What is the past and will soon become the past gone in the space of a day

Again, I find myself referring to Ireland’s greatest man of letters, Con Houlihan. Apologies if mention of the man who – as he put it himself – was born in a blizzard in December 1925 – has become a bit laboursome. It will be contended, though, that if a point retains credence, it warrants repetition.

In Maurice O’Donoghue’s narration of the wonderful Waiting For Houlihan documentary, which was penned by the man himself, on touching down in Farranfore, Con observed “ After all my wordly travels, this is my first time coming home to Kerry in the belly of a metal bird./Of course, this for me is all in the past, except there is no past, for it is all around me. I recall the Greek poet, Cavafe: “In those fields and streets where you grew up, there you will always live, and there you will die”.

I understand… It had to happen some day. For the first time since 1984, the harvest season will pass without me seeing a bit of it in the flesh. Now, thanks to a young man, JJ Hynes, who seems to be heading the same road as did I at the same age, that is to say, being tractor and machinery mad, at least some bit of flavour of what has gone could be had. I’d be lying though if I said it felt the same as being there. It might never be the same again.

However, for now at least, I cannot even countenance it being in the past. In fact, every step possible – and some that may be impossible – will be taken to ensure that it doesn’t end up being the past…yet.


As it is, another piece of my past was consigned to the shelves of history with the passing of Sean Hobbs Snr on Wednesday evening. On a personal level there’s a particular poignance to his passing as it was a relative of his – I’m not even going to try and guess what the connection was – a Nurse Hobbs, who delivered my own late father into the world on February 25th, 1930.

Though perhaps unsurprisingly, my first memories of encountering Sean in my life revolved around sport. Two of his sons, David and Damien, were among the finest footballers ever to pull on the black and amber of St Peter’s, Dunboyne. It is one of the great regrets of my 30 + years of being involved in and around football that one or both of them never made it on the inter county stage. There are a few of their fellow parishoners who fall into the same bracket.

Anyway, this next part of our story is entirely at my own expense. The Meath Intermediate Football Championship Final of 1990 was the first game of club football I was ever at. Our lads were fairly well beaten by Dunderry, but that isn’t the reason the occasion is recalled so readily.

In my youthful naivety, it was assumed club football was nowhere near as big a deal as Meath matches. Thus, there would be nobody proclaiming “hats, flags or headbands” in the environs of Pairc Tailteann.

Oh what a plonker I felt like, with my homemade amalgam of a fertiliser bag and a bit of silage plastic – both generously donated by Pat Clarke – to arrive in Navan to the sight of numerous hawkers selling various incarnations of more genuine articles of same!

Despite the result not going our way, for me at least, that day was the start of something special. It was certainly the first time I remember Sean Hobbs travelling with myself and da to a match.

Over the years, it became common practice for us to have a crew aboard. Something I’m very proud to say continues to this day when possible. But the Intermediate days were the start of it. The original panel being us two, Sean Hobbs, Martin O’Toole (‘Red Martin’) and occasionally Dom Hynes (Snr) and George Gilsenan.

There are two particular occasions which stand out for, eh, colourful reasons. Both from 1992, the year we eventually did make the leap to senior. Our quarter final against Castletown took place on a damp and dreary Friday evening in Meath GAA HQ.

It must have been around this time of year too, because by the time the match was over it was very near dark. The football was as drab as the weather, but the game will go down in Dunboyne GAA folklore owing to one particular incident.

Shortly before half time, referee Paddy Kavanagh gave a free against legendary Dunboyne goalkeeper Barry Leonard for not being in a rush taking a kickout. That didn’t increase his popularity with the longest standing Chelsea fan in the parish who proceeded to balloon the ball out of the pitch and up under the scoreboard adjacent to Navan O’Mahonys clubhouse.

To this day, many of us are trying to figure out how or why he didn’t deport Barry for an early shower, but my other abiding memory of that night was Sean Hobbs laughing hysterically as we all pondered the same on the way. One of the travelling party, probably me, would pose the question again “How in the name of J***s did he not put him off”? And the laughter would erupt again.

The semi final brought a local derby against Dunshaughlin. In which our lads recorded a surprisingly easy victory. However, without going into too much detail, what went on without the ball dominated the discussion and laughter on the way home.

The late Sean Hobbs pictured his son Damien. My guess would be that the conversation went something like this – “How did you manage to kick that wide? “.

Which reminds me of another evening myself and Sean made the journey together up to a match in our own field. En route, he gave me some unique advice which turned out to be hillariously accurate.

“Whenever you’re at a Dunboyne match, try and avoid getting caught in the middle of X and Y because if the match gets anyway tight, they’ll forget what age they are, think they’re playing and you’ll end up with bruised ribs and/or burst ear drums”!

There was another side to sporting adventures shared with Sean. From the time I was ‘on the circuit’ going to matches, David and Damien were also gifted soccer players.

Initially with was a wonderful Clonee United side. The original and best version of the club in the village up the road. Which comprised almost entirely of Dunboyne GAA players. And a few others who should have been.

At some stage, mind you, all the ‘tourists’ came back and played for Dunboyne AFC. Around the same time, my brother in law Kieran started playing with Dunboyne too. Wouldn’t you know, his first outing was against Clonee. In a Meath And District League Challenge Cup game which, right on cue, went all the way to penalties.

Let’s just say a certain someone’s spot kick went closer to hitting Joe Bruton’s cattle behind the goal than it did the Clonee net!

Still, it was the start of some great adventures. And wherever the Hobbs lads were, Sean would be there in tow. Whether that was on the pitch up Barry’s Lane – the best sports field in the parish – in the depths of winter or in some far off corner of Meath that, at the time, I’d never heard of like Stackallen or Kentstown or Torro United – who I think were/are based around Kilberry or Castletown.

Eventually though, that great group of lads – both the Dunboyne and Clonee United elements thereof – hung up the boots and, even though genuine promises are made not to let relationships drift apart, it happens.

Only in body of course. All of it may now be in the past but then, there is no past, for the memories are all around and will live on forever. Rest in peace dear friend.

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