IT'S a chilly January afternoon in 2011 and in a quiet corner of the Westbury Hotel, the Kerins of Clarinbridge and the Charltons of Ashington settle back into their familiar, easy rhythm.
That day, Jack Charlton was to be inducted into the Hall of Fame at the Irish Independent Sport Star of the Year Awards, a fitting recognition for his contribution to Irish sport. By happy coincidence, the Kerins brothers, Mark and Alan, were also honoured at the event as weekly winners.
That year Clarinbridge had stormed to just their second Galway SHC title, which they'd later convert to an All-Ireland crown.
The two families' lives had been intertwined ever since the first time Charlton landed to the Kerins' Castle View B&B in Clarinbridge in the late 1980s.
He was in Galway for fishing and was looking for a place to stay. Someone pointed him towards the Kerins and from there, Charlton became a fixture in the their lives, appearing in communion photos, stealing in to watch camogie games and even doing the morning school run.
Republic of Ireland manager Jack Charlton during a fishing trip to Galway in 1993. Photo by Sportsfile
Castle View had seen its fair share of luminaries down through the years. The Oyster Festival put the town on the map once a year and Hollywood royalty like Maureen O'Hara and Triple Crown heroes such as Ollie Campbell had stayed in the family home.
But former Galway dual star Alan Kerins remembers the excitement around the first Charlton visit in the late 1980s. Clarinbridge was hurling country but an exception was made that day.
"We knew he was coming to stay and it was all our Christmases coming at once," Kerins recalls.
"We said it to a couple of our friends quietly. But we didn't say it to a lot of people that he was coming.
"I remember being outside, playing soccer in the garden. Now it's all hurling where are from. But we played a bit of soccer in the garden. We were out there all day and were determined to impress him.
"But of course the minute he came in we jumped into the flower bed, out of pure shyness and being star-struck. That was the first memory I have of him. Catching a glimpse of him then diving into the flower bed and hiding."
Clarinbridge is a hen's race to the salmon weir in Galway and had some decent fishing of its own even closer at hand. And even when he bought his own house in Ballina, Clarinbridge was a stop-off point. If Charlton came to Galway for the fishing then he returned for the company.
It wasn't long before he was a part of the Kerins' everyday lives. When Alan's sister Elaine made her communion, Jack was part of a family photo. He'd steal quietly into Clarinbridge training or into camogie matches though usually incognito.
When Alan was chasing an All-Ireland double in hurling and football in 2001, Charlton offered advice. When he was guest of honour at the Oyster Festival in the town, Charlton served the other guests in the B&B their breakfast.
"Just for a bit of craic and devilment. They got an awful land when Jack Charlton was serving them their breakfast."
The Kerins children were Irish dancers and musicians as well as sportspeople and he took an interest in it all, even dropping the kids to school in the morning.
"He dropped us to school one day. We thought we were the bees knees. He would have come to the odd training session too. And he'd go to camogie the odd time. Though if he went to a match he wouldn't go publicly, he'd go covert. He loved hurling, Irish music and dance. We all played music and danced in the school so we'd have the session in the house and he loved it. He loved kids and family and messing and joking with the kids.
Former Galway star Alan Kerins Picture credit; Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE
"He'd look at us hurling in the garden and he'd call it a bat. He thought it was a great game but he thought we were nuts, first of all, for playing I suppose a dangerous sport with 'bats'.
"And, coming from a professional sport … especially when I was playing both, doing it for no money. He couldn't get over the amateur status given he had been a professional all his life."
When the families met in the Westbury, it was easy to fit back into the groove they'd worn, the kind that can only be established over more than two decades of friendship. A few years ago, the Kerins' crossed the Irish Sea to pay what would be a final visit before the weekend's sad news.
"We became so used to him that he just became Jack," Alan continues.
"We forgot he was famous. We got to know the Jack behind the scenes. Obviously the Jack everyone else knew was impressive. But the one we got to know behind the scenes was a great fella. A true gent. Even the fact that'd he'd keep up contact with my parents and then they went over to see him.
"He was a legend but an ordinary man too. He'd huge interest in us as kids and even me just giving advice for matches. He'd say enjoy it and have the right attitude. He just said if you worked hard the rest would take care of itself. That was probably his philosophy with the soccer too.
"And then dropping us to school. Who would do that? He was probably the most famous person in Ireland at the time and he did the school run."