During the 1991 season, dad and myself were in Croke Park thirteen times. Ten Meath matches, while the Kildare blood in me led to getting caught up in the euphoria of Mick O’Dwyer’s first escapade in the short grass. They made the latter stages of the National League that spring, which afforded a triumvirate of additional outings.
All of that would appear marvellous were it not for the bitter aftertaste. Not just because Meath were defeated by Down. More so due to the fact that on the day in question we were at home. Ticketless. Very few stones were left unturned in pursuit of the sought-after entry passes. Up too and including Sean Boylan himself continuing to search, less than 24 hours before the game.
Around every corner, best advice seemed to be ‘Ring Fintan Ginnity in Pairc Tailteann’. At the time, he represented this mysterious, all powerful figure. I’ll admit now, much of the upset harboured by 10-year-old me was, inwardly at least, aimed at him. Looking back, at that time I’d never met him and he probably didn’t even know who I was, but that didn’t ease the heartache of missing out.
Back then, a few steps were still able to be taken with a walking aid. On the day of the All Ireland Final, the action couldn’t even be watched. The afternoon was spent pacing up and down outside the front door. For three reasons: (a) not being there (b) Colm O’Rourke didn’t start and in my mind that was us beaten before we began and (c) from very early on it was obvious we were in trouble.
We didn’t go to a game for a long time thereafter. Remember, those were the days when the league commenced in October, just a few weeks after the dose of upset. The boss here took a lot longer to get over it than yours truly. Anyway, whenever the comeback was made, I had my first encounter with the famous Fintan.
Being honest, our relationship didn’t get off to a great start. The gates to what was the usual perch on the sideline at the time were locked and the game was well on when the man himself arrived out with a monstrous bunch of keys and I thought to myself “God, this fella really does own this place”.
For some reason, the notion got into my head around then that he didn’t like me. All of the above is mentioned solely to highlight my own immature stupidity. No secret has ever been made of the fact that the 11 years I spent on the Executive Committee of St Peter’s GAA Club were the happiest of my life.
They did, however, necessitate dealing with the County Board, as it was known then. Not, admittedly. To the same level as the Chairman or Secretary, but, the thoughts of having to do business with Fintan terrified me. How utterly wrong and, yes, foolish, I was. From the moment he realised how heavily invested in matters this corner was – particularly given circumstances – our relationship changed. And blossomed.
Whether it was complimenting my typed-out team sheets on match days or pointing me out to others as an example of how they could do better, it was all support and encouragement. Perhaps the greatest moment, though, was when attempts were made at entering his turf, as it were. Simonstown’s Barry Gorman had told me he wasn’t going forward as PRO of the Board for another season and suggested that I seek election to the role. Two factors were putting me off – running against Brendan Cummins who I was and still am very friendly with, and a feeling that Fintan wouldn’t want me anywhere near his inner sanctum.
What could never have been predicted was Fintan and indeed the voice of LMFM himself contacting me before the vote to on the one hand congratulate me on having the courage to go forward and wishing me well. It was also very heartening to have a number of clubs contacting me to offer their support.
However, in the end the Dunsany clubman scored a decisive victory – 89-43 from recollection – but what will live long in the memory were the remarks about the vanquished party by both the victor and, in particular the Chairman.
As the years went on, there’s only recollection of one major point of disagreement between the boss and the occupant of this seat. That being the first occasion on which these wheels weren’t allowed park on the sideline in HQ due to what himself called “Insurance culture” – and that was two decades ago.
Sadly it was a signpost for how society is now. now, the hill to where disabled viewers were re-located was never a bad view but you needed two things to work in your favour: (a) people not standing up on the seats in front of you and (b) the weather to play ball. In a tight situation not much would be wagered on either. Count was lost of the umbrellas that met their Waterloo on the hill the fair side of the stand.
Suffice to say I hounded Fintan in an attempt to get the accommodation upgraded. Not only did he take on board my upset at the situation at the time, in a great honour for myself, he offered me an opportunity to have an input to the improvement of the facilities. It was a great pleasure for to work with him and his second in command at the time, Brendan Dempsey and Colm Gannon (then Treasurer) in the formative part of the process.
Forgive a little bias here, but, the finished product is one of the finest of its type anywhere. Shelter and comfort have been forthcoming on good days and bad days in the Pairc. Looking at the bigger picture, though, it is but one part of a legacy of leadership and success that will live on eternally now that Fintan has passed to the committee meeting above.
During his stewardship of Meath GAA came unprecedented success – 4 All Ireland SFCs, 8 Leinster SFCs, 3 National Leagues, Minor and U-21 All Ireland titles, an All Ireland SHC B (Yes, technically the Hurling Board was a separate vessel, though attached to the mothership) the top prizes at Junior level in both hurling and football, there’s probably even more which this writer can’t recall. Mind you, even all of the above would only relay a few chapters of the Fintan Ginnity story.
Once, whilst in Sean Boylan’s waiting room, a book entitled The Struggle For Pairc Tailteann by the great Michael O’Brien was encountered on the coffee table. To my utmost regret, the publication has never been read, yet, but in the days following Fintan’s death it came to mind.
Whether he was mentioned therein I’m not sure but with the next stage of the development of the ground at the forefront of thoughts presently, one cannot help but think of the role he played when last remedial works were being carried out in the old ground. And, indeed, how fitting it would be were part of the ‘new’ stadium named in honour of the former Drumbaragh player.
Especially given that perhaps the greatest monument to his time within Meath GAA will be another building ‘project’ namely, the procurement and development of what is now the Centre Of Excellence at Dunganny. Wheels transporting this writer have only docked there a handful of times – if that – and it often reminded me of a phrase Private Frazer was prone to deploy in Dad’s Army – “A wild and lonely place”.
To be fair, while it may have been that way in the start, now it is surely a hive of activity either with games on every night of the week or, at the appropriate times of the year, county teams training. You’d imagine that’s exactly how Fintan pictured it would be when he took a leap of faith in spearheading the beginning of the project and there could be no greater tribute to him than to see it in full flow.
Writing this, it’s still hard to fathom that he’s gone. Our last encounter was the day of the Meath-Offaly game in Pairc Tailteann last May, where else you might say. His passion and enthusiasm were as fervent as ever, and the last words we exchanged were on the great strides his grandsons were making with Wolfe Tones. If the old dictum about an ounce breeding being worth a tonne of feeding carries any weight, they’ll go places.
In the days following his death, a minute’s silence was observed before all games in the county in his honour – the very least he deserved. It made me wonder though, how many of them knew who he was and how much he had done to make what they were engaged in possible.
Hope is that those may not have known will learn, for Fintan Ginnity’s name will live on as long as our games are played. Rest in peace, my friend.