In 1994, when Clann na Gael opened a new stand, one of their greatest sons, Donie Shine, was asked to write a brief article for the commemorative programme.
In it, Shine chose to refer to a funny incident from a club match. Picture the scene. Wet day, swamp of a field. Shine moves in on the goalkeeper, who, startled, gets his retaliation in first.
As Donie limbers up to strike back, the man between the sticks scarpered and the Clann man’s own team-mate stepped in to calm the situation, receiving a shoulder from Shine and ending up face down in a puddle. The way Donie told it, the goalkeeper was halfway across the bog as the Clann full-back wiped the mud from his eyes.
And after the game, the trio drank tea and ate sandwiches and laughed at the good of it.
That was Donie – larger than life, a clubman, a football man. Last Friday, he passed away after a long battle with illness. Liam Dunne, his former team-mate, recalled the tale this week. And, Liam smiled, the opposition goalkeeper was there at the wake to pay his respects.
It was a mark of the man. Born in August 1951, he was just 10 when his beloved club, drawn from a rural area west of Athlone, won their first Roscommon SFC. Nine years later, he was starting at corner-forward as they won their third.
But that great side was growing old and when they reached the 1976 final against a Roscommon Gaels team who had contested the All-Ireland decider earlier that year, few gave them a chance.
They pulled off the upset, however, winning a dogfight, 0-8 to 0-4 and the following year, the same 15 men repeated the trick. Soon, they dared to dream. Clann were back but the greatest days were still to come.
Back then, after games, the team would head to Connaughton’s pub, owned by Willie, father of their great half-back Joey.
“The team bonded very well together and a lot of that was down to Donal. At that time we’d all go together to celebrate after a game and Donal was the leader,” recalls Dunne.
“We were very close as a group. There was great spirit in the team and that got the ball rolling for the 1980s which was the most glorious period really in the club’s history.”
Further county titles as a player followed in 1977, ’79, ’81, ’82 and ’84 before, at the age of 34, Donie took over as manager.
Under his watch, Clann na Gael would win six county titles and five Connacht championships in succession and reach five All-Ireland finals, seeing off the best club sides in the country along the way.
It was an astonishing run, made all the more remarkable by the fact that the team’s effervescent manager had himself played with so many of the team.
“He was managing the players, including myself, who he had played with which you would imagine would have been very difficult, particularly as he was so close to us all,” recalls Dunne.
“But in actual fact I’d say that was a strength of his because the key component of his management style was man management. He had an instinctive ability to handle people.
“He didn’t in any way distance himself from the players. He would talk to players, share opinions. People like Tony and Eamon McManus were very strong characters and Donal would listen to them and give his own opinions as well.”
From a family of four boys, the young Shine had his first taste of the big time in 1965 when he lined out in Croke Park for Athlone’s Marist College in a Leinster juvenile final, with his brother Enda captaining the team.
Little did anyone know that that would be the start of an extraordinarily successful love affair with the game. Shine’s many friends don’t measure his warmth in terms of statistics but the cold numbers bear repeating all the same.
He won seven county medals and two Connachts as a player, seven more as a manager with five Connachts thrown in. In 1989, he guided Clann to an All-Ireland Sevens title in Kilmacud and a dozen years later, he helped coach the club’s U14s to win a national Féile crown.
He smashed records wherever he went, too – and one may be unprecedented.
“There was one particular year,” says Dunne, “that he won a title with Athlone, Longford Slashers and Clann na Gael – he won three titles in three different counties in one calendar year.” And while Clann didn’t get over the line on St Patrick’s Day, losing five finals, they more than proved their worth – and the friendships forged still linger.
“We were certainly the most consistent club in the country. We lost to Portlaoise in the first final in 1983 but we subsequently beat them on their own ground in the semi-final. Likewise we lost a final to the Burren and we went up there the following year and beat them in a semi-final.
“We felt and still feel we were as good as any of those teams but it just didn’t happen for us on the day. But there is a great bond there with those teams we played, with the likes of Castleisland and the Burren.”
onie and his wife Lil had a family of five – Karen, Clodagh, Susie, Mark and Donie. The youngest has, of course, represented Roscommon at all levels and was a star player on the minor team which won the 2006 All-Ireland final in a replay against Kerry, eclipsing the brilliant Tommy Walsh.
Those who met him that day recall him glowing with joy, not that that was anything unusual; Donie Shine was a man who just made people feel better about themselves.
Whether it was diving to head a ball, soccer-style, over the bar in a county final or, in later years, passionately calling matches on Shannonside radio alongside Willie Hegarty, Shine was liked and loved by everyone with whom he came into contact.
When news of his passing emerged, tributes began to flow online. One came from Shane Curran, the former Roscommon goalkeeper, who had made his debut in goal during Shine’s three-year reign as senior county manager.
“He was synonymous with Gaelic football – he was omnipresent at every game. He was a tremendous manager and a tremendous man but he was also such a generous person,” Curran, who recalled how Shine had assisted him when he started out in business, told the Irish Examiner.
“Even away from football, he was always there as a sounding board for anyone. I’ll be forever grateful for him too and I know there are an awful lot of people around Roscommon for whom Donie Shine’s energy and enthusiasm and most importantly his generosity will live long in the memory.”
Roscommon county secretary Brian Carroll chimed in about a man who also served the county board as development officer and on the finance committee.
“He was the one individual you saw at every game. He is a massive loss to his club and county — he was just a great person,” said Carroll.
“He was a great character that everybody knew. He was inspirational in football terms but even away from football, people just loved to be in his company.”
Shine’s funeral took place last Monday and saw well-known GAA people from all over the country descend on St Brigid’s Church in Drum.
Liam Kearns was there, so was John O’Mahony and Kilkenny great Christy Heffernan, who had visited Donie in the final days of his life.
And, fittingly, the crowd ended up back first to the football pitch and then to Connaughton’s again, back, in a way, to where it all began – the friendships, the craic, the football, the laughter.
“There were lots of stories told, there was lots of laughter heard, there were people from other clubs in the county as well that joined us,” said his old friend Dunne.
“It was a sad occasion but in another way it was a great tribute to Donie. Everybody was there and everybody was remembering him. We’ll miss him dearly.”
As will the whole county.
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