highest peak in his burgeoning career to date at a time when the club remains under something of a cloud for very poignant reasons.

For Darragh to come on in such circumstances would’ve been noteworthy enough, but for him to perform so adeptly, have had scores unjustly ruled out and, to my mind, having been surely within a short head of being Man Of The Match was the kind of debut Hans Christian Andersen would struggle to conjure.

The old home town has had had plenty of memorable sports related days in the past and that must be near the pinnacle of them. That said, you know what they say about buses. No sooner had Dunboyne one soccer International than another came along with the selection of Conor Keeley on the Irish Colleges/Universities combination which recently defeated France 2-1. In fact, the Cabinteely United centre half captained the side for the second half.

All of the above put a much needed bit of brightness on the horizon. A bit done, a lot more to do. Thank you for your patience.

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