Sunday 26 January 2020

'It's f**king heaven' - Seán Óg Ó hAilpín on how his Sundays are 'glorious'

Seán Óg Ó hAilpín
has every reason to
smile as he enjoys
life with his family Photo: INPHO
Seán Óg Ó hAilpín has every reason to smile as he enjoys life with his family Photo: INPHO
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

Seán Óg Ó hAilpín takes his place on the other side of the table and it's instantly clear that time has been good to him.

It's coming up on six years since he retired at 35 but he looks no different from the man who accepted the Liam MacCarthy Cup in 2005.

In fine GAA tradition, he looks like he could still play.

But for ó hAilpín there's no burning desire to rewind the clock. He loved his time playing and is grateful for what his career has given him. But after 15 years at the top, he was happy to chase something else.

"I'm going to surprise you here," he replies when asked what he does to sate his competitive edge in retirement.

"And I know what you are getting at because fellas that have been used to getting a kick out of something can't stop. But I'd be the opposite now. I'm a pig in sh*te now!

"Sundays now are glorious. For 15 years Sundays for me meant either living in a hotel room, getting lambasted by a manager in a dressing room or spending an evening chasing Henry Shefflin or Eddie Brennan or Eoin Kelly. Then going back on the bus for a three-hour journey, and if you lost it felt like 10 hours.

"You'd go home, you'd barely get to say hello to your partner who is probably in bed at that stage and then the alarm rings the following morning to go into work.

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"That was my Sunday for 15 years, so you can imagine my Sundays now - it's f***ing heaven! There's a part of me saying, 'Look, I've done a good 15 years doing that and I just want to do something different like relaxing'.

"Sunday for me now is wake up, read the papers - something that we couldn't do. We were told by managers not to read the papers over the years. Wake up, read the paper, enjoy a nice fry every now and then, hit tennis with the wife, come back, game on tv and if it was a nice day have the barbecue on. F***ing lovely. That's my Sunday now!"

That's not to say he's turned his back on the GAA. Along with Tom Kenny, he helps out with the UCC Fresher Hurlers and he worked with Cork development sides in the past but his club Na Piarsaigh get most of his time.

"Only for the club, I don't think I would have got playing for Cork and all that. And to be honest, our club underage needs a lot of work. It's not the underage club where I grew up, thriving. So for me it's just a call, I'm better off up in Fair Hill, rather than down in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

"It's not glamorous, it's far from glamorous. It's challenging, but when you're dealing with people that you think have the same mindset and DNA as a lot of people in the club, it's easy to work with. And Cork, they'll have plenty of great people involved in Cork teams. That side will go on anyway."


Is he climbing the ladder to one day be in the reckoning for the Cork job in the way of many former players?

"No, and my previous managers were all Cork players. You couldn't get any better than JBM (Jimmy Barry-Murphy), Donal O'Grady, John Allen, Ger Mc(Carthy), Bertie óg (Murphy), all former Cork players.

"I've no doubt guys I played with will be coaching Cork, but no... some things are for you, and I just don't think... if truth be known, my heart is more in the club these days than it is the county scene."

And while he wouldn't have shied away from using the term "crisis" in relation to Cork hurling a couple of years ago, he's optimistic they can have a long summer in 2018.

"If you went off the league you'd say they'd struggle to get into the top three teams who in this format go through. On league form, they'd be lucky to get that third spot. But I actually think Cork will go well. I'd be confident they will be one of the three to go through (from the Munster round-robin). On what basis? On the basis, in the GAA year there are two seasons, the season of muck and sh*te and the season of hard ground where the weather will get better. Playing the marquee games in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, Thurles, Croke Park which I think is more suited to this Cork team than playing in Wexford Park on a dreary Sunday afternoon in February getting horsed out of it by 15- or 16-stone guys."

The long days of summer are gone for ó hAilpín but other things fill his time now including an annual trip to see his brothers and youngest sister in Australia.

"Any fella that says he doesn't have any regrets from his playing days, I'd imagine he'd be spoofing to you. There are some regrets, certain games you should have won. One of the biggest regrets for us is probably not winning another All-Ireland or two after 2005.

"That still lingers, it doesn't eat into me but every now and then the thought comes that it would have been nice to have won another one or two after that. Most of the team were relatively still within their peak, there was probably another window of a year or two but after that… would it have been good enough to stop that great Kilkenny team? Probably not.

"It would have been nice to have a rattle off them for a year or two, but that's all history now."

Time moves on. It has to.

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