The man on the ladder

Paul Healy


Monday: When I saw the man on the ladder – the weekend’s first ‘man on a ladder’ – I thought of all the football he must have seen over the years, of how strange the GAA world of 2020 must be for him.

I couldn’t see his face, could only guess as to his age. He surely saw Earley, I reckoned. He must have seen O’Malley. Maybe he even saw Murray and Keenan – and Bill Carlos himself!

He must have seen the Terrible Twins too, and O’Connell, and probably Packy McGarty, and he undoubtedly saw Spillane and ‘Bomber’ and Egan, and Heffo’s Dubs.

Once I read the St. Michael’s tweet, I knew this then unnamed man has seen a lot of that ground (Ardcarne Park, Cootehall). Always from better vantage points, mind you.

He knows those green fields in the distance, those lovely trees, that familiar, beautiful landscape.

And the pitch itself? He surely knows every inch of that field. You can be sure he lined out there in his day, maybe even lined the pitch. He’s probably done most of the jobs that selfless club volunteers consider a labour of love.

I reckoned he’s probably seen it all – and loved every bit of it. I had no doubt that he’s watched the big stars over the years, but that his heart – almost certainly – is lifted most by the glow you get from watching new players emerge…the wheels of the club turning, this, the parish heartbeat.

In life, it’s hard to be sure of anything. But you can be sure that the man on the ladder never thought he’d watch a St. Michael’s game in this manner.

Posting the photo, his club tweeted at the weekend: “This man has rarely missed a St. Michael’s match and today was no different, albeit from afar”.

“This man”? I just had to investigate!

Wednesday: After I spoke with St. Michael’s, and told them of my interest, I received a call from Eddie Heslin. That’s how I found out that the man on the ladder is Eddie’s father, Pat Heslin.

Eddie filled me in on his father’s GAA passion.

Pat Heslin (83) is a native of Cootehall. He’s married to Frances. Involved with St. Michael’s for well over 40 years, he played a bit of football as a young man, and has been a loyal club volunteer through the decades, so much so that he was at one stage honoured with election as Club President.

Pat will celebrate his 84th birthday on September 29th. Covid-19 restrictions meant that Pat could not get to see St. Michael’s in action all summer, especially as matches were generally at neutral venues. So, when St. Michael’s were finally at home last weekend (in the Junior Championship, against St. Brigid’s) Pat put his plan into operation.

He turned up at his beloved ground with a small (but effective!) ladder. Then 83-year-old Pat, whose grandson Mark plays for the club, proceeded to watch the entire game, over the wall!

Eddie told the Roscommon People: “My father would have great regard for rules, so he’d want to observe the restrictions. He wondered if this would be okay to do, and was assured that it was. It was his own idea!

“He’s very passionate about St. Michael’s. Over the years he’d have lined the pitch, done his share of fundraising, that type of thing. He has great pride in that field!”

To be honest, I hadn’t expected that the man on the ladder might be 83, going on 84. Now I know that he has indeed seen it all, now I know of his quiet, dignified devotion to the GAA, of his great service to St. Michael’s.

He has seen Earley, he has seen O’Malley, he was a young boy in Cootehall when Roscommon won Sam (twice). Most of all, he has seen the generations of footballers who have graced Ardcarne Park since the club was formed in 1941.

Last Saturday, he implemented his plan – and watched St. Michael’s, on the pitch he loves, across a wall, while standing on a ladder.

To paraphrase a famous politician from a famous Ard Fheis many years ago: “Ye can have your lockdown and restrictions, but ye can’t have the GAA grassroot!”