Roscommon legends at Sean Og’s ‘Giants’ book launch

It seems to be the season of launches of one publication or another. On Monday October 8 I attended the launch of Sean Og O Ceallachain’s  ‘Giants of Gaelic Football’ in the grandly named ‘House of Lords’. I may have been aware of this building, years ago, but it was submerged until this occasion.    ‘The House of Lords’, Dublin vintage, is attached to The Bank of Ireland opposite Trinity College. The book is a series of forty-nine essays on the finest players Sean Og ever saw. It is of course a very subjective selection.    Roscommon has two nominees present in Gerry O’Malley and Jimmy Murray. I was invited to the launch on the basis of being of assistance to Sean Og with the Gerry O’Malley piece. The book was launched with his usual panache by The Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, obviously a good friend of Sean Og.    Gerry O’Malley was present and was sought out by many seeking the signature of the great Roscommon man. Another great Roscommon footballer of the forties, Liam Gilmartin, was also present. Having acquired the book I decided I’d get a few signatures as the boy in me surfaced.    O’Malley was an easy starter and I followed with Kevin Behan of Louth, Sean O’Neill of Down, Brendan Barden of Longford, Paddy O’Brien of Meath and for me the jewel in the list Packie McGarty of Leitrim, among others. He looked at least ten years younger than his mid-seventies age.    I had been in St. Coman’s Park as a boy supporting Leitrim, for the famous Connacht Final of 1958 when Leitrim should have beaten Galway. McGarty gave a majestic display that day despite the robust attention of the Galway defence.   I went outside the brief of just getting the signature of players when I saw Paddy Downey of The Irish Times, one of the great Gaelic football correspondents. With him was Edmund Van Esbeck who was a great rugby correspondent with the same paper. When I introduced myself to Mr. Van Esbeck by saying: ‘You will have no idea who I am, I am Tony Conboy from Roscommon’ I got taken aback when he said he did know of me and commended me on my efforts in the opening up of Croke Park to other games. Then I realised that he must have mistaken me for Tommy Kenoy but I did not go through the tangled process of clarification as these were just time bites.    I asked Owen McCann, who has been at the forefront of GAA publications and records for decades, and his line read humbly: ‘Thank you for asking’.   The book was launched as I’ve said by Mr. Ahern and he touched the appropriate themes of: the importance of the GAA, the great work and the great players. He was, as always, on a tight schedule and had little time to delay afterwards as he was ushered by his staff out of the building. Then the old friends could meet and remember sporting jousts of long ago.    I waited, camera at the ready for O’Malley and McGarty to meet and when they did I was pleased that I ‘got the picture’. I do not know how often they have met in recent times but they were obviously happy to meet for a brief few minutes. Sean Og mingled with his audience with an affability of a long-time friend. His Sunday night GAA results programme is the longest running radio programme in Europe and perhaps anywhere. I doubt if there is a GAA person who has not, at one time or another, listened in to his melliferous tones as he announced the results: Wicklow County Championship, Shillealagh 1.10 Balltinglass 2.7, a draw’.    He adopted the Og title from his father, also Sean, who he succeeded as a GAA correspondent for Radio Eireann around 1950. Sean Og represented Dublin in hurling and was a noted football referee. He is remembered as a referee controversially by those who can go back to the Roscommon versus Meath All-Ireland semi-final of 1952. He has published eight books previously, mostly on gaelic football, but also on golf.    Gradually the crowd dispersed and I too drifted into the October dusk and the bustle of the busy pavements as the people competed for space and were resolute in their direction. I had parked in Maynooth and got the commuter train to Connolly Station. On the return journey I passed Croke Park and remembered the anticipation and the impression it made on me, on perhaps my first train journey, nearly fifty years as I strained to see the ground made famous by these heroes of mine and their ‘interpreter’ Micheal O’Hehir.      As I leafed through ‘Giants of Gaelic Football’ I observed my accompanying passengers. Many had their ‘I pods’, a number carried their lap top cases