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.
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.
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…
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.