A Welcome on the Matt
We are fortunate at St Marys, that we often have good and important things to celebrate. On last Thursday 6th December 2007 we had a quiet, but one of the most important and enjoyable celebrations for one of our greatest ever members.
Some of you may be aware that, for many years now, Paddy Bolger (the Father of the House) has been organising monthly lunches for the more indolent past presidents of St Mary’s College RFC, usually at Gleesons of Booterstown. Once a year, before Christmas, the lunch becomes a “drinch “(a dinner/lunch) at the club. So it was last Thursday and all of the 25 attending (24 Past and the current president Frank Kennedy, as guest), except one, knew something special was to happen, so when the meal was over, Matt Gilsenan got a stunning surprise when Paddy Bolger, at the invitation of Matt Jones who introduced him, gave a little profile history of Matt the Marys man. Paddy, now reaching nice maturity, remarkably without notes, reminded us of some of the things Matt did over many years.
The club was re-instated as a senior club in 1941 and just seven years later, young Matt Gilsenan joined the club, straight from the school. He very soon made his mark through his intense enthusiasm and love for the club, which he still manifestly carries, and his rugby ability, he captained the 3As (J3s to you) in the season 1948-49 and his record cannot be bettered, as he led his team through the entire season unbeaten and won the newly created Moran cup in brilliant style. He later captained the club and brought his team on the first ever overseas tour by the club to Italy. It turned out to be tough but successful. Sadly Matt was injured and had to give up playing. Well the playing side’s loss was the administrative side’s gain for he was to go on to fill every role in that sphere, with distinction, including presidency from 1975 to 1977. He also turned to refereeing and refereed with great acumen at all levels to interprovincial for many years.
From an early stage he had an interest in club history and memorabilia, keeping photos, club membership cards, programmes etc and fortunately for the club became and is still the archivist. All the photos seen on the walls (most taken over decades, by the dedicated and talented Jim Maguire, now John Pyne is the snapper) were arranged and kept by Matt and recently he has had all of these and the club records put on disc for posterity.
He was, with other great Marys’ men (Paddy himself to the fore), Bill Fagan, Paddy Fearon, the late John O’Donoghue and Joe Fanagan involved in the important developmental moves which ensured the healthy progress and status of the club. Firstly, in 1955 when we moved from rented Kimmage Grove to much loved College Drive (Fortfield Road) and later to Templeville Road. He was also intimately involved in the superb development of the nineties and again closely scrutinised the exciting addition of gym facilities etc.
It will be recalled that recently Matt was seriously ill (now thankfully fully recovered) and after that illness he decided to step down from his role as trustee, which he had fulfilled with assiduous care for 52 years (no it is not a misprint it was 52 years). It is impossible to see anyone ever repeating that. He had been appointed to this highest post with the great fathers of the club including Paddy Branagan, Charlie Wilson and Jimmy Ganter, when he was in his early twenties, which shows the respect in which he was held at even that early stage.
Through the dissertation by Paddy, of course Matt was acutely mortified, but did respond and thanked Paddy, he said how most of all he could not have done any of the things he did without the strong support and active encouragement of his wonderful wife Breda. He also said that the things he did, he did with great love of the club and it was an honour for him to do them.
We were treated to a, now sadly rare, glimpse of Liam Birkett’s wry wit when he said a few words (a few of Liam’s words are enough) and then he and Matt Jones brought in an impressive reclining chair, which they had organised and purchased, it was presented to Matt ( he hopes it is for his reclining not declining years). The evening was very well organised by Brian (Spike) Fanning and enjoyed by all.
It is not really possible to quantify or value highly enough the work that Matt has done in every role, as a quiet effective ambassador for the club and a revered figure of personification of our club. It is worth noting that all extant past presidents, except for those living abroad or indisposed, were in attendance for this lovely night, when his peers paid due respect to a true hero of St Marys.