Sometimes it doesn’t matter how you make the journey if you reach your destination

There’s a framed photo staring down at me on the wall of the office. May 17th, 2002. Fr McManus Park, Skryne. David Gallagher and Niall Kelly entangled in an epic battle which encapsulated not only that particular clash between ourselves and our neighbours Dunshaughlin but virtually any encounter between the two throughout my lifetime. That is to say, not a kick of a ball between the sides and no quarter asked or given by either participant.

If there was one differentiation between the joust in question and others, it was that, at the time, Eamonn Barry’s terrific team were in pursuit of a third consecutive winter as guardians of the Keegan Cup. A mountain they would eventually scale thanks, largely, to one of Kelly’s trademark long range missiles direct from a line ball in the dying seconds of the final against Trim.

However. on the day of the latest chapter of the local rivalry, four months before Trim were cut down to size, we knew they were in every bit as perilous a position as ourselves. And, I’ll we honest, we would’ve loved nothing more than to knock them off their … perch! Having said that, there was no escaping the fact that the gulf between us and them was considerable at the time.

To be fair, it was between most teams and Dunshaughlin. In an effort to address that imbalance, Gerry Cooney made a change which changed not only the course of that game and season, but the recent history of our club and by extension that of Meath football.

That being taking ‘Gally’ out of the goals and deploying him to a midfield role where he is still a vital cog in our armour nearly two decades on. From a personal perspective, it presented the perfect storm. The prospect of ‘Gally’ and Niall ending up marking each other.

The two are the same age and soldiered together on Meath teams throughout their careers. Anyone that has been visiting this web space for any length won’t need reminding of the bond which exists between David and I. It’s a very similar if not identical situation with myself and Niall. His late grandfather, Kieran, was a great neighbour and friend to our family for many years and it was through the great man from Gortahork that I got to know Niall and his brother Shane many moons ago.

Niall Kelly’s left boot was Dunshaughlin’s not-so-secret weapon

Both lads have become cherished friends and so much more to me in the intervening years. Something which hasn’t always gone down well with people who should’ve known far better. In one case, a Dunboyne mentor gave me a ‘dud’ team before we played Dunshaughlin fearing ‘state secrets’ would be passed to opposition hands. Apart from the fact that such thoughts were a grave insult to me, at the time, there was no way I was going to do anything to jeopoardise our chances of defeating our neighbours and great rivals.

That said, it is known all too well that, once the other black and ambers had emerged from the county on a triumvirate of successive occasions, my decision to follow their journey through Leinster and into the All Ireland Club Championship went down like a led balloon with folks who couldn’t see past their own noses. A campaign which would, I will forever be convinced, have culminated in outright glory had the younger Kelly not been sent off by, ironically, a Donegal referee, who was about as kind to Meath teams as Basil was to Manuel in Fawlty Towers!

GAELS ON THE SIDELINE ABOVE

As the old adage goes, it’s a long road that has no turning. The fortunes of both clubs have – to some extent at least – gone in opposite directions. That, however, would do nothing to dull the aura around and enthusiasm for this particular local derby. Indeed, if anything, there was a desire to be there shrouded in poignancy thinking of the great Gaels from both sides who would be glued to the action on the sideline up above. Chief among them Patsy McLoughlin who would undoubtedly have been reminding me of my Dunshaughlin roots.

Dunshaughlin Legend: The late Patsy McLoughlin

Of course, regardless of whether life’s struggles had engulfed me in the run up to the most recent incarnation of the old joust or not, being in situ wasn’t an option as Corona continues to garnish the world in chaos. The admittance of 55 spectators from each side is admittedly a step in the right direction, but, as somebody who would punt on how many rain drops would fall in a shower, that one was unwilling to gamble going to a game that will forever mean so much to me should underline the gravitj of the situation. Particularly given that most if not all of those who would be piloting the silver bullet would come under the vulnerable category.

However, as if all that wasn’t enough emotional turmoil to be dealing with, there was another curve ball pitched in this direction in the week leading up to the match. You see, a couple of years ago, when my mental health maelstrom was at a low not previously encountered, Niall’s wife, Lisa, became my GP.

Now, I’d known Lisa for many years beforehand and was actually very proud and honoured to be invited to their wedding. Indeed, I’ve known her dad, Henry, for a long time too, through GAA and farming connections. If ever confirmation was required that everything happens for a reason, there couldn’t have been a more appropriate time to have such a special person looking after me.

Thus, having my final meeting with her (in a professional sense) days before the most recent Dunboyne-Dunshaughlin encounter only poured petrol on the emotionally tangled fire raging in the computer room between my shoulders

If there was any positivity garnered during the chaos which began – in Ireland at least – on Friday March 13th, it manifested itself in the production of the Memory Lane series which will, come hell or high water, be in book form sooner rather than later.

More than that, though, it has removed the technophobe from yours truly. At this point it must, of course, be stated that none of the aforementioned would’ve been possible without Susie’s assistance. Which has meant, as I hope you have noticed by now, the Boylan Talks Sport YouTube channel is now up and running properly having been as lifeless as a pub in rural Ireland for the last eight years or so.

Add that to the fact that our brand now has a presence on nearly every social media outlet possible and it should be easy enough to deduce how beneficial becoming versed in all of the technology referred to has been. Yet, it was for something far more basic, per se, but equally as transformative one was particularly grateful for that most recent evening.

HISTORICAL LUXURIES

My uncle, Austin Geoghegan, was once a referee and Chairman of Batterstown GAA Club (which later merged with Kilcloon to form Blackhall Gaels) before becoming immersed in golf at local and national level via the Co Meath club in Trim.

Mind you, as well as all of the above, he was also a dab hand with a video camera. Back then, somebody with such slills was much sought after. For weddings, in particular, other family occasions or indeed sporting ones.

Remember, this was back in the days when video cameras had to be mounted on the user’s shoulder throughout filming. A contraption which would have weighed like something produced in Kilsaran.

Knowing attending the match wasn’t going to be an option would be bad enough at any time but with such turmoil ongoing, it magnified the sense of loss of not being there tenfold. If it was before the last few months and I was as technologically au fait as is now the case, especially with GAA back up and running and with cognisance of our game against Dunshaughlin in particular, the sense of withdrawal, isolation and not feeling part of things anymore would have almost undoubtedly been insurmountable.

Another old dictum implies that, perhaps in life itself, it’s not about the destination but the journey. Well, in this instance I call bull plop on that. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how you make the journey as long as you make it to your destination. Cue technology coming to the rescue in an extraordinary way most recently.

Ronan Jones made an impressive return to Championship football for Dunboyne

Compounding the feeling of being absolutely crestfallen at missing out on the game was the fact that the game was taking place in Ashbourne where, given family connections, a most special welcome always awaits. More than that, it would have been my first opportunity to rendezvous with Conor Tormey since the passing of his beloved wife, Kathleen. Indeed, visits to ‘The Moores’ will never be the same without a very special lady who was very much the heartbeat of the place. Every time these wheels rolled into their magnificent venue, the parking spot was reserved, the velvet rope which cordoned off my spot in the stand in place and the half time drop of tea assured.

The late Kathleen Tormey

However, even though being there in person wasn’t an option, the fact that technology allowed both clubs collaborate in broadcasting the match on Facebook. Which leads nicely to the very welcome opportunity to write about some current GAA action.

FIVE STEPS TO HEAVEN

First off, the most important and pleasing thing was to see our lads record a surprisingly comfortable win. Playing some very encouraging football along the way. From a personal perspective, the best part of the evening’s work was seeing Ronan Jones not only back in action but looking every bit the athletic, powerful, supremely talented footballer he was before departing for Boston. Only possibly an improved version thereof.

Now, it was only the first of what will hopefully be a five step journey to footballing heaven, but, it was also greatly welcome to observe both Seamus Lavin and Donal Lenihan make noteworthy returns from long term injuries.

Mind you, on that front there was only one story grabbing the headlines this week. And, I have absoultely no problem in admitting it was one which left a rather large lump in the throat of this wordsmith.

People hardly need reminding of the esteem in which Colm O’Rourke is held here. The original and arguably most treasured case of a hero who has become a valued friend. Perhaps even more appreciated, though, is that a similar – if not even stronger – connection has formed between Shane and I over the years.

At this stage, most people will be aware of the injury nightmare which has plagued the Simonstown Gaels clubman throughout a sadly fragmented career. Calculating the loss he has been to the county team over the years is not only impossible but heartbreaking.

What might have been: Shane O’Rourke’s career has been blighted by injuries

That said, having been closer than most to the lenghts he has gone to in order to keep playing some bit of footbal, there’s no problem here admitting how special it was to see him able to win two senior championship medals. Especially with the man of the house directing operations from the sideline. Albeit at greatest expense to us!

By the end of every season comes the “That’s definitely it” conversation. But here’s hoping he’s wide of the mark with that one for a while yet. Still, even allowing for the fact that ‘Good’ would have to be in the going description before entering the stalls could actually be considered, it was still a very pleasant surprise when turning on TG4 (who also deserve highest commendation for going above and beyond their normal standards of excellence in covering club games) to see the familiar rangey figure loping to take up station at the edge of the square, maybe fittingly, against Skryne. Putting him directly up another against man known quite well to this corner. A man whose time in green and gold was also cut short ridiculously early after he was cast to the wind like an empty chip bag. By somebody who should absolutely have known better. I refer, of course, to the fountain of knowledge in all things suckler beef production, Ciaran Lenihan.

Doubtless, some would wonder if one was that close to the towering full forward, how was it not known that another trip to the well was being undertaken. Simply as time and expegience has taught us both not to set targets, in one way anyway. For to lay out goals and miss them can be the most soul destroying of all.

Anyway, seeing the big Ag. Science teacher lining out would’ve been emotive enough in itself, but, to see him essay over a point before half time of such sumptuous quality only added to the emotional stew bubbling in the mind here. Cliches can often get grossly misused in this business, and comparing feats from one era to another is as unjust as it is futile.

However, in this instance I’d make an exception. After all, even somebody who was on the receiving end of one half of the comparison in question indulged in the theory himself. At a guess, without delving into records where it is actually documented, a safe guess could be wagered that wheels transporting yours truly missed one of Meath’s championship games over a 24 year period.

Not only that, but a few roadtrips were taken to matches not involving our own lads. Without a doubt the greatest of which was the trip to Tipp over the August Bank Holiday weekend of 2001. Given the climate currently prevailing in the GAA with regard to Dublin and venues, the concept of them taking on Kerry outside of Croke Park must appear asinine nowadays.

Yet, in taking the gamble – as it would have been deemed at the time – the GAA, which usually makes more mistakes than Government, actually set the scene for one of the most remarkable scores in the history of the old Association.

Owen Mulligan’s two goals against Dublin, (draw and replay) were majestic strikes. So too were Kevin McMannamon’s strike against Kerry in 2011, Liam Hayes’s thunderbolt against Dublin in the League Final of 1988 and Graham Geraghty’s spooned effort against Tyrone in 2007.

None of them, though, will ever usurp Kevin Foley’s iconic score against The Dubs in 1991 as the greatest ‘major’ this one seeing eye has ever witnessed. There’s a collection of points which rides shotgun to the goal list too. See Colm Coyle’s against Mayo that levelled the 1996 All Ireland Final, Ciaran McDonald’s wondrous wraparound score against Dublin, and Stephen Cluxton’s late winner against Kerry in 2011.

Above them all, however, stands a score which marks the Thurles meetings of The Kingdom and The Dubs as one of the most significant happenings in GAA history. For it’s timing, it’s magnitude and the fact that, with respect, it was executed by the one player on that pitch with the audacity – and that term is meant in the utmost complimentary sense – to even attempt it, Maurice Fitzgerald.

For anyone that’s been under a rock for the last couple of decades, the mercurial magician from Caherciveen constructed one of the greatest scores in the history of the ancient game. All of his own intuition too. The late Paddy McIntyre once passed on a modicum of advice that’s as telling as it is timeless – “You find your good players when you’re getting beat”. So it was that hot August evening in the birthplace of our games.

In truth, Dublin were much the better side for the majority of the contest. This despite the fact that their manager Tommy Carr was so enraged by referee Mick Curley – unquestionably the best whistler in the country at the time – that he earned himself a fairly lengthy holiday off the sidelines. Speaking of the area just outside the pitch, as is always the case, I had a helper ticket along with my wheelchair ticket and for the day in question I brought Aidan Hayes – Manager of Brady’s Dunboyne and my greatest soundboard and/or extra brother when my mental health travails were in a particularly volatile state a couple of decades ago.

To this day, every so often we’ll reminisce about how amazing a sight it was to be that close to Ciaran Whelan charging past us in full flow – so close that you literally could feel the ground shake as he thundered by, Darragh O’Se on his tail like Elmer Fudd in vain pursuit of a rabbit. On any other day, that would’ve been the undisputed highlight of the day. Perhaps not only of that day, but of that season and guaranteed a berth in my top five sporting moments witnessed over the past three decades.

From a personal perspective, though, this was no ordinary day out. Firstly just to be in a position to be at the match in the first place. Secondly, as the journey to and from that epic event is now and will forever be tinged with poignancy. For, our driver on the day was the late, loved and devastatingly missed master of misdirection himself, Declan D’Arcy. An entire other book could be dedicated to my adventures with my dear departed friend and his family. Maybe some day it will be. As a taster, how about this: we left Dunboyne two hours before a pair of other well known, prominent Gaels but somehow they managed to arrive in Semple Stadium ahead of us.

Knowing the way things ended up, however, I wouldn’t have given a damn if we only made it in for those last minutes. It still would have been enough time to witness history unfold. Akin to somebody walking into Croke Park on July 6th, 1991 with a minute and a quarter left. Remember, in both cases, Dublin appeared to be well in control yet failed to close out the deal.

To me, the 2001 episode was even worse. A decade before, the two teams were so evenly aligned, there was never going to be more than a kick of a ball between them. When it came to the Thurles thriller against their greatest foes, however, Carr’s crew were clearly the dominant force. A fact underpinned by demolition which Meath meted out to Paidi O’Se’s troops when they eventually did navigate the blue hurdle.

Which they did, only because their opponents didn’t finish the job while standing on the throttle of what was obviously a creaking beast from where the pale moon was rising. To the credit of the latter, on that day at least, when the escape hatch was left open they bolted through their salvation station.

Via one of the most remarkable scores the ancient game has ever produced. The dying embers of the 70 minutes, into the wind, Kerry backsides lodged in the bacon slicer and, just for garnish, on the wrong side of the field for a right footed kicker. Nonetheless, Maurice Fitzgerald drilled it directly over the head of Dublin goalkeeper Davy Byrne with accuracy that suggested he may have got tutorials from William Tell in the week before the game.

Maurice Fitzgerald scored one of the greatest points ever in Thurles in 2001

You’re probably wondering why all of the above made its way into a piece that has been predominantly revolving around the opening fixtures in the Meath football championships. Answer – Shane O’Rourke. They say imitation is the greatest form of flattery, but in this case, I honestly don’t think it was flattery. More a demonstration of the undoubted class incalculably lost to Meath football at least a decade before it should have been the case.

That the man is able to tog out and play any grade of football, let alone senior, is not only astounding but testament to his own physical and mental strength, single minded determination and buying into the spirit of the magnificent Meath team of which his old man was the fulcrum. Never complain. Never give up. He will never know he his espousal of that mindset has inspired me to battle on when playing into the wind and feeling swamped.

So, what was my take after the first installment of the local club football championships? Sincere thanks for modern technology and those using it for the amount of the action it enabled me to see. Contentment and quiet optimism after our own lot’s maiden spin but enough realism to know that no competition is easily won, no matter what it is.

Even before last Sunday’s latest comeback by football’s Lazarus, inclinatiin was that the champions of 2016 and 2017 would pose the biggest threat to us regaining a title we relinquished with mortifying ease last season. If Shane stays in good shape – and local loyalties aside I genuinely hope he does – those thoughts will be bolstered considerably.

How much, if any of it, is seen in person could be a different story. One day at a time…

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