The legacies our loved ones leave behind last longer than any headstone

This is the second time I’ve written this week’s column. I had made my mind up on the topic some time ago and knew I would begin with the quote selected above. It’s taken from one of my favourite Patrick Kavanagh poems, one that has been swilling around in my head as I contemplated the content of my column.

This is the second time I’ve written this week’s column. I had made my mind up on the topic some time ago and knew I would begin with the quote selected above. It’s taken from one of my favourite Patrick Kavanagh poems, one that has been swilling around in my head as I contemplated the content of my column.

In ‘Lines written on a seat on the Grand Canal, Dublin’ Kavanagh considers where and how he would like to be remembered. For the Monaghan man it had to be by water, ‘canal water preferably’. But he didn’t want any ‘hero courageous tomb’ erected in his honour – just a simple seat by his beloved canal where passers-by could sit and soak up the simple pleasures he enjoyed through watching canal life, both man-made and natural.

The Kavanagh reference was intended to highlight a special event taking place in Drumshanbo on Sunday to remember a beloved Gael, family man and friend, Tony McGowan. I had written how apt it was to hold a family fun run to remember a man who dedicated his life to the betterment of the GAA – and by extension to the health and well being of all those who engaged in our games thanks to Tony’s commitment, dedication and infectious enthusiasm.

I added that was fitting that a great club like Allen Gaels and the wider community of Drumshanbo should once again be brought together by Tony and all he stood for.

My shock upon hearing of the tragic passing of Gerry Keane during that very event stopped me in my tracks on Monday morning. Despite often playing against him, I had known Gerry more through his brother Joe, with whom I spent one of the best summers of my life in Chicago playing football with the St. Brendan’s club. Tony had put Joe in contact with me in the summer of 1997.

I had never met or even heard of Joe before but because of Tony’s recommendation, I had no hesitation in stepping onto a plane to fly to Chicago to play football with and to work for him.

Joe Keane is one of the greatest characters I have had the privilege of knowing and the hospitality he and his wife Kim showed Gareth Phelan and I will always stay with me. When I agreed to travel to Chicago Joe asked me if I knew of a good midfielder that would travel too. Aughawillan had knocked us out of the championship the previous weekend and a plan immediately came to mind. ‘I know the very man,’ I said and immediately rang Gareth, my club and county goalkeeper. I explained the situation and he said count him in.

I rang Joe back and told him I had one of the finest midfielders in Leitrim ready to travel and Joe booked our flights there and then. Gareth landed up to the house, we looked up where Chicago was on the globe in our sitting room, and did a little gig. Then Gareth – who had never been outside the country before – realised he didn’t have a passport and we were flying out three days later. But sin scéal eile.

From the moment Joe picked us up in Logan airport we knew we were onto a winner – his enthusiasm at seeing two Leitrim bags thrown over our shoulders had him up to 90. Our debut would come just two days later in 105 degrees Fahrenheit.

While I was in my familiar territory of wing back Gareth, while looking the part, was out of his comfort zone in midfield. He won the throw-in and took off on a solo run up the field. His solo proved to be more of a punt; an opponent leapt in to try and claim the soaring ball only to be clothes-lined by Gareth. Joe looked at me and shook his head. Gareth lasted until half-time and spent the rest of the summer in goals.

Any time I would meet Gerry at a clash of the two lakeside Gaels I would catch up on how Joe and his growing family were doing. I know the loss of their father Tom – a man Joe used to talk of often in Chicago with great love and respect – was a sad day for Joe and all the family.

I know that Gerry’s death has shocked and stunned the entire Drumshanbo and Leitrim GAA community, but for his family that loss is more real and final and personal than we can know. My thoughts go out to Jessica, Joe, Maureen and Margaret and all Gerry’s extended family and friends.

While it is the name of my dear friend Shane McGettigan that honours the pitch that Allen Gaels call home, spending time there will also bring to mind Gerry and Tony and all they stood for; just like the seat that now rests on the banks of the Grand Canal conjures up Kavanagh and his legacy or words.

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Another legacy will be remembered at the special run in memory of the late Sandra Earley that will take place this Sunday, February 24, in Kilclare at 2pm. The young mother of three represented her club Kiltubrid with great pride until her sudden and untimely passing one year ago on Sunday from Sudden Adult Death Syndrome at the age of 26.

All proceeds will go towards the ‘Heart House’ in the Mater Foundation, Dublin, which provided a heart screening clinic for families who have lost loved ones to SADS.