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'We didn't really perceive him as this famous person, he was just big Jack to us'

Former Galway player Alan Kerins on his family’s close links to Jack Charlton.

Jack Charlton pictured with the Kerins family
Jack Charlton pictured with the Kerins family
Image: Twitter - @alankerins

IN THE LATE ’80s, Jack Charlton was on a fishing trip in Galway for a few days and looking to base himself near the Kilcolgan river.

He enquired locally about accommodation and was pointed in the direction of the Castle View B&B in Clarinbridge. It wouldn’t be a one-time stay, the first of the recurring visits in the downtime from his role in guiding the Irish soccer team around the world and the start of a deep friendship with a family immersed in Galway GAA circles.

“I think he was in Moran’s Oyster Cottage there having a meal and he was asking where to stay,” recalls Alan Kerins, the former dual star with the county.

“I think they recommended that Dad would be very into fishing and had a B&B so he came and stayed. We became very close ever since. He’d come over with his buddies, four or five of them, and go fishing and they’d stay with us. Pat his wife and his children would come the odd time as well. Every summer in May for eight or nine years, he came.

“He bought a house in Ballina later for the fishing but he’d still come and stay with us for a night or two on the way or on the way back, ring ahead and say he’d pop in. My parents were actually over to see him two or three years ago in Newcastle. Even in recent years when he couldn’t travel as much and wouldn’t be over, they’d always keep in touch on the phone, regular chats.”

Monty and Anne Kerins would host the Irish soccer figurehead while his presence in the family home captured the imagination of the five children. Alan was the eldest with his brother Mark, another who featured in the Galway senior hurling ranks, and three sisters Anita, Elaine and Miriam.

The 1966 World Cup winner slipped easily into the rhythms of their family life during his trips.

“I would have gone to secondary school in 1990 in St Mary’s and I remember him definitely dropping me to primary school before then. Four of five of us in the back of the car going over with him. That’s how comfortable he was with us. We thought we were the bee’s knees. At that age you’re trying to impress all your buddies anyway. He was just a gent.

“We’d a beautiful river in the front of our house, right across our gate. We used to go fishing with Dad when we were young kids, there was a lot of fish in the river at that time. We’d catch brown trout before breakfast and cook it on the frying pan before school. Dad used to go fishing with him all the time, they’d have pints of Guinness and both loved the traditional music. He’d love the trad sessions we’d have in the house, he’d have a glass of whiskey. He became part of the family and he really loved the Irish way of life.”

It’s only in later years when reflecting that Alan can accurately gauge the impact of Charlton’s seismic feats with Irish teams on the international stage.

He remembers answering the home phone one day and it was Paul McGrath on the other end of the line looking to speak to Jack. His fame in the country began to register during the teenage years but in their sporting world it was hurling that had an elevated status.

And their English visitor took a keen interest in that.

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alan-kerins-celebrates-with-manager-michael-donoghue Alan Kerins celebrates Clarinbridge's 2011 All-Ireland club final success Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“He used to bring the girls to camogie matches. He’d puck around with us in the front garden or play soccer. He’d call them bats, he thought we were mad men playing hurling. He’d say, ‘I can’t believe you’re still playing that bat game’.

“The game fascinated him but he thought it was mad to play. In later years he also thought we were mad to be playing amateur with the level of sacrifice and training, he was amazed by that. He’d come from a professional soccer background all his life.

“But he was intrigued by it and would have followed the progress of me and Mark later with teams. Not a man for a lot of advice but he’d always give you a nugget or two here and there. In terms of enjoying it, expressing yourself, how much attitude and work rate mattered. It was nice to get that from him.”

Amidst the deluge of tributes and emotion since Charlton’s passing over the weekend at the age of 85, the Kerins family have had a renewed appreciation that they got to know the man on a personal level.

“Everyone knew Jack the manager and Jack the player, we knew him as Jack, just a really impressive individual. Anytime we brought over our cousins or friends to meet him, he just had so much time for everyone. He’d a massive presence but he was very witty, very warm. Kids pick up on that and we were all hanging off him, he was hugely generous with his time.

“I was 10 or 11 when he came first but we didn’t really perceive him as this famous person, he was just big Jack to us. It’s very sad but when you look back, it’s really a cause for celebration with his impact as a player, a manager and an individual on a society. A huge legacy to leave behind for one person.”

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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