Sean Malee is still delivering for Dunedin Connollys
By Cian O’Connell
On a wet night by the banks of the Camac days after the turn of the millennium, Sean Malee first flared to national prominence stitching a sweet goal as a teenager when Galway United dumped St Patrick’s Athletic out of the FAI Cup.
The code never really mattered to Malee, but on the way to that match Galway United’s bus broke down ensuring two old videos were given a spin on the recorder.
Braveheart and the splendid A Year ‘Til Sunday were aired with Michael Donnellan, who had recently joined Galway United at that time, ribbed by his new teammates.
One of those was Malee, who some years later played in the Allianz Football League for Mayo. Malee subsequently performed for his native Kiltimagh in the AIB All Ireland Intermediate Final in 2010, but this weekend the Mayoman is a player and joint manager for Dunedin Connollys.
It is the third year in a row that the Edinburgh based outfit contest an AIB All Ireland Junior Quarter-Final with Donegal’s Red Hughs providing the opposition this weekend. Sport still occupies a central role in Malee’s life.
“I'm just happy to be playing, I missed so many proper years injury wise,” Malee says. “I'm just glad to be able to still get on the field to play. I just love playing to be honest. I want to try to keep it going as long as I possibly can.
“From speaking with guys I used to play with every time they say to keep going as long as you possibly can because you will miss it so much when you leave. Once you leave it is harder to get back into it again.
“I just love playing, I love the camaraderie with guys, messing about, I like the hard slog, working hard in training, going out after games, the analysis and all that comes with the games.
“Sport definitely is what my life revolves around second to my family. It has always been Gaelic or soccer, whatever it has been, golf, basketball I'll watch whatever is on. That is basically it really.”
During his Kiltimagh days Malee caught the eye of a couple of Mayo managers, but injuries plagued his career. “I played a couple of National League games,” Malee recalls about wearing the green and red.
“I was in under John Maughan and John O'Mahony. I didn't do much with them at all to be honest, but I had chronic hamstring injuries at the time. I was in and out so I was getting frustrated, it was driving me insane really to be honest.
“Just as I was going right the hamstring would go again, that was bad times in terms of injury wise. It is a long time ago now and weirdly I feel I'm in much better shape than I was 10 or 12 years ago just from what I have learned workwise and training wise. I definitely am in better physical condition than I was back in those days at the tender age of 36.”
In Edinburgh, though, Malee has enjoyed a productive stint with the well regarded Dunedin Connollys, who continue to accumulate silverware. “This is my fourth year with the Connollys,” Malee states.
“I moved over the year prior to that, I was travelling over and back for a year with Kiltimagh. This is my fourth year with Connollys and it has been quite enjoyable. There is a really good community away from home.
“There is really good camaraderie, it is funny because we try to build a community and we do have an Irish community in Edinburgh. Everybody that is there wants to be there, it isn't because you have to be there because it is where you are from or where you are brought up. It is quite good. Fortunately I'm involved in the management side of things this year as well for no other reason than my age.
“Our manager from last year just stepped down due to work commitments, he couldn't give 100% so John Dolan, another guy playing, just stepped in to try to keep it going. We have managed to do that.
“Thankfully the lads have rowed in with us and we brought in two more guys to help with the coaching. It has been a patch up job in terms of management this year, but we aren't doing too bad.”
It is a particularly busy spell for Malee, a physio currently working in Inverness. “I work as a locum doing rehabilitation,” Malee explains.
“I had a stint down in London for four months and I'm back up in Inverness. I was in Edinburgh for eight months in the last year and a half so I do a lot of travelling.
“I'm based up in Inverness now again so I travel to Edinburgh, where we have a newborn child. We are based in Edinburgh, I work a four day week and get down the road on Thursday evenings so it isn't too bad. I have three nights away and four nights in Edinburgh.”
Dunedin Connollys are grateful to have Malee involved and how does the Kiltimagh native rate the standard of the game in Scotland? “It is very hard for us to assess it,” Malee admits.
“We are quite a decent standard, I would say we would be like an Intermediate standard in Mayo from watching a good few Kiltimagh games when I'm home.
“There are definitely teams there that I feel we could match up against. Obviously we wouldn't be anywhere near the top level of Intermediate in Mayo, but definitely a mid rank Mayo Intermediate team is what I would see us as. The problem with us is that it is quite hard for us to get games.
“That means it is hard for us to develop game on game. We ended up winning a couple of games this year by big scores.
“It is hard to get that real competitive edge, when we come back into an All Ireland series that competitive edge that we haven't got in all the games we played essentially seems to just get us. In saying that we did have a couple of very competitive games. The Scottish Final and the British final we were lucky to get over the line.”
That match against Neasden Gaels, prompted by Connaire Harrison, showcased Connolly’s craft and character.
“Neasden were the Intermediate champions in London, they were a good level, they had a couple of good lads from Down playing with them,” Malee acknowledges.
“Connaire Harrison, I think he was Down footballer of the year last year, so they had a good standard. We were lucky to get over the line, so that is hopefully going to stand to us for having a good crack at the quarter-final this year.
“Three years ago Dunedin hadn't won a British Championship for something like six years or so and the guys that were involved tried to make a big push really. We have built on it year on year, this is our third crack at it now. We definitely felt we left the quarter-final behind us last year.
“We didn't really play particularly well in that game. A couple of things went against us on the day so we are trying to get back to have a crack at it, to do ourselves a bit more justice really.”
Croke Park is the intended destination for every team remaining in the race, a fact Malee accepts. “That is the big dangling carrot for us all really,” Malee replies.
“We don't focus on it, we are definitely a game by game team, but that definitely is a big dangling carrot. You have lots of guys that wouldn't have played in Croker, any GAA player wants to play in Croke Park.
“To play a Club final there would be a massive day, it is a dangling carrot, we are three years trying to get there and this year we are hoping we can go that one step further than two years ago when we lost a semi-final to Rock.
“It is hard, last year we had home advantage in the quarter-final and this year it has changed. Going to Donegal is a big advantage to Red Hughs, but we have done it previously this year so hopefully we will have learned from that.
“We do have to travel most weekends for the games. Our final was in Manchester, so that was down the night before, stay in the hotel before playing the game the following day. We are used to travelling for games, but losing the home advantage is a big disadvantage for us.”
A challenge certainly, but on Saturday Dunedin Connollys travel into Belfast Airport armed with equal measures of hope and expectation. Malee is ready, willing, and able to keep the Connollys relevant.