The most important game in the world

“In the end, it comes down to a game of inches.And, either we heal as a team or we crumble. Inch by inch, play by play until we’re finished. We’re in hell right now, gentlemen, and, we can stay here, get the sh** kicked out of us, or we can fight our way back into the light. We can climb outta hell, one inch at a time.”

Al Paccino – Any Given Sunday

During the prologue to his autobiography The Final Whistle Colm O’Rourke wrote of the hours after his final competitive appearance for Meath. The 1995 Leinster SFC Final when Dublin trounced our lads by ten points despite us having gone a point up ten minutes into the second. The author was our best player on the day and while the facade was that he was happy enough exiting stage, I often wondered. In fact, deep down I for one could sense it and suspicion is he knew it himself too. Which is why he declared himself available midway through the 1996 season. Indeed, it’s my belief that at least some of the players were in favour of the great man returning. Not enough to swing the verdict though. Their loss.

However, that evening his focus was on a then 7-year-old Shane playing football in the back garden wearing Paddy Moran’s sweat-soaked Dublin jersey which Colm had swapped at full time.

His point that evening being that, to Shane, that was “The most important game in the world”, Last Sunday evening, I knew exactly what he meant.

Shane O’Rourke in action against Armagh

A couple of years back, a committee charged with examining the competition structures in football and prescribe whatever structural changes were deemed necessary. Which has resulted, as far as I can gather in the All County Leagues have been made defunct or at the very least rebranded.

With the result that, instead of having Junior A, B, C and D, clubs with multiple adult teams would be entered into the newly created Premier Football Championships and divided into a somewhat surprising eight different divisions. To be fair though, fears that the new system would result in players missing out on football and drifting away from Gaelic games have proven wholly unfounded. There are clubs fielding second teams now who have never done so during my lifetime.

In our own case, we have still been able to continue fielding four adult football teams. Three of which have made the knockout stages of their competitions. The team which didn’t only hit trouble because they were pitched into a division which was just too competitive for them. So much of my world has changed since da passed. Chances are you are all sick of it being written about at this stage but there’s always something.

If there was one less negative impact, shall we say, it lay in the fact that my long distance conveyance was upgraded. A smaller van, easier for Susie to drive and park and, it must be admitted, easier and more comfortable for me to travel in also. The upshot of which has been, as well as becoming a little bit more domesticated – going clothes and food shopping – a return has been made to attending events nearest and dearest to my heart.

Last month, a return was made to Fairyhouse for the first time since New Year’s Day 2020 and, already in two months, the new van has already been in Pairc Tailteann more than its predecessor had been in the preceding three years. Which in itself implies the bonus that many of our teams are still competing at their respective grades at the business end of the season. Making the winter shorter one week at a time.

The thing is, however, that while much of my life which was destroyed when mother had her stroke has been reclaimed, there’s still plenty of hurdles to be jumped. The greatest accrued benefit, though, has been the ability to – as far as physical circumstances will allow – go and do what I want.

There have been more factors at play in that than the van, mind you. The most significant of which is a thing called confidence. Very easy to lose, very tedious to rebuild. “In the end, it comes down to a game of inches. And, either we heal as a team or we crumble. Inch by inch, play by play until we’re finished. We’re in hell right now, gentlemen, and, we can stay here, get the sh** kicked out of us, or we can fight our way back into the light. We can climb outta hell, one inch a time.”

For this corner last Sunday evening was one of those inches. Which only came about when David Gallagher text that morning to encourage me to ramble up the road. His hunch being that if the thoughts of a Championship semi final at home to neighbours and (friendly) rivals Dunshaughlin didn’t rouse a bit of life into me nothing would. How right he was.

The only glitch which could be foreseen from this end was an inclination that few if any of the players would be known to yours truly. As it happened, the total number of whom even a loose grasp was retained was two – Oran, the youngest of the Boylan clan over the bridge and corner forward Simon Cunningham were that duo.

Action from the Premier Championship Div. 6 semi final between St Peter’s, Dunboyne and Dunshaughlin

As it happened, I actually knew more of those on the opposition side than on our own team. The agriculturally minded Andrew Smith between the posts, the ageless Kenny McTigue at full back (where else!) and the man with plenty of Dunboyne blood – Trevor Dowd. To me, at that moment in time, it was the most important game in the world.

Aside from the reasoning outlined above, it ran much deeper. There has always been an intense and emotional connection with what, basically, is the club’s Junior C team, as the Premier 6 side basically is. Firstly because it was the last team with which I was involved in the management of and secondly owing to the fact that Boylan Talks Sport was emblazoned across their jerseys.

The latest incarnation of the team was the brainchild of our former senior football manager Ciaran Byrne and managed by David and Gary Timoney. The premise behind its inception being as a means of keeping lads who have graduated from the Minor ranks together and playing football.

Which in itself keeps the conveyor belt of talent in our club ticking over nicely. For this observer, as has oft been said on these pages lately, making the winter shorter one week at a time. What might surprise those digesting this, though, is the reality that the biggest challenge encountered by the occupant of this seat came after the final whistle.

Getting closer to the action

Something which should have been routine. And up until February of 2016 was – going in for a pint after the match. This should’ve been chicken feed. In one of my favourite places on earth – surrounded by many of the people to whom one would been closest to. Especially Gally. Anyone who has read any amount of GAA content on this site will surely know of the bond which I am blessed to share with ‘The Big ‘Keeper’.

So, that not even the knowledge that himself was inside couldn’t calm the nerves almost choking me outside. Eventually, Susie ‘gently’ persuaded me to go in. From there, everything changed. As it always does. Once a wheel is got inside or outside the door.

In amongst ‘My People’, GAA talk, racing talk and, most belovedly of all, farming talk. Oh, and the first few jars since we laid the boss to rest. Just a Perfect Day.

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