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BRIAN Og McKeever was born on March 20th, 1991, in Derry city. He died last Saturday, after only 17 years, and it is hard not to feel outrage at such a great injustice...
The funeral Mass at St. Eugene’s Cathedral and the burial afterwards were accompanied by a tempest of driving rain and bitter winds. The weather suited the occasion and as I stood with Kevin Casey at the graveside, I thought of Auden’s words:
“stars are not wanted now, put out every one;
Pack up the Moon and dismantle the Sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.”
The Steelstown senior team formed a line outside the Cathedral. Their manager, Raymond “The Greyhound” Tracey, my old Dungiven team mate, asked me to join them but it didn’t seem right.
Wearing their football jerseys, they were soaked to the skin and blue with the cold. Opposite them, Eamonn Burns was with his St. Columb’s College senior team, looking impossibly young in their tiny ties and shaggy hair. Many of the boys wept when the coffin emerged and, in truth, it was very hard to take.
When Brian was 14 he made his debut for the Steelstown Minors and it was clear immediately that this was a special boy. For the first time in their history, they reached the Minor Championship Final that year, where they lost to Dungiven. The country boys just had too much cuteness for the city novices, but it was apparent that in their 14 year-old corner back, the city club had a star in the making.
When he was 15 he captained the Derry Under-16 Development Squad from centre-half back and led by example. To his delight, in the same year he was chosen for the Ulster Elite Squad’s training camp. The best part was that his hero, Tony Scullion, was the coach.
In 2007, he was devastated when the county management, in consultation with his club, decided that, at 15, he was too young to play for the Minor team, and he watched on in agony as they reached an All-Ireland Final.
Meanwhile, he trained religiously. His father, Brian, told me he never missed a session. Even in the low times when there were turnouts of five or six, he drove the boys around him on and success followed. All he wanted to do was to play for Steelstown, the Derry Minors and then the Derry Seniors. After that, he only wanted to win an All-Ireland.
This year, as a 16 year-old veteran, he was brought into the Minor team, to his unbridled delight. Then, in April, he was diagnosed with Leukaemia and the clocks stopped. When I visited him in the Children’s Cancer Ward at Belfast City Hospital I was floored. It was a beautiful Spring evening and I recall going up to the Antrim training afterwards just for fresh air and to soak up the fun from the lads. I didn’t know before what the phrase “needing a drink” meant.
In August, when all seemed lost, his brother, Niall, turned out to be a perfect bone marrow donor. The operation seemed to be a resounding success and suddenly everything had been turned around. In Brian’s words, he was “buzzing.” To everyone’s delight, he went to the All-Ireland Football Final.
Two days later, after a routine biopsy, doctors told him his system was shutting down and he had a few days to live.
Typical of the boy, he refused to be down heartened and simply got stuck in. On the occasions when he was strong enough to leave
hospital for a few days, he togged out and watched the Steelstown training, even kicking the odd ball.
He sat his Irish Oral in the hospital, gaining an ‘A’. He set his heart on going to the Thornhill College Formal with his girlfriend Clare. The few days he had left stretched out to six weeks. During this time, he refused all assistance.
Exhausted, he went up the stairs on his backside, one slow painful step at a time. He dressed himself. He socialised. He fought for life. No tame surrender for this boy. Two weeks ago, he made it to his formal and when he got there, dragged him
2 Comments 236 weeks
THEY told us we'd never see the like again. They told us the glory days were long gone. They told us that Celtic and Scottish football were the backwater of world football and that those of us under 40 would never get to experience European football at the highest level.
When I was young and naïve I believed them. They were right, we are shite. But then something happened. A man with a flat cap and polly bags came along and told them that they were idiots. He told them that the great Celtic Football Club would no longer be the laughing stock of Scottish football. The flat capped man would build a team and stadium worthy of the greats like McGrory, Gallagher, Johnstone and Stein. He would return our team to the pinnacle of European football and that he would bring back the missing 30,000. When he decided that re-building a great club needed solid foundations they laughed and mocked as the great man of smoke and mirrors onthe other side of the city built on empire based on get rich quick schemes. Once again I doubted, perhaps THEY were right.
Then along came Henrik, followed by Martin and the solid foundations of Fergus proved the shrewd strategy. I recall vividly in November 2002 someone calling the Radio Clyde phone-in to point out that to date every side Celtic had played had a V in their name. The next side had V in their name and the final was in SeVille. One of them, Hugh Keevins, mocked. Enjoy the run, but we just weren't good enough. In May 2003 we proved one thing for certain they, the Scottish press and establishment of Scottish football, know nothing. Their negative attitude to football and supporters in this country has held us back for too long. We should celebrate what we have. With a tiny population we have two of Europe's biggest supported club, and in Celtic one of the worlds largest.
Supporting Celtic on that UEFA cup run and specifically that night in Seville was absolutely wonderful. At half-time I gave up a prayer. I just asked for one goal to celebrate. How could I doubt my heroes? We all have so many fantastic memories of that season, and specifically of that day. For me the most vivid memory is the second goal. I sat virtually in line with the six yard box, Thommo took the corner and as I looked across everything began to run in slow motion - Henrik's peeled off his marker, if Thommo can just swing this across...it looks perfect...Henrik's going to connect... this is going in...YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS! I hugged the person next to me, they hugged me back, I thought we were never letting go!
A couple of months later I was on holiday in Barcelona and went to their pre-season game where Ronaldinio made his debut. Prior to the match I toured their museum. This was some club, it must be because all my life THEY had told me Barca were one of the worlds biggest and best. I read all about their history and I read a plaque boasting about how big and famous Barca are. They have over 80 supporters clubs throughout the world, and when they played in the Cup Winners Cup final in Basle over 20,000 supporters travelled to see the match. As I read on, my chest puffed out, the hairs on the back of my neck bristled and I felt 10 feet tall. Why? I wanted to run and grab everyone about me and get them to read what I had just read. I wanted them to know how big a football team Barca are. Why? Because I supported a bigger team. I supported a club who could have over 5% of all people flying in the world on one day travelling to support them. That my team had created the greatest movement of people in mainland Europe since the end of the war. I wanted to tell them all that over 4 times as many people had travelled from all over the world to the far south of Europe to follow the same team I followed.
I wanted to tell them I supported Celtic - I SUPPORT THE GREATEST TEAM IN THE WORLD!
3 Comments 323 weeks