Thursday 23 November 2017

From the Stands: Sobering tale of life after final whistle

THE amateur status of GAA players is often trotted out as a reason for restraint when the spotlight falls on a hurler or footballer because of some transgression on the field or an incident off it.

This can be a double-edged sword. Today's top inter-county players train like professionals, prepare like professionals, play like professionals and are feted like professionals. Some of them, probably more than you realise, are even paid like professionals.

Notwithstanding the progress made in recent years by the GPA however, some of the support structures available to them remain amateur. And this is never as evident as when the cheering stops and the reality of life outside the county panel looms large.

As understudy to Stephen Cluxton, few would have even heard of John Leonard, but his blog on his experience after he was dropped from the Dublin set-up makes for fascinating reading. The phone call telling him he was no longer required triggered "a binge that would only really end six months later in Sydney, Australia. The shackles were off. My reasons to drink, indulge, party and consume were so blatant and obvious that they screamed at me every day I woke up.

"It is hard to adapt to life away from the top performance routine," he writes in his blog, available at soberpaddy.com. "It is a hard nugget to swallow that you just aren't good enough anymore. And if you have an addictive, expressive personality, then you better watch out. You better understand that the rails might be about to be come off."

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Choosing your best county team across the generations is a fraught exercise and sure to provoke debate; choosing the best Kerry football team is all the more so. This was one of the challenging tasks award-winning radio broadcaster and ex-Kerry player Weeshie Fogarty set himself in his new book My Beautiful Obsession -- Chasing the Kerry Dream. Taking 1955 as his starting point -- he has seen every Kerry footballer since then -- Fogarty reveals his selection and also the best footballer of those 15 in his estimation.

This is one chapter in an engaging work illustrating Fogarty's life in and around football, including his time as a top inter-county referee. You can read how he missed out on refereeing the controversial 1983 All-Ireland final and the politics at play away from the public gaze. As for his Kerry team of the last 57 years, what we can reveal is that there are just two currently playing. And half a dozen from the all-conquering sides of the 1970s and '80s managed by Mick O'Dwyer.

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BEWARE the Faroe Islands air --that's the advice Johnny McDonnell, who was assistant manager to Brian Kerr in the Faroes, has for the Republic of Ireland squad travelling to the North Atlantic outpost today.

"The air is so clear and pure that it can knock you back," he says. "It's similar to the altitude thing. You can feel lethargic the first day, but you will be fine the next day. It might affect some players, especially with two games over a short period. When we had two games, we wouldn't train before the second match; rest was more important to conserve energy."

Giovanni Trapattoni has a training session planned tomorrow around Tuesday's game-time (7.0), but no doubt he will keep energy levels in mind as he puts his charges through their paces.

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BILL SHANKLY famously said that the two best sides in Liverpool were Liverpool and Liverpool Reserves. Now Sligo Rovers, leading the League of Ireland, can claim that their 'reserves' are setting the Irish League alight.

As many as six current or former Sligo players are in the Ballinamallard United team that won promotion to the Premier Division last season and rose to third spot in the table after a stunning 3-1 win over champions Linfield at Windsor Park.

As Ballinamallard is a small village in Co Fermanagh, fishing for talent in nearby Sligo makes sense, and they have striker Liam Martin on loan, with former Sligo players Danny Keoghane, Jason McCartney and Steve Feeney as regulars, while Conor O'Grady and Gary Curran have also figured this season.

Fergus McDonnell, Dermot Crowe and Seán Ryan

ssport@independent.ie

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