Monday 14 October 2019

The long and winding road to Laois decider for Attride

Taking it all in his stride: Laois star Stephen Attride had a promising career in athletics but chose to devote his talents to Gaelic football instead. Photo: Sportsfile
Taking it all in his stride: Laois star Stephen Attride had a promising career in athletics but chose to devote his talents to Gaelic football instead. Photo: Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

On Sunday, he'll head for O'Moore Park in Portlaoise, hoping to upset the odds and break new ground for Killeshin in the Laois SFC final.

But it's not that long ago since Stephen Attride's eyes were fixed on a very different path - aiming for the Youth Olympics and a career in athletics.

Laois star Stephen Attride in action during a men’s U-18 3000m race in Athlone in 2010. Photo: Sportsfile
Laois star Stephen Attride in action during a men’s U-18 3000m race in Athlone in 2010. Photo: Sportsfile

John Lennon penned: 'life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans' and as Attride stepped up his training in a bid to shave a couple of seconds off his 3km time to qualify for the 2010 games in Singapore, fate intervened.

At that stage, he was trying to mix football and athletics. Both placed differing, exacting demands. And when he pinned his ears back and trained for the Youth Olympics, his body betrayed him. A bout of shin splints knocked his training out of kilter. And with that, the dream of Singapore was gone.

Serendipity

Call it a sliding doors moment or call it serendipity. But to that point, Attride looked set for a career in running. He had been a successful athlete, winning Ireland caps in both the track and field and cross country teams. By the time he recovered from his injury, Attride had decided he was going to concentrate on Gaelic football.

"There was big push on, I was attempting to reach the Youth Olympic Games in (Singapore) and I upped the training load and as a result I had shin splints. And with that the enjoyment was taken from the running, I couldn't run without pain so I had to take a couple of weeks off completely and I had time to think about it. I just chose the football."

He is philosophical about what might have been. One door closed but another opened.

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"Athletics is quite a solitary sport," he says. "People are always going on about how much inter-county players have to train but it's a different level when you're talking about athletics, even in fifth and sixth year in Knockbeg (College) I would have been training nine or 10 times a week. You'd run two or three times before school and go for another run in the evening so there is a lot of personal satisfaction with athletics but it is a tough road to go down to forge a career as well."

With football getting more of his attention, he blossomed. Peter Creedon recognised his value to Laois when he made him captain at the age of just 23 and John Sugrue kept him in that role for the last two years.

Perhaps he summed up why he was handed that role so young in a Leinster semi-final against Carlow last year. With the game on the line, he dived on a ball to break up a Carlow attack.

His next memory was waking up in the hospital. The doctors would tell him he had a concussion, two skull fractures and a wound that required 25 stitches.

Happily he's back now and with no ill-effects as Killeshin prepare for their first appearance in a senior final.

The club have been on a gradual upswing since winning a county junior title in 2008, with the intermediate crown following three year later.

A handful of survivors from the '08 win will look to complete the set of county medals when they take on Portlaoise in Sunday's senior decider with the county's kingpins going in search of a third senior triumph on the bounce.

Unfamiliar

Killeshin will be rank outsiders in unfamiliar territory. Even their semi-final was their first visit to that stage in 59 years, so the bookies won't give them a prayer.

But as Attride can attest, sometimes you can be destined for something only for fate to intervene.

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