Getting on with in a new world
Trevor Giles has seen it all for club and county and he's not done yet, writes Dermot Crowe
B LUE flags are flapping in the otherwise unflappable idyll of Skryne, home, fittingly, to the king of laid-back tranquillity himself, Trevor Giles.
He has lived here all of his 35 years, his parents are over the road, and the physiotherapy clinic he runs is on the same site as the large house he shares with his wife and two young children. Like the club he still plays for, it is an anchor for life.
On the football field Giles set his own co-ordinates, a benign dictator governing matches with gentle strokes of persuasion. Home life observes the same unstrained and natural harmonies. Football isn't centre of his universe any more but it remains a relevant thread. He continues to don the blue of Skryne, heading towards his 36th birthday, the same trusted fulcrum of the attack and the oldest surviving member of the team that won a championship in 1992 after a 27-year-lapse.
That long-awaited triumph landed a first county medal for Colm O'Rourke after many years trying, and back then Giles was a 17-year-old novice; now he is at the other end of the line. This year's county medal marked his fifth and the first since 2004, his last summer to play championship football for his county. He didn't surrender his Meath shirt until the end of an injury-frustrated 2005, when a dislocated shoulder ruled him out of any participation and hastened the end. His 47 championship appearances for the Royals were consecutive. He had had enough and carries no regrets.
Today Giles will be striving to get his club into a Leinster final when they take on Rhode. "I think it's my 19th year playing with the club, you have won all the things in the game you probably wanted to win, and you are just playing now for enjoyment," he explains. "With the physio (business) and the kids it's a great break to get down to the pitch for an hour or two. You know, the players now, they are all on Facebook and it's a different world."
He thinks of the pre-Facebook characters from his earlier days like O'Rourke, Liam Hayes and John McDermott and he could be forgiven feeling part of a lost generation. But the same magic applies. The way those young players reacted to winning a thrilling county final against Seneschalstown, with a comic-book-hero conclusion courtesy of Paddy O'Rourke's winning 45, proved to him that they regard the honour as highly as those who went before.
"Like, you are playing with fellas who were kids when I began playing senior with Skryne. Patrick O'Rourke, I remember, he was five or six and he'd be kicking balls back from behind the goals when we were training. And you'd see the lads playing in primary school matches. So it's very enjoyable playing with them."
And, naturally, it is very enjoyable when you are winning. Since claiming the 2004 county title, the squad has been in a state of change. John McDermott retired, having missed the Leinster final defeat by Portlaoise with a viral infection, and younger players needed to be introduced. Mick O'Dowd, Giles' close friend, was player-manager; then Giles took them for a year. It was tough going and he was happy to make way for Liam Harnan, who has been there for the last two seasons. "I played better in the last two years than the year I was manager. Management -- I certainly enjoyed it but you do find out that everybody won't be happy with you. You learn that pretty quickly. If you are playing with fellas, you can't really criticise them a lot in your role as manager. It's a difficult position."
What did you learn? "You can do all the things in the world to enhance team spirit and bonding, and we had a weekend away in Mayo, and we did some things on the Hill in Tara, training sessions, and the night before championship matches we went to different players' houses and the wife made, you know, tea and scones and apple tarts and things to try and bring the group together. But when the year wasn't successful some went their own way."
Why? "'Cos they weren't maybe playing or getting enough of a run. I suppose I learned really that fellas are kind of in the game for themselves primarily, which is fair enough; they are putting the time in and sacrificing other things. It is a team game but it probably comes down to yourself playing (first) -- and then being part of a winning team."
Harnan's arrival has allowed Giles divest himself off that added duty and focus on playing. "If I get one more year playing senior next year, I might leave it at that. I thought at the end of last year, we were well beaten by Seneschalstown in the quarter-finals and I was beginning to feel the groin and different things, that it was possibly my last year but I did a bit of work over the winter on different injuries. So a lot of those have gone now. You never know; might get one more year out of it next year."
Skryne are resigned to losing Harnan, who will be part of the Meath management team in 2011, but he has left his mark. "Liam's reputation would have been that he was a fairly tough centre-back, almost like Colm Coyle, whose reputation was, you know, a tough enough player too, (but) both of them would be very clever. Not a lot of people might know that. They'd know the game well. And Liam would be a very good motivator. Liam would be telling it fairly straight when it needed to be told.
"I'd say when I was manager I was maybe a little bit afraid to say it straight but it actually does them young players no harm at all to be told things fairly straight, and when I mean saying it straight, he would be correct in what he's saying, you know, and fellas do learn. Like those players would have not a fear of Liam but a good respect, now, they wouldn't answer him back, and they would do as they are told."
If Giles plays next year it will be for the greater good as much as himself. Football is not a vainglorious pursuit. Most of his team-mates are too young to really know who Harnan is or was but there is a delight in playing for Skryne that breaks down those barriers and lives and breathes across the generations. That is what keeps Giles going. "Yeah they grew up in good times and got things reasonably easy. Now they wouldn't know that they got things easy but there were lots of skiing trips for fellas, and the like, so they are different. But I thought this year the young fellas were still very keen to win a championship medal and it meant an awful lot to the younger lads who grew up watching us winning them. Which was great to see. You hear people saying 'ah young people now, they're different to how we used to be'. But they'd be very dedicated fellas, we'd really have no trouble with them, drinking and that, it would never have to be said."
The players he admires are the veterans, though, the likes of Brian Smith and Johnny Quinn and Gordon Geraghty who continue to train knowing they probably won't get to play. Some of them are training juvenile teams in their spare time. His own fixation with football began while living with his grandfather Packie Mooney after his wife died and the family moved into the house. "He (grandfather) was a fella that would go to a match every night, the under 14s would be a Monday night, and the under 16s Tuesday night, and you would go along with him and he'd sweep out the dressing rooms afterwards and he'd mow the pitch and collect money at the gate, and it has to rub off on you. I am sure I will end up doing stuff like that in a number of years to come."
In the 1980s he remembers many finals lost to either Walterstown or, their main nemesis, Navan O'Mahony's, days of air horns and flags and tears. His 1992 county championship was won a week after winning an All-Ireland minor with Meath, and in 1993 they won it again, defeating O'Mahony's in the final for added pleasure. A county medal this year was unexpected but now they are thinking that a Leinster final is not an impossible dream. He is asked if he is addicted to playing?
"I wouldn't say addicted, no. No, addicted would be too strong a word. There have been a few of us still around from the early 1990s, and I'd say we felt the team was in transition. We lost a lot of very good fellas who won championships with us so it was just to make sure we stayed competitive in the senior grade while the good young players were coming through -- that was the main reason for still playing. Last few years we have won more matches than we lost and that's encouraging, but I wouldn't say addicted."
After retiring from inter-county football he was approached to return, but declined each time. "I think it was the right time for me to finish. I would have put a lot into those 12 years, I played 47 championship games in a row, I never missed one. Darren Fay came back and had a very good season with Meath but a lot of players I was close to were pulling out. Seán (Boylan) was gone as well. I would feel when I was there I gave it my best. There was no summer I headed off to America. Any injuries I got I worked pretty hard and got back for the following season. I'd be happy I put everything into it that I should have. And when you play a certain level that becomes your standard, you want to try and maintain that standard. I injured my shoulder and if that happens a second time, it's surgery and a long rehabilitation. I was building a house at the time. A combination of things.
"There were other things becoming more important. I had to be able to work. In your 20s you can definitely work a full day and train at night, but I would nearly have had to go professional when I got to 30. I missed that season, 2005, and I think the real hunger -- it probably just dawned on me that, like you'd miss it, but it didn't kill me that I missed out."
And so, Gaelic football now -- what does he think? He enjoyed this year's championship but feels that much of the physical contact, the hard shoulders and manly collision, has drifted out of the game. "The hurling," he goes after some thought, "I do like to see the top teams play each other. I do admire the hurlers, they take bangs and belts and tackles and they get on with it. I could be wrong, there doesn't seem to be as much talking on the hurling field between fellas, you can really admire the skill but it's a good contest too.
"What happened in 1996 with Mayo and ourselves, not much of that goes on anymore and that's right, but there is probably a happy medium. When you look over the All-Ireland Gold there was some tough football and fellas weren't lying down. The famous Mick Holden one -- picking up Barney Rock. Getting on with it, you know."
Getting on with it. No better exponent of that than Trevor Giles. Cherish him while you still can.