Sunday 25 March 2018

A lifetime devoted to his local football club

He's at every match, training session or meeting at his community park, an ever present since Calry Bohs was set up in 1961. Paul Deering talks to Padraic O'Connor

He's out in the proverbial hail, sleet and snow. That's the life of Padraic O'Connor, his devotion to Calry Bohs and the community park knows no bounds.

The Hazelwood native (67) is the official caretaker at the home of Calry football, both soccer and gaelic. He spends every week-end there, lining pitches, putting up and taking down of the nets, tidying up dressing rooms and looking after gear.

Padraic will also spend many week nights there as training takes place for a variety of teams from underage right up to senior grade.

He's the first to open up and the last to leave.

Padraic hails from a family of five and growing up in the area football was never far from the minds of the young children.

"There was always football being played at the back of the house. It was just the done thing at the time. There was hardly any football on television, you just went out and kicked ball yourself," he says.

He recalls Calry Bohs being founded in 1961 by the late Mervyn Strain.

"He had a vision for a club and he got it up and running and it's a credit to everyone involved down the years that it is still going.

"I played very little football to be honest myself. I wasn't one of the star players but I was still involved in the club. It just became part of my life."

When the late Tommy Fowley retired, Padraic took over as groundsman and caretaker.

"Football in Calry quickly became part of my life. That's all I knew. You'd travel to the ends of the earth just to watch football," he says.

When Jimmy Flynn and Vinny Fowley took over managing the team it heralded a successful era that saw them dominate the local junior soccer scene in the 1980s. Another golden period was the mid 1990s.

There's been plenty of lean times, when the trophy cabinet doesn't hold a cup but Padraic has remained faithful, his unbroken service a testimony to his love of the place.

"There's not too many in Sligo who can say they have been a member of a club since its foundation and I feel privileged that I can say that. It's a great club and I feel proud to be associated with it for all those years.

"I believe we were the first junior club in Sligo to own our own facilities," he says.

There's been several changes at the community park. A new astro facility has been a much used addition and excellent for training in the winter months.

Having watched so many matches over the years, Padraic isn't slow in giving his opinion on a particular player or even referee!

He used to also act a club linesman in matches but says he was advised to give this up following a heart attack 15 years ago this June.

He's not shy about voicing opinion about refereeing decisions but says he has always recognised how difficult a job they have to do, especially on their own and in particular with regard to off-side.

If there was one thing he'd like to see referees adopt more is better communication with players on the field of play.

"It would just make it better all round for everyone. I know it's a very hard job to do and a thankless one," he says.

Padraic's a regular at The Showgrounds too and also Markievicz Park and in the aftermath of big games he's on the town on a Monday morning going over each score and tackle in detail.

The first port of call is always John Kent's sports shop on Grattan Street on Monday morning.

"It's like a ritual at this stage. I'm always in there to talk about the week-end's games with John and his staff.

"I'm just a lover of sports all round. I like nothing better than to walk the two miles from my home in to town and meet people for the chat.

"Most days I walk in and out and with another mile spent walking around town you could say I manage six miles a day.

"I feel it's important to meet and say hello to people. Going into John Kent is like the highlight of the week for me and I know it's only Monday.

"On Tuesday the Champion is out and I get that first thing, reading it in the Tesco Arcade."

He has never added up the hours he'd spent at the ground in any given week. In the summer it's nearly seven days week for him.

The best Calry teams he has seen was the league winning team of the mid 1980s under the management of Flynn and Fowley.

"It was an exceptional team. We had the Rooney brothers playing for us, Ray, Kieran, Michael Aidan and Brendan alogn with the likes of Tom Logan, Kieran Murphy, Damian McCallion, the Gallen brothers, Kevin, Thomas and Paul, and Sean Crossan."

In 1987 the club won the Super League for the first time in their history and it went on to dominate the local scene for many years afterwards.

Bohs won seven Super League titles in ten years along with three Connacht Senior Cups, three Michael O'Byrne Cups, six FAI Sligo Area Cups, the MacSharry Foley Cup and the Bill Monaghan Cup.

Another team that stands out for Padraic was the team of the mid 1990s with the likes of Vinny Harte in goals and other talented players like Vinny McGee, Leo Nicholson, Roger Connolly, and Eugene McDarby.

The glory days have past on but Padraic has remained one constant.

"I certainly don't begrudge my time with the club. It's part of my life, a big part and I enjoy the goods days with the bad days. I still love football," says Padraic.

And he isn't despondent that Calry Bohs won't see glory again though he says it's a much different society than the one he grew up in.

"The present generation, the young players, they just don't want to get up for an 11am kick-off on a Sunday morning.

"Saturday night is for going out now and that's the way of life for many young people nowadays. There are very good players still out there but they're just not putting in the type of effort you'd like them to do.

"I don't think the advent of the astro leagues at night has had anything to do with a changing in attitude among young people as regards commitment to the game. It's just the way society has gone."

And, he's hopeful that the effort of coaches, Myles Kavanagh, David Meade, Noel Conlon, Ronan O'Hara, Mark Devaney and Jason Murphy will soon bear fruit for Calry Bohs.

"They are putting in trojan work with young players and are trying to keep the club alive," says Padraic.

And, the older members he hasn't forgotten about either who kept the club afloat during what were the lean times of the 1960s and 1970s. The likes of Mervyn Strain, Seamus Cummins, Charlie Branley, Kieran Murphy and Jimmy Flynn.

"It wasn't an easy task to keep the show on the road," says Padraic.

He's played his part in that too but he's far too modest to accept the plaudits.

Indeed, he's worried that he might have left someone out but I'm sure they'll understand if he does.

Foe once, Padraic is deserving of some time in the limelight, a recognition and in many ways a thank you for carrying out a role that can often be taken for granted.

All over Sligo's junior soccer scene the name Padraic O'Connor is synonymous with helping out with his local club.

Day in day out he has performed the role for over 50 years.

"I just do it because I love being involved. As I said, it's just part of my life. I wouldn't change anything. It's as important as my trips into town almost every day to meet people," says Padraic.

Sligo Champion