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Paul Healy's Week

Paul Healy's Week

John Joe, tragedy in Tunisia, Midsummer's Festival and Cavan game

 

Friday 

 

There is a certain magic to the words ‘John Joe Nerney.’

  There aren’t many people around who saw him in his prime but his legend is long established.

  By all accounts he was a highly accomplished footballer, and a remarkable athlete. He played club football from the 1930s to the 1970s, meaning he was lining out for Boyle when he was well into his fifties! He ran marathons into his sixties and continued to go on regular runs for many years more.

  Much decorated as a footballer, he went on to become President of Roscommon County Board and, like all involved in the All-Ireland winning teams of 1943 and ’44, he has a deserved place in the history books.

  Paying our respects in Boyle today, we met Tony Conboy, the great chronicler of Roscommon GAA, who confirmed that there are now just two players (Liam Gilmartin and Paddy Beisty) from that era who are still with us. Tony, of course, spoke glowingly of John Joe, whose passing is an emotional milestone for people in Boyle, Roscommon and beyond.  

  Sympathies to John Joe’s family. May he rest in peace.

 

Saturday

 

I like to try and keep this column pretty light-hearted, but there is no escaping the grim news that has shocked the county this weekend.

  The shocking deaths of Larry (‘Lonnie’) and Martina Hayes in the appalling terrorist attack in Tunisia was confirmed today.

  Martina (nee Kelly) was the youngest of eleven, born in Carrick, Kiltoom. All of her siblings live locally to this day, so it is fair to say that her family are deeply rooted in the community here.

  Indeed the Kelly family members are highly respected and popular, as, by all accounts, are the Hayes family members (Larry Hayes was from Garrycastle, near Athlone).

  The horrific murder of this unassuming, well-liked couple represents the first link (that I am aware of) between the sickening ‘modern terrorism’ and this county.

  ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) terrorism has impacted on an innocent family in South Roscommon.

  Our hearts go out to the victims’ daughter Sinead and extended family members.

  They are victims of actions that are barbaric and evil.

  They will know that they have the support and prayers of the people of Roscommon at this very difficult time.

 

Sunday

 

Roscommon town was hijacked (happily) by hat and boot wearing country music fans throughout Sunday – and what a day it was.

  We got to Roscommon Racecourse at around 2 o’clock for our first taste of the now annual ‘Midsummer’s Day with the Stars.’

  The huge number of cars, buses and camper vans was an immediate indication that there was a good crowd gathering.

  The weather stayed dry and the atmosphere was great as Ireland’s leading country acts – sixteen of them in all – took to the stage to entertain thousands of concert-goers.

  I had to leave for a little while so I missed a few of the acts, but I really enjoyed Jimmy Buckley, Lisa McHugh, Patrick Feeney and of course the headliner, Nathan Carter. Others raved about Mike Denver, Robert Mizzel and various other favourites.

  ‘Cowboy hats’ were the popular accessory of choice and it was notable (though not that surprising) to see huge number of young fans in the crowd.

  Country music, as promoter and concert MC Joe Finnegan said from the stage, is absolutely flying in Ireland just now, and these acts are packing out venues just about every night of the week.

  While I am reporting on the concert, I must say that the organisation was first class, and the success of the event underlines just how great an asset the racecourse is to the town and county.

  There were attractions for children, lots of food and drink available, magnificent stewarding, excellent free parking and a friendly Garda presence.

  Indeed the whole atmosphere on the day was friendly and good-humoured; this was a toe-tappin’ tonic for the town.

  Later, driving down Main Street, it was clear that the feelgood mood from the racecourse had been transferred to some local pubs, with country music revellers dancing on the streets and more cowboy hats in evidence than you’d see in a John Wayne classic. There seemed to be a particularly large number of country fans from Northern Ireland down for the concert and many of them stayed on to enjoy the Roscommon hospitality.  

  ‘Midsummer’s Day with the Stars’ was a great success and a very enjoyable experience. The fans loved every minute of it – and it was a timely boost to the local economy too.

  I’ll eat my (cowboy) hat if it doesn’t continue long into the future…

  

Next Saturday

 

Without doubt Roscommon is amongst the most GAA-obsessed places/one of the counties with the most passionate fans.

  Mayo’s have to be near or at the top of the tree; I would add in Cavan, where, as in Roscommon and Mayo, the hunger is fierce and the passion strong and unyielding.

  I know this, because I worked in Cavan for a few years (a long time ago), and, despite being starved of senior football success then – as now – the Cavan people seemed to live and breathe football.

  They weren’t slow about holding their under-performing footballers to account either; the older Cavan folk had seen truly great teams from the county and younger Cavan folk had grown up on stories of great men and great feats.

  As in Roscommon and Mayo…passionate people pining for past glories, always believing, whatever the ominous odds, in a return to the GAA’s top tier.

  I served my journalistic apprenticeship in Cavan and have fond memories of Breffni Park, a big, sprawling venue where Sunday afternoons can be mundane or magical.

  One Monday morning during my stint at the Cavan Leader (then run by Eugene McGee) I received a clear instruction to put together a few sentences on every single club game played on the previous Sunday. There were eleven. I made enquiries about all eleven matches, contacting club secretaries and PROs. In this era before mobile phones and the Internet (it was about 1988) I drew a complete blank on one game. It was Redhills versus Killygarry, I think (it was certainly Redhills).

  Desperate to please Mr. McGee, and with ten reports ‘in the can,’ I decided to cobble together two or three sentences ‘on the blind.’ (Well, it was a long time ago).

  Helpfully, the Irish Independent had published all the club results. The relevant one read something like ‘Killygarry 0-7 Redhills 0-0.’

  Knowing the previous form of both teams – but knowing nothing else about the game – I created two or three paragraphs.

  ‘Killygarry continued their winning ways….it’s a setback for Redhills….some fine points scored…Redhills will want to atone in their next game…humiliation for Redhills, who, uniquely in GAA, failed to score…’

  Being really clever, I headlined the ‘report’:

  ‘RED FACES FOR REDHILLS.’

  I suppose I will never meet the Irish Independent copy-taker who made the error. It was a misprint in the national paper. Redhills had scored 0-9, not 0-0.

  To add to my humiliation, Redhills GAA Club were running a Monster Draw (first prize was a car) and several club members were lined on Cavan’s Main Street the following morning, selling tickets and proudly standing beside the vehicle in question.

  I couldn’t even support their draw in the circumstances, given that I remained on the opposite side of the street.

  There are two conclusions to draw. Firstly, Redhills had (contrary to reports) a decent enough forward-line around 1988, and secondly, you really do need to check your facts as a journalist – and not make presumptions.

  Anyways, this Saturday Roscommon are off on that famous road to Cavan, on which the trick is not to get stuck behind a lorry.

  We travel to ‘Breffni’ to mix with the locals, great GAA people (especially the folk from Redhills) and with hopes high that John Evans and his team can rescue Roscommon’s season.

  Best of luck to Roscommon. 

Paul Healy's Week

 

Friday 

 

There is a certain magic to the words ‘John Joe Nerney.’

  There aren’t many people around who saw him in his prime but his legend is long established.

  By all accounts he was a highly accomplished footballer, and a remarkable athlete. He played club football from the 1930s to the 1970s, meaning he was lining out for Boyle when he was well into his fifties! He ran marathons into his sixties and continued to go on regular runs for many years more.

  Much decorated as a footballer, he went on to become President of Roscommon County Board and, like all involved in the All-Ireland winning teams of 1943 and ’44, he has a deserved place in the history books.

  Paying our respects in Boyle today, we met Tony Conboy, the great chronicler of Roscommon GAA, who confirmed that there are now just two players (Liam Gilmartin and Paddy Beisty) from that era who are still with us. Tony, of course, spoke glowingly of John Joe, whose passing is an emotional milestone for people in Boyle, Roscommon and beyond.  

  Sympathies to John Joe’s family. May he rest in peace.

 

Saturday

 

I like to try and keep this column pretty light-hearted, but there is no escaping the grim news that has shocked the county this weekend.

  The shocking deaths of Larry (‘Lonnie’) and Martina Hayes in the appalling terrorist attack in Tunisia was confirmed today.

  Martina (nee Kelly) was the youngest of eleven, born in Carrick, Kiltoom. All of her siblings live locally to this day, so it is fair to say that her family are deeply rooted in the community here.

  Indeed the Kelly family members are highly respected and popular, as, by all accounts, are the Hayes family members (Larry Hayes was from Garrycastle, near Athlone).

  The horrific murder of this unassuming, well-liked couple represents the first link (that I am aware of) between the sickening ‘modern terrorism’ and this county.

  ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) terrorism has impacted on an innocent family in South Roscommon.

  Our hearts go out to the victims’ daughter Sinead and extended family members.

  They are victims of actions that are barbaric and evil.

  They will know that they have the support and prayers of the people of Roscommon at this very difficult time.

 

Sunday

 

Roscommon town was hijacked (happily) by hat and boot wearing country music fans throughout Sunday – and what a day it was.

  We got to Roscommon Racecourse at around 2 o’clock for our first taste of the now annual ‘Midsummer’s Day with the Stars.’

  The huge number of cars, buses and camper vans was an immediate indication that there was a good crowd gathering.

  The weather stayed dry and the atmosphere was great as Ireland’s leading country acts – sixteen of them in all – took to the stage to entertain thousands of concert-goers.

  I had to leave for a little while so I missed a few of the acts, but I really enjoyed Jimmy Buckley, Lisa McHugh, Patrick Feeney and of course the headliner, Nathan Carter. Others raved about Mike Denver, Robert Mizzel and various other favourites.

  ‘Cowboy hats’ were the popular accessory of choice and it was notable (though not that surprising) to see huge number of young fans in the crowd.

  Country music, as promoter and concert MC Joe Finnegan said from the stage, is absolutely flying in Ireland just now, and these acts are packing out venues just about every night of the week.

  While I am reporting on the concert, I must say that the organisation was first class, and the success of the event underlines just how great an asset the racecourse is to the town and county.

  There were attractions for children, lots of food and drink available, magnificent stewarding, excellent free parking and a friendly Garda presence.

  Indeed the whole atmosphere on the day was friendly and good-humoured; this was a toe-tappin’ tonic for the town.

  Later, driving down Main Street, it was clear that the feelgood mood from the racecourse had been transferred to some local pubs, with country music revellers dancing on the streets and more cowboy hats in evidence than you’d see in a John Wayne classic. There seemed to be a particularly large number of country fans from Northern Ireland down for the concert and many of them stayed on to enjoy the Roscommon hospitality.  

  ‘Midsummer’s Day with the Stars’ was a great success and a very enjoyable experience. The fans loved every minute of it – and it was a timely boost to the local economy too.

  I’ll eat my (cowboy) hat if it doesn’t continue long into the future…

  

Next Saturday

 

Without doubt Roscommon is amongst the most GAA-obsessed places/one of the counties with the most passionate fans.

  Mayo’s have to be near or at the top of the tree; I would add in Cavan, where, as in Roscommon and Mayo, the hunger is fierce and the passion strong and unyielding.

  I know this, because I worked in Cavan for a few years (a long time ago), and, despite being starved of senior football success then – as now – the Cavan people seemed to live and breathe football.

  They weren’t slow about holding their under-performing footballers to account either; the older Cavan folk had seen truly great teams from the county and younger Cavan folk had grown up on stories of great men and great feats.

  As in Roscommon and Mayo…passionate people pining for past glories, always believing, whatever the ominous odds, in a return to the GAA’s top tier.

  I served my journalistic apprenticeship in Cavan and have fond memories of Breffni Park, a big, sprawling venue where Sunday afternoons can be mundane or magical.

  One Monday morning during my stint at the Cavan Leader (then run by Eugene McGee) I received a clear instruction to put together a few sentences on every single club game played on the previous Sunday. There were eleven. I made enquiries about all eleven matches, contacting club secretaries and PROs. In this era before mobile phones and the Internet (it was about 1988) I drew a complete blank on one game. It was Redhills versus Killygarry, I think (it was certainly Redhills).

  Desperate to please Mr. McGee, and with ten reports ‘in the can,’ I decided to cobble together two or three sentences ‘on the blind.’ (Well, it was a long time ago).

  Helpfully, the Irish Independent had published all the club results. The relevant one read something like ‘Killygarry 0-7 Redhills 0-0.’

  Knowing the previous form of both teams – but knowing nothing else about the game – I created two or three paragraphs.

  ‘Killygarry continued their winning ways….it’s a setback for Redhills….some fine points scored…Redhills will want to atone in their next game…humiliation for Redhills, who, uniquely in GAA, failed to score…’

  Being really clever, I headlined the ‘report’:

  ‘RED FACES FOR REDHILLS.’

  I suppose I will never meet the Irish Independent copy-taker who made the error. It was a misprint in the national paper. Redhills had scored 0-9, not 0-0.

  To add to my humiliation, Redhills GAA Club were running a Monster Draw (first prize was a car) and several club members were lined on Cavan’s Main Street the following morning, selling tickets and proudly standing beside the vehicle in question.

  I couldn’t even support their draw in the circumstances, given that I remained on the opposite side of the street.

  There are two conclusions to draw. Firstly, Redhills had (contrary to reports) a decent enough forward-line around 1988, and secondly, you really do need to check your facts as a journalist – and not make presumptions.

  Anyways, this Saturday Roscommon are off on that famous road to Cavan, on which the trick is not to get stuck behind a lorry.

  We travel to ‘Breffni’ to mix with the locals, great GAA people (especially the folk from Redhills) and with hopes high that John Evans and his team can rescue Roscommon’s season.

  Best of luck to Roscommon. 

Paul Healy's Week

Saturday

 

It was billed as Messi’s day – but another ‘Special M’ claimed the limelight early on Saturday with an intervention straight from the world of boyhood dreams. What a sporting moment it was, courtesy of Micheal Kelly.

  I’m not sure if a reporter or a friend or even a voice in Micheal’s head said the following to him in the days leading up to Saturday’s Nicky Rackard Cup Final, but most of us have imagined a scenario something like this at some point in our lives…

  ‘So Micheal, Roscommon are playing in a national final in Croke Park. You are the captain. Time is up…the seventy minutes have elapsed and the one minute of injury-time has elapsed. You are trailing by two points. You’re awarded a free from about twenty metres out. Your opponents fill the goal with men. You strike an unstoppable shot past everyone, high into the net, and seconds later the referee blows the final whistle. Roscommon win by a point and you collect the cup in the stand.’

  It is, as I say, the stuff of boyhood dreams. It’s no longer a dream. It did happen. Roscommon trailed hot favourites Armagh by two points after 71 minutes of today’s Nicky Rackard Cup Final. Roscommon, at one stage five behind and having had a man sent off, were heroic.

  Kelly lines up the free. Kelly lofts the sliothar into the air. Time stops still. It is his Roy of the Rovers moment. It’s his Special M moment on the very day that Messi is (again) in the world spotlight. It’s Micheal’s boyhood dreams paused. Then the strike, which looks more fabulous every time you see it.

  For Micheal Kelly, you could say that it was the moment when hurling and history and hope all rhymed. And well done to the entire panel and management and ‘backroom’ folk; it was a victory secured by skill and courage, and a welcome boost for Roscommon hurling.

  (In ‘other news’, Lionel Messi inspired Barcelona to a 3-1 win over Juventus in an entertaining Champions League Cup Final).

 

Sunday

 

In the ‘LIFE’ magazine in the Sunday Independent, they’ve asked ‘Ireland’s best known people’ what the secret to happiness is. ‘Ireland’s best known people, from Bertie Ahern to Chris de Burg’ is the slightly less than appetising cover headline.

  I had a quick look, and was stunned to discover that Miriam O’Callaghan wasn’t amongst those interviewed. Cue a serious fall in happiness levels all over the country, one assumes.

  Still, all wasn’t lost: Imagine my relief when I found that Gerald Kean, Lucinda Creighton, Rosanna Davison and Mary O’Rourke had been included amongst the contributors.

  Happy days!

 

Monday

 

We’re used to seeing the odd television and assorted items appearing in drains near where we live, as people persist with littering our otherwise beautiful countryside.

  This morning, at Casey’s roundabout at ‘round about’ 9.20 am, there suddenly emerged from the car in front of me a bag of crisps (Hunky Dorys, no less) which was brazenly dumped on to the road.

  Yes, a half-full bag of Hunky Dorys, its contents spewing all over the place, flung from a moving car on a sunny morning at a roundabout in Roscommon town – in full view of other motorists.

  By the way, the Tidy Towns judges are due to visit in June and/or July.

  Perhaps this less than ‘hunky dory’ motorist had just decided to start a diet at that very moment. As in ‘It’s Monday morning, I’m starting today!’ But they could at least have waited until they got home…

 

All week

 

Cute hoorism has not been completely banished from the land. In decades gone by, it was to be found in every town and village in Ireland, and in every walk of life.

  Then cute hoorism was outed and attempts were made to remove it from Irish society. Initially it looked like this process had been a significant success, but we were only fooling ourselves.

  It turns out that cute hoorism, like golden circles, is extremely difficult to completely eradicate.

  Over the past week or so, the FAI boss John Delaney’s conduct has reminded us that cute hoorism is alive and well. I didn’t hear his interview with Ray D’Arcy at the time, but Delaney had already been grating on me in the days after the FIFA scandal broke.

  Delaney was popping up in the papers virtually every day, invariably with a righteous perspective on the FIFA story. It was becoming tedious; then the ‘€5m payment to the FAI’ story broke.

  Now one can argue for or against the €5m payment, but what many people are increasingly feeling uncomfortable with when it comes to Delaney is his demeanour, how he conducts himself.

  He may be a really nice man, but too often his behaviour lacks the dignity one would associate with his prestigious position. In the interview with Ray D’Arcy, Delaney began by saying he didn’t like Sepp Blatter’s “modus operandi” and “style” and accused him of having a big ego. One might say much the same of Delaney.

  This was a crass interview by the FAI man, in which Delaney took every opportunity to be scathing of Blatter and to try and come across as a cool, clean hero. He scoffed at Blatter’s alleged staring at Delaney’s girlfriend; boasted that he had used expletives to put the FIFA chief in his place; even said, with a condescending chuckle, “he’s four foot something” when asked what height Blatter is (he’s five foot seven!).

  What was the purpose of all this childishness? It was to reinforce the sense of Delaney as a man of the people, a tough-talking hero who gets things done, a nice guy with the common touch. I don’t think it worked; Delaney, who went on to take credit for the now infamous €5m payment, merely reminded us that cute hoorism is alive and well.

  Still, let’s not kick a man when he’s down. Delaney should learn his lesson. He should remain in office, concentrate on what he’s good at – and rein in his ego.

 

 

 

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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