Saturday 22 July 2017

Great survivor has earned right to shoot from the lip

As Pat Spillane prepares to enter the Texaco Hall of Fame, Damian Lawlor looks back over the Kerryman's remarkable career

IT probably summarises Pat Spillane perfectly that there are two Facebook pages in his honour. One is the 'We Love Pat Spillane' page and it has about 1,450 followers. You can probably guess what the other page is all about.

People's opinions are split down the middle on the controversial Kerryman, but what else could he expect?

When he retired as a Gaelic footballer, one of the best there has ever been, he made a vow to be a straight-talking analyst. That turned out to be a massive understatement. Thanks to his often outrageous media analysis, outspoken views and colourful turns of phrase on The Sunday Game, Spillane is widely held to account for his critiques just as much as he was revered as a footballer.

Even the 'Love him or Hate him' tag-line on his newspaper column speaks volumes of attitudes towards him. He has upset former team-mates, old friends and many current footballers in his pantomime villain role with RTE, but he remains adamant that he is only giving straight down the line observations of the modern game.

He has coined phrases such as "puke football", compared Francie Bellew's speed to Spillane's own grandmother and enjoyed running skirmishes with fellow pundit Joe Brolley. To his credit, he has adapted well to television, and after eking out a career as one of the most decorated footballers in the history of the game, he even went on to present The Sunday Game for a spell.

It almost seems unfair that there are now a couple of generations who have no real grasp of what he achieved in the game and only see him as a pundit.

But what an innings he had. Spillane won his first All-Ireland senior medal in 1975 at the age of 19 and went on to win eight Celtic Crosses, a joint-record total. While he would maintain himself that he was not the most naturally gifted of footballers, his achievements are nothing short of phenomenal, set out by an immense work-rate and unending application to training and preparation.

He is arguably the most successful player the game has ever seen. Don't forget the All-Ireland club title he won with Thomond College in 1978 along with 12 Munster titles and nine All-Stars, a record number of awards for a footballer.

Perhaps his greatest feat, however, was returning from a cruciate ligament injury in 1981. Amazingly, he played through the pain barrier in both 1981 and '82. He came close to being just another injury statistic but, eventually, he went under the knife and missed the entire '83 campaign. In those days, players didn't recover from cruciate injuries but Spillane came back to the fold, the first footballer of that generation to recover from such a setback, and continued his relentless collection of silverware.

The Templenoe man lost his father when he was just eight. His mother took over the running of the family pub and raised four children as well. Spillane always said that he inherited his 'glass half full' attitude from her.

And tucked away in the residences of Pat -- and his brothers, Mick and Tom -- are 17 senior All-Ireland winner's medals -- a record that is unlikely to be broken in the foreseeable future.

Like many footballers in the county, genetics would have given the brothers a head start. His father, Tom, played for the county while his mother Maura was a Lyne -- a member of the Killarney family of outstanding exponents that included Jackie, who was later to manage the Kerry team, and Canon Michael, captain of the side that lost the Polo Grounds final in New York in 1947.

He retired in 1991 having lost to Down in the All-Ireland semi-final with a career that lasted 15 years in total and concentrated on his teaching, the family pub and his media career which would throw up gems like the following, "you get more contact in an old-time waltz than you do in a National League final" and "the Cavan footballers have a forward line that wouldn't punch holes in a paper bag".

To add to his Texaco Hall of Fame award he was twice voted Texaco Footballer of the Year (1978 and 1984) and was a part of the Kingdom's four-in-a-row side (1978-'81) and later their three-in-a-row team (1984-'86). He also made it onto the GAA's Team of the Century.

His views might not always match the general mood; they may be extreme and over-hyped, but Spillane has earned the right to call it as he sees fit.

Spillane will be inducted into the Texaco Hall of Fame at an awards banquet in Dublin this week.

Sunday Indo Sport

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