Tuesday 20 March 2018

'I don't have scripts for videos, I just go and film it' - The rise and rise of Rory's Stories


Rory O’Connor: ‘I had to get it done because I just felt it was going to take off.’ Photo: Tony Gavin
Rory O’Connor: ‘I had to get it done because I just felt it was going to take off.’ Photo: Tony Gavin

Dermot Crowe

A few years ago Rory O'Connor ran into Colm Cooper in a Dublin bar. Cooper needed no introduction. O'Connor mightn't have been as widely recognised but he was known to Cooper, already acquainted with the popular Rory's Stories videos posted on O'Connor's Facebook page.

"Are you an actor or a GAA man?" Cooper enquired, curious.

"It was a good question," O'Connor admits now. He told him he couldn't be one without the other.

As his slapstick depictions of episodes of GAA life illustrate, O'Connor has a talent for acting and comic delivery. His GAA bona fides were also cast-iron. A player with Donaghmore-Ashbourne on the Meath-Dublin border since the age of five, he still turns out, at 30, for the intermediate team. He served two years with the county minors, being captain in 2005 when the Royals lost to a last-minute point to Offaly in the Leinster semi-final, a moment that still "haunts" him. He had three years with the county under 21s.

O'Connor always had an interest in acting and comedy roles but it wasn't until the success of Rory's Stories that he plucked up the courage to quit his regular job and try making a living out of it.

"It wasn't that I was a shy quiet lad in the class and all of a sudden became this lunatic," he explains of his late-ish vocation. "I have that madness in me I suppose. I'd be hyper enough. So in school I was always the class clown.

"I might have over-stepped the mark a couple of times in class, got thrown out, that kind of stuff. I was never great at the books. What I used to do was to try to make the class laugh to take away from the fact that I hadn't a breeze what was happening in school."

For several years he had different jobs which had no lasting appeal. His career path changed when he started writing stories on Facebook about the GAA from a comic perspective and, encouraged by the response, began shooting short film clips. Many of those have been filmed where we meet, in the upstairs bar at his local GAA club in Ashbourne. At this location he captured numerous scenes parodying GAA life, like the team that wins the county final, the over-zealous days leading up to the win, and the over-zealous days after.

The celebrations that run into a fourth or fifth day, by which stage one of the party is seen lying on the floor, nobody paying much heed. They hit Coppers, plastered, where mention that they've won the county title sees the bouncer change his demeanour radically and usher them though the doors like family. Cut to scenes of lads puking, awakening with hangovers, starting again. No matter how farcical the scenes become, all contain an essential grain of truth.

His first sketch was centred around a crazed team manager who lets rip at half-time in the county final when his team is not going well. "We were training on the Sunday morning," recalls O'Connor.

"And I had an idea of a manager coming in at half-time to a team and giving them a bollocking. So I got a pair of glasses and asked the lads would you mind sitting down and we'll just go with this. So Paddy Murphy, a friend of mine, came down and he got a camera and just recorded. It was totally off the cuff.

"I played in county finals myself and I just repeated what was said and added a few tales to that - the usual, like, 'we are not working hard enough'; 'Get the finger out of yer hole'; and 'this is the one chance, don't have any regrets'. I posted it online that evening and the next day it got a lot of views, something like 15,000 views, which at the time was huge. Then some websites picked it up.

"It was then the penny kind of dropped. The GAA has never been done like this before. Pat Shortt and Dermot Morgan touched on it. So I said 'this is your opportunity to get your name out there'."

The GAA provides a wealth of material for the satirist, often with no slant or interpretation required. Social media has helped bring O'Connor and others to wider attention almost overnight. But having the material is one thing; you need to have a nose for it and to be able to dramatise convincingly.

O'Connor, with his pitiless caricatures of the people who inhabit the different strands of GAA life, has a natural instinct for this type of comedy. Done badly, it would be awful. He throws himself into each part with a natural manic energy. It is good because he has been that soldier.

"I don't have any scripts for any videos. What I do is I come up with the caption, like 'the dirty corner-back', or 'the cocky corner forward' and I just go down [to the club] and film it. We used to do three films here every Saturday and post them up on a Tuesday or Wednesday night. Within two months I had 50-60,000 followers.

"And I wasn't willing to give anyone else a sniff of a chance of jumping on board. I went on it as hard as I could. There were times where I begged lads to come down, I had my father involved, I had my fiancée recording us if we didn't have anyone else. There was no excuse not to get it done. I just had to get it done because I felt it was going to take off.

"I used to work at CPL at the time, a recruitment agency, and a lot of people in there will tell you where my mind was at. How I wasn't sacked was beyond me. There were a few fobby stories to get out of work early to make videos that were topical at the time."

O'Connor played senior football for his club up to the age of 25, when he had to stop for a year after undergoing a cornea transplant in his right eye. He was on the team that won the intermediate title in 2007 under current Meath manager Andy McEntee.

The time out recovering after his operation allowed him the chance to begin conveying his comedy to a wider audience than his circle of friends. At the end of 2015 he quit his last regular job. He is currently working on a book which will be published in the autumn, and he is a popular act at GAA club events and weddings.

Visiting clubs around the country he can spot the various stereotypes. "I can nearly pick out who's who. I can guarantee you that he's the free-taker: standing there, loving himself. Then you might have a lad in the corner drinking a rotten pint of Guinness and wearing Wrangler jeans and you know he is a pig of a man on the pitch. Everyone has these lads in their team. The lad who is always injured. The lad who is unbelievably fit in the gym but can't kick or can't solo or can't puck a ball."

At this point he feels he has nearly exhausted the GAA's reserves of stock characters and scenes and is more likely to hit on events as they happen, including the forthcoming inter-county championships. He will be contributing to a podcast, a mix of serious and light-hearted material, each Monday during the summer as part of independent.ie's coverage.

He promises a salty reflection on the previous weekend's events. But he has broadened his arsenal and his videos now cover domestic scenes between couples, with no GAA theme, which sees him work with Enya Martin, with whom he has a brilliant rapport.

O'Connor speaks in a Dublin accent, which is not uncommon for people living in that part of the county, on the city's circumference. But he is a solid Meath man. His version of the Dublin sunshine supporter Whacker Murphy is one of his most popular. "Any true Dublin supporter knows a Whacker Murphy behind him on Hill 16," he explains.

O'Connor says he has never been on the Hill but "went to a Dublin match years ago with a couple of friends and even then I remember louts, as I call them, soccer hooligans, in Croke Park. They don't know their arse from their elbow, you know (imitating them) 'Here! Number 5!'". They know Ciaran Whelan and that's about it . . . so I couldn't have been happier to take the piss out of them."

But old-school Meath, he says, would have regarded the outposts like Donaghamore and Ashbourne with a certain disdain. "They'd see us as more of a Dublin club. And that annoyed me. I hated that because I am a proud Meath man. So for me to be made captain of a Meath team, I was very proud. We have established ourselves as a good club, a very respected club; we have won minor and under 21 championships and been in a couple of senior county finals.

"But you'd be down playing a tough game against the likes of Nobber or Rathkenny or Oldcastle and you'd hear 'ah you Dublin this, you Dublin that'. There are Meath supporters in Ashbourne that would be at every county league game.

Now I do think it's changing. Back then though it was very much that we were the outsiders. Now you have Bettystown who are coming very strongly. You have Dunboyne, you have Ratoath, who are all dominated by Dublin blood one way or another. So we are not the only ones. The way it's going it looks like those Dublin border club are going to be dominating for the next few years."

In his party act at GAA clubs he assumes the character of 'Eugene from Oldcastle' who is an advocate of 'traditional' football. "And he remembers the '80s and '90s when men were men and he fucking loves Mick Lyons and John McDermott. He is oblivious to the fact that Mick Lyons and John McDermott wouldn't be much use to you nowadays. But he still believes they're the men to sort out Dublin."

Meath has a habit of turning out comic talent even if the county's footballers, a few exceptions aside, were characterised as inscrutable, unsmiling types. The kind that 'Eugene from Oldcastle' still pines for.

"Martin O'Connell now was a bit of crack," says O'Connor, plucking out names. "Trevor Giles - very nice but very quiet. Gerry McEntee very serious as well. I called him up at a gig one time here, and I said something sneery to him and, by Jaysus, I'll never forget the look he gave me! And I've had that look off his brother Andy when I gave the ball away on the football field."

But Andy was one of the people he turned to when he was at his lowest ebb, gripped by a gambling addiction a few years ago. "At 16 me and my best friend Tony Morgan, who will be best man at my wedding, went down to Galway for a few pints.

"Now you are probably thinking: 16? But that's how it was then. We just went down for the night. Laid a bet on an accumulator that someone gave us. I remember Tony was putting down a tenner and I said, 'you madman'. So we won and we had an extra €30 to drink that weekend."

That was how it started. "Then going down to bookies in Ashbourne and fivers here and there. Then fivers became tenners and then this godforsaken online betting came along around that time. And we then had our phones to place bets with.

"And around Cheltenham that's all we'd talk about at football training. Like, I have an addictive personality so this is the one thing I do not need to get into. I was never severe. You heard about Niall McNamee and Oisin McConville where they lost big; I never lost mad money.

"When I got paid I put a few bob into the joint account we had going for bills, and then I'd happily drink and gamble the rest. I wasn't spending money that wasn't mine, but I wasn't living.

"Around 2013 I knew I was in a bad place. I spent everything one night in Dublin in a casino, it was as rock bottom as I'd ever been. I remember leaving the casino with no money in my pocket and it was lashing rain. It was the first time… I won't say suicide entered my mind… but it was the first time where I was like 'I hate myself'.

I've often walked up the road punching myself in the head saying, 'you fucking eejit, that's €100 you could have had'. I just broke down the next morning hungover and my girlfriend said, 'you need to sort yourself out'. So I rang my dad.

"I ended up ringing Andy McEntee, and it was around the time his brother Shane, the TD, died. So I knew it was close to Andy's heart. I rang him and he knew there was something and he met me within the hour. We chatted about it. We nailed it down. I said my football isn't going well, I am not happy. He gave me the number of Gerry Cooney, who works at the Rutland Centre and who dealt with Niall McNamee and myself and (fiancée) Emma went out to meet him for lunch.

"What Gerry said really stuck home. I said, 'Gerry, I am not at the bottom right now, but I am on the way there'. And I could feel it, it had got a grip on me and I don't want to be depressed. I want to be able to go into the pub with my friends and have a few pints and not have to put bets on.

"And all that shite that goes with it. He said that once you have an addictive personality that's who you are, you need to be ready for it. So he said you need to find something that you are interested in to fill that void, whether it be the gym, cycling, reading. And as God is my judge, I walked away and I knew what he meant. And lo and behold a few months later Rory's Stories came about. And I said, right, this could be my opportunity. And thankfully, touch wood, I don't gamble at all now."

He says he wasn't making enough money to lose too much. "But put it this way, €100 to me at the time was a bill. And you are not a nice person. You lie. 'Where were you Rory?' Oh I was down in me ma's. 'You were in your arse - you were in the bookies.' My woman then would be very strong, she would read me like a book."

Performing brings it own pressures. O'Connor's high-energy personality and the high of the live show is naturally followed by a lull which he has to deal with. There is the danger of over-thinking, over-fretting.

"I did a wedding a few weeks ago and after the wedding I thought it was okay, not great. And by the time I had driven home and got into the house I was convinced I had ruined the wedding for them. That's how powerful the mind is. The negativity in my mind had convinced me I was useless. I am generally positive but I can't emphasise enough how good exercise is, if you are anyway edgy. I try to exercise four or five times a week. And if I don't exercise for a week I am in bad form. Even a tiny bit of running around the street with your earphones in, that's all it takes."

Lest you think he is about to stop suffering for his art, he is not about to become a monk. "I love a few pints. I am having my stag in Liverpool on the June bank holiday weekend. And I will be the first drinking pints in the morning and the last one at night. But again I will be in the doghouse for two or three days at home with the fear and all. But [it's okay] once you're ready for that."

You don't beat yourself up too much? "Exactly. It's only the alcohol and once that leaves the system you are back to square one. It's like the first few days [you're thinking] 'I am never drinking again', and once Friday comes you are raring to go again."

How many are going? "You are talking about 30. Lot of lads I played football with and a few cousins and a few other lunatics."

He'll marry late in the year partly because it won't encroach on football. There's a few clubmen on the Meath panel and Philly McMahon is also a friend from a time O'Connor spent a short spell training with Ballymun as an under-14.

The club played in a north Dublin league at the time and for all Ballymun's talent they realised they could do with a freakish lump of a midfielder who at that time was almost the height he is now, 6ft 4ins.

A few blow-ins from Ballymun set up the contact. His own team were down the divisions and Paddy Christie, the Ballymun manager, offered to bring him from Ashbourne to training and back each night. But a transfer was ruled out by the local club. He got to know McMahon during that period and later while attending Coláiste Íde for a short time. They now meet up regularly.

A few years down the road, if he were to have a vision, it would be of making an Irish film relating to real life as he sees it. Something along the lines of what Roddy Doyle produced in the past. In the meantime he is hoping to build up his business so that he might be able to make it more secure, though he knows forecasts in a business such as this are unreliable. But he knows, whatever happens, it won't change him. It may change others' perception of him.

Since Rory's Stories he has noticed the difference occasionally on the field. "I would hit a lad maybe a bit late and he would turn and say, 'oh you think you're great now because you are a celebrity' and all this shite". He could also be the one who finds what O'Connor does immensely entertaining. As many do.

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