Sport Rugby

Thursday 22 March 2018

There was no show quite like the Joe show

Billy Keane

Billy Keane

Joe Nolan, the president of Bective Rangers Rugby Club, suffered a massive heart attack just a few minutes after the Ireland-Wales game. His friends watched helplessly as a young Irish doctor in a green jersey tried valiantly to revive him, but it was too late. Joe was beyond saving. He died where he fell -- on a Cardiff pavement.

Joe's funeral mass took place in Sandymount last Tuesday. It was standing room only.

The dapper Joe would have loved that. He was a showman. As he was fond of saying, there's no show like a Joe show. There was never a funeral mass like this one.

I was fortunate enough to join his beloved Bective Rangers, the friendliest rugby club in the world. Joe spotted my potential immediately and picked me for the 3Ds, which is not a bra size but a social rugby team, far away from the first team.

Joe's players helped out at the Tuesday night bingo sessions. Our coach called the numbers.

The bingo sessions were a much-needed revenue source for our club, but Joe had another motive. He was hopelessly attracted to the older woman. Our president loved when he was slagged off about his love of the older gal, or anything else for that matter.

His friends agree we should remember Joe Nolan with respect, but also as he really was.

Mick 'Sweat' Doyle told Joe's story from the altar. There was no script and no notes. I am going just on memory. Here's a slimmed down version of Sweat's speech.

"Joe's wife Eileen was 35 years older than him. Joe got to know Auntie, as he called her, when he was an apprentice in Arnott's. Auntie was the chief corsetiere and you had to have an appointment to get to see her.

"Joe was as faithful as he could manage. He was still calling the bingo and sometimes he left me call the last two games as he had to bring some old dear home for her 'cocoa'."

As Mick spoke I noticed a woman not far off the 'President's Letter' dry up her tears. I suppose she was under the impression she was the only one.

Mick had his audience in stitches. I could see Joe sitting up on his coffin, immaculately groomed in his green presidential blazer and the spotless white shirt with the club tie knotted as if by a sailor.

The grey pants were ironed by a steamroller and the black shoes shiny as the rosy cheeks. Loving every minute. His dancing eyes looking out for someone to be nice to.

Joe was a superb organiser, but on rare occasions The Joe Show went all wrong. His pal Mick tells it better than I ever could.

"Joe hired the Bishop Kearney High School Band from America to play in the clubhouse on St Patrick's Day. The 300-strong band filled Bective. Even Auntie couldn't fit in anymore.


"We listened to the band through the windows from 50 yards away on the dead-ball line. No one paid in. There was no room. The band cost three grand. But Joe redeemed himself by bringing Joe Locke to Bective and many more besides.

"Joe even organised to get himself a trial for the Leinster junior team. He wasn't a great player, but every time the ball came back, on either side, a shout went up from the ruck, 'Well played Joe Nolan. Good man Joe Nolan. Thank you Joe Nolan'.

"It was Joe himself who was doing all the shouting. Joe conned the selectors and was picked to play for Leinster."

Joe was a born salesman. Colleague Paul Deering spoke movingly of how kind Joe was to fellow salesmen with Rank Xerox who weren't doing too well. Joe would put leads their way. Rank Xerox picked up the tab in Bective even though Joe had been retired for a good few years.

The front three pews were occupied by the Dollies. The Dollies were formed as a Golden Oldies team about 25 years ago but have yet to play a game. These men were Joe's long- time friends. His family really.

As you might have guessed, Joe didn't have any kids. Us youngsters were his children.

Money was for spending and he he'd never see you stuck. He was co-ordinator of all our big days. Joe was the manager of the U-6 team that Jonathan Sexton played on. Jonathan was there to say his goodbyes to his first coach.

Joe was a gentleman. He was unfailingly polite and he never cursed. If he did tell a few porkpies, like when he promised five players the full-back spot, it was only because he wanted everyone to love him.

Joe organised the kids' Christmas party every year since Santa was a boy. One year he ordered a donkey from Fossetts circus to bring in Santa.

The donkey pooed a poo as watery as prison gravy all over the Bective dancehall floor. Joe told the kids the donkey had a gallon of cod-liver oil for his breakfast.

Joe was never happier than when he was helping others. Mick swore Joe was on 'the make', though, when he started up the Donnybrook Glamorous Granny competition. We all laughed at the stand-up wake. It was as if Joe wasn't dead at all.

Then Mick broke down without warning and couldn't speak another word. Reality set in. But Mick did his friend proud.

I know he was going to thank Danny Parkinson, Joe's classmate, who organised the funeral. The Parkinsons were Joe's other family and looked after Joe like he was one of their own when he left boarding school. Good people to the very core.

Joe found true love again in these last few years. His wonderful partner, Rosemary, was by his side when he died in Cardiff. She got a terrible shock and had to be brought to the funeral in a wheelchair.

Joe hated sadness. I'd guess Joe had enough of that when he was a kid, even though he never spoke of his parents' death.

Our president wouldn't have liked this to end up on a 'sorry for your troubles' note. Joe always wanted a happy ending.

I won't bullshit you with 'wasn't it a great way to go'. It wasn't.

Joe loved being president and it's such a pity he didn't live to see out his term. Besides, he had many more years in him as a civilian, but we'll obey his posthumous command. There was much more to him than the older women thing but here's his favourite story.

Joe was on one of his Rank Xerox reward trips to Florida with Auntie.

Auntie went off to warm up the bed. Joe strode up to the bar of the 11-star hotel for a double Smirnoff. This American lady, who was even older than Auntie, shuffled slowly up to the counter.

"Hey Big Boy," she said to Joe, "I'll double whatever she's paying you."

Irish Independent

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