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Paul Healy's Week

 

Friday 

The late and great Bill O’Herlihy was laid to rest today, following a sudden departure which has touched hundreds of thousands of people.

  I had a chance today to throw in my tuppence worth on the life and times of Bill on the Joe Finnegan Show on Shannonside Radio.

  The point I made, and reiterate now, is that Bill would have been considered a journalistic giant even if he never hosted a single RTE soccer programme. His career as a current affairs journalist and his work on events such as the Olympic Games (and much more besides) would have justified many plaudits on his passing, but it was his anchoring of memorable, often classic RTE panel discussions on soccer matches that cemented his place in our hearts.

  Often while watching Bill and John Giles and Eamonn Dunphy and Liam Brady, I’ve found myself thinking this can’t continue, this magic will have to end some time. These particularly good times, in the bosom of these characters, couldn’t go on forever. An era ended when Bill retired last year, but at least we knew he was still around, still, as Enda Kenny said, a national treasure. What we didn’t expect, was his untimely passing.

  Although it has occasionally lapsed into caricature territory in recent years, the RTE soccer coverage has been truly great, and frequently fans tuned in for the debates, with the actual on-field action being secondary. Bill’s anchoring of the arguments, full-scale rows and humorous exchanges, was invariably brilliant.

  The chemistry between Bill and Giles, Dunphy and Brady led to years of heartwarming, memorable viewing. He was indeed a national treasure; a genial broadcaser who put a smile on our faces. What can we say only ‘thanks for the memories, Bill.’

 

Later on Friday...

The taxi-ing (of our children) continues; I’m not complaining ¬– just observing. On Friday night there was a ‘youth disco’ in Roscommon town, and what an experience it is (for ‘first-time’ parents). Hundreds of people who, not that long ago, used to queue to go to discos on a Friday night, now queued to park outside a disco and watch as their teenage offspring retraced the steps their parents took in the 1980s and 1990s.

  What excitement for the parents…drop the kids off, then back to watch a bit of the Late Late, keep checking the watch/mobile phone, then back into town to join the slightly chaotic queue of vehicles in the carpark, the cars slowly twisting and turning in the dark, a bit reminiscent of one of those slow sets inside Rockford’s twenty years or so ago.

  The excitement level rises further as we pop over to Forte’s takeaway, where every other customer is a slightly sheepish looking father who wants a bag of chips and the ‘thud, thud’ sound from the nightclub across the road to end.

  The slightly sheepish fathers talk, and all agree that it wasn’t like this when we were teenagers, because our parents wouldn’t be sitting waiting in their cars to collect us. (We had no mobile phones either, etc., etc.)

  After a bit of salt and vinegar and knowing nods, it’s back to the carpark, where our peers are twisting and turning their cars in the dark, as the teenagers begin to emerge from the youth disco in a blur of energy, happiness and chatter. The ‘thud, thud’ is easing. I don’t know what music it is, but there doesn’t seem to be any reference to a little ditty about Jack & Diane…

Saturday 

When we were kids, we lined up in the schoolyard to play football, waiting first for that often awkward process whereby the teams are picked by two of the natural leaders amongst our peers pointing a finger at their preferred choices. It could be an unpleasant experience. The names were called out without sensitivity.

  This was no space for sensitivity.

  As friends were summoned to the left or right, you felt more and more self-conscious as you waited for confirmation of your role in the pecking order. If you were called out even halfway through this process, you were relieved, happy. If you were second-last to be picked for a team, you made the most of it and ruthlessly took comfort from the fact that some poor soul was left behind as you shuffled towards your waiting team-mates.

  If you were the last boy standing, it could be a lonely experience, but you just got on with it; maybe next time you’d get the nod earlier.

  For some reason I thought of all of this as I watched the FA Cup Final today. It struck me that if the Aston Villa and Arsenal players had lined up in one big group, like we used to do in the schoolyard, anyone picking one team from the starting 22 would probably have selected eleven Arsenal players. So the game went according to logic, with Villa simply outclassed by Arsenal. Arsenal played the beautiful game in that sublime way they often do. (They won 4-0).

  Meanwhile, I note that, after scoring another great goal tonight (this time against Athletic Bilbao) Lionel Messi’s still doing it like we did in the schoolyard. Lionel generally got picked early in the schoolyard when he was a young boy.

Sunday 

There’s a nice buzz in Roscommon Golf Club tonight, where prizes are being presented to winners of various competitions throughout the month of May. Something most speakers refer to is the success of the Irish Seniors Open, hosted by the club last week.

  I was having a quiet pint during the week when I got chatting to a Scottish man who was over to play in the Open. I left my Irish Independent down and asked him about his experience here. He spoke with great enthusiasm about the tournament and the hospitality.

  He lavished praise on Roscommon Golf Club, on the hotels and bars in the town, and on the warmth of the welcome received from local people. This golfer has played in Ireland – both North and South – about three times a year over the years, but had never been to Roscommon before.

  I gather that his ‘review’ was typical of the positive feedback for Roscommon’s hosting of the tournament, in which about 120 players participated. Well done to everyone associated with Roscommon Golf Club, including new GUI President Michael Connaughton, on a successful week which reminds us all of the amenities we have in this locality and of the endless potential there is for the continued promotion of Roscommon as a tourist destination.

  My Scottish friend returned to his company with the drinks he had ordered. I returned to my Irish Independent, proud as punch of Roscommon.

Monday 

The weather battered the county today. What a shame for the organisers of the festival in Ballyleague and the festival and fair in Athleague.

  It’s the first of June, and weather-wise, it’s a shocker. Sean Browne in Castlerea, who has a trained eye for a good photo, emails me one of a man putting up a billboard in Castlerea in the middle of an unforgiving downpour.

  The poor man was getting soaked but he stuck manfully to his task, precariously standing on a ladder and securing the advertisement in place. The billboard read: ‘It’s Summer’!

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