John O'Loughlin's phone started buzzing last Monday evening. The Laois footballer knew immediately something was going on and he wasn't wrong. The 28-year-old plays his club football in Dublin with Northside club St Brigid's and their practices had become a hot topic for discussion on social media.
A few days earlier the team had met to get preparations for the season underway. The first and second team are training as one squad under manager Mark Byrne so around 55 players attended the get-together.
During the meeting the players were all handed a contract that they were requested to sign. The one-page document outlined 16 requirements all involved were expected to meet and stated that failure to abide by the rules would result in removal from the squad.
The list included things like wearing the club gear, being punctual, helping out with the academy and having a positive attitude. It was a confidential document and one that was supposed to be for the eyes of the St Brigid's players only. But by Monday evening it had found its way into the media and a feeding frenzy followed as online and social media reacted to the news. As a player, O'Loughlin was annoyed, not because he had been asked to sign such a contract but over the leaking of the document.
"I was pissed off; annoyed because whether it's a club or county meeting the unspoken rule is that whatever is said and discussed stays in the room. I was bothered because it shouldn't have happened," said O'Loughlin.
"The Dublin championship is the most competitive in the country and as a team, we haven't been any way competitive in the last few years. We have limped out of the championship. Obviously we all want to win and to get properly competitive again. There was nothing unbelievable in the contract only the fact that it was a contract."
In fact, O'Loughlin was actually delighted to see some standards put down on paper. The club won the championship in 2011 but haven't made much of an impact since. O'Loughlin was on that team and he knows what it takes to win. He also knows how hard it is to get to the top and wants nothing more than to relive those glory days.
St Brigid's certainly have a talented squad with plenty of experience too, with the likes of O'Loughlin, Dublin's Paddy Andrews, Leitrim's Emlyn Mulligan and Roscommon's Neil Collins on board.
O'Loughlin joined the club in 2011 after he finished his Masters in Sports Management in UCD. They were in the market for a Games Promotion Officer and he was looking for a job. His role entails visiting local schools to train the students and encourage them to join the club. He is the face they recognise when they come down to the club; he's the point of contact. He also coaches in the academy and organises camps.
When St Brigid's last won the club championship, Mark Byrne was at the helm alongside Gerry McEntee. He was the driving force behind the team and undoubtedly wants the best for the club.
O'Loughlin believes with such a big panel and so many new and young lads joining the squad that the contract would reinforce the club's values and ethos for those new to the set-up.
For him, it was a sign of the players' commitment. Without that there would be no prospects of winning. They will start the New Year with a bit of a cloud hanging over the set-up but the incident will be investigated and appropriate action will be taken so that they can all move on.
Although O'Loughlin doesn't see the contract as a big deal there are plenty who do. And after its release on Monday much debate and discussion followed on the airwaves and online. Parody contracts were posted on social media and players, public and pundits all had their say.
"It's fashionable now for people to jump on bandwagons. Everyone has a say now because of social media and that's wrong. There are no consequences for what people say and write but you just have to let it wash over you.
"When I was younger I found it hard not to listen to what people said but now I understand how little it matters. I know from experience that by next week people will have forgotten what club had the contract."
Along with the contract, screenshots of the team's WhatsApp group also found their way into the public domain and for O'Loughlin this cut deep.
"I'm very pissed off about that. It has to be dealt with and I think the management team and the senior players will investigate that and I don't want to be sounding petty but it shouldn't happen in any team, no matter what level. You are in a WhatsApp group with your mates and lads you take to the field of battle with; it should be private."
For O'Loughlin, the regimented contract doesn't remove the fun from football. It sets the standard and puts them on the right path to achieving their goals. He's signed it and if they win the Dublin Championship this year there will be a lot more contracts signed in 12 months' time.
Sunday Indo Sport