Westmeath manager Joe Fortune with Robbie Greville after the Leinster SHC match against Wexford.

Nothing more focused than a fixated frog

I learned an amazing amount about an awful lot of stuff during my seven years as a pupil in Johnstown National School. It wasn’t only me; most of my fellow scholars of that era learned all they needed to know from that little two-room rural school.

Funnily enough, it isn’t the hard graft of learning the 3 Rs that stands out in my mind, but the lessons learned when Master Lawlor went off script and into a discussion, or told us a story. One such story which stuck with me was the story of a frog… two frogs, actually.

‘Two frogs fell into a crock of milk,’ the Master started. ‘Both quickly realised their perilous predicament. The earthenware crock had a sheer, smooth inside and no way were the frogs ever going to be able to climb out of the half-full container. One frog weighed up the situation and said to his mate; “we have no hope here; there is no escape, so what’s the point of making it worse by persecuting ourselves or even trying…”, and so that frog drifted slowly down to the bottom of the crock and drowned’.

‘The second frog didn’t see it like that at all. While he couldn’t yet see a way of saving himself, he was determined to keep swimming around the crock for as long as his strength held out. And what do you think happened?’ the master asked?

‘Someone was passing by and lifted him out,’ a classmate ventured. ‘No,’ stated An Maistir. ‘From the churning of the frog’s legs, as he swam round and round, the cream turned into butter, and the butter presented a launching pad for the frog, a mighty jumper, to spring over the edge of the crock and reach safety! Now, what lesson can we all learn from this story?’

I put my hand up – too quickly. ‘That the milk was thick with cream, Sir,’ I answered.

‘That’s right, Bernie – but not the most important lesson to be learned here.’

Another hand went up; it could have been Rosanne Kelleghan. ‘Please Sir, one of the frogs gave up and he died, but the other one kept trying until he saved himself.’ ‘Maith an cailìn, ceart go leor,’ and let you all remember what that frog teaches us. Keep trying and don’t give up,’ said the master.

I never forgot that frog and I like to think that he came to my aid over the years. We need that frog inside our heads.

‘You haven’t failed until you stop trying,’ is a well-worn adage, but one that is always worth repeating. Each of us experiences different challenges in our lifetimes; those trust upon us and the other ones some of us go looking for. I realised early on that there is no such thing as failure if you learn from the setback and allow the frog in you to take over.

One enterprise I undertook in the 1980s was turf-cutting. I purchased one of the first ‘Difco’ turf cutters, rented swaths of cutaway bog, and that first year I put 30 acres of ‘sausage’ turf out on the spread. At one point, I inadvertently strayed into bog belonging to another man who had recently purchased a farm with that section of bog attached. A neighbour rushed over to the new owner, Mick Curran, to inform him of the trespasser who was cutting turf on his newly acquired bog. The neighbour set about giving the newcomer to Westmeath my history, concluding with: “He gets stuck into everything, always choppin’ and changin’ – but stays at nothing,” said my synopsiser. The new owner, an unflappable Kerryman, made this reply to his informant. “From what you are telling me, I’d say that fella will get it right yet!” And he never came near me on the bog. Thanks Mick!

The frog teaches us perseverance. All forms of self-improvement require perseverance. Whether you are running a marathon or writing a book, it’s the frog in you that will lift you over that wall when you hit it.

Adversity and resilience are bedfellows when it comes to demonstrating perseverance and persistence. It might not be regarded as a matter of life or death (!) but surely the victory of Westmeath hurlers over Wexford has to rank up there as one of the great examples of the fighting frog within. Westmeath manager, Joe Fortune, with his team 16 points down at half time, tore up the tactics sheet and told his charges to go out and hurl – and rid themselves of ‘this embarrassment’.

The lads got tired of drifting to the bottom of the crock… and the rest is history: really history, because this was not one of the greatest comebacks in GAA history… it was THE greatest comeback in intercounty GAA history!

Westmeath has yet to play Antrim, as we file our column. This has the risk of tarnishing the Wexford story somewhat… hopefully not; because nothing can take from what went before – and I believe that the frog will still be in the belly next Sunday!

Don’t Forget

If you get up one time more than you fall, you will make it.