Thursday 22 August 2019

Eugene O'Brien: 'Shane Lowry made all of Offaly proud and showed us it's OK to have dreams'

His dad and uncles were lauded too but Shane played with a different kind of stick and ball, writes Eugene O'Brien

Shane Lowry by John White
Shane Lowry by John White

Eugene O'Brien

I can say it loud and proud this week. I am from Offaly - or Contae Uibh Fhaili, which was named after the kingdom of Ui failghe and was formerly known as King's County after King Philip through a 1556 Act of Parliament of Ireland.

In the 2016 census the county had a population of 77,961 and it borders seven counties - Galway, Roscommon, Tipperary, Laois, Westmeath, Kildare and Meath. It is known for bogs and Biffos and Moneygall and has been much maligned. A place with an accent as flat as the landscape and a laid-back reputation. A county people pass through on the way to somewhere else.

When I arrived in college in the 1980s they were amazed that I loved Joy Division and the Jesus And Mary Chain and that I listened to John Peel and had read A Clockwork Orange. How, they asked me, had I ever heard about such things in the bog?

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Wicklow and Cork and Kerry and Galway and Donegal were always seen among the glamour counties with their astonishing vistas of mountains and seas that are coveted by Hollywood. Poor little Offaly was a nowhere land. A place nobody wanted to go to.

In fact the only thing people knew about Offaly when I was growing up was the GAA teams. We were fiercely proud of these teams and the wondrous days they gave us. The four All Irelands of the hurlers were amazing but to us that had more to do with Birr and the south west of the county. In Edenderry, football was our game. Places like Rhode, Walsh Island, Geashill, Ferbane and Clara supplied the players and Bord na Mona supplied the jobs to keep the young men at home. Three All Irelands were won. In 1971 and 1972 but most famously versus Kerry in 1982.

Offaly people of that time and still to this day have a natural in-built modesty and don't expect success so when it comes they love it and are surprised by it and they celebrate it. By Jaysus, let's mark it properly because it mightn't come around for another long while.

The GAA teams played with a great skill and instinct. They were not famous for training. They went out and had a go and played for their communities and families. They seemed to only want to win one All Ireland at a time. It seemed that winning multiple All Irelands in a row like Kilkenny or Kerry was pointless. Win one legendary match like the footballers in 1982 or the hurlers in 1994 and people will remember you for ever. What's the point of winning if you can't take time out to enjoy it?

Offaly were always about being underdogs. The unfancied county. We loved this as we travelled to Croke Park week after week in the early 1980s. Unfortunately Offaly GAA is in the doldrums at the moment but last Tuesday in Clara, Co Offaly, a no-holds-barred, GAA-style celebration was in full swing but the man they were lauding played with a different kind of stick and ball.

Shane Lowry's two uncles and his dad were part of that amazing team of 1982. His father Brendan scored an important goal in the semi-finals and his uncle Sean was brilliant in the final. Catching the ball as the full-time whistle went and holding it above his head in complete relief. He joked that the team had 'worked their bollocks off' for 67 minutes - but it was Seamus Darby who came on and stole the show.

I will never forget when they brought the Sam Maguire home that year. In a depressed, unemployed town it was like a beacon of hope. I have not witnessed as much pride and joy in the county since - until last Tuesday night in Clara.

Every square inch of the place was covered in people. One woman said it was the biggest thing since the Pope's visit in 1979. It was about a local young lad who had gone on to achieve a crazy surreal dream. A local young lad who was now part of the history of golf forever. His name on the same famous Claret Jug as Nicklaus, Ballesteros and Palmer. A local young lad who had decided to cease the relentless professional obsession with winning and just take time out for a while.

To celebrate and dedicate his extraordinary achievement to the friends, family and community that had formed him. Could you imagine Brooks Koepka or Dustin Johnson or Jordan Spieth getting locked and singing in a pub at two in the morning with the Claret Jug held aloft? No. The ability to take real joy and wonder in dreams coming true is not to be underestimated.

The win has given a huge lift to everyone from the county and it was almost as if Offaly GAA had risen from its nadir and won The Open. Every time Shane struck a tee shot you could hear the shouts of "Go on Offaly". Shane himself chanting 'Uibh Fhaili' on the stage in Clara the other night. It was pure GAA. Pure local.

It reminds us of who we really are at our best. In a time of Boris and no-deal Brexit and that ridiculous fall off the swing, it was such a pleasure to see such good news in the headlines. A big happy proud Offaly man smiling back at us.

I hope Shane will inspire hundreds of boys and girls the length and breath of Offaly to take up golf.

In Edenderry the golf club will welcome the new blood. My brother is the club pro. My grandfather was one of the founders. Both my grandmothers and my own mother were captains. Some people come from a horsey family. I come from a golfey family.

As kids, me and the brother used to cycle out and spend long summer days hitting the ball around. I found it the most evil, headwreck of a game and wrapped my club around many trees in tremendous rages. It didn't help that the younger bro was so gifted at it. I remember we went to our first Irish Open in 1979 in Portmarnock with our uncle and followed Seve and he walked past us and a thrill went up the back of our little spines. We celebrated with crisps and Coke.

Ten years later, we were young men and followed Ian Woosnam and Philip Walton in a play-off. That time we celebrated with pints of porter.

I walked around the course today as my brother and that same uncle played a match for a fiver. He talked of playing the course 60 years before with his father and I felt that lifelong connection to the place. The club has struggled since the crash. People let their memberships go and the place was under pressure. But everyone dug in and now the corner is being turned. More than 50 new members this year and the course has never looked better. The club has a rich heritage, so fingers crossed it can flourish so the folk memories and community and sense of a place can carry on.

Shane showed us this last week in Portrush, that it's OK to dream. Walking around the Edenderry course I got lost for a moment. I daydreamed that if I ever managed to win an Oscar for best screenplay the first place I'd want to go and show it off would be my home town in Offaly. Anything is possible. Dreams can come true. Shane proved that just as his uncles and da did 37 years ago in Croke Park. Go on the faithful!

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