Picture it: Saint Stephen’s Day last, at a windswept, damp rugby pitch in Tybroughney, Carrick-on-Suir. There’s a group of very enthusiastic and all too punctual folks in varied qualities of costume waiting to deploy some fancy dress rugger footwork.
December 26th has long been a day for the surrealists down Tybroughney way. Some travel there annually, complete with the wry suggestion that it’s the only time of year you get to see a bit of rugby played at the border-straddling venue. Smart arses.
Standing at the gate, waiting to collect monies from the for-the-day Roman centurions/Priests/Superheroes, as he’d done for many years, was Carrick RFC’s President, the one and only Johnny Drohan.
Over the years, Johnny donned mobster’s garb and cowboy gear for the day in question. Such work on the Feast of Stephen, like all the other responsibilities he assumed as a club committee member, was embraced with a nod, wink and smile.
Johnny wore that smile more frequently than even the colours of the club he loved and served so well for so many years. And that’s saying something.
When news broke that Johnny had passed away on March 16th, the shock felt throughout Carrick-on-Suir, South Kilkenny and beyond, was palpable.
One memory of Johnny Drohan sprung to mind within minutes of learning of his passing. It was a cold, cold night in Thomond Park a few winters ago, and the club had decided run a bus to one of Munster’s European Cup fixtures.
Like many a soul that’s wandered up the road to Shannonside for an evening of high-spirited antics on and off the field, our transport stopped en route at Chaser Fitzgeralds in the hamlet of Pallasgreen for grub, as well as the first pints of the day.
First? Well, that’s not entirely true. A few jars would have been downed by the all too punctual types back in the Comeragh on Carrick’s Main Street, where the first aridly witty comments of the day were shared.
And in the middle of it all, as he always liked to be, was Johnny, sometimes leading the good-humoured debate; on other occasions, just happy to sit back and enjoy the banter.
The raconteurs of Carrick-on-Suir are by no means the exclusive domain of the town’s musical and drama groups, let me tell you. If one could recall every sage anecdote sourced from the confines of the Comeragh gents’ facilities, what an opus the reading world could avail of.
With constitutions ranging between hale, hearty and destined to be hungover, our motley group disembarked from another of those typically eventful all-male bus journeys and arrived at the cathedral of the provincial game.
Having decided to abandon the press box for the night and actually do some singing and chanting for a change, I took my place in the South Terrace backing onto the Cratloe Road.
Alongside me, resembling a decorated military man was Johnny, decked out in the many badges he’d swapped with fellow rugby fans over the years.
The biting wind hurling its way around the grand old ground (not that we can say that any more) left the heaving crowd on the terrace even more tightly packed than usual.
To say it was brass monkey stuff does the night in question a disservice – it was brass yeti weather. Even John Hayes’s teeth could be heard chattering before crouching for a scrum.
Sensing that a few of their younger, less hardy clubmen were about to go blue, Johnny and a fellow, equally experienced matchgoer, duly produced their hipflasks, the American Express card of the seasoned rugby man.
“Here, here get that into you,” said Johnny in that distinctively gravelly tone of his, the glint in his eye as strong as the floodlights craning over the hallowed turf below. “That won’t be long warming you up.”
By God, he wasn’t wrong, as the mature nectar hit the spot quicker than Ronan O’Gara could find the touchline. I’d swear I felt my toe hairs thickening after a few swigs. Throughout the match, just as he did during the games that many a Carrick XV has played across the fields of South Tipperary, Waterford, East Cork and Limerick, Johnny dispensed a few pearls of wisdom.
Never one to bark or carp, Johnny made his points both simply and well. And even when he had a stern point to make, that smile he’d perfected wearing was never too far away. Johnny Drohan sums up everything that’s good about sport and, more importantly, friendship.
The laughs shared during club meetings and other functions dovetailed with a hard work ethic and his hopes of seeing Carrick-on-Suir RFC improve in every way.
Local rugby has lost a wonderful foot solider, while the community he was so much a part of has lost a tremendous human being. That he’ll be missed by many constitutes the most obvious thing I’ve ever committed to print.