Friday 30 September 2016

'Getting sent off doesn't make you a hard man: it shows you are a stupid player, a clown'

Stress away from the game led to red mist, red cards and poor discipline late in my career

Published 17/10/2015 | 02:30

A picture tells a thousand words after getting sent off against Tipperary in the 2011 championship
A picture tells a thousand words after getting sent off against Tipperary in the 2011 championship

Starting off, I got a lot of yellow cards, but I think you wouldn't find someone who'd say I was dirty or started a lot of fights or fouled a lot.

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Bookies gave odds on me for the first yellow, or for me definitely getting a yellow. My friends would have been onto me, but that all settled down. I had a run of nine or 10 years when I got no more yellow cards than the average player.

It's hard to pinpoint it when it happens, because you're in the middle of it. But if you're under pressure at work, or at home, or in university, it can get on top of you quickly enough. You're playing away, training away, but then you get a run when you're rising to it, and the cards are coming thick and fast.

That was 2012 for me. For a while there, if a guy hit me or got a rise from me I'd have no control over myself for a second or two. None at all. I had just returned from a two-month suspension, and I was back for a game against Laois in Killarney.

Jack rang me the night before: "How are you now?"

"Good," I said. "I'm in a good place."

"We can't afford to have this going on. You know that," he said. And he was right.

Togged

I thought I was fine. I felt grand the morning of the game and drove away to Killarney in good form. I togged and went out - and within six or seven minutes I was sent off.

Brendan Quigley, a Laois midfielder, threw a dig at me and I reacted by hitting him a box in the stomach. In fairness to him, most fellas would have thrown themselves down on the ground, but he stayed up. Unfortunately for me, the linesman had a good view of proceedings and I got a straight red.

By the time the match was over I was at home in Cork. I was ashamed to face the players again, ashamed for them to be thinking, 'you can't trust him to stay on the field.'

The one thing in my favour was that, when it came to the Championship, I'd be zoned in.

Down the years if a fella wanted to get rough I was quite happy to dish it back to them. There were plenty of punches that nobody saw, and I could have been sent off a lot more if I'd been seen.

Against Armagh in Tralee, for example, I was trying to get away from Ciarán McKeever in order to take a quick free. But he was holding onto me and I lashed out.

The main point to make is that getting sent off doesn't make you a hard man: it shows that you're a stupid player, a clown. There's nothing hard about it. A hard man is someone who'll run 30 yards to go down on a ball at the risk of getting a boot in the head, or someone who'll make five runs in a row without getting a pass but who'll still make a sixth run even though he's knackered.

Lashing out, losing your control - that's a cowardly way to act.

Those red cards came along in a short period of time. I wasn't on Twitter at that stage, but there were plenty of people to tell me about the reaction to all those red cards, the disgraceful behaviour and so on. I'd be tough enough to know that I was going to come out the other side of it, but it wasn't easy.

People need to remember that fact when they're commenting on players and their performances.

That time my marriage had broken up, so there was a lot to deal with in matching the stress around that to preparing for an elite sport.

There was a property boom in the country and, like a lot of people, I took a punt. And, like a lot of other people, my punt didn't come in. I had a lot going on and I dealt with it.

Jack, Fitzmaurice - all of them were very good to me, in fairness, and very accommodating; but a lot of people weren't aware of that in their commentary on games. There are players under similar stress on every team in Ireland.

I never got sick before games, ever. But it all came to a head going up on the train to play Meath in the 2009 All-Ireland semi-final. My vision blurred, and there were shadows in my vision.

I was as weak as water, as though I had the 'flu, and I got a massive migraine. I wasn't right at all the night before the game, so the following morning I was going to pull out of the team. I couldn't eat on the Saturday night, and I barely had anything that morning either.

I got an injection before the game. It turned out to be one of the best games I played that year.

Breaks

I was marking Peadar Byrne, who'd won a certain number of breaks the previous day, and I never got onto as many breaks myself the same day, driving on with the ball every time.

I was shattered afterwards. Absolutely empty. It happened to me one other time, out on the golf course, but it hasn't happened to me since retiring.

It probably contributed to my retirement in the end. It is what it is, and I'm not looking for sympathy: I'm just offering it as context. If people were to ask me why I was getting sent off so often, that would be the only reason I can come up with: the stress I was under away from the matches.

As an inter-county footballer, it's not just a matter of being focused: it's a case of being selfish, and you have to be selfish about everything. For some players it's number two or three, but for me it was always number one, probably to my detriment, but it was always that way.

Certain fellas don't have that outlook, but, because I did, it made it hard for me when I retired. That's why I went back playing club football - for the enjoyment. But the day is coming when I won't be able to play club football, so I might as well enjoy it while I can.

People don't realise what an inter-county footballer faces on a Monday morning. I face a classroom. Other lads face different scenarios: they have customers and clients in front of them.

Every one of them goes out to do their best, but in the case of the National League, for instance, Kerry might be training hard between games, but if a guy doesn't go well in those games, my God, it's like a tribunal of inquiry in the county. Why isn't he going well? What's wrong with him? Weeshie Fogarty on the radio asking questions . . .

We won a lot, and we lost a lot, but if someone came after me now with questions I'd be inclined to go for him. Darragh could laugh at lads and pay no attention, but my fuse would be shorter and I'd react. Someone who has no notion of the effort being put in. . . I wouldn't take too kindly to their input at times, put it that way.

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