Wednesday 21 March 2018

Billy Keane: The famous clock that time forgot

Billy Keane

Billy Keane

The sky today is the pale grey of a lifer's face. But life is beautiful. We were in David and Stephen Beggy's pub in Navan for the wettest solstice and it was a Midsummer night's dream.

Liam Harnan, the second greatest centre-back of all time, concelebrated and he is as fit as ever was. They say Harnan harnesses himself to his own silage combos.

Martin O'Connell, the sticky-but-stylish Meath wing-back who never sent a pass astray, was in the company. He has Kerry blood coursing through his veins.

I signed a book, one of my dad's, in Harnan's honour. 'To Liam,' the inscription read, 'stolen from a Kerry cradle.'

David and Stephen started off the sing-song and time flew, as the man said when he scrolled down through the online airline calendar.

Happy days.

I even did a few pieces myself.

Beggy's punters gave me the silence the All Blacks refused to Jonathan Sexton last Saturday. It was positively Thomond-esque, but then again the poem was as short as an ass' gallop. We did a few more bits and pieces and Jinksy, as Beggy is called in Meath, presented me with the most famous clock in GAA history.

It's a collector's item and the first one to leave a Meath man's ownership, yet it was made in Hong Kong and, when it was commissioned, it wouldn't have been pricey enough to be included in a pound shop fire sale.

But the clock has more history than Big Ben.

In 1991, Meath and Dublin met four times in the first round of the Leinster championship.

There is no doubt but the epic series was the most exciting and intense in the history of the GAA.

Meath prevailed by a point in the fourth game and Beggy kicked the winning score.

The games were attended by around a quarter of a million people and the gate receipts came to IR£2m. The lads were awarded the famous plastic clock with the pop-in batteries that fall out if a big lorry passes Beggy's window. The clock is lighter than a frisbee and loses 24 hours every day.

'What had the players got to do with football anyway?' was the attitude back then.

I told the pub I would treasure the clock forever.

From now, I said, the clock will call closing time in John B's. There was a tear or two. It doesn't matter if the GAA clock is broken. I have never seen a pub clock tick anywhere near telling the correct time.

Pub clocks are wound either fast or slow to get the punters to drink up before closing time or if, perchance, the Gardai come in after hours the publican looks up at the slow clock and as he scratches head says innocently, 'I must get that auld clock fixed.'

Earlier that day, we came across another Meath-Dublin story in the Station House Hotel in Kilmessan.

Deirdre Gilesnan and her then fiance Alan were getting the wedding tables ready for the big day. We were treated to a bar of a song from Deirdre's helper Majella Cullagh, who is one of our finest opera singers, direct to Kilmessan from Verona and La Scala. Serendipity.

Deirdre's grandad Matt Gilesnan captained Meath in the 1939 final against Kerry. There are many in Meath and Kerry who reckon the Royals were unlucky to lose as Kerry barely witheld a massive Meath onslaught in the final minutes.

Matt and his wife, Eileen, were at the wedding yesterday and the Moynalty club president can still remember every kick and catch.

Later that evening we went for a stroll in the hotel grounds after the best dinner ever cooked anywhere. Head chef David Mulvihill is a culinary genius.

In front of us, in splendid isolation, was the old Railway Junction Box, which has been transformed into the honeymoon suite.

I'm sure Alan had no bother lifting Deirdre up the steps and over the threshold. He is a member of the Dublin Fire Brigade.

Deirdre also sings beautifully, under the stage name of Deirdre Shannon.

Matt played against Eddie Dowling of Kerry in the long ago. Eddie died this week and we drank a glass in his honour in Meath.

The Ballydonoghue man played midfield for the Kingdom against Cavan in the 1947 All-Ireland final, which was played at the Polo Grounds in New York.


Kerry were winning well when Eddie, who was dominating the game, went up as high as the Empire State.

He fell and hit his head off the pitcher's mound on what was a baked, hard-ground baseball field. Eddie was taken off concussed and never-say-die Cavan went on to record a famous victory. There are many in Kerry who hold we would have won if Eddie had stayed on the field.

Pat Stack is another leader of men. I wouldn't be here today but for Pat and his brother Gerard. The boys minded me when I was a cracked young lad, and they still do.

Pat is captain of Dungarvan Golf Club and tomorrow he will puck the ball out for his Captain's prize.

The back is crocked and I can't travel. I would have dearly loved to tog out in Dungarvan for our beloved neighbour Pat, the most gentle and honourable of men.

There are so many good people out there if you only make the effort to seek them out.

Irish Independent

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