Remembering Shane Geoghegan: ‘Keep watching over us our captain, our friend, our Gagsy’

Colm Kinsella, Rugby Correspondent

Reporter:

Colm Kinsella, Rugby Correspondent

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ckinsella@limerickleader.ie

Former Garryowen thirds captain Shane Geoghegan, who was murdered in a case of mistaken identity ten years ago

Former Garryowen thirds captain Shane Geoghegan, who was murdered in a case of mistaken identity ten years ago

THE senseless killing of Garryowen thirds captain Shane 'Gagsy’ Geoghegan on November 9, 2008 shocked not just the rugby-mad city but an entire nation. November 2008 was a surreal time for the people of Limerick city.

The members of the Garryowen thirds squad had their worlds turned upside down when their 28-year-old talismanic captain 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.

To his team mates, Shane Geoghegan was a quiet hero, one would never lead them into battle again. Trying to come to terms with the void left by Shane’s killing has proved difficult for his team-mates.

What was it like finding out about Shane's death and what were the following days like?

Fergus Sheahan: “I found out the morning after my brother's wedding what had happened.

“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.

“The days that followed were a blur of phone calls and news reports, walking out from St Joseph's Church to Mungret cemetery and stopping in Dooradoyle was a nice touch.

“We had fun after saying the reason was actually in honour of his frequent trips to McDonalds in the Crescent rather that Garryowen!

“The New Zealand game in Croke Park at the end of that week was just the break we needed as everyone was under massive strain. From the bus trip up to Dublin that morning to getting the bus back that night we actually had a really enjoyable day.

“It’s funny you’d feel guilty about enjoying yourself with friends even though you know it’s exactly what Shane wanted.

“The minute's silence before kick-off in that game with the All-Blacks, while we were all together at the Davin Stand End, will always stay with me. It really was a special moment.”

JP Baggott: “I remember being in Conor Hartigan's apartment after I found out what happened to Shane and I felt like Mike Catt after Jonah Lomu ran over him.

“Over the years you hit highs and lows, this wasn't low - it was a deep hole and it was dark down there. I was completely crushed.

“You kept thinking this is all a nightmare and I'll wake up with a colossal hangover from drinking one too many pints with Shane and the team, but unfortunately it wasn't.

“The New Zealand game against Ireland in Dublin which we went to a few days after the funeral was a great day, we packed the bus to the rafters with cans and half of Raheen.

“We donned the Light Blue jerseys even the bus driver threw on the star! The solidarity from everyone was amazing.

“People stopped in the street in Dublin as we passed by just to shake our hands or a simple clap on the back. It shows that we weren't the only ones hurting.

“To see a minute silence against the All-Blacks v Ireland was eerie as well as seeing Eoin Reddan in the Irish jersey that day was great. Shane, Eoin and myself all played schools rugby together so it add a nice touch to it.

“I knew Shane since I was 12 years of age, we were in the same class in school for years.

“When I came in on the first day of school I met Shane he had a full beard I thought he was the teacher!

“Over the years we ran together in 4x100m relay teams, but one season Shane went from winger to prop so his services for the relay were passed over unlike the baton”!

“We played many years of rugby together, even lived together and traveled up the East Coast of Australia.

“It's a lot of memories to have, but the fondest memories I have are of 'Gags' in Lahinch and Pitch ‘n’ Putt.

“He wasn't the best of pitch 'n' putters but he was competitive.

“As a group, our Gagsy Celebration day is in Lahinch playing Pitch n Putt for the coveted Bucky Cup, it's like the Ryder Cup for Pitch and Putters who are awful at the sport! It's these simple things in life”

Bernard Carroll: “I was just home that weekend from a holiday in Australia, and got an early phone call from John Staunton the morning after Shane was killed.

“I'll never forget it from answering the phone with such joy having the craic about just landing and expecting the call to be about togging, to just being in total shock!

“The days following were just numbing, a feeling of pure shock and not being able to understand why.”

Daniel Lenihan: “I remember getting the phone call from a team mate telling me the news. I was watching the news to see did this actually happen.

“To this day I can clearly recall when the team was doing the guard of honour from the church to the grave yard the eerie silence and the noise of cameras clicking along the road side. I can remember that very clearly.

“I remember going to the All-Blacks match in Thomond Park with a few of the lads. The thing that I remember from that match is walking into the Dug-Out bar afterwards and just as I was entering, 'November Rain' started to play which was played at 'Gags' funeral.

“I still can not listen to that song today and generally turn it off when it comes on as It brings back all the memories.

“I first meet 'Gagsy' when I arrived at Garryowen u-20s. 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.”

How do you remember Shane as a squad?

FS: “His number has been retired by the thirds in Garryowen forever and our former manager Niall Wixted penned a new verse of the team song, the 'Garryowen Thirds Front Row'. Shane's Brisbane Broncos training jersey hangs outside the dressing with the inscription, “Our captain, our friend, our Gagsy”. A lot of players, myself included, touch it before running out to play our home games.”

JP B: “I managed to play a few games with the thirds already this season, but as far as players who played back in 2008 team very few remain.

“Myself and Charlie Colling are probably the only ones left, but Charlie was the heart of the team back then and still is now.

“Remembering Shane is easy as we have his training jersey hanging up over the back door as you head out onto the back pitch of Garryowen and as a mark of respect myself, Fergus and the players would always tap the jersey as we took the field.

“Winning the first Gleeson league since Shane’s passing back in 2015 myself and Fergus (Sheahan) were the coaches and we took a comical photo of me piggybacking Fergus in front of Gagsy's jersey. That was the day the Brian Trust was born.”

DL: “I retired from playing four years ago when my twin boys arrived.

“Last year I organised a get-together around Christmas with lads who played with Shane. It was great, we started sharing memories and the laughs we had as a team.

“The framed number 3 jersey in my home reminds me that life is to be embraced.

“Sometimes we take for granted what is in front of us. I always remember the 'Garryowen Thirds Front Row' song as we were both in the front row.

“Even small things, I seem to get the number 3 in a lot of different situations, whether it is a room number of the likes. I think he's just letting me know he not far away.”

BC: “I am not involved with the Garryowen thirds any more with work and family commitments. I'm involved with my local GAA Club, Monaleen, as a hurling coach.

“Shane was our captain, we would have been the centre of the group, both on and off the field.

“The thirds agreed to retire his number 3 jersey permanently which was a very fitting gesture in my opinion. We have our own team song, 'The Garryowen Thirds Front Row' and Gagsy has his own verse which we're all looking forward to singing on Friday night after the Charity game!”

Do you believe Shane's death proved was a watershed for gangland crime in Limerick?

FS: “I believe it was indeed a watershed moment. I think everyone in Limerick had the blasé attitude that it was in a way none of their business and it didn’t affect their daily lives.

“But Shane’s death brought it to our doorstep and there was no avoiding the issues anymore.

“The response from Limerick and Limerick people since has showed the real Limerick, Limerick is so much more that gangland criminals who in no way represent this great city.

“The City of Culture, along with music and sport in the over the last 10 years have put Limerick in the spotlight for the right reasons and we can only grow from here.”

JP B: “Back 10 years ago, Limerick was a melting pot, Limerick was in turmoil. Limerick was seen as 'Lawless Limerick.'

“It's true Shane's death really shook the country to its core, hard to believe it really.

“People were incensed about the shooting as it was just a regular fella walking 100 metres home to his house.

“The saddest thing about it is that Shane's death, it wasn't in vain as a lot of good came from this tragic loss, but it still doesn't change the fact that he isn't here with us today.”

Has time helped ease the sense of loss for Shane's team mates?

JP B: “To be honest, time has not eased the loss of our beloved friend but the thing about teams and close friends they rally around each other.

“A tragedy like this is always tough, but reliving the days and fond memories of the man is what I love, hearing stories from their perspective on how Shane affected their lives.

“When sport finishes in your life and you are now the spectator, the memories you cherish are nights in sleet and hailing rain on the paddock, the pain after a match, the bumps, the bruises and the craic and slagging that goes on. These are the memories on how I remember my career and my friend Shane in years to come.”

FS: “Finishing the season that Shane started was very tough and stressful, I was playing fullback most of the season so was on my own in the backline and spent games either crying or talking to him.

“It was terrible, but it was all a process and during every game I’d say to myself, “that’s it, I’m not playing again,” but I’m delighted I kept playing that season it really helped me cope.”

DL: “I don't think you get over a tragic event like this in your life. You learn to cope with it.”

BC: “Time is a healer, however you would always think time and again what would the thirds be like if things were different. the birthdays, the weddings, the Cup finals.”

Did Shane's death bring the thirds squad closer as a group of men?

JP B: “It has definitely brought us closer together, the strange thing is that it has been off the pitch more than on the pitch, people have been more connected.

“At thirds level we are a social team with a little bit of running thrown in.”

DL: “I think it did bring us more together. We had to deal with it as a team and it was a experience that unless you have gone through it, It is very hard to explain. When we meet up with the lads you have played rugby with you just pick up where you left off.”

How will you remember Shane on the 10th anniversary of his killing?

DL: I have thought a lot about ‘Gags’ in last few weeks, thinking where has the 10 years gone, remembering the rugby tours and matches good days bad days we had as a team.

“Then that made me think about my boys future and I am hoping they will get to experience what it means to be part of a team and the friends you make while playing rugby. Its hard to explain.”

FS: “We decided the best thing to do was play a vets game to mark the 10 years since Shane’s passing.

“By bringing together former players from his time in school with Crescent College and Garryowen FC, we are including people who want to be a there and want to be involved in marking the occasion.

“We were also keen to promote the wonderful charity that is the Share a Dream Foundation and we can hopefully raise funds to help them in their work.

“We picked the Share A Dream due to the connection with the Geoghegan family.

“Shane’s sister Katie had been the recipient of a 'Dream' in 1992 but unfortunately passed away before it was granted.”

JP B: “For me I’m going to play the Charity rugby match, hopefully for both sides, on Friday night. Then, I’m going to do my best to see if I can catch up with everyone who makes the effort to coming out the Charity match, just reliving the stories and memories is what I have looking forward to most.”

Could more be done to honour Shane's memory?

JPB: “One of the players in our thirds team said to me last year that he was in fifth class in primary school when Gags passed away.

“Instantly I really felt old. A lot of people who played with Shane or against him are long since retired, over the 10 years of Westcliffe matches, the 'Gagsy 10s Tournament', charities, the Munster v Sunderland soccer match, a minute's silence in an Autumn International test series, Terracotta Warriors display.

“When you think of the time and support these people have shown to help out, it would take another 10 years to thank them all.

“But if the Limerick Council have a few spare bob Richard Harris looks very lonely down there by Supermacs, I'm sure he'd love a fellow ‘Crescent Comper’ to be up there with him to keep company!”

BC: “I do think so, I feel that the Gleeson League Trophy should be named in Shane's honour. Let the thirds league still be called the Gleeson League, however the Trophy should be named in Shane's honour.”

FS: “I would dearly love for the winners of the thirds competitions in each province to play in a competition in honour of Shane.”