It’s all about family
Brothers Ronan and Gerard O’Boyle want to honour the memory of their grandfather
IF you were ever at Celtic Park in Castlebar, chances are you knew Joe McDonald. The venerable Celtic man was almost as permanent a fixture at Castlebar Celtic games as the famed hooped jersey itself.
A former player and club official, in his latter years he was there as a proud supporter of his two grandsons, brothers Ronan and Gerard O’Boyle.
Whether it was a big cup game or a meaningless Super League match, in front of five supporters or 500, Joe McDonald would be there on the swimming pool side of the ground, and his grandsons were the apples of his eye.
He died in 2012, and as they talk about him, it is easy to see how much his grandsons miss him. They were reared on Celtic stories and now, more than ever, can vividly recall the picture of Joe’s Connacht Cup winning team of 1955 which had pride of place in his home.
Neither brother has ever won a Connacht Junior Cup. So as we talk in the Welcome Inn Hotel in Castlebar, it is clear Sunday’s final against Ballinasloe Town carries a very personal mission for the O’Boyles.
“It would be great to win it for him. Just thinking of the picture of Joe with the Connacht Cup, it would be massive for us to go and win the Connacht Cup too,” Ger O’Boyle admits.
“Our grandfather was a really big Castlebar Celtic man,” says Ronan. “Growing up Joe would have brought us to the Mall to play football. At Celtic Park it was great to play in front of him. I’d get more joy out of playing in front of him than I would in front of my own parents,” Ronan adds.
The brothers recall, laughing, Joe being one of two Celtic supporters at an away game against Erris United and being sent off for questioning referee Damien McGrath. There’s no doubting Joe was their biggest fan and could even be a bit partial too.
“Coming in after a game, even if you were crap, he’d tell you the opposite,” Ronan says, laughing. “One time I was in the house and I think that Toulon festival was on, the tournament and Messi was playing. He said ‘Come here, I’ll show you a young fella here, Messi’ and then he goes to me ‘You’d lose and find him on the pitch’. Messi, like!
“We were always reminded as well that his father, our great-grandfather, Tommy was one of the founders of Castlebar Celtic. There’s a picture in Joe’s house of him holding the Connacht Junior Cup. I remember asking him what it was. It’d be lovely for me personally to win it. It is a pity he won’t be here but winning it for him is a big thing for me at the moment,” adds Ronan.
THERE’S a fierce competitive streak that runs through the O’Boyle brothers. Take the 2011 Super League which Castlebar Celtic won unbeaten. Both brothers excelled and they were both in contention for the Footballer of the Year title. Ger takes up the story.
“I still think I should have won it, but he [Ronan] got it. I was delighted he won it – he had a great year – but I felt I had a better one,” he says, half-laughing, half-wincing.
“I scored the goals in the title race at the end but I was fully convinced he was going to win it,” admits Ronan. “He got Player of the Year in Celtic and anyone who says it to me, I’d be the first to say he did deserve it but I’m taking it! It won’t be handed back. It has been threatened with being drop-kicked into the garden a few times,” chuckles Ronan.
Both brothers live at home with their parents in what they admit is ‘a football-mad house’. Between them Ronan and Gerard, their brother Kevin, sister Lorna and parents Kevin and Geraldine support six different English clubs, making for plenty of banter in their home.
At a local level there’s no doubting their importance to Celtic. Ger is an Irish Junior international and Ronan excels up front.
Ronan regards Ger as ‘the best footballer in Mayo at the moment’ and that view would have considerable support. Ger reckons Ronan is the best striker in the Super League. The two are tight and it’s clear they’ve a close bond.
“It’s a big buzz personally having him beside you. Everyone says ‘we’re all brothers’ in the team but there’s definitely an added bonus that you’re there with your brother, and we are the best of mates too,” admits Ronan.
The brothers are both 26 years old but are not twins. Ger celebrated his birthday last Saturday while Ronan will not turn 27 until next month. It’s hard to credit that it is nine years since both featured for Mayo in the 2005 All-Ireland Minor football final. Both were torn at various stages between both sports and while soccer is their first priority, both play Junior with Castlebar Mitchels.
It’s 11 years since Castlebar Celtic last won the Connacht Cup but part of that gap is explained by their participation in the League of Ireland Under-21 league and A League.
Both O’Boyles featured while Ronan togged for Galway United for two seasons too. They loved the experience.
“It was a great experience for the players to push onto another level,” said Ronan. “The club were proud they did it. There is definitely enough talent in Mayo to represent at that level but it is difficult to pull it together. Say you go to a Westport player and say ‘Join Celtic for the A League’ and straightaway there’s going to be a barrier,” admits Ronan.
“The A League was a higher intensity of game,” admits Ger. “You’re playing against good players week in, week out. No disrespect to lower teams in the Super League but you’re not benefiting from going down and beating them, say, 6-0. When you’re playing at the higher level, you’re always going to have a tough game. It’s a challenge for you and you’re going to see how good you are yourself, if you are up to it,” adds Ger.
They’re playing at the level on Sunday that they want to be at. And hope to honour their grandfather’s legacy by claiming victory.
Supports: Aston Villa
Did you know? Ronan played with the Mayo club in New York in the summer of 2013.
Supports: Newcastle United
Did you know? Ger is one of only two players from the Celtic FAI Youth Cup-winning team of 2007 still playing with the club. Ioseph O’Reilly is the other.