28 Jun 2022

Longford Leader columnist Mattie Fox: When you come so close to death you realise how precious life is

Denis Connerton

When you come so close to death you realise how precious life is

Denis Connerton has, as his first passion, his wife and children. But Denis keeps his cards close, and doesn’t refer to them at all during our interview. I’m not surprised, as despite his familiar profile, he’s a very private man.

However, from knowing him, I can state categorically that his family is number one, although one would not realise their importance unless one knew him well. That said, his other real passions are Lanesboro, teaching, and sports. Not necessarily in that order!

In all three he has excelled beyond expectation, and has an enviable legacy to his credit. He’s been a constant mover in the local parish, and never a week goes by that he hasn’t some input to something local. He feels so committed to that, it comes naturally.

The Connerton’s came to Lanesboro in the days of Bord na Móna, when his father, William hailed from Birr, Co Offaly and his mother Kathleen came from Ballycastle in Mayo. They were married on arrival in Lanesboro. Denis grew up in a Bord na Móna residence, in the Green in Lanesboro, which is still there, and the ethos of the community has survived to this day.
Some well known illustrious people live there.

Denis recalls, “I must have had the happiest childhood that any person could ever have had, living in this area, with so many kids with parents from Monaghan, Kerry, Cavan, …from all over the place … Clare.”

He feels that contributed to a very varied childhood as “we all grew up together, we were all very good friends growing up, and all we used to do was play football!”

After attending Lanesboro primary school, he went to St Pat’s in Cavan there he spent five years. Living away from home, in a very different era, than now.

“You went in for September, and didn’t get out ’til the mid term break, then Christmas.”

He remembers them as five good years. The only complaint was that there was ‘not enough football’. As a result he played a lot of table tennis and soccer in St Pat’s. By this time his sight had begun to decline and ‘with table tennis you could wear glasses’.From Cavan, he moved on to another St Pat’s, this time in Drumcondra. There he played many sports as well. Badminton, table tennis, soccer, gaelic.

“Sport was an essential part of my life.”

In 1976 he suffered a shocking incident that changed his life, when a car hit him on Drumcondra Road, and broke his femur, his arm, leaving him with massive lacerations around his face and body. He becomes morose when he describes being in hospital on the day Rathcline won the senior championship, something he’d never ever experience himself after that.
That incident defined his life in many ways as he lost a full year from college.

“That was the big setback; I was a happy-go-lucky person up to that, but after that….when you come so close to death ….you realise how precious life is. Definitely after that, it changed my perspective.”

After Drumcondra, he came back to Longford, and started teaching in St Michael’s in Longford town.
A town that was booming back in 1978. He had a great social life then, playing soccer with Longford Town and gaelic with his beloved club Rathcline.

Longford, he describes, as a great place to be, with great people, “we used go in to Lal Donlon’s Dandy Diner for lunch.” Lal recruited him to play with Longford Town. But he didn’t lose contact with gaelic. He became chairman, at age 21 of Shannon Gaels Club in ’78, the same year he started in Michael’s as a teacher.

Also read: Lanesboro pupil Chriswin Regit is crowned Longford Spelling Bee champion

They reached a county final in 1979. He dreamed immediately of a life in football. He really got involved in the organisation of the game. Teaching and being involved with football. His future was decided. But he was still teaching in Longford. One key part was still missing.

It took ten years before he could complete the circle he still, to this day, feels so passionate about. He says he never lost the child’s yearning for the place he grew up, where he always felt most happy, most secure. Lanesboro Boy’s School had a vacancy in 1981, and Denis jumped at it. Home at last, he was now in the place that had always tugged at him, back where he started.

Ten years later, in December ’91 he landed a position in Fermoyle School, as principal. There he remained for sixteen years, until his retirement in 2017. People around Lanesboro say that Denis Connerton gave everything he had to the schooling of children of the parish, where he grew up, which he still cherishes.

His gnawing regret is not winning a senior championship, during his time playing. For myself, I recall seeing, and admiring Denis Connection first as a wing back on a terrific Rathcline team, and he showed the passion and determination he felt. I know we often switched a swift player on him, to prevent him marauding forward. A great player. Rathcline won Leader Cups, during but never the Connolly Cup.

“I felt we had the bricks, but we honestly couldn’t build the wall.”

He says, “When I look back on the likes of Kevin Rivers, Owen Harte, Pat and Donal Mulloolly, Liam Connerton, Sean Gilroy, Pat McGrath, the Kiernan and O’Brien brothers, Tommy Donoghue - a tenacious corner back - , Josie Connerton, we had a lot of serious strong men.

“When you’re playing with those men like Pat Masterson….you expect to win a county title.”

“John James O’Reilly….Gerard Heneghan…”

Rathcline improved, he thought, all the time.

“Tommy Farrell, Cosmos Gilmore…we had any amount of talent.”

Denis pauses, and reflects; suddenly says, “Brendan O’Sullivan.”

He seems genuinely chastened by the memory. Denis is retired now, and living healthy at the age of still only 61. Many more roads to travel, and hills to cross, but few are as advanced as he, in the intricacies of managing a team.

He’s very relaxed nowadays, living in a nice house in the precincts of ‘the town he loves so well’.

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