Some of you are probably getting cheesed off with yours truly writing about how Covid-19 has made me feel for the best part of a year now. But, understand that writing about it all is my best and to a certain extent only way of getting through any trauma which life throws in this direction. Believe me, there’s been too much opportunity to get practice in lately.
In most of the writings, mention has been afforded to how missing out on going to GAA matches and race meetings has accentuated mental health battles to a grueling extent. Yes, of course the actual action itself is missed. Desperately so. But the upset and hurt runs deeper than that. Much deeper.
You see, as much as the sport is longed for in terms of outings and entertainment, it’s missing the people that cuts the deepest. Normally this wouldn’t be done, but, a few specific instances and individuals have been very much to the forefront of my thoughts of late. It has been mentioned here in the past that, for me at least, being under the black cloud provokes the reflex reaction to curl into oneself and cut off contact with much of the outside world.
Lately two men in particular have been to the forefront of my thoughts. You see another knock-on effect of being supressed by the black cloud is what I call Tomorrow Syndrome. Symptoms are as follows: the phonecall you’ve meaning to make or text you promised to send gets the “I’ll do it tomorrow” treatment. Sadly, the tomorrows come and go, the phonecalls remain unmade, the texts unsent and eventually it goes so far that it gets to the point where you get too embarrassed to go about doing it.
Which is what brings this story to Simonstown Gaels. The two individuals referred to above were Shane O’Rourke and Sean Barry. Shane was one of the last sports related people to visit yours truly before all the lockdown chaos blew the world as we knew it apart.
There is a person much closer to whom similar communication hesitation has got in on me as well and that particular situation is made even more complex and upsetting is the fact that the person concerned in this instance has been through enough trauma of their own owing to Covid, because of which my long-standing belief in strength in numbers has been badly shaken as the confidence to communicate oneself has also been decimated.
For the first week or so after the restrictions kicked in, the texts flew over and back as per usual. Until, the further I fell under the black cloud, the less confidence I had for contacting anybody. Which, tough as that feels with Shane, with Sean Barry, the annoyance at myself is tearing at me. If I’m not mistaken, the last time our paths crossed was the day of Sean Nealon’s funeral. That’s shambolic on my part.
The two lads came tp mind over the weekend when another Simonstown clubman, Sean Tobin, announced his retirement from inter county football. A decision quickly replicated days later by his colleague in green and gold, Graham Reilly.
From my perspective, the common thread linking the two lads was Sean Barry. I first recall seeing Sean Tobin in action at Pairc Tailteann on a scorching hot Sunday when those in the two shades of blue gave Dunboyne a right trimming. As far as ca be remembered, Sean Barry and Colm O’Rourke were over the north Navan team at the time. After the match, mind you, all the talk surrounded the young blonde-headed lad who had outplayed no less than Nigel Crawford – Meath’s lead midfielder at the time – all day. Mr Tobin.
Several years later, the two clubs again crossed paths. Dunderry was the venue this and our lads just about came out on top after a typically close, entertaining game. In a pattern which has continued in the years since, Tobin was again the most accomplished performer on view. Something which became all the more poignant a short time later when his father Paddy passed away having been in Dunderry that night.
Unfortunately from a Dunboyne petspective, even though he had made his debut as far back as 2013, it was on foot of his club winning and retaining the Keegan Cup in 2016 and 2017 – at greatest expense to our lads – that he really made his inter county breakthrough.
During his time in the county colours, he always reminded me of Jody Devine – versatile, wholly committed but also – and the following is meant in the most complimentary terms possible – at his most effective when entering the fray off the bench.
Sean Tobin’s positive contribution to and through football goes much deeper than what went on between the lines. Not only due to his courageous fundraising for the Irish Cancer Society following Paddy’s untimely passing but also how he soldiered on following the tragic death of his sister Ena in a car accident in early 2020 was nothing short of inspirational.
Most notably so when having a kick around with his two nephews during one of the earlier lockdowns. Which germinated into Sean putting together video coaching tips and inviting young fans to send in clips of themselves practicing their skills. Then, at the end of his own statement Sean said he was ready and willing to help out in any way he can. Those in positions to do so would be well advised to take him up on the offer.
Yours truly turns 40 in April. You know you’re getting old when lads younger than you start announcing their retirements. Thus, seeing Sean Tobin and Graham Reilly take their leave of centre stage within a day of each other was a real boot to the solar plexus. On a serious note, mind you, Graham Reilly calling time on more than a decade of active service at county level marks the end of an era for Meath. It’s also indicative of how things at county level are gone professional in all ways bar one when you lads retiring from that stage when they’re barely gone 30. Or not even at it in some cases.
‘Biggy’ first appeared on my radar in 2006, when he was part of a Meath Minor team which captured the Leinster Championship. Dudley Farrell and Sean Barry and Sean Kelly managed that team, captained by Paddy Brady from the Blackhall Gaels club. Also thereon were Shane O’Rourke, Alan Nestor and Brian Sheridan, among others, who went on to play for Meath at the highest level.
Sometimes even the briefest of showings to leave the impression that they have something ‘special’ about them. So it was when the one seeing eye here was first cast upon Reilly. It was in pretty unusual circumstances too. The Minors were playing Kildare on a Wednesday evening in Newbridge. Though it might seem scarcely believable, somebody forgot to collect the jerseys from the dry cleaners. Resulting in the Meath lads wearing the kit of a Kildare club team.
Not only that, but it was also an occasion during which the St Colmcille’s clubman displayed the versatility which would see him become the fulcrum of the county senior team for the best part of a decade. In that instance, it meant the speedy man dropping back into the defence where he looked equally at home in the centre back berth.
A short while back, in another piece, it was mentioned that Cillian O’Sullivan very strongly reminded me of David Beggy in his pomp – only with better ball control! Graham very much belonged in the same bracket. In ways he resembled a certain other Graham who often bore the weight of a county’s expectations, hopes, dreams and needs.
Another hallmark of a player with that little bit extra in their repertoire is the ones who can fade out of games for periods but then burst into the limelight seemingly almost with the simplicity of flicking a switch. That was very much Reilly’s calling card throughout his time in the Meath colours.
That would by no means entirely quantify what he offered any team he graced. You find your best warriors when warfare is at its most grueling in the trenches. The hero of this part of our story was very much that trooper for the majority of his career on the county team. Even though in that time there were more tough days day than thrilling ones, his blistering pace and ability to kick jaw-dropping scores on the run were integral factors in the county’s partly surprising, totally unforgettable conquest of Leinster in 2010.
There’s another common thread linking the two Grahams. Eyebrows were raised when both were appointed Meath Captain but in both cases they were decisions which paid off handsomely. Leaders identify themselves and are never easily replaced.