Boylan's Meath and Greet Gaelic football legend Sean Boylan and wife Tina open up about shock cancer diagnosis
MEATH Gaelic football legend Sean Boylan and his wife Tina have revealed the shock they felt when a consultant sat them down and told them the former manager had cancer.
"I went for an annual check-up on a knee injury," recalls Sean, of the news he received in 2008. "A few days before my appointment was due, I pulled a muscle.
"So, I rang the consultant...he decided he'd have a scan and for the first time in 16 years Tina came with me."
"He sat us down and said 'look I think we have a problem, we think you have a tumour'."
He added: "It was a huge shock."
Tina agrees that it hit them like a thunderbolt.
"Probably the biggest fright I got in our marriage was when Sean was diagnosed with a tumour in 2008," she recalls.
"I was extremely upset at the time, because I had an awful fear maybe Sean was going to die, it was a very, very, very difficult time."
The four-time winning All-Ireland manager reveals in the upcoming RTE documentary 'Sean' - which is about his life - that he struggled with the diagnosis.
"I still wanted to be around for as long as I could, with the best quality of life that I could have and make things as good or as right for my family - but maybe it was a way of teaching me a little bit more as well," he reflects.
"It can be frightening in one way and it changed my whole life. I was short, I was snappy."
His muscles started to waste and he went into a dark place, which took him a long time to come out of.
"I would never have handled it without Tina, she was just amazing and yet it was the only realisation afterwards, it was like a delayed shock hit me, when everything was over and I had made this extraordinary recovery and this extraordinary flexibility and movement again, I had nothing left in the world mentally," he recalls.
Sean grew up on the family farm near Dunboyne, Co. Meath, and inherited his dad's expertise at being a herbalist. - so much so that he gave up agriculture college and specialised in it, with queues of people seeking treatments for ailments ranging from arthritis to tuberculosis.
The 70-year-old also toyed with becoming a priest and even a monk when he was a teenager and in his 20s.
"The only thing I secretly wanted to be at that stage was a priest," he discloses. "I knew at the end of the day this is the road I'm going to go. From day one I loved the writings, I loved the chant, the vespers and so on."
He adds: "Even in the height of all the sport, I would always love to get away from it. And there as a solace I found, because at the back of it all I still wanted to be a Cistercian monk ."
However, Sean believed his success in treating a patient in the North showed him that God wanted him to continue his work as a herbalist rather than join an order.
"This person wasn't supposed to live. Between the doctor and what we did, that person turned the corner this particular Sunday morning and I called into the monastery and I went in and whatever happened that day I realised, yes I needed God - but I needed God in the world and I was content."
It was then Tina came into his life.
"Within a year, I had met Tina," he muses. "I never thought I'd get married, I never thought anybody would have me. I would not have had a high opinion of myself. One night I came home and she had come in here.
"We were chatting all night. She just said she had planned on emigration for Australia and she didn't know what to think about it.
"I don't know what I said to her, 'maybe don't go'. She said 'what do you mean?'. 'Maybe stay here with me?'. 'Are you asking me to marry you?'. I said 'think about it'. 'Alright she said'. I would have to say I was really nervous about getting married."
Although he was an all-round sportsman, Sean was known as a hurler in Co. Meath so it surprised him and others when he got a call offering him the Meath football job in 1982. The move worked and he would go on to win the All-Ireland in 1987, 1988, 1996 and 2001. His training routines were unorthodox - they included practice sessions running on the dunes at Bettystown and then jumping into the open sea, scaling the Hill of Tara on regular jogs and swimming for days on end in Gormanstown college pool.
He also brought the squad and their partners on a long weekend bonding session to Scotland just before the fourth of the famous matches against Dublin in 1991.
"It was definitely the biggest drinking session I was ever involved in, the craic was fantastic on the Friday night," Colm O'Rourke remembers. "We went out the next day and tried to train and we weren't really able to train very well. But we came back on Sunday totally refreshed."
Many other players like Bernard Mick Lyons, Gerry McEntee, Trevor Giles and Graham Geraghty, describe Boylan as a "father figure" who changed Meath GAA immeasurably before being axed after 23 years in the job in 2005.
"The most emotional thing that ever happened me in 1996 when we got back as far as Kepak (factory, where 10,000 fans waited for the victorious team) and this young squad had won the All Ireland, and I just broke down and I cried and I cried and I cried," Boylan reveals.
Sean is on RTE1 this Thursday at 10.10pm.