Wednesday 13 December 2017

Leighton Glynn: We know we can take anyone in Aughrim

Leighton Glynn has regained his football appetite in a new role, writes Damian Lawlor

Leighton Glynn: 'If you haven't touched the ball you get doubts about yourself because a forward should be on the ball.' Photo: Garry O'Neill
Leighton Glynn: 'If you haven't touched the ball you get doubts about yourself because a forward should be on the ball.' Photo: Garry O'Neill

Damian Lawlor

The light was not far from going out and Leighton Glynn needed a spark from somewhere. Something to rekindle his inter-county career.

He was 32, had won countless trophies in both club hurling and football, played for Ireland, been promoted and relegated, travelled on All Star tours and enjoyed Wicklow's resurgence under Mick O'Dwyer. But he hadn't played for Wicklow in 19 months. He wondered if there was anything left.

Injury and a series of complications had taken him from the game and as the team sprinted out onto the field ahead of this year's league opener with London, the Rathnew man wasn't the only one wondering how he would fare.

They needn't have worried. First game back, they threw him in full-forward and he scored 3-3. It was his first appearance in county colours since the Leinster championship loss to Meath in May 2012, when he had suffered a leg break around the ankle joint. The initial prognosis was good enough – he'd be back within five months. What followed, however, was a prolonged nightmare which left him in need of three separate operations.

Sometimes the most serious injuries stem from harmless tackles. Glynn went tracking Cian Ward, he tried to make a block but the two got tangled and Glynn's foot was stuck in the ground. Ward missed the ball and kicked his opponent's foot instead.

The leg was operated on, but he developed an infection soon after and had to undergo the knife twice more. Specialists put in pins and plates but his body didn't react well.

Fed up with his lot, Glynn headed to San Francisco for three months last summer. He worked a little; trained the Ulster team to win the North American championship and spent hours with a physiotherapist, getting himself slowly back on track.

While there, he watched Wicklow play two 2013 championship matches – against Longford and Meath. "I watched them like any ordinary Irishman would," he smiles. "Went to a bar, paid my $20 to Premier Sports and supped a few pints with everyone else. It was mad – I had been playing football all my life and sometimes wondered what everyone else's summer would be like. Well, I found out last year. Beating Longford left me on a high for the week, and in the game against Meath we were doing well until we missed a penalty and Kevin Reilly scored a goal from 70 yards for them. All of a sudden people started recognising me. Funny that!"

Over the summer he got fit and healthy again and once word of his recovery reached home, the call from Rathnew came. They had drawn St Pat's, their local rivals, in the Wicklow championship and needed their star man. Unable to resist the lure, Glynn flew home, came on for 15 minutes and went on to play in both the Wicklow senior football and hurling finals.

Still, he was unsure about the leg and inter-county football wasn't a priority. The call from Harry Murphy's squad sounded towards the end of last year, but Glynn was 50-50. His leg was still weak, but Murphy identified a new position at full-forward and Glynn made the decision to come back. It began well for them; the team scored 6-22 in their first two games and even against Leitrim, despite losing, they had a healthy spread of eight scorers.

Wicklow remain in a good place coming into today's game against Laois at Aughrim, despite losing out on promotion by a point. "The first thing to say is that Division 4 is just horrible," he says. "It's an absolutely heartbreaking division to be in. We won five out of seven games and still didn't make it up, yet we know that on any given day, especially at Aughrim, we can take anyone."

The bookies wouldn't agree. They have Laois as clear favourites today. "I don't think there is that much difference between Divisions 4 and 3 and maybe even 2," he shrugs. "We don't fear Laois even if they are playing in a higher tier. If Tipp, for example, went out and played them at home, Tipp would fancy themselves. Our championship record in Aughrim is class – only Meath and Armagh have beaten us there in recent times. We know that in our heart of hearts we can take anyone in Aughrim."

What is it about that place? The pitch is no wider than any other. There's a nice bit of scenery about the place, so why the cauldron atmosphere attached to it?

"Well, on a championship day, it's nice and old-fashioned," Glynn smiles. "It's a bit of a trek for people to get to with all the back roads and stuff, and that's before a game even starts," he laughs.

To win, however, they'll need to get the ball into Glynn and Seanie Furlong as much as possible. Full-forward is a role that Glynn will more than likely take up again today, as he evolves from the ranging half-forward role he mastered for over a decade.

"Harry holds me inside more and wants me to be a threat near the goal rather than working back out the field. I started this year's league at full and did well, got a few goals, but there were times when I'd also be anxious and would come back out the pitch if the ball wasn't coming in. Then I would hear Harry in my ear telling me to get back – that's the balance, I suppose."

Holding the line is part and parcel of an inter-county player's make-up these days but Glynn admits to becoming impatient if the ball doesn't come his way. "Well, if you go five minutes without the ball it's a long time. If you haven't touched the ball you get doubts about yourself because a forward should be on the ball. Still, I suppose the best inside forwards have patience; Gooch when he was in there, Stevie McDonnell too. They just made it happen when they got the ball.

"I suppose it's a change of mindset. You must run different channels and use the head a lot – ideally when you make the first run you would get the ball but you could make three or four runs and still not get it. That's when you try to make an unselfish run and pull a defender out for a team-mate. The most important thing is to stay on the move – a corner-back or full-back will love you if just stand there."

That's never been a problem. During Mick O'Dwyer's reign the whole county was on the move, fans and players buzzing about alike.

"The Micko era was our highest profile time," he smiles. "We reached the last 12 of the championship in 2009 but Harry came in and got promoted the year after Micko left. People forget that."

Glynn admits the glamour and profile dipped after O'Dwyer left and said that most of the team felt like stars with the Kerryman around. "You felt special. Micko would go to different clubs and hold open training sessions. There was nothing high-tech about them; you would just run 30 laps. And there would be a crowd of up to 100 people at any ground, during any stage of winter. People just stood there in the freezing cold watching us run 30 laps! Micko would be going around to the crowd talking to kids aged four or to lads in their 80s. He'd have a word for everyone and he made everyone smile."

Meanwhile, the players just ran. But there was method behind the madness. "He would practically guarantee that you would win come the weekend. My best years for Wicklow came under Micko, I was talking to Ross Munnelly from Laois and he said it was the same for him.

"Really what he was doing was weeding out certain players with the heavy stuff, seeing who wanted to be there. And then when the summer came it was all football training, all internal games. It worked."

Glynn remembers the first night the Micko factor was tangible. A trial game was called and 102 players turned up. 102! Some with the ability. Most without.

"Some of the lads were junior B footballers, but by God they all believed at that stage they wanted to play with Micko," Glynn laughs. "He had sent a message to the clubs – send your best players. I'd say he didn't expect every one of them to take him at his word. It was way too many for a trial so we had a chat and talk and he introduced himself to us. That's when it all kicked off."

He knows he won't have much more time on the big stage, so he's intent on soaking up every perk. It's just business now; there's no room for excuses, like club rivalries and such. "That theory about club rivalry holding us back is crap for a start," he says.

"It's an excuse, more so for the supporters and fans. The rivalry between Baltinglass and Rathnew, for instance, is massive but it's a healthy one.

"We have our biggest battles with them but pull on a Wicklow jersey and I would do the same thing for a Baltinglass man that I would for a Rathnew man."

He's around too long to get sidetracked. Too much has been seen and learned. All that matters now is Laois's scalp. He won't have far to look for a spark today.

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