Dublin’s Conal Keaney tangles with Cork's Pa Cronin during last Sunday’s NHL game.

Dublin’s Conal Keaney tangles with Cork's Pa Cronin during last Sunday’s NHL game.

A man by the name of Ben Tansey died recently, a great man who will be well known to followers of the GAA, and particularly to Meath fans.

Ben was a Navan institution for more years than he cared to remember. He was born in Roscommon but moved to the Tara Mines town as a member of the Garda Siochana, otherwise known as our police force.

When Ben moved, he brought three things with him that I know of -- his football boots, his hurling stick and a love for our national games.

A gentleman by nature, Ben found a home for all three loves in the Navan O’Mahonys clubhouse that hugs the town goal at the Pairc Tailteann GAA grounds in Meath’s administrative capital.

A Connacht SFC medal winner and a Railway Cup hurler during his time with senior Roscommon teams, he also found a welcome in the green and gold jersey of his adopted county after his transfer to Navan in 1979.

In fact, Ben Tansey won a place in the heart of many Meath fans for his sterling performances in the embryonic days of the Sean Boylan empire when he scored a couple of very memorable goals against Dublin on Leinster final day in Croke Park.

If truth be told though, hurling was probably Ben Tansey’s first love, and he was a rarity for a Meath player -- he was bloody good at it.

Together with another great man of that era by the name of Frank McCann from Trim, Ben threatened to put the Meath hurling team on the map in the 1980s, and that, trust me, was difficult.

I know well because many days in my formative years as a journalist, in the local Meath Chronicle, were spent on hurling pitches in Meath, a labor of love if ever there was one.

Ben Tansey always looked after me. He made sure I was brought back to the team hotel for the roast beef afterwards; he even made sure I had some idea of what I was talking about when it came to writing the reports for the following Wednesday’s paper.

I thought long and hard about Ben and remembered him fondly when I heard of his death a few weeks ago.

And I thought of him again on Sunday when news came through that Dublin’s hurling team had qualified for the National Hurling League final for the first time since 1946 thanks to their win in Cork.

Dublin were Meath’s big rivals in hurling as well as football back in the 1980s when Ben was in his prime.

The games between the pair of them in Trim and in Parnell Park were always something special for Ben, for Frank and for the youngsters like John Andrews who grew up under their guidance.

Meath hurling hasn’t really progressed since the 1980s. To be honest about it, the county team are down in the lower reaches of the National League and nowhere near the level of the Dubs they once used as a yardstick for progress.

Dublin, though, are a different story entirely. With Clare legend Anthony Daly at the helm, they have turned potential into real progress as their presence in the league final at Croke Park on Sunday, May 1 serves to prove.

They will face a major test of their ambition and their ability in that decider when they come up against

Kilkenny of all people in the showpiece, a Kilkenny team with a point to prove after their championship defeat to Tipp in the final game of last summer.

Dublin probably won’t win the game, but the fact they are playing in a league final is proof positive that they have come a long way from visits to Trim in the early 1980s.

Knowing Ben Tansey as the gentleman he was, I doubt he will begrudge them their new found success. If he was alive today, he would probably wish them well.
All true sports fans should do likewise.

Sideline Views
SOCCER: The very well paid Marco Tardelli was in Dublin on Friday to tell us all how much he wants to stay on with the Irish team whenever Giovanni Trapattoni calls it a day. Pity then that Marco didn’t bother to stay around for the Dublin derby on Friday night when Bohs drew with Rovers in an action packed game at Dalymount Park. Like Trapattoni, Tardelli should be left sweating on his future until we know Ireland’s fate in the European Championships. If we qualify they should be kept on. If we don’t, it has to be arrividerci to our Italians. Simple as that.

GOLF: Rory McIlroy has been photographed in the Irish papers of late with everything from a bowling ball to his former/current girlfriend Holly to his two pet dogs at his side. That’s what happens when you hit the headlines worldwide as Rory has done of late, but the one photo we all want to see is Rory with a Major trophy sitting beside him. Maybe the British Open in July will work the oracle for the wee man.

GOLF: I’ve just been reliably informed by Leo Varadker, Ireland’s new minister for sport who doesn’t actually play any sport, that the Solheim Cup -- the Ryder Cup for women if you like -- is now less than 150 days away. It’s being staged in September at Killeen Castle which is just across the road from my house in Meath, so if you fancy a cup of tea beforehand, give me a shout!

HURLING: There was a great quote from the former Wexford hurler Tom Dempsey when his county team somehow avoided relegation from Division One of the NHL, thanks to a thrilling draw with Tipperary in Semple Stadium on Sunday. “We’ll break out the cans,” Dempsey told RTE after the result guaranteed that great escape. I’ll bet they did indeed break out the cans of beer down in Wexford after that let-off. 

RUGBY: Alan Quinlan is to retire from professional rugby at the end of the season, and his storming presence at the back of the pack will be missed by Munster. What’s incredible is that he will quit the game he loves so well with less than 30 international appearances for his country. There were clearly times when an Ireland cap just didn’t fit in with Quinlan’s abrasive nature. More’s the pity.

SOCCER: A wall in the Manchester United dressingroom at Wembley was kicked in after their FA Cup semifinal defeat toarch rivals Manchester City on Saturday afternoon. The English media believe it was one of the United coaching staff who damaged the wall with a furious reaction to the end of their treble dream. It certainly wasn’t a United player -- they couldn’t hit a target all day!

SOCCER: Paddy Kenny, Ian Harte and Wes Hoolohan were the only Irishmen honored by their Professional Footballer’s Association peers at their annual awards on Sunday night, yet none of the three are anywhere near the Ireland squad. Strange that -- or proof that Trap isn’t doing his research?

GAA: The Tyrone County Board are to investigate the horrific injuries picked up by Joe McMahon in a club game last weekend. Quite right too after McMahon had his jaw broken and lost several teeth. Little wonder then that the incident was off the ball.
HANDBALL: Cavan’s Paul Brady won his eighth consecutive national senior singles title on Sunday, a new record. In any other sport, he’d be a national hero at this stage and a regular on the Late Late Show.

JON Walters is what you might call a late developer. The 27-year-old Stoke City striker only won his first senior cap for Ireland in the November friendly against Norway, and on Sunday hit the headlines across the Irish Sea with two goals as his team hammered Bolton 5-0 in the FA Cup semifinal. Walters was a bit of a journeyman before he quit Ipswich for Stoke last season, but now he’s making the most of his second chance. Don’t bet against him becoming a regular for Ireland and a real alternative to Robbie Keane. Of all the recent contenders, he looks the best.

PAUL McCloskey is up in arms over his defeat at the hands of England’s Amir Khan in their world light-welterweight title fight in Manchester on Saturday night, and rightly so. The easiest term in boxing is to say your man was cheated, but McCloskey was cheated by the decision of the referee and the doctor that he couldn’t find thanks to a cut sustained in a clash of heads. The cut was never bad enough to stop the fight -- the two officials really should have known better. So should Khan, who is doing his best not to give the Dungiven man a rematch.