Joe Brolly

JOE BROLLY: I’ll be seeing you

“I’ll be seeing you, in all those old familiar places
That this heart of mine embraces
All day through…
I’ll be seeing you
In every lovely summer’s day
In everything that’s light and gay
I’ll always think of you that way…”

WHEN I turned on the radio on Wednesday, Jimmy Durante was singing ‘I’ll be seeing you’. It stopped me in my tracks. I wept, thinking of our boy, Fionntán McGarvey. I carry his photograph in my wallet. He is in his school uniform, smiling, timeless. A most handsome fellow, glowing with youth and all the promise of the life to come. He will never grow old.

He would have been number 10 for u-20’s. The boys played this championship in his honour. From the first game, they sparked with the fanaticism of winners. Ferocious, unperturbed, remote, playing unselfconsciously for something bigger than themselves. As though there were a forcefield around them. Reminding me of Colm Cooper’s great line about the Dubs, “They completely ignore you, as if you aren’t even there.” It is something that is impossible to explain to those who haven’t experienced it. I have mulled it over in my mind for over thirty years. Eventually, I came to realise that it is loyalty. Loyalty is the thing. Blind loyalty. In sport and in life, not that there is any difference between them.

After every game in the championship, the boys made their way to Milltown cemetery, to the corner of the graveyard and spent an hour with their young friend, chatting and laughing and joking around. After the final, they went straight there with the cup and told him all about the final, who did what and who scored what and all the rest. Before the championship began, they had retired the number 10 jersey, draping it around Fionntán’s headstone. Loyalty. No matter what happens for the rest of their lives, this can never be taken from them.

Before the Derry Galway game at Croke Park, I bumped into the great Galway forward Sean Armstrong at the Hideout. We were talking about loyalty and disloyalty, Shefflin and Cody, the rumour that Shane Walsh was moving to Kilmacud and all of that. I told him the story about Ronan McGuck9n when he was managing Errigal Ciaran, and they were matched against Ballinderry Shamrocks in the Ulster club semi-final. Ronan told the squad he wouldn’t be managing them in the run up to the game or on the day. For the game, he turned up in his Ballinderry jersey and cheered on his team. Armstrong was amazed. Which reminded me of my father’s great line, “Don’t be too hard on the free staters son, some of them are almost as Irish as we are.” Just at that moment, Ronan came around the corner with our cousin Paddy McGuckin and a crowd of the Ballinderry men.

I said, “Ronan, I was telling Sean about the time you were managing Errigal Ciaran, and they played Ballinderry.” Ronan, as he always does, burst out laughing and said, “To be fair you couldn’t like them wee Tyrone men if you reared them.” They were all delighted to meet Sean and we had a very merry pint or two before the game.

When Paddy’s beloved Marie died this year, he woke up early the next morning to the noise of building and scaffolding in his yard. He looked out his window and there was Ronan with a crew of Shamrocks men erecting the marquee for the wake. Loyalty. A deep, unquestioning imperative that we support our own, come hell or high water.

This is something Brian Cody understands. And something that his superstar Henry Shefflin doesn’t. Their encounters this year were an extraordinarily powerful collision of the old ideals and the new more flexible ones.

Cody could not comprehend how Henry (who I greatly admire) could plot against his old team mates, his county, his people, his mentor. For what? For money? For a Mercedes Benz? To build a CV? You could see it in Brian’s face.

For him, it was a terrible betrayal. Henry was a traitor and there could be no justification for his treachery. Henry for his part was shocked and then ashamed. It wasn’t supposed to feel like this. Cody was supposed to play the game, smile, shake hands, pat him on the back and suck it up. For his part, Henry would have behaved like the great Liverpool striker who transfers to Manchester United and scores the winning goal against his old club. Do the professional thing and walk back to the centre circle without celebrating. Perhaps even clap your old supporters at the final whistle. You never know, some day they might buy you back.

You can dress it up whatever way you want, but it was disloyal of Henry. It was left to Cody to call it out. I stress again that I greatly admire and like Henry. He is a fantastic fellow. I understand why he took the job and wish him well in everything he does. But what is true is true. Shakespeare wrote, “The younger rises when the old doth fall” and perhaps this was the final stand for the old ideals.

I am uneasy when I see Shane Walsh being carried shoulder high into the Kilmacud clubhouse after a county final. I think about the man who lost his place to the Galway superstar, and I wonder if Shane would be in the back yard of a club member’s home at 7am on a Saturday morning erecting a marquee. For me, as I have come to realise, the game is about loyalty. Our community is about loyalty. Nothing else.

Ballybay’s manager Jerome Johnston caused a stir last month when he announced he would not be managing Ballybay in their Ulster championship game against his beloved Kilcoo. This tells you something about Kilcoo. Fanatical, remote, fiercely loyal. They are still annoyed with themselves for how poorly they played in the All-Ireland final against Kilmacud, but this is not what is driving them on. Something primeval drives them on. I have seen their training and it is ferocious, driving themselves on and on, further and harder, Conor Laverty at the centre of everything. No shortcuts. No one sparing themselves. Loyalty to each other, to their community, to the cause. Glen, for all their talent, have their work cut out.

On Saturday morning, on my way to watch our u-17s in the Ulster club quarter final at St Paul’s, I stopped at Milltown and visit Fionntán’s grave. I will spend a while there, thinking to myself, I’ll be seeing you kiddo, in all those old familiar places.

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