Friday 23 February 2018

A Walk on the Wild Side - Paul Kimmage meets Joe Brolly

Joe Brolly with Paul Kammage.

It's a Wednesday morning in Belfast. I'm sitting in a huge BMW on the Ormeau Road trying to get to grips with Joe Brolly. Barely five minutes have passed since we left his home and we're wrestling for control of the narrative.

He wants to talk about the Celtic manager, Neil Lennon, and I want to talk about Joe Brolly.

"We were guests at this dinner at St Michael's in Lurgan," he says. "I think it was their 50th year celebration. The place was buzzing. Lurgan people are great fun. They're game as pheasants and exhuberant and . . . "

"I used to go out with a girl from Lurgan," I interrupt.

"Aye, sure you'll know all about it then," he replies. "When they're not pelting bricks at the cops they're great fun. So it was a very hearty evening and . . . "

"My bottom is being heated."

"What?"

"My bottom."

"Aye, the seats are heated. Do you not want that?"

"No, it's nice actually. You've come a long way."

"Oh aye, from Minoghers out in Drum where we had big rats running through the place. It was a freezin', freezin' house."

"Is that where you lived?"

"That's where I was born."

"Minoghers?"

"Aye, it was just called Minoghers. It was in lower Drum."

"What's lower Drum?"

"It's a wee country place about four miles outside Dungiven, close to a place called Gortnahey . . . but anyway, this dinner was extra boisterous because Lennon had just been appointed as the new Celtic manager that week."

A dog has drifted onto the road in front of us. He brakes and waits for it to run off but the dog is lost and completely oblivious. "I'll tell you a story about that," he says, barping the horn. "We were going to training one night. There was a few of us in the car and a dog was crossing the road and our driver just went straight over it. I said 'Jesus Christ! Could you not have avoided him?' He says (adopts gruff tone), 'A boy down our way swerved to avoid a dog and drove into a tree. I was at his funeral. You'll not be going to my funeral, Brolly. You can go to the dog's funeral if you like. Dead dog.' And he repeated that about five times: 'Dead dog, dead dog.'

"Anyway, so we're at this dinner with Lennon and Seamy Heffron is the beloved sports master up at St Michael's."

"Why are we talking about Seamy Heffron?"

"Because he's a legend up there," he says. "I call him the white Huggy Bear. He has a hairy chest and wears these shirts and he winks (Brolly twists his head and clicks his tongue) – it's perpetual motion and the girls love him. Seamy played Gaelic football for Watty Grahams in Maghera – Enda Gormley's club – but he was a brilliant soccer player. And he was a Francophile, which would have been very unusual. He loved the French language and went out to one of the lower division French clubs to play soccer for them.

"So he lived there for a couple of years and came back and played Gaelic for Watty Grahams. And he used to berate referees in fluent French, so he would never get sent off. (He mimics a perfect French accent) 'Arbitre! Arbitre! Va te faire encoulee,' which means stick your . . ."

"That's okay, I know what that means," I laugh. "Now, can we talk about you?"

It's going to be a long day.

* * * * *

PK: Tell me about your wife?

JB: Emma Rose McCann.

PK: How did you meet?

JB: We met in Trinity on our first day. We were in Halls out in Rathmines. She went out with my room-mate for a couple of weeks and he said 'That's us finished. You can have her if you want.'

PK: And you did?

JB: So I did. And we have more or less been together since then. We left a decent gap before we actually moved in, we were 22 or something like that when we moved in together.

PK: And your first day in Trinity was when?

JB: In 1987, I was 18. We were married when we were 30.

PK: Where is she from?

JB: She's from Ballymena, so it was an alien culture to me. And Dungiven would have been an alien culture to her.

PK: Is she a Protestant?

JB: Oh, no, she's a Fenian, but Ballymena Fenians are like Protestants, and you can quote me on that.

PK: (I laugh) I will, but you need to explain it.

JB: Well, I mean . . . it was an overwhelmingly Protestant place. They (her family) were from a middle class, very theatrical background. Her first cousin is Liam Neeson and her Da, Jack, was a renowned racounteur and legal man in the town. They were a pretty sophisticated family. So Dungiven would have been totally alien to her when we started courtin'. And we would have done whatever courtin' we were doing around Dungiven, always.

PK: Why? Was she afraid to bring you home?

JB: Well, there was more places you could go.

PK: (I laugh) I'll be quoting you on that as well.

JB: That's alright.

PK: Why did it take you so long to get married?

JB: I was sort of reluctant, I think. It's not that I wasn't in love or anything like that. I mean we were living together anyway, so there was none of that urgency.

PK: But you said you were reluctant.

JB: Aye, I think I was a bit sort of . . . It wasn't something that I had ever really . . . I would have been happy enough to have youngsters outside of marriage.

PK: What was it about marriage?

JB: Nothing particular, but I have no wedding photographs or anything, not a single wedding photo.

PK: Okay, and that's telling me something. What is it telling me?

JB: It tells you that, I don't know, you'll have to work that out for yourself. But Dungiven was totally alien to her; she was shocked when she came to Dungiven and saw that the police and the Brits were boycotted. They weren't served in any of the shops, and couldn't get out of their vehicles – this would have been at the height of the troubles in '87, '88, '89, '90. Dungiven was trenchently Republican and entirely separatist. We wouldn't have viewed ourselves as part of Northern Ireland.

PK: Would she in Ballymena?

JB: It would have been different there. They would have been middle-class, non-sectarian. We would have been living in a different situation. It was only when I went to Trinity, really, that I realised that 'Prods bad, Fenian's good' wasn't going to cut the mustard. So I learned a lot there, and opened out a lot because we lived in a one-track, there was only one ethos, one culture. The Brits were "black Bastards." You chanted "SS RUC" at the cops out in the street. If they asked you what your name was, you told them you were "Patrick Pearse," or to "Fuck-up, it's none of your business." So it was a very different culture and then, obviously, I went to Trinity and moved to the real world if you know what I mean. And I was very quickly divested of all those ridiculous notions.

PK: It happened quickly?

JB: Yeah, because it couldn't stand-up to logical scrutiny. I was in the company of fellows from all over Ireland and from all over Europe, and so all of that was put under the light. And that made a huge difference to me because you didn't have . . . the internet and stuff like that wasn't open to you, so you were really just part of your community and whatever was going there was what you were.

PK: What made you go to Trinity?

JB: It was my father. He said 'You need to get out of this place.'

PK: Did he?

JB: Oh, aye. And I had an adventurous spirit anyway. I went to boarding school – St Pat's in Armagh – when I was 11. I remember driving off with my father in his aul green Lada, he used to get these oul Ladas from Brendan Campbell in Coalisland. You want to see these things; the seats were made of the purist plastic and they would actually have burned your arse on a hot day. And you could hear it, it was like a tractor, and I remember looking out the window at St Pat's and thinking: 'Fucking brilliant.' I was delighted.

PK: To go there?

JB: Aye, it was great. It was like Pinochio's Island – we ran amok. It was an old style grammar school; the seniors dispensed discipline with the staff. In the study, I remember a teacher, Jeff Randall, saying – he was an Englishman, had been in the RAF – but he says to one of the prefects (adopts a stern English accent), 'Are you going to do something about that Mr Donnelly?' And he (Donnelly, the prefect) come over and just cuffed me on the back of the ear. It was a small school but we played basketball all the time and Gaelic football. And they had a very strong emphasis on drama and music. I was the boy soprano in the Cathedral.

PK: Are you an only child?

JB: No, there's five of us.

PK: What's the order?

JB: I'm the oldest. There's two brothers and two sisters but we're (all) musical. My mother has a beautiful singing voice. She was the All-Ireland champion in the early '70s and the whole town was so proud of her. She sang a Tyrone song called 'Brockagh Braes.' (He starts singing.) 'And the wee girl I do adore.' She sings it so beautifully. And 'The Hills Above Drumquin' and 'The Mountains of Pomeroy' and 'The Old Cross of Ardboe.' And I think that incessant singing of Tyrone songs is what gave me my deep and enduring hatred of Tyrone. (Laughs)

PK: How did your parents meet?

JB: My father was playing for a band called 'The Roe Gems'. He was singing, and writing songs and playing guitar for them. And she was the "Coalisland Singing Sensation" – we have one of her wee billing photos at home with her beehive hairstyle and tiny miniskirt and a silver dress. They met on a programme called 'As I Roved Out' and he proposed within a fortnight.

PK: Really?

JB: Oh, aye. And they were married very quickly.

PK: So you don't take after your father then?

JB: (Laughs) No, but you see he was about 30 when he met her. And very quickly after that the three boys were born just one after the other and then he was interned. We would have got a lot of that when we were young – the Brits coming through the house and being turfed out of the beds in the early morning. They would just rush in.

PK: What was that like?

JB: I just have vague memories of the beds being overturned and him being taken away, just a vague memory of the day that they finally took him away.

PK: When was that?

JB: More or less at the start of internment. He was one of the first. I mean, he was in for nearly three years. We were only wee but . . .

PK: How old?

JB: I would have been about four. I remember me mother dressing us in wee cowboy suits going in to see him at Christmas time. You see, the thing about internment was that you never knew when they were getting out. There was no trial, or sentence, or anything, they were just interned. And my father was a very literary man – himself and (Seamus) Heaney were classmates in St Columb's and would have been vying for top spot in the class. But he wrote these beautiful stories (from prison) on wee tiny pieces of paper and my mother used to read them to us – he sent them every week. So they had some freedoms but you had no idea when they were getting out. We didn't have a phone or anything and one day Don (the next door neighbour) just knocked at the door and said: 'Francie's got out, you have to go and pick him up.' And the cavalcade went up and brought him down in triumph.

PK: There was a celebration?

JB: Oh Jesus Christ almighty, the whole town gathered and there was a big music session in the house that night. I can remember sitting on his knee and he was eating Oxtail soup my mother had warmed from a tin, he loved Oxtail soup. And that was it; there was never another word about it. And he just went straight back to teaching (he was a secondary school teacher) and playing centre-back for the Dungiven hurlers and footballers. But our Eunan, my father's youngest brother, was on the blanket and suffered terribly. Some of the boys did 100 per cent like.

PK: What do you mean by 100 per cent?

JB: Well, you had boys like Raymond McCartney, who was on hunger strike for 50 or 52 days and was close to death in the first hunger strike, you know the iconic images? And Raymond is a great friend of mine and a great friend of our family's.

His conviction for murder was overturned recently. He had served 18 years and was released and we brought a compensation claim, which was refused, and eventually we went to the Supreme Court. He is totally unmaterialistic. He's an MLA and is married to a beautiful woman and everything is good in his life.

* * * * *

The drive to Craigavon takes 35 minutes. He steps from the car and strides up the steps to the courthouse wearing a crisp grey suit that he will cloak, almost immediately, with a barrister's wig and gown.

His first stop is a visit to the cells and a meeting with two brothers he is defending on a GBH charge. Both are already serving time and the circumstances of their case means there's some trading to be done. He has a brief conversation with the prosecuting barrister and they are called to see the judge. An hour later, after a brief hearing in Court Number 1, we are back in the car and heading back towards Belfast and another case at the Royal Courts of Justice.

PK: Let's go back to Trinity. You studied law, obviously. Why law?

JB: I had no academic interest in law but I liked (shows like) Columbo and I liked Rumpole.

PK: And that was it?

JB: Yeah, and Petrocelli, although he was a bit frantic.

PK: And that's all it was?

JB: Yeah, I just drifted into it really because I couldn't think of anything else. Law seemed like a middle-of-the-road degree between an art and a science, and you couldn't fail law in Trinity – they had a very strict policy (chuckles) that everybody passed. It was a rigid policy that they've adhered to for centuries.

(I laugh.)

JB: That's not a joke.

PK: Was Emma doing law?

JB: No, Emma did French and English literature.

PK: Did you like Dublin?

JB: I loved Dublin, and it was different then, everything was cheap, and we had a lot of fun. There was a lot of drinking and stuff, but very little sex and promiscuity – which wasn't the case in the northern universities at all. I can't really think of anybody who was having sex.

PK: How do you explain that?

JB: It was hard to get condoms. I remember in Trinity, they kept bringing condom slot machines into the student union and every now and again the guards would come in and cart them out. And there would be screaming and protests. But there wasn't an atmosphere of promiscuity, or if there was I didn't . . .

PK: Sense it?

JB: No. But we had a lot of fun and football was a huge part of it. We got out of the second division and up to the first and should have won a Sigerson (Cup). And obviously the priority then was to play for Derry. So in '91 we won a club championship with Dungiven.

PK: Why was that a priority?

JB: Well, I mean my life was Gaelic football for Dungiven and Derry – everything else was secondary. We won a club championship in '91 and then Derry, for the first time, were going into high gear. We had some great players; Brian McGilligan and Anthony Tohill in midfield; (Tony) Scullion and Kieran McKeever, probably the two best corner-backs of their generation; Henry Downey at centre-back – the prince of centre halves. And two superb free takers – left-footed, Enda Gormley and right-footed, Anthony Tohill. So we had all of the ingredients there. So that became the obsession.

PK: To win an All-Ireland?

JB: Yeah, and we won it really quickly. We won a couple of Leagues and then we were the All-Ireland champions in '93.

PK: What did that mean to you?

JB: It was just a terrible anti-climax.

PK: Yes, you've said that before. Explain?

JB: Since I was a wee child we used to play in the back garden. The oul fella had built a set of goalposts for us and we would always have the national anthem before we would play the matches. All I ever wanted was to win an All-Ireland; you thought it was some type of Holy Grail but in fact it was just a massive anti-climax. I remember waking-up next morning and thinking: 'What the fuck was all the fuss about?'

PK: What did you expect?

JB: I expected there would be great joy.

PK: And was there no joy?

JB: It was a total anti-climax. It was like 'What's next?' I have no . . . I have a very poor memory for games. I know that people make a big fuss about being All-Ireland champions and club champions and all that, and people always recount all of these things but they mean nothing to me. You've been to our house, did you see all of the trophies and all of the medals?

PK: Where is the medal?

JB: My mother has it. I don't think I have ever actually seen it. I mean I have never watched the All-Ireland final – not once. You'd see the odd clip but I would have no interest in watching it.

PK: How were you doing workwise at that time?

JB: I was starting at the Bar and going flat out. I came into the Bar with a couple of advantages. I had no connections and I had studied in Trinity, so I was coming here blind. I was Francie Brolly's son and Derry were at the top table – we were the All-Ireland champions.

PK: How was that an advantage to a barrister living in Belfast?

JB: Well, just the fact that you speak the people's language. I was in Omagh recently doing a trial and there was a fellow wearing a Tyrone jersey and he kept pointing at his badge and winking over at me.

A lot of barristers put on fancy voices and lose their own accents, and they are remote from the jury and aloof. It's better to be like those guys in the John Grisham films – the barrister from the deep south who rolls up to the jury and says "Morning y'all." So it's a big advantage that people know who you are but being a barrister, particularly criminal defence, is a brutal, unforgiving world. A loose question in cross-examination can mean the difference between acquittal and conviction. But I've always enjoyed it, and I have a feel for the underdog and things like that.

PK: What do you mean by underdog?

JB: Well, it's just these people are the disconnected. You will rarely, if ever, see someone from Grammar school, or with a good education, or with a proper suit-and-tie going through the criminal system. And if they do, they are treated entirely differently. The vast majority of people here are . . . they've got mental health problems, addiction problems, poverty issues – you saw it today yourself, the lads were wearing tracksuits.

PK: Yes, well one of them was.

JB: The criminal law in essence, and the criminal courts, is a device for coping with the underprivileged. Lack of education, poverty – all of those things contribute to societies where people are . . . they are afloat on a sea of Diazepam. The normal routines aren't there; they don't have any dreams and it's inevitable that there are going to be a lot more social problems which lead on to murders, or domestic murders where alcohol or drugs have been taken. Someone is dead, they pick up the phone: "Oh Christ! I've killed my friend." And they get 18 years in prison. So the criminal law system is a mechanism for coping with the consequences of poverty and being under privileged.

PK: You clearly empathise with them.

JB: Well that's the reality of it.

PK: Yes, I know, but not everybody is as empathetic as you are.

JB: Its not that, it's just that that's what it is. It's like people going around saying they believe in God. Nobody actually believes in God. Nobody that I know actually really believes in God. I mean, let's be fair about it, an 80-year-old man (Noah) travels to the North Pole to get two Polar bears, to bring them back and put them in a boat that he has made, like, come on! My son, Joe, is seven and he says 'Sure everybody knows the Bible is just made up."

PK: You've said that criminal defence is a brutal business but that you enjoy it. What aspects of it do you enjoy?

JB: I enjoy the . . . it's very gregarious. You're meeting people at their best and at their worst. You're seeing a lot. You're seeing the world warts and all and there is also the theatrical side of it, the performance aspect of it, which I relish.

And I don't mean performance like an acting performance, I mean the idea of putting the art of persuasion into practice. How to cross-examine someone to get what you need from them; how to break down a liar in the box, because that's the other thing you learn – human beings are fundamentally dishonest. A human being's first instinct will be to protect himself, or herself. And to not look bad, and to not be embarrassed, and often the mechanism for that is to lie. Everyone lies.

That's the reality of life and another thing that you learn. And this charade that's gone through of getting people to take the oath, I mean fuck me that makes me laugh. Because what the oath is before a witness gives evidence . . . it emboldens their lies. But I enjoy the chase and I enjoy people in the box, because you can judge a book by its cover except in the minority of cases.

PK: And why defence rather than prosecution?

JB: Well, I just wouldn't like to, it wouldn't be in my nature.

PK: A lot of people who watch The Sunday Game will be splitting their sides at that one.

JB: Well, I just think the whole system is ludicrous, it's stacked against the accused and I enjoy the war against that.

* * * * *

The second hearing – a bail case at the Royal Courts of Justice – is also quickly resolved. He recommends a small café near Victoria Square for lunch and is scrutinised by a perplexed diner as he waits for a table. "I know you from somewhere," the man observes. "I'm a barrister," Brolly replies. "That must be it, so," the diner smiles.

He orders a sandwich and seems on first-name terms with the waitresses but it's not long before his thoughts turn to his friend, Shane Finnegan. "We'll go and see him after lunch," he says.

PK: You've never written a book?

JB: I think a lot people will have to die before I write a book.

PK: Explain.

JB: No.

PK: I'm sorry, but you'll have to do better than that.

JB: Well there are two reasons I wouldn't write a book; the first is that I don't have any impulse to write a book, and I don't have the creative urge. You write because it's inside you and you want to get it out there.

PK: I've read your columns. You could write a great book.

JB: Well I don't feel like that.

PK: You seem restless by nature.

JB: Yeah, I mean I'm an insomniac, so I get a couple of hours sleep a night.

PK: How many on average?

JB: Sometimes two, sometimes four, sometimes three. Shane Finnegan says I've got bipolar disorder without the depressive symptoms.

PK: Talk me through how you met Shane.

JB: Well, there's nothing much to talk through. We were coaching at St Brigid's. I was taking the under 12s and sort of overseeing the under 10s and making sure that everything was done right and (I noticed that) he was down on his hunkers. I said, "Have you been drinking? What's wrong with you?" He said, "No, I'm end stage kidney failure." I said, "I'll give you a kidney."

PK: Just like that?

JB: Like that, I didn't even know he was sick. I said "I'll give you a kidney" and went back to the lads and went on with it. I didn't say it dramatically or anything. It was impulsive but I totally meant it. So then on the Wednesday night at the training again, he came over to me and said: "Were you serious about that?" And I said, "I've already been up (to the hospital) and given blood."

PK: How well did you know him?

JB: I didn't know him at all. I didn't know he had a wife.

PK: You didn't know him at all?

JB: I knew he was one of the Finnegans because I know his brother. His brother's a damn good footballer and played for Antrim. And Shane was a good footballer, but his career was destroyed by kidney failure at 18. So I didn't know him at all really. And I didn't tell Emma at that stage.

PK: That was my next question.

JB: Yeah, I just thought it might come to nothing and I didn't want her to be worrying about it.

PK: What happened when you did tell her?

JB: Well, it's a bit of a rollercoaster in our house, anyway. You've a lot of, "What the hell have you just said?" and "What has just happened?" But as it started to hove into view I just said to her, "Look, I want to give this guy, Shane Finnegan a kidney." And she's dead-on, Emma. There's no nonsense out of her. Her sister died of breast cancer and she knows the benefits of helping out and all that.

PK: But you don't know this guy.

JB: Well, you do know him, because he's a GAA man. He has a family. I knew him but I had no relationship with him.

PK: And you take three months off work to give him one of your fucking kidneys!

JB: Well, I'd seen the damage. My beloved cousin Catherine died after a lung transplant had failed and I saw the devastation that wrought on her family. Danny Quinn, who played full-back on the Derry team that won the All-Ireland, was her husband and a very close friend of mine. And I'd seen the devastation to her kids and the damage it had caused. I didn't do it from a sense of adventure; I did it because I thought, 'This will make it right and he'll have a long life.'

PK: And it never occurred to you to donate before?

JB: I didn't know anything about it. I only got a donor card when I came back (after the operation) because I thought I'd better not go on an organ donation campaigning without being a donor.

PK: You had the operation in London. What happened?

JB: Well, there are so many hurdles to overcome but everything was a match and I went over there with my usual confidence because everything that I've ever encountered has become a success. So I just thought, 'This is going to be a breeze. We'll emerge from this and blow kisses to the crowd and then off we go into the sunset. He'll have a new life and live until he's an old man and everything is going to be great.' And I infected Catherine with that exuberance.

PK: Who's Catherine?

JB: Shane's wife. She was certain because I was certain. And all of a sudden you're off and they put a mark on your kidney and you're knocked out and you awake in a sort of delirium. And I opened my eyes and said "Has it gone okay?"

And they said "Yeah, but it's early days." And you just think 'Fucking brilliant. This guy is going to live and he will live because I have done this.' And I had this wave of euphoria. And day two, things are getting better again and I have this wave of euphoria. And day three, all good, all great. And the girls – Catherine and Emma – hit the town and partied and it was fantastic and everyone was delighted. A life was going to be transformed and then . . .

PK: What went wrong?

JB: There were complications and the transplant malfunctioned in circumstances that . . . we were told there were no examples of it in the literature. They said it was "a freak rejection in circumstances which we have not encountered before" and you feel . . . (He pauses for a moment and swallows hard) . . . guilt is maybe the wrong word but you feel this thing deep inside you. It's in your bones this sadness, this sort of grieving, because you know he has been on dialysis for seven years and you know it can't continue.

PK: You said something extraordinary at lunchtime – that you felt closer to Shane than to your wife and kids.

JB: That's just how I feel. I react to him instinctively. There's this close, close bond that's very difficult to describe. It would be an exceptional thing for any human being to be intertwined with someone for ten days, the beds beside each other, as these life or death issues unfold. I accept that it was unusual, given that he was a stranger beforehand but I also have to say that he's an exceptional human being apart from anything else.

PK: Yes, I've met him and understand that.

JB: He's fun and interesting and inspirational. So I'm just telling you that I've got that intimacy with Shane that I don't have with anyone else.

PK: What would Emma think if she heard you saying that?

JB: I don't know. I appreciate that it may sound unusual but I suppose when you've given someone a part of your body, you feel responsible for what's happening. It must be a bit like the bond that Emma has with the children. They are part of her body, and have come from her body and she has a bond with them that's deeper than mine.

* * * * *

He spends an hour with Finnegan at his place of work, Aiken Promotions on the Lisburn Road, and suggests we drive back into the city and finish the interview at home. Maeve (10), his only daughter, and Niall (5), his youngest son, have returned from school; Rory (13), Toirelach (11), 'wee Joe' (8) and their mother, Emma, are not far away.

He flicks on his stupendous new sound system and plays a tune with a beat that's strong enough to shake its maker from the grave.

Holly came from Miami FLA

Hitch-hiked her way across the USA

Plucked her eyebrows on the way.

Shaved her legs and then he was a she

She said, hey babe, take a walk on the wild side

Said hey honey, take a walk on the wide side.

But any idiot can play Lou Reed.

He leads me to the front room, rubs his hands and regales me with some Chopin on the piano. "The 'Waltz in A flat' has technical difficulties," he explains, "because although Chopin writes brilliantly for the piano, and was a great pianist himself, your hands are moving in different directions simultaneously. But it's a beautiful piece and finishes with a real dash."

He plays the dash and follows it with a superb rendition of Schubert's 'Impromptu in A minor.' It's not the first time today he has taken your breath away but it's the first time you've been stumped. I could be here for the next week and I wouldn't even scratch this guy. How did this gifted and truly brilliant man become a circus act on The Sunday Game?

JB: That's what happens when you say it as you see it. People usually say, 'Well they are amateur players and they're doing their best,' whatever that means. As if being an amateur is a cloak against any sort of skullduggery. My attitude is, 'Listen, there it is, and if I am wrong I am wrong and you can tell me I'm wrong.' I don't go on The Sunday Game to earn money. I earn loads of money.

PK: Why do you go on it?

JB: Because I like the freedom of it. And RTE back you to the hilt. They never say "Don't say that or that."

PK: Do you like the platform?

JB: I do, and I like the discussion. The black card debate has been a brilliant thing to get into. It hit people in the gut and forced them to talk about it. Is this what we want for the game? Is this how we want young fellas playing? What do we believe in? What does the game stand for? What does it mean? So it's a great platform to start those big debates and I enjoy it.

PK: Is it a platform for Joe Brolly?

JB: I don't know what that means.

PK: 'Look at me. Listen to me. Because I enjoy this platform and I enjoy being recognised.'

JB: I don't care about that. Being recognised and all that is the downside of it. I like the crack and I like the public discourse but I'm happy not to be recognised because it's well difficult now. I had to go into the Croke Park Hotel to meet someone about organ donation after one of the matches and I was being mobbed so badly I had to be taken out the emergency exit by the security people.

PK: Could that be your true calling in life? The awareness you've raised about organ donation?

JB: No, because that will be done and dusted very quickly now. They're going to change the law and put in the new system (where donors opt out rather than opt in) and the public debate is great now and far bigger than me. So I'll be looking for something else to fill the void. There's always a void.

PK: There is?

JB: There's always a void.

Sunday Independent

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