Castletown resident recalls All-Ireland win, 25 years later
Laying claim to someone can be a peculiar process for a rural community. They are usually a blow-in until it suits the old-timers to regard them as something more, as someone they can hang their hat on.
Castletown is no different than most and by now they are no stranger to the odd, useful 'blow-in'. Yet, few outsiders have been more suited to being embraced by a hard-nosed football community than Paul Bealin.
Just a few months shy of 25 years ago, Bealin was trying to fight his way through a crowd to get on to an open-top double-decker bus in Dublin city. With eldest son, toddler Jonathan, in his arms, this wasn't about sightseeing, this was about celebrating.
Dublin had won their first All-Ireland title in twelve years. This was about witnessing what a national title meant to his fellow countymen and women, this was the day that made all the disappointments of previous years - and experiences - worthwhile.
'In 1992 they organised an open-top double-decker bus,' he explained. 'We were after losing against Donegal, it was a wet evening, and we are driving down O'Connell Street and I'm not joking, there was nobody out.
'There was no M50 in those days so the traffic in the city centre was chronic. It was the most embarrassing thing ever that we were up waving on a bus and people didn't know who we were.'
Fast forward three years, and things were a little different.
'In '95 the crowd was so big I couldn't get on the bus, it was just manic. I had Jonathan in my arms, he was two or three at the time, and we were getting on the bus [but] we just couldn't get through the crowd.
'They had to hold back the crowd to let this man on because it was phenomenal, it was a great feeling. It's that lovely feeling in an amateur sport; to drive around your city and be acknowledged for winning the All-Ireland. It was great.'
The inter-county journey had started in 1988 for Paul. He played in the National League under Gerry McCaul but was out, then back in, the squad before he made his championship debut in 1991.
That debut? The first of the memorable four clashes against Meath in the opening round of the Leinster championship. That day Bealin came on with his side one point up, but little did he know what would follow over the course of the next few weeks.
'I think the first kick-out John O'Leary kicked I won it under the Hogan Stand and I kind of got into the game quite quickly. Fifteen minutes fly when you come on, but I contributed I suppose and we drew the game and the rest is history.'
History that reads three draws, the second two both after extra-time. In the fourth game it was nip and tuck again, but this time the Royals just came away with the spoils.
In those days Dublin were out of the championship, finished for the summer, but it did them more good than harm in the long run.
'I think we got some nice crystal and we got a holiday in Portugal in November, which was unheard of at the time. They go to Dubai nowadays, [but] back then we went to Portugal, it was something of an acknowledgement of the four games.
'For us as a group of players, I know we lost by a point but Meath were a fantastic team, they still are, massive respect for them. Over the years we had some battles with them, they were a fantastic team after winning All-Irelands in '87, '88, they had won loads of Leinsters.
'We had just won a couple of leagues and couldn't catch them, but after that particular four games against Meath we realised as a group of players that we were a lot better than we are giving ourselves credit for. While we were beaten, we were very, very close.
'We were a younger team coming through, that kind of set the platform for the success we had after that, four Leinsters back-to-back, two National Leagues, and played in three All Ireland finals.
'It was certainly a good platform to build on in terms of confidence, and I think we got that from those four games against Meath.'
Indeed, while games against Meath in '93, '94 and '95 were by-and-large competitive, Dublin didn't lose a championship game to their great rivals in those years. They were struggling to get over the line and win that elusive All Ireland.
'In 1992 we got a great run all the way to the All-Ireland final,' Bealin recalled. 'It was the first time that that group of players had trained, where it actually got dark before training, the lighting in Parnell Park wouldn't have been as strong as it is today. It is a great feeling to still be in the championship as the evenings were getting shorter.
'Paddy Cullen was the manager and I think Donegal were a much better team on the day. We did something, we all went collectively to the All-Ireland semi-final to watch Donegal and Mayo and it was a very poor semi-final.
'I suppose we all walked out thinking if we beat Clare we've a great chance of winning the All-Ireland, I think that was our downfall. I don't think we prepared properly mentally for the game and, in fairness to Donegal, they came out, shot the lights out and won the All-Ireland.'
When 1993 ended with disappointment, a one-point semi-final loss to Derry after leading for long periods of the second-half, there was still a belief and determination that they were right in the mix.
Consistently they were the team making the latter stages of championships. Other provinces were being won by different teams each year, but Dublin were knocking on the door time and again. Yet they failed to push through that last door again the following year.
'The '94 All-Ireland final is one we left behind us, there's no two ways about it. We got beaten on a wet day, we missed a penalty, should have got the rebound, never mind missing a penalty but anyways look,' Paul said.
'In '95 we didn't have a great league and we got a bit of a run then and got back to the final again. Certainly before the All-Ireland final we looked around the room and said "this is it". It was a very tired team that had been consistently knocking on the door trying to win that All-Ireland. We were lucky enough to win it then in '95.
'I was exhausted afterwards. We had gone down to 14 men (Charlie Redmond was sent-off). When you go down to 14 men with 15 minutes to go, the tactics go out the window.
'Tactics, how you're playing the game, strategies, all go because it's all about rolling up your sleeves and getting possession of the ball, trying to keep it as much as you can, and trying to keep the opposition away from it.
'That core group of players were a phenomenal team, individually and collectively. Knowing those characters around the dressing-room and how good they were at the time, we probably left one or two more behind us.
'I just felt we were better than we showed at times, that's our own fault, it's about getting the maximum performance out of the team at times. The players need to take responsibility for that and we do when we do meet up, we just felt maybe we could have won a second one at least.'
Yet that Dublin team went on to sow the seeds and nurture the plants for the current Dublin thriving forest, with pretty much every success that followed laced with links to the All-Ireland winning side of '95.
'The core group of players that came from that have had great success for developing the G.A.A. in Dublin, and great success on and off the pitch, in work and stuff like that. I'm not surprised that those players have made a huge contribution to the team that achieved five in a row.
'If you take Pat Gilroy, Jim Gavin and now Dessie Farrell, you've also got to take the players that were involved with Jim - Mick Deegan, Gillers, Paul Clarke, Mick Galvin, Jason Sherlock, Davy Byrne - those guys were all involved and certainly helped Dublin to where they are today.'
Bealin followed a different managerial pathway, first through the club game before Wexford came calling after Pat Roe's time came to an end in 2005. It was a period he really enjoyed, as Paul explained:
'Look, I think for me, the Wexford people and players were fantastic, I can understand how Davy Fitz is really enjoying the role he has with the hurlers. The Wexford players, for me they gave everything they could do.
'They'd done anything you asked them to do and they were a great bunch of guys to work with. I've always said that over the years, they are a team that, at the time their attitude was fantastic, they didn't question anything, they got on with it.
'We kind of developed them, in our first game against Meath we had seven debutants, the team was kind of going through a bit of a transition at the same time as well. We would have brought in some really good players who would have went on to develop.
'Graeme Molloy, Hutch (Brian Malone), Adrian Flynn, other lads came into it, Adrian Morrissey, there were lads who came from other teams and they just gelled really well together, and that team got a great run the following year and I was delighted for them.
'They had a great squad, Red Barry, Matty Forde, David Murphy, (Philip) Wallace full-back, they had a great team, great players at the time, they were unlucky they didn't beat Dublin in the championship, when they had got them on the ropes. I've great memories from working with Wexford, the team and the County Board.'
Later, managing Westmeath didn't go as planned, with a group of players that were about to plummet from Division 1 to Division 4, but Bealin had better times when he got to manage son Jonathan with Parnells in Dublin.
'I went up to manage Parnells as well, for two or three years,' he recalled. 'With Dublin being so competitive, we were beaten by Ballymun Kickhams who went on to the club All-Ireland final. We were beaten by two or three points and he was only a young lad at the time, it was good to be around him giving him advice, but now I think he'd be advising me!'
The Bealins moved to Castletown in and around 2007, and there has been a conveyor belt of mini-Bealins coming through the system in recent years, headed by Jonathan, the eldest.
It was a proud moment for dad when the boy who was in his arms as he tried to board the celebratory bus in 1995 made his inter-county debut for Wexford 24 years later.
'He has done extremely well,' Paul beamed. 'I was at every one of those matches (in 2019), including the one in London.
'I enjoyed watching him playing inter-county because it's a small window that you can play and it's the highest level that he's playing at. It was a very proud moment to see him playing.'
Having managed Castletown, and seen his sons involved with club and now with county, and having won all there is to win at inter-county level, there are few people in a better position to cast an eye over Wexford football. This is what he sees:
'I suppose the difficulty you have with Wexford football at the moment, if you said to me if they didn't play hurling would they have a good football team? They would have a fantastic football team.
'Trying to play both codes is very difficult, they are very successful at hurling at the moment and it's great to see them doing really well and it gives the whole county a lift which is brilliant, but I think Paul Galvin has added a profile.
'I think Paul McLoughlin did a good job. Paul Galvin in his first year in terms of what he has put in the background has been very good. He didn't get a run but he raised the profile of the players wanting to be involved which is really important.
'It's really the development of the players that they have, and the players they have are good players. If they can stick with it, get a run and unearth one or two guys every year, they are a much better squad.
'Even Jonathan said he really enjoys it, they are really committed, really dedicated, trying to achieve something. It's just to stick with it and try to unearth a bit of talent that will add to it, and hold on to what you have got.'
All those years after holding on to young Jonathan on the most beautiful bus journey of Paul Bealin's life, there may be days when the 'what ifs' still circle, but the memories of being All-Ireland champions make all the other tough losses worthwhile.