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Best of 2012: Legends Series

Friday, December 28, 2012

Take a trip down memory lane with some of the giants of Gaelic Games, who relived some of the defining moments of their careers in GAA.ie series 'Legends' this summer.    

OISÍN MCCONVILLE

The Armagh legend returns to the 2003 All-Ireland semi-final against Kerry, when he stepped up to take a penalty having missed one in the previous year's All-Ireland final. 

After I missed the penalty in the first half in the 2002 final, my thoughts were all a bit of a mess but the one person I really thought of was Bill McCorry (who missed a penalty for Armagh in the 1953 All-Ireland final defeat to Kerry).
He was buried the year before and the priest mentioned that he had missed the penalty at his funeral.

He was remembered for that, no doubt about it. I remember my mother coming home from his funeral saying "that poor man, the priest mentioned that he missed that penalty". So in that moment, your mind flashes very quickly. I thought of Bill McCorry, of my family, and it's something you don't want to happen to you. You do go into the poor me thing. For the next couple of minutes you do get bogged down with the 'why me' stuff. But I was lucky. If it had have been the second half, I probably would have been taken off and that would have been the end of it. But I had half-time to refocus myself to get out in the second half and try and fix it.

The one thing when I'm coaching players now is to tell them 'count to one'. And some of them go "count to one? What are you on about?" But if you count to one, you do have that wee bit of space and that wee bit of time. I was coached that at a very early age. When you're a forward, count to one. So I remember going in when we created the chance for the goal in the second half. I looked at the goal and said "One". O'Keeffe (Kerry goalkeeper Declan O'Keeffe) made a move, and I put it near post, where I was going to put it anyway.

When I scored, I didn't know what to do. When I came back around from behind the goal, I was still sort of celebrating and going to myself "Yes!" John McEntee goes to me "We're still a point down - get your head back in the game." That gets you back into the game again. I think I won the next couple of balls, and you're on a high then and you think you can do anything.

GEORGE O'CONNOR

After a 16-year wait, Wexford's George O'Connor thinks back to the moment when he finally fulfilled his lifelong ambition of winning an All-Ireland title.  

When the final whistle went, there was no relief. That didn’t come into it. It was like your whole life’s ambition was in one flash. The dream that you had and the journey that you started from many years ago was complete. It’s a bit like crossing the Sahara Desert with no water. You got across the desert and made it to the other side.

I thought about the people who had backed me all my life, from when you were a little chap at seven years of age going to your first All-Ireland on a train. That was the only time there was colour in the paper, when the two teams were on the back of the Sunday Press. The dream I had was realised, but I was very calm. Extremely calm.

You go back to your roots and your values that you were brought up with. One of the major values that I was brought up with was my faith. The church played a huge part in many people’s lives back then. The GAA was part of your local community but so was the church. That’s the way it was.

It was like the experience Arnie Schwarzenegger had in that film Total Recall. The strongest recollection was of my mother and father. My mother is a great believer. She’s still alive. She’s 92. She believes nothing is an issue and there’s nothing we can’t get over. She was so positive. She created a positive world and the belief in me to always keep going.

There’s an emotional, a physical and a mental part of a person. There are other aspects of a person as well. They all must be addressed in order for a person to be complete. Without that there’s an aspect of your life that’s missing. It keeps you strong in the face of obstacles that are put in front of you. I went home and had to look in the mirror. I thought I might be able to get through my life without this happening. But I couldn’t.

All the parts I’ve already talked about were right before the game. But spiritually I had to be right. What is a player prepared to do to win a game? This was the first and the last chance I was going to get to play in an All-Ireland final. I asked myself what would happen if I put my head in the wrong place and something tragic happened. I got ready spiritually for whatever happens after life. I had gone to confession and I went to communion. For the laugh, I said, “By Jesus, I’ll go into the chemist and get a wormer and clean myself out as well.”

I said to myself, “God help the poor divil that has to mark me because he doesn’t know that I am prepared to do anything to win this match.” There were all sorts of thoughts going through my head. Where would I like to die?

“Jesus, Croke Park would be some place to end it all.” Never in a nursing home, where someone might pull a plug out of poor old George’s head, with dribble coming out of my mouth. I didn’t want that. These crazy things were all flashing in my head. This was my one and only chance. This was the first, the only, the last.

LIAM HAYES 

Meath midfielder Liam Hayes relives some of the training sessions under their legendary manager Seán Boylan, and his special relationship with the Dunboyne man.    

Something that was recurring in our relationship with Seán was that there were occasions repeatedly where he would surprise us, and challenge us to be aware of things. We would spend a lot of time on the Hill of Tara. We spent many nights training on the Hill of Tara, running around with lamps and cars to light up the hills, and that was for a reason. It was the place of the High Kings of Ireland and he wanted us to be at that height, training at that height, training in a sacred place.

When you do that, you remember it. But equally so, we would spend so much time in the sea. On the beach. We would train on the beach, and very much like you see in some of the old movies, like in Chariots of Fire, where you see in the old days, there was a purity to how people trained. People would train on the beach and they would train on the sand, but Seán would do more than that.

He would bring us into the sea and we would spend time in the sea. We would walk up to our waists in the water. We would stand in the water. Seán was a real believer in terms of the elements all around you. In terms of the power of the sea. How it can restore you, and how it can help you recover from injuries and leg injuries. So he was a big believer in that.

When we trained in Dalgan Park, there would be evenings when Seán would tell us to breath in the air in Dalgan Park. Now Dalgan Park is only four or five miles from Navan, from Páirc Tailteann, but when we trained in Dalgan Park, Seán would tell us to fill our lungs and to breath in the air. He would ask us: "Do you smell that, do you feel that air, do you feel better from breathing that in?"

And when you've got someone challenging you to breath in special air, and to spend time in the sea and the water, then you're doing things that a lot of sportsmen aren't afforded. You're challenged to be aware of other things and to feel that maybe you are benefitting from other things that other footballers and hurlers aren't benefitting from. And that of course makes you think that you are special and that you can do better things. But Seán would bring us to those places, and do those things with us all the time.

MARTIN MCHUGH

Donegal's Martin McHugh reflects on the moments after the final whistle went in the 1992 All-Ireland final, and his attempts to get the prized match ball off referee Tommy Sugrue. 

I do recall the moments when the whistle went very clearly. You see, I was so confident that we were going to win, that I had made up my mind that I was going to get the ball at the end of the game.

People might say that's cockiness, I don't know what it is, but I kept running around after Tommy Sugrue. I was marking Tommy Sugure at the end of the game and I was saying "Come on Tommy, blow it up", "Come on Tommy boy, time's up hey" and in the end I got the ball.

But he wanted to keep the ball. The referee that time kept the ball in the All-Ireland final, but I held on and that was the tightest battle I had! Trying to hold the ball off him. But the crowd came out onto the field and the first person actually to come out to me was Patrice, my wife. And my father, who passed away in October there, Dad, he came on with Patrice, and there had been stewarts there trying to stop her. So Daddy said to the steward "You're not going to stop her" and that was it.

But I kept the ball anyway. I even had it up with me when we went up to collect the cup and everything else. And I still have it in the house. I got all the lads to sign it and all. It's there with the jersey and the togs.

But it's wild funny. You know the way there'd be different balls played with in a game? Well, there was a different ball from that final auctioned one time. But I have the ball that we finished the game with anyway.

JAMESIE O'CONNOR

Clare's Jamesie O'Connor reveals some of manager Ger Loughnane's unique motivational techniques during the Banner County's glory years in the mid-1990s.    

Loughnane was a psychologist in his own right and we would have had training matches where the ball would have been thrown in and after that it would have been as hot and heavy as anything Kilkenny are doing down in Nowlan Park at the moment. You had to learn how to survive in that environment.

He knew what buttons to press. I remember Brian Lohan coming out with a ball in training and a forward knocked him off balance with a shoulder and two or three forwards surrounding him, refusing to let him up. Next thing Loughnane was fumbling for his whistle to blow up for a free in for over-carrying. What was the net effect? He has Lohan going back into the edge of the square like a lunatic, ready to kill the next fella who came near him with the next ball. That was it.

I remember marking a guy called ‘Rusty’ Chaplin. ‘Rusty’ would have been earmarked to mark me. He was a great guy, but he was tough and honest and would hit hard and take no prisoners. If ‘Rusty’ won the first few ball, Loughnane would make a little comment, ‘Good man Rusty, you have him cleaned out’. What was it doing? It was driving me mad. I remember I scored five or six points after that purely to ram it down Loughnane’s throat. That was the response he wanted.

He knew exactly what buttons to press with different people. Baker, Frank Lohan, Seánie Mc, it didn’t matter who it was, he seemed to know how to find a way inside our heads and say the things that would get the best out of us. He treated different guys in different ways and that was all part of it.

You didn’t take it personally. It was all just good management. I remember I played well in the first game in ’95 against Cork, played well in the Munster final and played well against Galway in the All-Ireland semi-final. Before the All-Ireland final we were training one evening and I was beaten for the first two balls. Next thing he passed a comment, ‘Are you going to start hurling or are you going to laze about like you did in the first 20 minutes against Galway?’

I had been in a happy place with myself and was satisfied with how I was going. Suddenly you get this jolt of reality. Maybe in a way it was necessary. You can find yourself in a comfort zone or a place where you relax or soften up mentally. He just seemed to have this awareness of where our heads were at. My initial reaction was to grit my teeth and say, ‘Well, F you’. I think the great thing was we all had an ability to stand back and actually realise that this was for our benefit, however hard it seemed at the time.

LIAM MCHALE

Mayo midfielder Liam McHale relives the infamous moment when he was sent off in the 1996 All-Ireland final.   

When I got sent off, I couldn't believe it. I thought to myself, there's 20 guys at in, like in a brawl outside Supermacs. Twenty guys at it and he picks me and Colm Coyle. I just was in a state of shock, I could not believe it. Then I was sitting down, I drank some water, and I tried to gather myself together to try and help the boys out. I thought there's no point in me sitting there on the cooling box like a stuffed dummy.

There was a football match to be played and I had to try and be a positive influence at half-time in the dressing room and stuff like that. It's easy to sulk and feel sorry for yourself, and think only about yourself, but the game had to go on. In fairness, the lads were absolutely brilliant that day, in the game and in extra-time itself.

But obviously me getting sent off was a disaster. I firmly believe if they sent Jimmy McGuinness or John McDermott off with me, as in, if they had sent a Meath midfielder off with me, we probably would have won the game because we had to take off Ray Dempsey and get a midfielder in. I think they just brought Trevor Giles back to the half-back line. At that stage, we had only two subs left because it was only three subs at the time. And that game went to extra time. So that was a crucial blow for us.



I'd do the same thing if the game was tomorrow. You're one of the leaders on the team, a row breaks out. Fellas are getting haymakers, real punches in the head and stuff like that. If you're any sort of a man at all, you couldn't possibly stand up and watch that. You have to get in there. I remember John Casey had a lot of swelling around the side of his head. A good few of our lads were hurt after that game, there was some serious punches being thrown. There was nothing else I could do. I'd do the same again. You just have to go in there. I went in there to break it up, and once you get two or three haymakers to the face, you kind of say, I'm going to get hurt here if I don't start swinging. So that's exactly what happened.




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