RUGBY Correspondent Colm Kinsella talks to five members of the Garryowen FC thirds team on the fifth anniversary of the murder of their team captain, inspirational prop and close friend, Shane Geoghegan.
THEIR worlds were turned upside down by the murder of their talismanic team captain and tightead prop, Shane (Gagsy) Geoghegan five years ago.
Twenty eight-year-old Geoghegan was shot dead in a case of mistaken identity a few short hours after lining out for his beloved ‘light blues‘ in a Gleeson League game against Shannon at Coonagh on November 9, 2008.
Coming to terms with the void left by Shane’s killing, a callous crime which shocked a nation, has been difficult for his team-mates who continue to line out for the Garryowen thirds. Five of Shane’s team mates have shared their feelings on what life without their inspiraional leader on the pitch has been like since.
How long did you know Shane Geoghegan?
JP Baggott, winger
“I first met Shane when I was 12 on my first day of school. He was sitting at the top of the class on the teacher’s desk. He was sporting a fine beard for a 13 year old! I thought he was the teacher.
“We spent six years in school together we played rugby, even ran on the same 4 x 100m relay team. He was a vocal leader, never sugar coated anything.”
Bernard Carroll, centre, player-manager
“I played U-20s in Garryowen, but really became close when we started playing for the thirds. My stand out memory was when we toured New York and New Jersey in 2002. But what goes on tour stays on tour!
Daniel Lenihan, loosehead prop
“I first meet Gagsy when I arrived at Garryowen u-20s. I am 34 now. He did not say much but when he did, you listened
“I remember giving away a penalty in the last game he played before he was killed and him giving out to me. He was right. Thank God they missed the kick, but I felt that I had left him down. In the dressing room after losing the game he said “It’s where we go from here that counts” I did not think that was going to be the last few meaningful words from our captain. Those words are still with me today, inscribed underneath a framed number 3 jersey in my home.
Fergus Sheahan, full-back
“We had a gentleman’s agreement at training I wouldn’t run past him and in return he wouldn’t dump tackle me during drills.Although Gags always said his pace was deceptive he was slower than he looked!”
Martin Joyce, coach of Garryowen thirds
“I knew Shane about eight years. I remember playing a game and one of our players was getting a few digs on the ground when Shane ran in and started pulling guys out of the way me included , until he realised it wasn’t me on the ground and said ‘Joycey, it’s not you’, but that guy was looking for it. I knew that day Shane had my back.”
Where were you when you learned of Shane’s death?
BC: “I was at home with my girlfriend, now wife, having breakfast, listening to the radio and heard that someone was shot in Dooradoyle. I didn’t take much heed.
Five minutes later John Staunton rang me. I started having the banter with him about just being back from Oz.
Then he told me what happened and I froze. I was in shock for ages, couldn’t understand why, how. It didn’t make sense.”
JP B: “I went to the gym on that Sunday. After finishing the training session, I had 40 missed calls. After hearing the news - at first it was shock, like a slow motion dream, thinking if I just wake up and everything will be okay but it wasn’t. It’s a feeling I hope no one ever has to endure.”
DL: “My then girlfriend, now my wife, and I were eating in a cafe when we heard on the radio that there had been a shooting in the Dooradoyle area and it was gang related. We paid no attention.
“When we went home, Igot a phone call from another team mate who was so distraught he was not making any sense. He said ‘Gagsy’ was shot. I broke down.
“The hours after that it started to sink in. After that nothing seemed to have any meaning for a long time.”
FS: “The Sunday was the morning after my brother’s wedding. When I heard the news, I rushed back to Limerick to be with the rest of the lads. It was like a bad dream
I just kept on looking through the last text message he sent (lost 6-3) was his reply when I asked how we got on against Shannon. I didn’t think that would be last time he’d put down his gear bag.”
MJ: “I was in Penney’s at the Cresent Shopping Centre when I got a call with the news. I froze. I said to my wife that Shane was shot. We had heard about a shooting on the radio, but never though it could be Shane.”
Your memories of the days following Shane’s murder
BC: “The funeral was tough. I remember going with friends of mine who were involved in the first team and thinking this is f***ed up. It could have been any of us.
“We stood at the top right of the church and when ‘November Rain’ was played, we all just looked at each other, smiled and broke down because that was Gagsy’s favourite Gun ‘N’ Roses song being played and 16 priests looking awkward.”
JP B: “All the rugby clubs from Limerick really stepped up, in showing their support. One call sticks out in my mind. A friend from Australia, Richie Paul rang me to offer his condolences - he knew Shane from when we lived there and couldn’t believe it when he had heard the news.
“The following Saturday, a group of us from Garryowen went to Croke Park for the Ireland v New Zealand game, decked up in the light blue club jerseys. To think that we were travelling to an international match to stand for a minute silence in honour of ‘Gags’ was just so surreal. To think that this man (my friend) would actually stop the country - shake the country to its core! The respect shown by both teams on that evening was just amazing.”
FS: “I went to the Ireland v New Zealand match on the following Saturday at Croke Park with a group from the club. We were unable to get tickets for the same part of the ground and not only did the rugby community offer their support, but they also offered us tickets, so we could be together for the minutes silence behind the goal at the DavinStand End of the ground. After the week we just had it was important that we were together.”
DL: “The rugby community could only be described as a brotherhood around that time. The support was unreal.
“I had to go to my then girlfriend’s sister’s wedding. She was maid of honour.
I remember watching the start of the Ireland v New Zealand game a week later in the lobby before the meal started and there was a very quiet room for the minute’s silence. It was very raw and emotional. All I remember was ordering two shots of whiskey and drinking them.”
Going back playing rugby
BC: “I togged for the St Mary’s match which was difficult. I remember crying into a towel before and after the match. There are nine of us still involved with the thirds, either playing or managing, and the nine are in the team photo in the dressing room after Saturday’s win over Richmond.
JP B: “My first training session back was probably not the best idea with all that frustration and pent up anger. It wasn’t a good experience for everyone else as I tackled and rucked the aggression out of myself. There were a lot of bruises and bumps to be licked the following day.
“I’ve always thought of our club as tight knit but Shane was a massive part of our lives and there is a hole there that cannot be filled.
“But that’s the thing about holes if you don’t try and fill them in, they get deeper and wider until it completely consumes you. The filler is the newer, younger players bringing a vitality to the team.”
FS: “Going back training was extremely hard. I used to sit beside Shane, so there was a massive void there, I said a few words to everyone in the club before we set off to the pitch reminding them that the only way to honor Gags was to hit the ground running and back each other up.
“The first game back was against St Mary’s and I’m sure Gags had a good laugh when I was sent off and banned for three weeks for fighting. He always said it wasn’t in me!
“I can honestly say I feel his presence every time I go out on the pitch that’s why I’m still playing.”
DL: “After Shane’s death, there was a lack of interest and the team seemed to have lost all purpose. What was the point? “I cannot remember for how long after, The only thing I can say is that since his funeral, the song ‘November Rain’ by Guns and Roses which was played on the day is a song I cannot bare to this day.
“I remember the first match back, it was played on the back pitch against St Marys. We won by 30 points. I remember the minute’s silence it seemed to last an hour, memories and flash back of the funeral were flying around my head.
“There was a lot of anger and emotions around. I remember after winning going back into the dressing room and feeling absolutely helpless. I recall looking around and no Gagsy.
“Then reality really hit me and I broke down.”
mj: “Going back training and playing had to be done. We were all friends and friends of Shane, so we had to do him proud . The years have gone by very fast. We talk about him all the time. We include him in all the stories we tell and even include him in any slagging that is going on.”
Honouring his memory
BC: “I’m involved in the Gagsy 10s tournamentwhich the club runs each year in Shane’s honour. Outside of rugby, we have our annual Pitch n Putt every year in Liscannor with his friends both on and off the pitch.
“I would like Shane to be remembered more in Limerick. The Gagsy 10s event is growing year on year.
“But I do feel however a lot of people took the limelight on Shane’s death and no longer want to get involved because it’s not current!
“We have our memorial cup which is also played every year. Gagsy’s death could have been anyone of us, hurling, football rugby, players right across Limerick. It effected everyone.”
JP B: “As far as the Garryowen thirds goes, we hope to win a few more trophies, sing our team’s song, The Thirds Front Row, toast to our friend Gagsy, who now proudly is in the final verse of that song and remember the good times.
“We hope that one day we can say that the ‘Gagsy 10s’ tournament is an iconic event known throughout the province and country maybe even continent.”
FS: “The only way to remember Shane is with the Annual 10s tournament we hold in Garryowen in September. I think the rugby clubs that have supported us have being great, but many of the people that were very conspicuous at the funeral in the aftermath have yet to really get behind this event.
“It’s a great legacy to have and we’d love more support. This year the money raised went to the Garryowen Lions among others.
DL: “I would like Shane to be remebered as a man who loved playing and watching rugby, having the craic and being a good person not to be known as ‘the rugby player that got shot in Limerick’. That really irritates me.
“The Garryowen thirds will always be there, players will come and go, there will be players similar to Gagsy as years go on but he can never be replaced.
mj: “I think Shane would like to be remembered as one of the lads up for the craic, a good guy in what he done for himself the club and all that knew him.good memory’s only.
“Up and Under, Here We Go” is the song of the Garryowen thirds front row.”