Tuesday 22 August 2017

Colm O'Rourke: 'It was one of my greatest sporting highlights to share Simonstown's win with my son Shane'

Colm O’Rourke leads the celebrations. Photo: David Conachy
Colm O’Rourke leads the celebrations. Photo: David Conachy
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke explains why winning the county title with his son on board was one of his best days in sport.

'When it's not always raining, there'll be days like this,

When there's no one complaining, there'll be days like this,

When everything falls into place like the flick of a switch,

Well, my mama told me, there'll be days like this.'

I don't think Van Morrison was ever at a county final but no words could better capture the experience in Navan last Sunday when Simonstown Gaels won their first senior championship in great style - a special group of players playing wonderful football.

Simonstown Gaels manager Colm O’Rourke, right, and kitman Jim McCabe celebrate following their team's victory during the Meath County Senior Club Football Championship Final game between Donaghmore/Ashbourne and Simonstown at Pairc Táilteann in Navan, Co. Meath. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Simonstown Gaels manager Colm O’Rourke, right, and kitman Jim McCabe celebrate following their team's victory during the Meath County Senior Club Football Championship Final game between Donaghmore/Ashbourne and Simonstown at Pairc Táilteann in Navan, Co. Meath. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

It is something every club should experience at least once in a lifetime whether at junior, intermediate or senior level. When you are involved closely with a club there are any number of disappointments, near misses, final defeats, internal disputes and then, one day comes along when everything just goes right. The effect on community spirit is amazing and the scenes afterwards and even since are hard for me to comprehend - and I thought I had seen most things in football.

You can talk about county football all you want, but the club game is personal. A county winning an All-Ireland or even a provincial title inspires young people to try and emulate their heroes. It is the broad stroke of the pen. At club the hero plays on the same pitch, talks to everyone and probably helps out coaching some of the younger players. Eventually they may play together at senior level; some of our players who won medals last Sunday were playing senior before some of the younger ones were born. Where else could you get families and generations interwoven in a rich fabric of giving and sharing?

My journey with Simonstown mirrors that of many GAA people in modern Ireland. When I got married, I went to live in Navan, which is not very far from my home club, Skryne. Then my son Shane started playing football and he naturally wanted to go with his friends to the local club, Simonstown Gaels, which at that stage was an intermediate club living in the shadow of the big team in town, Navan O'Mahonys, a side that I had frequently lost out to in county finals with Skryne.

From that small group that Jim McCabe and I, among others, got together almost 25 years ago, three played on Sunday. First cousins, Shane and Michael O'Rourke and Mark McCabe, while Jim McCabe is still with me in one of those positions where every club needs a good man - a doer of whatever is needed.

There have been many bumps in the road over the years; we had no success at underage and for a while in the early noughties I managed the senior team. After a couple of bad years we reached the championship final in 2003 and were beaten by Blackhall Gaels. It was a day of strong wind, we led by nine at half-time but were beaten by three.

That defeat took more out of me than losing two All-Ireland finals with Meath or the six losing finals I played in with Skryne. Anyone who is closely involved with a group understands how hard it is to sleep, eat or do normal things after some defeats. Of course it is absolutely illogical to pour so much into what is supposed to be a pastime to be enjoyed. Yet that loss and one the following year to Skryne meant a great group of club footballers never achieved their goal. I had witnessed the same thing in my own career with Skryne; almost all the lads I started playing with lost several finals and were not around when we eventually made the breakthrough. The absolute cruelty of sport.

Pauric McKeever of Simonstown Gaels in action against Sean Curran of Donaghmore/Ashbourne
Pauric McKeever of Simonstown Gaels in action against Sean Curran of Donaghmore/Ashbourne

In the end I walked away from Simonstown in about 2006. The fortunes of the team had ebbed and like most things in life you should jump before you are pushed. It reminds me of an interview I did for the position of deputy principal in school. A very nice lady asked me if I did not get the job would it affect my attitude to the school and all the school teams I coached. All I could say was that I was brought up in the GAA and you get used to getting shafted. If you were to take it too personally you would never do anything. As it was, I got the job, so the other outcome was never tested.

A couple of years ago I came back to manage Simonstown again. I have been quoted as saying that not winning the championship with Simonstown was a pebble in my shoe. Perhaps it was even more than that. It dominated my football thoughts for the last few years, always thinking about if someone was available, or if somebody else was fit, who could play full-back - the same ideas which run through every manager's mind. My management career has not been too bad: ten Leinster Colleges with St Pat's, three All-Irelands, winning international rules manager, home and away, intermediate championship with Dunshaughlin and I was involved as a selector with Ray Mooney in two of Skryne's championship wins. And yet . . . and yet.

Of course part of the reason I came back was because I wanted to see my son Shane winning a championship with Simonstown. He has had a rough time with injuries. Ten years ago he looked as if he could be a leading player for club and county, but three hip operations later and after most of that decade either on the line or impaired in his movements, he has now won something tangible.

His performances this year have been brilliant and I say that with total bias! Most parents would give everything they have so see their children achieve and he deserved a break. Some players are unlucky with injury, some come along at the wrong time for both club and county, others just slot in and a team becomes successful.

Such is life, but Shane has far more talent than I had as a player and it was one of my greatest sporting highlights to be able to share a big day with him, and indeed my daughter Elaine and my wife Patricia who was not able to attend the match after an operation. Yes, you have guessed correctly - a hip operation. Five hip operations in a few years between mother and her big son is enough in any family.

In many ways it suited Shane to have me in charge. He did not train like everyone else, a night on the pitch, a few in the gym, maybe another in the pool. When Lester Piggott was asked about his daily diet as a jockey, his answer was a good cigar and a cup of coffee. Everyone is different. With Ciaran Kenny and Johnny Mills doing all the training, the panel understood that all players could not do the same.

The absence of ego was also important. By shedding a few, the panel were closer and it is important to only have positive people on board. Having a backroom team with others like 'Smoothie' Brady, Cormac McEvoy, Tommy Caffey, Ollie Boland and Pádraig Gill, it sometimes resembled a circus, but the laughs were at the right time.

Seamus Kenny of Simonstown Gaels celebrates following his team's victory in the Meath County Senior Club Football Championship Final game between Donaghmore/Ashbourne and Simonstown at Pairc Táilteann in Navan, Co. Meath. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Seamus Kenny of Simonstown Gaels celebrates following his team's victory in the Meath County Senior Club Football Championship Final game between Donaghmore/Ashbourne and Simonstown at Pairc Táilteann in Navan, Co. Meath. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

The same training regime applied to ex-Meath player Seamus Kenny who was playing in his 19th campaign. Before the game he was being given a rub by Mocky Regan of the magic hands and quick wit. Seamus asked could he have another rub at half-time. Mocky's reply was: "Will you still be on?" He was and turned in his greatest display.

Beside Shane at midfield was a young man of many talents, Conor Nash, who is now off to Australia to try and master Aussie Rules as he has already done with both rugby and football. There are people in the GAA who look for some sort of control over what they see as poaching. You might as well be trying to count the pebbles on the shore. Young men from Ireland have always been sailors, adventurers, buccaneers. You cannot stop the ambition of youth. The world is a small place. All of us wish him well and if he ever comes back we will be delighted to have Conor again and maybe see him play for Meath in Croke Park.

On Sunday night, I took my leave at about 2.0 in the morning. I had never before witnessed such an outpouring of joy and goodwill. It was a calm, quiet night as I walked home through country roads and past houses sporting the club colours. For that peaceful 10 minutes I thought to myself that despite all the problems we face in daily life, it is sometimes just a beautiful world. Well, my mama told me there'll be days like this.

Joe Lyons of Simonstown Gaels reacts at the final whistle following his team's victory in the Meath County Senior Club Football Championship Final game between Donaghmore/Ashbourne and Simonstown at Pairc Táilteann in Navan, Co. Meath. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Joe Lyons of Simonstown Gaels reacts at the final whistle following his team's victory in the Meath County Senior Club Football Championship Final game between Donaghmore/Ashbourne and Simonstown at Pairc Táilteann in Navan, Co. Meath. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

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