Wednesday 20 September 2017

Joe Brolly: Off The Ball interviewing Mick O'Connell was a bit like Ant and Dec cross-examining Seamus Heaney

Mick O'Connell, centre, fields the ball over two opponents in the 1968 All-Ireland final against Down
Mick O'Connell, centre, fields the ball over two opponents in the 1968 All-Ireland final against Down
Former Kerry and Munster midfielder Mick O’Connell. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Joe Brolly

When I was in Trinity, I played on the Sigerson team with the O'Sullivan brothers from Cahirciveen, Seanie and Diarmuid. Sigerson was hot and heavy in those days, and attrition was the name of the game. Both boys were purists when they arrived in Dublin, and quickly had to be schooled in the dark arts.

When they were in their third year, they went home to play a South Kerry championship match for St Mary's against Valencia Island. Seanie was corner back, and from the first whistle tucked into his man with a vengeance, thumping, pulling and trash talking.

Mick O'Connell was standing behind the goals watching on in horror, and after 15 minutes the great man could take no more. He stepped onto the field of play and told Seanie his behaviour was disgraceful, and that whatever he had learned in Dublin there was no place for it in the Kingdom.

"Stop that nonsense immediately son, and play like a Kerryman." Seanie, who is only 5ft 7in, looked him straight in the eye and said "Would you ever f*** off". It was too late for redemption. Seanie had been converted to the dark side.

The great man was 80 last Wednesday. To mark the occasion, Ger Gilroy and Joe Molloy interviewed him on Newstalk's 'Off the Ball', which was a bit like Ant and Dec cross examining Seamus Heaney. "Wow," said Gilroy to begin. Then . . .

Ger: One of the things you're legendary about is that you didn't celebrate your wins. . .

Micko: What was there to celebrate? Football was only a pastime. More important things to be doing in life. (silence)

Ger: You like rowing?

Mick: I rowed as a pastime.

Ger: It kept you nice and fit?

Mick: For rowing you mean?

Ger: For football.

Mick: Football and rowing have no association.

Ger: (nervous laughter)

Mick: You seem to know all about the sport. What age are you? 23 is it?

Ger: (nervous laughter) I wish.

Mick: What age are you?

Ger: I'm 39. (silence)

Joe Molloy (intervenes as an act of mercy): There must've been a good coach who helped you out?

Mick: Who? I never used the word coach. Where did you get that? (silence)

Joe: Can I ask you a few questions about your career?

Mick: I never classed it as a career. It was a pastime.

Joe (struggling now): Are you surprised you're classed as one of the true greats?

Mick: That's only comment.

Joe (trapped now): Can I put this to you. You are beloved by Kerry people and beyond?

Mick: Beloved?

Joe: Yeah.

Mick: I don't know what that means.

O'Connell went on to disagree with Joe's phrase "Gaelic football" countering that it was no longer football but simply "Gaelic".

"A lot of older people don't even go to the games anymore or watch them. The game isn't governed properly. There are no visionary people administrating it."

He finished by saying: "The ends to me weren't important. The means were what mattered. To be able to fetch a ball in the air. To kick with both feet. On and off the ground. If we won, well and good. If not, the same."

Then, he was gone. Back in studio there was silence. Then an eruption of laughter. Prolonged laughter. Kevin Kilbane said: "Well done mate." Molloy, laughing, said: "I really like him." Ger was just glad it was over. Mick won't thank me for saying it. But what a footballer. And what a man!

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