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Sun 04-Sep-2005 22:00
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Press Box Lad
Thanks for the Memories Seán!
About two weeks ago, I came across a piece written by a very senior columnist in these parts. He stated that he had just been given a new laptop and the cursor on the said machine was flashing hauntingly at him as he pondered what the maiden production from the new gizmo was going to be.
Today I find myself similarly stuck for words, but for very different, and emotional, reasons. The day has finally arrived. The day we all knew would eventually come but nobody dared to think of when it would.
Now I know why people say you can never be prepared to deal with a death. No matter how ready you think you may be, it will still come as a shock. And while it might be an unusual comparison to draw with Seán Boylan vacating his position as Meath coach, I honestly feel it is the one that describes best the mood in Meath, and indeed all genuine GAA places. The place feels like it is a state of mourning and this writer has no shame in admitting that it is with a rather large lump in throat that I bring you these few lines.
In one way, it isn’t the earth shattering shock that those outside of the county may think it to be but it undoubtedly marks the end of one of the best eras in the history of the GAA, certainly the greatest there ever has been in Meath’s history and it will take some doing to achieve even a fraction of what Seán did.
There’s an old saying that you are only as good as your last victory and it is one of the sad things that in recent times there have been ever increasing calls for one of the game’s true legends and gentlemen to step aside. However, history will always show that on any occasion he was challenged, namely 1985, 1995 and for three years running from 2002, he emerged the winner and that says it all about what was thought of the man.
In saying that, it would be foolish not to acknowledge that, as I said a few lines back, in recent times the calls for change have been growing. Though it was always felt that Seán himself would know when the time was right. To this end, the humility, dignity and grace of the man must be praised to the very last and while there will be many a tear shed at Seán’s departure there will, I hope, also be an acceptance that the man himself knew best and a realisation that there is no way that he would ever deserve to go down in a vote.
At this point I wish to pen a few special lines that have weighed heavy in my mind in recent years but now is the time to let them go.
Now, there can be no doubting that the pressures of top level management are such that the media can sometimes be one pressure to many to deal with. Seán Boylan’s affable nature with the media, regardless of whether in victory or defeat, is legendary and I consider myself privileged to have got to interview the man once as well as being his namesake and neighbour. Being that close to the action brought it’s own pressures though. In recent times, everybody would acknowledge that Meath were not as competitive as they once were but being critical of Seán was always one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I know that in certain quarters there are those who had themselves, and others, convinced that I had turned anti-Seán, though nothing could be further from the truth.
Yes, I got frustrated, apart from the obvious reasons of not being able to be as involved as I would have always adored the chance of being, seeing Meath not as competitive as they once were has been something hard to take. In a way, this frustration was borne out of being spoiled with success for nearly two decades and, to an extent, I suppose when the well dried up it was a case of finding someone to blame.
This column is a very humble tribute to Seán, there will be hundreds, maybe thousands, more by far more eminent people than me but as I wrote earlier this is coming from the heart. I owe Seán more than I could ever thank him for and it is for this reason that these next few lines are the most special to me, and indeed, the hardest to write.
In my circumstances, the GAA has, more often than not, been the one shining light in my life and this was solely due in the beginning to Sean, his players and the countless hours of enjoyment they gave to me and so many more like me. Quite simply, I lived for GAA, still do, and was hooked from that first April day in 1990 when Meath beat Cork in a league semi final. Over the next few years, my interest in, and love of, GAA grew to such an extent that I became involved in GAA affairs at local committee level and I suppose it was almost a given that I would end up working around GAA in some way, though, at times, there were times when I wished I’d chosen any other profession in the world.
Now, when Meath were going well it was a pleasure reporting on Sean and the lads but unfortunately my writing in a professional capacity coincided with a downturn in the county’s footballing fortunes. Having to be critical of Seán, on the few occasions it had to be done, was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. I know when you’re in my occupation you have to be able to call things as they are but that’s all very well for people who weren’t from Dunboyne or didn’t know Seán as well as I did. As I said, having to write negatively was one of the hardest things I ever had to do and in latter years I became more and more weary about it.
Though I hope Seán would know that it was borne out of my frustration at the team not going as well as I would wish because they were so important to keeping my own spirits up and over the years I have made friends with so many of the players, past and present, and that have become very special to me since, all because of Seán. At no stage was anything negative that was written meant personally for Seán and I hope he will accept that. All I would ever want is what’s best for Meath GAA because that is so important to keeping me in good spirits.
Anyway, enough about me. Now, these words have been uttered so many times over the years but to be using them now in the past tense seems very strange. What Seán Boylan did for Meath football should never be forgotten and is never likely to be surpassed. He guided the county from a football abyss to being a superpower and for that he should never be forgotten, and won’t be in most quarters.
Sadly, though, such is the competitive nature of sport nowadays that you really are only as good as your last victory. There has been an air about the county recently that change mightn’t be a bad thing, and maybe it’s not, though I feel some comments by certain parties recently were very unfair as neither they, nor we, would have the countless treasured memories that exist if it were not for Sean.
Now, I would be the first to admit that there are problems with football in the county and yes, bad calls have been made on the sideline at times, but I have felt for a long period now that there is a problem that runs much deeper. Maybe if people didn’t focus so much on the happenings within the senior side they would get a better view of the broader picture.
With the exception of 2002, when an All Ireland MFC Final was contested, and that was with the aid of the ‘back door’, Meath underage sides have not been near competitive enough for well over a decade. This is slightly hard to fathom when you consider how well certain schools from the county have been competing and does, I feel point to a much graver problem, which, seemingly, a blind eye has been turned to for far too long.
I feel nothing short of a root and branch restructuring of the underage systems within the county can bring things back from the position in which they now find themselves. And maybe, just maybe, the departed Messiah might be the man for the job! Knowing the man, he would probably have a right good cut at it too, getting another generation ready to leave us, hopefully, with eve
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