Something new in every interview

The question has often been fired in this direction, like a curve ball shooting out of a scrum – at which point did the realisation dawn that Colm O’Rourke was my favourite player and my hero? Who blessedly over the years has become a treasured friend.

It’s a valid and interesting query, but one which doesn’t have a straightforward answer. You see, by the time I was properly attuned to and attending matches, the Meath team of which he was such an intrinsic part was actually – slowly but surely – winding down after giving the county the greatest period in our GAA history.

Yes, Rourkey stayed on longer than some of our great warriors – collecting another National League medal in 1994. With at least two former students – Neville Dunne and Trevor Giles – as team mates.

But for the last four years Colm played championship football with the county early summer exits were Meath’s fate. Against Laois and Dublin twice respectably.

Which makes it kind of ironic that the best display I ever saw from the beloved blue bandage was actually on a day Dublin actually beat us, in 1993. He kicked five points from play, including a monstrous equaliser two minutes into injury time which seemed to have earned us a deserved draw.

Only for a Westmeath referee who was known for being about as kind to Meath teams as Conor McGregor is to Ireland’s reputation to keep playing until Jack Sheedy kicked a winning score for Dublin.

And, as if to prove he was riding us, he didn’t even allow the kickout to be taken. Anyway, the other on-field memory of Colm that stands out with me dates from before I started going to matches at all.

October 9th, 1988 to be exact. All Ireland SFC Final Replay. Specifically, the sight of the seldom seen right peg launching over what may well have been the winning score. And the clenched fist plus enormous grin which accompanied the occasion.

Over the years, sight has never and will never be lost of how fortunate one is to be as close to people like Colm – and several members of his family – and Sean Boylan and Graham Geraghty and Noel Meade and Trevor Brennan. With privilege comes responsibility, mind you, and only too well is it known that my obstinance in being loyal to and protective of certain people in their time of strife and opprobrium.

On a lighter note though, people often ask “How could you possibly find Sean or Colm being interviewed again interesting? Sure you’ve heard it all before”. True to a point, but, for one thing, they are very similar characters in some ways, and for another, you never see an interview with one of them without learning something new.

The master and his apprentice

And so it was when the recently retired school Principal surprised his former student Tommy Tiernan by being the first guest on his Saturday night talk show. After slightly stunning the host by his mere being there, Colm went on to recall how his agricultural upbringing was (and is) a good grounding for life. In his case, as one of a family of 12.

It was also sadly all too easy to agree with his observation that a lot of the characters who used to bookmark every town and village in the country are gone to the bar counter above.

Even more telling, though, was when mention was afforded to his travels Stateside as a student in what was probably the mid to late 70s. The seminal point being that circumstances decreed that he had been gone three weeks before he could ring home to his mother. Who then cut the call short as the charges were reversed!

It can probably be fairly safely assumed that An Bainisteoir, like so many Irish at the time, got work in the building trade when over there.

The difference being now, when young people travel abroad for the summer, it’s either exclusively for holiday reasons or, if they are working, it’s a fairly safe bet that it’ll be at something a lot more glamorous and less strenuous than tar and cement.

Likewise here at home, whereas when Colm was a teenager – and even when I was growing up – there were always farm jobs available. Whether it was drawing silage or grain, stacking small square bales or working on the bog.

Now, between farm machinery advancing eons from those days and young folk more likely to swing towards IT or at the very least indoor jobs, farmers on teams are few and far between. In some localities at least.

This from a place, metaphorically speaking, where the school of thought was that every team needed at least one farmer. In short, team managers are dealing with a different type of young player than was the case, say, when Colm was playing himself.

Meaning that it takes a very special type of manager to be able to connect with the young players today. And in that case, Meath have been truly blessed with Sean in the past and, now, to have the master back on board and he who was always destined to succeed him at some stage in tandem is like turning back time for those of us of a certain vintage.

A pair of Meath legends

Chances are I am not the only one who sees the striking similarities between the two of them. Something that was also obvious if you were to peruse Tommy’s sitdown with the man over the bridge from last year.

To reiterate a point made above, not a day goes by that the privilege it is to be close to people such as those listed above is not appreciated more than words can ever convey. That applies to Sean more than anybody else.

I’ve lived beside Sean all my life, been very fortunate to have a special relationship with the man all my life, yet I feel part of me will forever in awe of the man.

Yes, I’ve heard some of the stories a thousand times, but if it afforded the opportunity to spend more time in his company, I’d stay for a thousand more. Because you see, you’d never spend time with Sean without learning something.

Colm was obviously cognisant of that fact and seeing the two of them reunited on a football field has planted the possibility that that which has been my life’s blood may be in the process of being refuelled.

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