Sport Gaelic Football

Friday 6 December 2019

Inspirational Joanne and Micko welcome in my head any time

Joanne O'Riordan with Mick O'Dwyer and Billy Keane at the Tarbert Comprehensive School awards night
Joanne O'Riordan with Mick O'Dwyer and Billy Keane at the Tarbert Comprehensive School awards night
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

Joanne O'Riordan was going on about getting a date for her debs. The fanatical Cork supporter is some woman to talk. I could listen to her all night. She's gas.

Joanne was born without limbs but it doesn't seem to bother her that much. She manages her iPhone, laptop and iPad with her lips, nose and jaw.

We will not use the word disability to describe Joanne's lack of limbs. The feisty young one wouldn't be long putting you in your place. Joanne prefers to use the word ability.

There wasn't a single person at the Tarbert Comprehensive School awards night who felt sorry for Joanne. This just has to be the ultimate goal for any person sitting in a wheelchair.

She's funny, too. I have never met anyone as quick from brain to mouth.

The one-liners are pucked out like one of those automatic machines for throwing up tennis balls. There's no let-up.

The girl is a sitting down, stand-up comedienne. She should be sold as an over-the-counter remedy in chemist shops as a cure for depression.


I wasn't in the best of form that day. Stupidly, I allowed two arrogant idiots into my head. It made no sense. I wouldn't let any of the two into my house so why should I let them into my head?

I evicted the two goms forthwith. Joanne is my new tenant. It was the story of her trip to Barcelona with her dad that finally got rid of the squatters. Go on, clear off. Are ye gone yet?

There they were waiting to meet the Barca team in the Camp Nou. Joanne tells of how her beloved dad couldn't contain himself with the excitement. "It's f*****g Messi," he shouted out loud enough for Messi to hear.

Mick O'Dwyer was there, too. It took him a while to figure out Joanne but when she was doing her speech he whispered: "There's great stuff in her."

There's great stuff in Micko, too. He was buzzing more over the win for his U-14 team the night before than for any of his big days out in Croke Park. He's flying now that the new knee has settled in.

Ah, but the passion of him when he spoke about working hard at what you were good at. "If you're training three days a week this year, train five next year."

Micko tells of the "young people leaving the western seaboard in their droves".

The final his team won was 11-a-side. That's the way it is now in rural Ireland and once bustling clubs have to amalgamate to make up the 11.

Micko was fiery when he spoke of his love for the game and that when his time comes he wants to die out on the pitch with his boots on.

And there is that instant we knew how it was that he trained a team to win eight All-Irelands.

The last time we met was before Christmas. Micko was still getting over the knee operation and the death of his wife, Mary Carmel. Micko is after getting old looking, I thought sadly.

I think it was the training of the U-14s that was the remakings of him. I've moved him into the room next to Joanne, in the attic in my head, even though Joanne is sure to kick up a row when Kerry meet Cork.

Tarbert Comp is a centre of excellence and so too is my old school, St Michael's of Listowel.

It was graduation day on Thursday.

In our part of the world, the word 'leaving' means more than just an exam. It also means exodus.

Micko will know what I mean. The sadness hit me but there was joy, too. There was sense of continuity and timelessness in the old school.

The young lad and the nephew were graduating. They were as happy here as I was.

Their principal, Johnny Mulvihill, has a drawer full of All-Irelands – as does Liam Hassett, the vice-principal.

The teacher teams have made this school great again. St Michael's have an innovative subject sharing agreement with the most excellent Presentation school.

There's a solution to every problem if you take the time to figure it out and if you your work is more vocation than job.

The third new tenant gave the talk. It was Alan Quinlan. He, too, has had his dark days but he found a way to cure himself. The new Sky Sports ambassador is a hero in these parts.

"I set myself goals and I stuck to them. I got there and I amazed myself. Work hard and you'll get there. There will be days when you'll want to give up, but don't stop. Keep on going. It will be worth it all in the end."

It could have been Micko or Joanne who was saying these words.

Quinny spoke from the heart and his story elevated the occasion to a place where the brave and the faithful make all the key decisions. That was on the morning of the night of Tarbert.

I was so lucky to be in the presence of three inspiring Irish people.

So lucky to meet all three on the same day. So lucky to have them as tenants in the attic.

On the way out through the busy hallway in Tarbert, I overheard a good-looking, athletic young lad talking to his pal.

"Hey man, I'd say that Joanne one would be some craic at the debs."

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