One man, one school, generations of stars

Whenever a column appears in this space, there’s a process involved. That being ideas doing laps in the head for a few days before getting the keyboard treatment. About a week ago, thoughts turned to the current state of things in the All Ireland SHC itself as well as what was going on in the other tiers. Now read on…

 Recently retired Dunboyne school Principal Willie Lyons
Photos courtesy Dunboyne GAA and

Before anybody asks, yes, Meath’s magnificent regaining of the Christy Ring Cup will be covered in a separate post in the very near future. Specifically though, at the time thoughts started flowing they were consumed with the current plight of the Offaly senior hurling team. However, developments in the interim have decreed that even that topic will have to wait for another production.

Why Offaly, you might think. And with some justification. Simply because, their victory over Limerick in 1994 – or more pointedly how it was fashioned – remains the most remarkable thing I’ve seen in hurling. My thoughts on the current situation were to start – and will when the piece is eventually compiled – with recollections of that remarkable turnaround.

Something much bigger close to home intervened in the meantime though. This particular occurrence could of course be put down to the passage of time. It does indeed wait for nobody. Yet it appeared in the case most pertinent to the remainder of what you are going to read the Brains Trust had made an exception.

My earliest memories of attending club games involving Dunboyne revolve around two Intermediate finals. One which they lost, against a Dunderry team including Tommy Dowd, Sean Kelly and many other fine players before they gained redemption two seasons later against St Patricks.

From a purely football perspective, absolutely nothing is recalled of either game. Indeed, it was only research years later that informed this corner the score was 0-08 to 0-04 – it obviously wasn’t too lively an affair! As for the one two years beforehand, a funny story at my own expense…

Now, obviously I knew club fare was different from county. That the team colours were different and all that. What wasn’t realised was just how big a deal County Final was. So, imagine my embarrassment when I arrived with my homemade contraption – comprising silowrap and a yellow fertiliser bag – to discover that there were proper flags on sale at the ground!

One of the strongest common threads between the two matches was the man directing operations in our dugout. He’d been doing it for years beforehand for the club and close on two decades at that stage in the local primary school. For those not au fait with St Peter’s, Dunboyne – or Cumman Na mBunscoill in Meath for nigh on 40 years, I refer to the great Willie Lyons who bids farewell to the blackboard and the coaching whistle when he retires as Principal of the local Senior Primary School this week.

Meath and Mayo have a fairly colourful shared history, to put it mildly. Sure there’s one disciple of the green and red – who shall remain nameless for now – who continually informs me (only half in jest) that Meath never would have had a football team if it wasn’t for the Land Commission!

What’s beyond dispute, though, is that the Connacht county bequeathed our club one of the greatest gifts it ever received when a youngster from Ballyhaunis arrived to impart education and he brought with him an interest in and passion for Gaelic games so infectious that (a) it was almost impossible not to have it rub off on you and (b) it was the greatest fillip our club, and by extension many county teams ever benefitted from.

Mention was made earlier of ‘other’ Mayo men earlier and we in Dunboyne have been blessed that many natives of that great county have lent their expertise to our community over the years, sporting and otherwise. One is always fearful of mentioning names in case of erroneously omitting somebody. However, what can be said with relative certainty is that it was Willie who lit the torch which the rest followed.

In the match programme for the official opening of St Peter’s’ facilities on May 16th 1993, my then 5th class teacher headlined his contribution ‘1978 to 1993’. Which pertained to his 15 years of involvement with the club up to that point. He had, however, seemingly been in the school prior to that and throughout all the years in the interim it very much became a case of one man, one school and generations of GAA stars prospering under his tutelage.

You often hear it said that people ‘Work to live’, well, in the case of Willie Lyons, he gives the impression of a man who lived to work. Or at the very least lived for the school. To the extent that some of us often jokingly wondered did he actually reside in the school!

I’ll get to my own very fond memories of a year in his care shortly, but firstly it’s important to go back. To November 9th, 1991 to be exact. For that was the date what was surely the most glaring omission on his GAA CV was finally rectified when Dunboyne B.N.S. – as it was then – finally claimed the Meath Primary Schools Div. 1 football title after numerous unsuccessful attempts thereat.

Shane McEntee, Gavin McCoy and Seamus Lavin
Photos courtesy Dunboyne GAA and

That was one of the most talented bunches of players An Muinteoir ever had under his guidance. There were numerous other decorated players who passed through the hallowed halls before and after – again no names will be mentioned for fear of irking somebody – but you always sensed that particular crop always had a special place in his heart. They certainly have in mine.

To some extent, Willie Lyons has too. I’ve never made any secret of the fact that the year I was taught by him was the most enjoyable I ever spent in education. Yes, GAA was a huge part of the reason but it ran much deeper than that also. He, along with others in the primary school such as Manus McCarron and John Moriarity and the late Peter Clarke afforded me opportunities that few if any would have at the time – and many in positions to years later didn’t.

Being honest, it was the GAA connection which made our year together so enjoyable. For one thing, P.E. every Friday consisted of Gaelic games in some form or other – let it be drills or full scale 15 v. 15 games. And for another, his contribution to the ascent of the adult football teams in our club was enough to totally hook me on GAA. I say totally as the seed was already well planted thanks to the exploits of the great Meath team of that era.

A bit ironic, then, the perhaps my greatest memory of Willie’s tenure over our adult teams relates to what actually turned out to be his last game. An SFC quarter final in which our lads were giving then County Champions Skryne a right run for their money until something happened which has gone down in Dunboyne GAA folklore. Now read on…

To spare the blushes of the individuals involved, the entirety of the incident will not be transplanted here. Let’s just say Colm O’Rourke scored two goals faster than Usain Bolt ever ran a 100m! Thus ended our maiden dining at the top table and Willie’s stewardship of our team.

Not, however, his contribution to GAA in Dunboyne. Not by a very long shot. Indeed, somewhat fittingly, around the time of the recent Leinster final I had a story of a player who, shall we say, had to be coaxed, cajoled and encouraged along in the formative stages of his career as only Willie could. You can probably fill in the rest!

That was quintessentially his contribution to Dunboyne – shaping people for their futures, sporting and otherwise. In conclusion here’s something a bit different which underlines that very point. I’ve always been farming mad. I was reared around farming, livestock, machinery and all that. Both at home and because my brother Paul worked for a local farmer, Pat Clarke, for many years.

Anyway, one day in the Spring of 1993, Paul was ploughing the fields at the back of school. So I wasn’t paying too much attention to the man at the top of the class and he knew it as well as I did. Eventually, realising it was a battle even he couldn’t win, he told Michael Reilly “Bring Brendan out to watch his brother, there’s more than one way to get an education”.

Only in very rare cases do your teachers become your friends. Thanks Willie.

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