Thursday 17 October 2019

Billy Keane: Heart-shaped hole solves boot puzzle

These were the boots Johnny Sexton wore all through the Grand Slam, these are the ‘Le Drop’ boots.
These were the boots Johnny Sexton wore all through the Grand Slam, these are the ‘Le Drop’ boots.
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

This is the story of four boots, several extraordinary women, Le Drop, and a panic attack.

Sister Eileen Keane, who gave of herself always, was laid to rest on Thursday last with her friends. Eileen taught in San Francisco for a good many years and then when she came home to Ireland the lovely lady from Ballylongford in North Kerry helped mind her grandnephew Jonathan Sexton every time his mother Clare became pregnant.

Jonathan Sexton. Photo: Sportsfile
Jonathan Sexton. Photo: Sportsfile

Jonathan wore a black armband for Eileen on Saturday when Ireland beat Australia. He was mad about Eileen who I think maybe she found what it was like to be a mom when she minded the Sexton kids.

The few Sisters of the Infant Jesus who are still left in our world sang a poignant rendition of 'Hail Holy Queen', which was audible barely above the birdsong in the still of the tiny burial plot of Drishane.

I was given Jonathan Sexton's boots by his family after the hymn was sung.

These were the boots he wore all through the Grand Slam. These were the Le Drop boots. Jonathan scored the winner against France with the last kick of the game from a place so far away from the French goal a nation had the time to slowly suspend time as we charted the progress of the boot to glory.

heirloom When I opened the boot bag, I knew I was in trouble.

There were four boots in the bag. Laura Sexton, Jonathan's wife, is seven months pregnant and she is up to her eyes minding two small kids. Laura is the rock. She had no problem with handing over the family heirloom. Laura didn't know which boot scored the Le Drop.

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So what do I do? There is a bid in of ten grand on the boots. The bid was made by a Dublin GAA mom who paid the money up front but with the proviso that if the bid was bettered then the Anna Browne Fund could keep the money anyway.

The Dublin Mom stayed anonymous. She came into some money and was moved by the story of Anna who needs an operation to help her walk and take away the terrible pain she goes through every day and especially at night.

Anna's mother Evelyn has been campaigning night and day to raise the €100,000 needed to fund her daughter's operation in America. Before the story of the boots came out, Anna's fund was at €18,000. Now there's €84,000 in the bank. Evelyn booked the operation for August 14 next, even though she is well short of the target.

Evelyn cries a lot for her daughter, the worry of it all and the thought of raising so much money. The day Sister Eileen was laid to rest was the first anniversary of seven-year-old Anna's diagnosis of severe cerebral palsy.

I felt overwhelmed. I was the one who persuaded Evelyn to book the operation. But now we didn't even know the right boot to sell. The four boots were identical and it was impossible to distinguish one from the other. All we knew was Le Drop was kicked by a right boot, but which one?

Jonathan is in Oz and I got it into my head all was lost, and he wouldn't know either. I stopped on a bridge over the Blackwater and I was tempted to throw in one pair of adidas boots. Any time I ever got into trouble, it was because of a mad impulse to keep on digging. Only I would ever know about the drowned boots. But I didn't - couldn't do that to the Dublin Mom.

Now I know how Prince Charming felt when he was looking for that cracked young one Cinderella.

Our auctioneer Philip Sheppard advised that "the punters need certainty if they are to fork out big money for a piece of Irish sporting history, that might only come up once in a lifetime." Philip gave his services free of charge. He too is an Anna fan.

"Billy," he said, "there's a season for these auction sales, and it's not back on until September." Which of course is too late for little Anna .

I called the Dublin GAA Mom. If the Dub mom pulled out, the operation would have to be postponed. Out came the story. "Slow down," she said. "You what? Two?" The Dublin GAA Mom laughed for fully three minutes. "That's a great story," she said.

"Do you want your money back?"

"No, I do not? This is about the child, not the boots."

And I have never met his woman. I don't even know her real name.

I nearly hoped then, for a very short time, her beloved Dubs would go on to win the four-in-a-row.

Ireland won and I texted Jonathan. At 1.35am on Sunday morning, there was a text back from JS: "It's the one with a heart-shaped hole on the right boot, around where my big toe was. They were the Grand Slam, H Cup, league boots." Jonathan has never lost in these old raggedy boots.

I should have known. He gives such attention to detail and these boots are part of him, a very smelly part of him. There's a lesson there for those of us who panic. Most problems can be sorted out. It's funny now.

The people of Cork and Ireland have been so good. One pair of battered old boots for sale then, right now. And if there's anyone who can give even a single euro, you can do so on .

Or send on a cheque if you can afford it, and if you can't well then a prayer for Anna will do just as much good.

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