Wednesday 11 December 2019

Tomas O Se: Not so easy to hide on this side of the media fence

Karl Lacey celebrates after last weekend's Ulster SFC final victory over Derry. Photo Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE
Karl Lacey celebrates after last weekend's Ulster SFC final victory over Derry. Photo Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE

Tomas O Se

Driving down from Dublin last Sunday night, I felt a bit of guilt sitting on my chest. A quiet road gives you time to think and the texts were coming through in droves. Wise boys on about my description of Donegal as a "skeleton" of what they were. "Stick to the teaching O Se!"

When I was playing, I had a long-distance relationship with the media and the very thing to get right on my goat would be some lad in the paper or on TV tossing out a sweeping statement and being wrong.

I'm on the other side of the fence now and, I'll admit, it's not the most comfortable feeling.

Straight up, I used to avoid the media like a bandit dodging the law. Why? A little fear maybe, a little selfishness. The thing is I actually always loved talking about football, just not for public consumption. Not to feed a headline.

The first newspaper interview I did as a Kerry footballer was after being dropped off the panel in '98. My line was that I was just going to put the head down and keep working. Then I saw the headline: "O Se vows to be back stronger than ever!"

It read like bravado and I didn't like that. I remember thinking, "Christ that's not what I said at all!" From that day on, I pulled back.

So I came up with little tricks to give journalists the slip. First into the showers after a game and out the dressing-room door like a hare from a slip, cap pulled down. Leave off the Kerry tracksuit to make it easier to disappear.


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Everyone hated the dressing-rooms in Pairc Ui Chaoimh because they were as tight as closets, but I loved the chaos of the tunnel outside.

Five steps into the crowd and you were gone. Sometimes I'd tell bare-faced lies to avoid the questions. I remember a journalist stopping me at the dressing-room door in Killarney after a Munster final and I spun him a line about having to sign something out on the field.

I made a song and dance about telling a lad to watch my kit-bag as if I'd be back in a minute. Then a text to one of the boys: "Bring out my bag when you're coming."

Over time, Kerry managers came to indulge my ways. I mean I was a Kerry sub under Paidi in '97 and our All-Ireland final press-night had to be seen to be believed. Pure madness.

Thirty boys out kicking footballs on the pitch in Killarney and journalists wading in among them. You could see the older, cuter fellas like Darragh seeing a microphone coming and breaking into a jog to the far side of the field as if trying to do a stretch.

The few lads that were caught then became sitting ducks for smart men behind the goals, lobbing balls down on top of their heads.

So you had journalists trying to do their jobs, having to bat away these balls to the sound of the cute hoors inside laughing.

Looking back, it was diabolical. Embarrassing. Ignorant. One journalist described Kerry press-nights as the annual 'yerra' festival and that about summed it up.

Eventually, they even stopped coming down. Who could blame them?

Things were a little more organised under Jack O'Connor and Pat O'Shea. There'd be a room organised in a hotel and we'd be instructed to go down. Even then, I'd be back dodging again. "Christ Jack, I couldn't find the bloody room ... "

When Eamonn Fitzmaurice took over, he knew my style. Eamonn roomed with me in Jack's time, so he left me off. "Sure Tomas has to travel from Cork, we'll get some of the lads living local."

I remember the day I was sent off against Dublin at Semple Stadium in '01. I was fairly sick in the dressing-room after, head down, lads giving me a wide arc.

Next thing the door opened and all the journalists came pouring in. Like a scalded cat, I raced to the toilet, straight into a cubicle and spent 20 minutes sitting on the bowl. A grown man hiding from the world.

I tell these stories against myself now. I never had anything against the media and would actually have big respect for a lot of the GAA writers.

But my way was to trawl through the papers on a train journey to Dublin, looking for a quote from an opposition player that I could twist in such a way to get my blood up.

It might be something totally innocent, but I'd even bring it up at a team-talk. "Look at what this fella thinks of us!"

Knowing what that did for me, I suppose I was determined not to give that kind of fuel to our opponents. So I did my Greta Garbo thing. I was more than happy to let the likes of Maurice Fitzgerald or the Gooch take on the burden of talking. Maybe that was selfish. But the selfishness I felt I needed to play county football ate into every aspect of my life.

So it's ironic, I suppose, for a fella who spent his career avoiding media to be turning up on 'The Sunday Game' now and doing a newspaper column.

I saw someone writing last weekend that they wouldn't be surprised if Donegal pinned my "skeleton" comments up on the dressing-room wall in Celtic Park last Sunday. Fair enough. I'm on that side of the fence now.

For what it's worth, I was happy to see the old divilment back in Donegal's play. Why? Because I think if they can get back to firing on all cylinders, they're one of the few teams that could set Dublin a real tricky challenge later in the year.

Now I still stand over what I said about them to the extent that we just haven't seen the 2012 energy levels from them over the last year and a half. And I'm not totally converted yet. I mean Derry really disappointed on the day, yet there was only a kick of a ball between them at the finish. So the jury is still out.

But, in fairness to Jim McGuinness, he has an unbelievable record in Ulster. He's a very organised guy who always strikes me as someone with a plan. Right now, I think they're at about 70pc of their 2012 level, but they seem to have that 'us against the world' attitude again.

Apparently they had a tough week's training leading up to the Division 2 league final against Monaghan, that's McGuinness' way I think.

I actually love watching their system, the way they can change from all-out defence to all-out attack in an eye-blink. The key to that is having inside-forwards of the highest quality.

Michael Murphy, to be fair, was magnificent on Sunday and Paddy McBrearty wasn't far off. Colm McFadden, though, had a poor enough game.

The big thing was they looked a happy camp in Celtic Park and, if they win Ulster, I'll be delighted, because I think everybody in the country would love to see Dublin against a Donegal team firing on all cylinders. Nobody else has set up against Dublin as defensively as Donegal are capable.

Still, summer is young and I'm only looking at them and guessing. I'll be wrong about plenty more before the tassles are on Sam Maguire.

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