Which manager made the biggest impact on you and why?
I had a few managers in my time, but very rarely was I really coached. Back then it was ‘get the ball to the player who can pass it and he gets it to the men that can score.’ I had a lot of time for the details and high standards that Malachy O’Rourke brought to Fermanagh. Peter Canavan was one man who coached me more than any other manager. He coached me in trying to find space, not looking for the magic pass, game management, how to deal with man-markers mentally as much as physically. Not that I always listened, is what they would probably say.
Another manager that I would have to mention would be John Joe Stewart. He was old school but his knowledge was very, very good. He brought a young bunch of Belcoo players to the club’s only senior title and doesn’t get the credit he deserves in our community. I had a manager at home 24/7 in my dad and although he never pressurised me he would always let me know what he thought I could do to improve. He drove the length and breadth of the country with me. Collecting after a soccer game in Dungannon with the Belcoo kit so I could change in the back of the car to play a championship match that night in Kinawley! He would have me well prepared for both the physical and verbal battles that would ensue most Belcoo games. He always tried to keep me focused on hurting the opposition on the scoreboard. Sometimes the two of us would find it hard to control it at all times and there was once or twice he was seen hurdling fences around a few pitches in Fermanagh.
What was the best piece of advice you ever received about playing?
My father (Hugh) was a massive influence when I was playing. He was my biggest fan but I also knew when I didn’t play well or I was getting ahead of myself. He would always say “don’t be afraid to make mistakes as long as you learn from them, go and play in the right areas” and “if you don’t shoot you don’t score”. Plus the best of the lot: “lesser said is easier cured”. I am yet to really take note of the last one but I am working on it!
What was the best thing about playing in your era?
‘My era’ – does that mean I am well past it as I had hoped to play a handy Ryan McCluskey or James McMahon role for Belcoo next year. The game has developed massively over the last 10/15 years and I really enjoyed my time when playing as it was primarily down to individual ability and skill much more so than strategy, tactics and physical attributes. The challenge was usually ‘I am playing no 11 and I am confident that I can get the better of my man and provide scores and take scores.’
Cavan nearly retired me from the game and I am blaming Anthony Forde for it! They absolutely swarmed me every time I had possession in the two championship games in 2012. I really enjoyed the more open game when it was 1 v 1 or as time went on the sweeper was usually incorporated. However, with the game developing so much, teams had to develop to compete with top tier teams which brought about a more strategical approach and the lesser counties and clubs teams had to try and set up to combat superior teams or just be happy being serial losers.
Also, the relationships that you make and keep throughout life are what GAA is all about. These are relationships with lads that you have battled with over the years and many times they would have left marks on you as you would have with them. It was all part of the game, no real drama if a tackle was made or if something was said or done in a game. Nowadays with social media and a lot of keyboard warriors everyone is an expert and people feel free to lambast every move by every man woman or child. I enjoy social media as much as anyone else but there is a limit to what should be tolerated in my opinion. Let’s put it this way, society may not have been as soft as it is today in my opinion.
What was the worst thing about playing your era?
I enjoyed everything it provided but if I had one complaint in comparison to nowadays it is the pitches and facilities. We played on pitches that you could barely see your boots there was that much muck. Drains with stones through them were a good sign as at least they were the dry patches. Nowadays players are complaining about the 4G being hard on the joints (which they are) however if used correctly they are top class facilities for players to avail of.
Also in my era Fermanagh never really thought of themselves as dining at the top table. They had ample amount of good players however we never had facilities or leadership that said we are going to start making major improvements. Did I have the desire or hunger to train in Lissan with poor lighting and pitches and maybe a different manager every two years? No I didn’t, and is that a weakness from my part? Maybe so. However, my journey offered me another avenue with teams that said we are going to compete for league titles, cup titles, that’s were going to invest in me and give me the best opportunity I can to maximise my ability – albeit in a different code. No doubt a lot of people will disagree with me on this and they are entitled to their opinions, but the opinions I value in GAA in Fermanagh are few and far between.
When did you know it was time to call it quits?
I still have boots in the house but my wife Claire has tried to throw them out on numerous occasions. I would have played this year for the club however I didn’t get the balance right with training the team and managing so that’s something if I can master next year. I may play a bit in the sweeper role!
County football was something that really came to an end in 2012 when Peter Canavan stepped away from Fermanagh. This was the first real time I felt we were going in the right direction with the right management and structures in place. We had been promoted from Division Four the previous year missed out on consecutive promotions by final day defeat to Meath in a match we should have won. This league had a resurgent Cavan, Meath and Monaghan who won an Ulster title the same year. Hands up we underachieved in the championship as a great victory over Division One Westmeath was in between two tough defeats to Cavan (I still cannot forgive my friend Anthony Forde). However, there was good progress, a good blend of older and younger players coming to the fore with the strength work really starting to develop us into some sort of a county team.
There were a few things that management were not happy with and they stepped away. I looked at it and thought if the county board cannot support what this group is trying to do and maybe what they wanted in future is there much point me dedicating my next few five years to this? In between managers the other code called I went and played and never got the call from the new management set-up so that was the end for me. I look back on that with slight disappointment as I was ready and willing to commit to the GAA and think I could have added something to the team. Was I not worth a phone-call? Seemingly not, but it seemed to fall back into turmoil once again.
What interesting or funny story may readers not know about you or one of your former teammates?
There would be many but I could have a libel case on my hands! The best story that can be shared would be about the time we had a training camp in Fota Island, Cork (funded by players fundraising before anyone starts arguing again! and there was a golf facility amongst other fantastic facilities onsite. Che and Lee Cullen had come into the squad and to say the two Daves were innocent would be an understatement!
Che came down one morning and was panicking as he thought he had some bowel issues as there was purple colouring arising. I asked him did you eat the salad last night and much beetroot? “aye the purple stuff, jaysus I did it was lovely”. That was the end of that and we had to cancel the doctor and a possible colonoscopy! But on this trip the lads that could golf played nine holes but those that didn’t could go to the driving range. So off went the two Daves (Che and Lee) to get the lesson at the driving range.
Lee and Che were hitting balls all over the place and the instructor came out to Che and said “you need to follow through when hitting the ball, follow through”. Che, a clever man (educationally), says “no problem, no problem”, swings the club back and forward clipping the ball about five yards but at the same time brings his right foot right through as if he was kicking a ball 50 yards up the pitch. The instructor, bent over laughing, runs back into the studio hoping and praying that it was caught on camera. Luckily for Che it wasn’t.