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Since we were two little boys

South of the border
Since we were two little boys

Willie McHugh

On Friday evening next Declan Ronaldson will balance the books, lock the safe and leave his post in Ballinrobe’s Bank of Ireland branch. This has been his daily routine for close on forty years now. But Friday will be the final act in a profession he has served in an exemplary manner since he took up his first appointment in the town of Granard.
Early retirement they call it now.
News of his departure stopped me in my tracks. We go back a long way. Our lives ran in tandem. Not on a professional course but on a personal track. Both our late fathers grew up together in the village of Ironpool outside Kilconly. Marriage brought them in over the Mayo border. Perhaps if they had stayed put we might have been sprinkled with some of the Curley and Concannon entrepreneurial spirit. But that’s women again for ya’.
Declan was my minder when I ventured to Secondary School in Headford. Shielded between Declan and Jimmy Kelleghan in the front seat of Enda Heneghan’s minibus we formed a Holy Trinity. They kept an eye on me in the world of Sr Rosario, John Boner and Fursey Heneghan.
He picked me on his school league team. I rewarded his trust by scoring a toe-poke goal on my debut.  
Our idyllic schooldays ended when Declan graduated into the world of high finance. But we never lost touch. To his eternal credit he returned every weekend without fail to visit his parents and socialise with us.
He was a committed, enthusiastic and talented sportsman. Sundays were South Mayo Junior Championship and O’Mara Cup matches.
We travelled all Mayo and beyond with Shrule FC. Backboned by players like the Greallys, Geraghtys, Jimmy Kelleghan, Donal Carey, Paddy Kennedy, Tom Reilly, Ollie Mortimer and a vociferous side-line, a soccer team peppered with a smidgen of talent and tons of brawn always over-achieved.
Mike Nalty was manager ergo the dubbing of ‘Nalto’s Army’. Mike introduced tactical jargon like “play the percentage game” and “take no prisoners.” Murt Greally or Paddy Kennedy hadn’t to be told twice.
Our trio became a duo in 1987 when a terrible road accident stole Jimmy Kelleghan from us. We both promised that his precious memory would ever accompany us. It has and it always will.
Declan was imbued with the spirit of Kickham. There was a spring capable of leaping Everest in his step outside Shrule Church on an October Sunday in 2005.
Under his watch, Shrule/Glencorrib were heading to Castlebar that afternoon to contest the Mayo Senior Football Final against Crossmolina. A one-point defeat in a game that was always within Shrule/Glencorrib’s grasp is permanently filed now as his biggest disappointment of all.
He is happiest patrolling the chalk line coaching and cajoling players to be the best they can be. No more he asks from them. Holding the ladder so others can scale great heights best describes his role. The under-14 team he coached to beat Ballina Stephenites in the county ‘A’ Final bequeathed him his happiest sporting memory.
The world of banking has changed a lot since Declan Ronaldson signed up for the long haul. It no longer encourages the personable approach staff like Declan or indeed Rosemary McGrath, who also retires this week, always applied to their dealing with customers.
But the gurus at the top who had no handle on the real world and introduced Online and 365 to the mix have a lot to answer for. Look where it eventually got us. We felt more at ease in our transactions with staff like Declan and Rosemary.
On Friday we close the longest chapter. Going to the bank won’t have the same appeal anymore. But no investment would ever reap a return greater than a bond of friendship. We walked together from childhood to adulthood reaching big milestones like marriage and becoming fathers. We always see the humour in life because we’re still two little boys.
And no money will ever buy that.   

HAVE YOUR SAY email williemchugh@mayonews.ie with your comments