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‘His abilities to catch and kick and run were superb’ - All Black Beauden Barrett’s GAA days

Beauden, Jordie and Scott spent 16 months living in Ballinacree, Co Meath, during their youth

Around Ballinacree they still remember when a flock of future All Blacks arrived, because at that time clumps of green and gold fertiliser-bag bunting continued to flutter steadfastly in north Meath.

This was Gaelic football country. Farming country. Rugby country? That was somewhere else. New Zealand, probably.

Meath won the All-Ireland SFC in September 1999. Not long after, Kevin and Robyn Barrett left their family farm close to New Plymouth on New Zealand’s north island to begin an adventure on the other side of the planet. They brought their six young kids along for the ride – Kane (nine), Beauden (eight), Scott (six), Blake (four), Jordie (who turned three shortly after arriving in Ireland) and baby Jenna (18 months).

Kevin had taken on responsibility to manage a dairy farm in Ireland and for 16 months Ballinacree would be their home.

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And though neither Sam Maguire nor the Barretts stayed in the county for long, the Barretts have certainly been back to Meath more often than Sam has over the years since.

Indeed, only a fortnight ago Blake arrived for a visit, dropping in at the local St Brigid’s GAA club grounds and later that evening going for a few drinks in Oldcastle, the nearest town. His sister, Jenna, had been over just a few weeks earlier.

“Our adult team was training one night and she came down, watched the training session and was chatting to a few people,” says St Brigid’s GAA club secretary Shane Gilsenan.

“About two years ago Kevin was over too and there was a bit of a get-together then as well.

“Right up to the present day, as recently as two weeks ago, the family have remained very much in contact with people in the area. They never forgot their time in Ballinacree and the people here never forgot them, either.”

“Shane went to school with the boys – Beauden was a year ahead of him while Scott was a year behind – but like many small rural schools, several classes shared the same room.

“For a small parish, to have a family like that moving in was a great boost for both the national school and the GAA club. Coming from a farming and sporting background, they integrated really well.”

The teaching staff at St Fiach’s National School is naturally much-changed since the Barrett kids attended, but the brothers have returned there at various times.

In fact, on a crisp December morning in 2012, Beauden performed the haka on the green in front of the school, with the local church and graveyard providing a quintessential rural Ireland backdrop.

Then when Scott arrived in 2018, he was greeted by the pupils performing the haka as Gaeilge.

Gerry Farrell joined the teaching staff in 2013 and remembers hearing about Beauden’s visit.

“My reaction was, ‘Beauden Barrett went to school here? How did that happen?’ It’s amazing, we are just a little country school,” says Farrell. “But it’s a connection the school is very proud of and it’s great the link continues to be maintained.”

When it came to sport in north Meath at the turn of the millennium, GAA was the only show in town. So, to the show the Barrett boys would go.

The arrival of the siblings initially provided a source of much curiosity and amusement. “They’d come to training and then they’d all take off their football boots,” recalls Shane.

“They didn’t like wearing the boots, so they’d be running around in their bare feet. Now, for anybody who has ever kicked a GAA ball – even in a pair of socks – it’s quite sore. But it didn’t faze them whatsoever.”

When it rained, as it inevitably would, the curiosity would instead become the ownership of the Barrett brothers, watching on in puzzled wonderment as those around them scampered for cover.

“They loved playing in the rain, absolutely loved it,” adds Shane. “We might have had our mothers telling us beforehand, ‘Don’t be out in the rain.’ So, if it started we’d try find shelter. But they wanted to stay out playing in the rain. In the best definition of the phrase, they were good, hardy kids.”

And they could play, too. Those who coached in the juvenile section at the time tell of boys with natural sporting agility, speed, strength, and excellent ball-handling abilities. There was also a tigerishness about them. They fitted in nicely.

But even then Beauden had something different about him. There was magic in his feet.

“You could really see Beauden had grasped the skills of GAA before leaving, his abilities to catch and kick and run were superb. His speed was incredible. Whatever sport he took on, you knew he was probably going to be a star.”

Of course, it wasn’t off the ground the children licked it. Kevin was a decorated rugby player in New Zealand, and while in Ireland he played in the secondrow for Buccaneers during the 2000-01 AIL season.

It wouldn’t have been uncommon for Kevin to arrive at Dubarry Park with a carload of kids who, while their dad was busy out on the field, would spend their time at the Athlone venue entangled in some form of never-ending rolling maul.

Kevin also tried his hand at Gaelic football, but his robust approach wasn’t always deemed to be, erm, in the spirit of the game.

There are mentors who recall referees trotting over to the sideline recommending in the strongest possible terms that they ‘take off the big New Zealand fellah before he gets sent off.’ But occasionally the big New Zealand fellah would beat the St Brigid’s coaches to the switch.

The Barrett family returned to New Zealand in 2001. After Kevin had hung up his boots following 167 appearances for Taranaki, the legend goes he was asked what he would now do with himself. To which Kevin replied, matter of factly, that he was ‘going to go breed some All Blacks’.

In 2017, Beauden, Scott and Jordie made history by becoming the first three siblings to play on the same All Blacks team.

Beauden made his debut against Ireland in 2012. Scott also picked up his first international cap against the country he briefly called home, when Ireland beat the All Blacks at Soldier Field in 2016. Jordie made his bow against Samoa in 2017.

Beauden (32) has now played 120 games for New Zealand, Scott (29) has 66 caps, while Jordie (26) has featured in 54 outings.

The Barrett-Ballinacree connection continues to flow both ways. When St Brigid’s arranged a fundraiser several years back, a signed All Blacks jersey was provided.

“And they’d look after anybody who went out to New Zealand, whether helping set them up with some accommodation or arranging agricultural work, or just inviting lads over for a BBQ or bringing them to a rugby match,” says Shane.

“Before they left Ballinacree, we all went over to say goodbye. For kids it was, ‘see you later,’ kind of a thing. But I remember for all the parents there it was quite emotional. It did leave a void in the community. They were very well liked.”

Beauden, Scott and Jordie Barrett have been named in the All Blacks team to face Ireland in Paris on Saturday night.

Three good, hardy kids.

Let’s hope it doesn’t rain.