Thursday 18 October 2018

'Other teams were saying 'How the f**k did yis get him in'' - Shane Supple's rise from Crumlin to the GAA and the Aviva

Shane Supple will be hoping to cap an unlikely comeback by playing against the USA tonight. Photo: Sportsfile
Shane Supple will be hoping to cap an unlikely comeback by playing against the USA tonight. Photo: Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

It was the demands of a busy summer for Crumlin United goalkeeper David Meehan that opened the door for Shane Supple's remarkable return to the sport he had given up.

A comeback which has given him a week to remember as a member of the Ireland senior squad for games in the Stade de France and the Aviva Stadium.

The third anniversary of the start of his journey is still months away.

Through the summer of 2015, Supple's primary sporting endeavour was as a goalkeeper with St Brigids, his beloved GAA club, which had given him his sweetest moment in sport four years earlier.

Winning a Dublin county title meant the world to a man who had quit a professional football career with Ipswich Town in England to come home and find a life and a sporting environment that he really enjoyed with people he trusted.

At that stage, he was adamant he was done with the code that had brought him to England. But he hadn't quite distanced himself from it.

Shane Supple with the Crumlin team before the 2016 FAI Intermediate Cup final. Photo: Sportsfile
Shane Supple with the Crumlin team before the 2016 FAI Intermediate Cup final. Photo: Sportsfile

Supple was advising youngsters on their next step and had dabbled in promoting soccer scholarships in America. And he was the co-owner of the Irish Pro Keeper (IPK) Academy, which was offering specialised coaching.

In tandem with his business partner, Darren Kelly, they needed facilities to run their sessions. Crumlin United were able to help, yet there was an opportunistic streak at play.

Dedicated

"I was thinking some day I'd get a pair of gloves and boots on him," laughs Martin Loughran, the manager of Crumlin and a dedicated servant to the club.

When the pressures of work and family commitments forced Meehan to take a break after a busy period in 2015, Loughran was left in a spot of bother.

There were signs that Supple was warming to the game again when he jumped into goal for the odd training session.

Shane Supple in action for Ipswich Town. Photo: Sportsfile
Shane Supple in action for Ipswich Town. Photo: Sportsfile

"He was doing a bit of work with us as well in relation to advising young kids in our underage section about going away to England and the pitfalls that came with it," explained Loughran last week.

"But then we were stuck for a goalkeeper. David Meehan was an excellent goalkeeper. And he was so good, it was hard to get another keeper in because they would say 'I won't play ahead of him'."

Arm-twisting took place. Loughran leaned on the assistance of clubman Larry Fox, a scout for Ipswich, who already had a connection with Supple. Another key member of IPK, Ian Fowler, also encouraged his colleague to take the leap.

Crucially, Crumlin were able to offer IPK a better deal on renting facilities.

"We got him in a headlock," Loughran laughs. "First of all, I got his name down on a form and that was the big thing. And he said to me then 'I know where this is going to lead'.

He probably didn't know how far it would take him, however.

"At the time, I said to him would he play one match," Loughran continues. "And he enjoyed it, he really enjoyed it. I knew once I got him back playing, he would."

Shane Supple lifting the trophy after St Brigids’ victory in the 2011 Dublin SFC. Photo: Sportsfile
Shane Supple lifting the trophy after St Brigids’ victory in the 2011 Dublin SFC. Photo: Sportsfile

His arrival caused a stir in the Leinster Senior League.

"Other teams were saying 'How the f**k did yis get him in!'," Loughran recalls. "He was unbelievable. I used to have to tell him in training 'Would you let a few in? I was worried he'd destroy our strikers' confidence.

"He had everything: the saves, his awareness, his ability to talk with the back four. You can't buy that."

It was his inevitable that Supple's presence would attract attention. After just one season at intermediate level, Bohemians made a strong pitch.

"I didn't want to lose him but I said 'Look, Shane, it's something you have to do. You're on the road now, but you might as well stay on it'," says Loughran.

A key aspect of the Bohemians deal was that the League of Ireland club had no issue with Supple continuing to play with St Brigids.

That was important. He has described GAA as his first sporting love, and he returned to a club located between Blanchardstown and Castleknock; its history is tied in with both areas and the growth of Dublin 15. Supple grew up in Roselawn, which straddles the two areas.

Barry Cahill, who was on his own road towards All-Ireland success with Dublin, didn't know Supple too well when he landed in the dressing-room after he left Ipswich in the autumn of 2009.

His younger brother Mark had been friends with him from childhood.

"Shane would have been at a low ebb coming in at that stage," Cahill recalls. "Similar to ourselves, we weren't going well.

"But from 2010 onwards, he was a breath of fresh air. He had a really positive enthusiastic attitude towards the team and towards the club.

"The one thing I really noticed when I would come back (on inter-county breaks) is that the standard had gone up in terms of training attitude and commitment, and a lot of that was down to Shane. He's a really committed, determined guy and that rubbed off on the other players."

After falling just short in the Dublin final in 2010, St Brigids were crowned county champions a year later, with Supple now captain.

"In 80 years, we'd only won two senior championships and we won that against the odds," says Cahill.

"Shane was such a big part of that, he would push people and challenge his team-mates. Probably a lot of traits that someone like Roy Keane would have had in his playing days."

Of course, Keane was the manager that Supple had left behind in Ipswich. A good number of the St Brigids boys were old friends of Supple, and he was comfortable around them.

At the same time, there were questions that lingered about his reasons for walking away.

"I don't think Shane shied away from that," says Cahill.

Broached

"Maybe guys had to get a few pints on before they actually broached the subject. But he was honest about what he didn't enjoy and why he wanted to come home and experience that team spirit that a lot of club GAA teams have."

Dublin was the breakthrough that he couldn't master. A full season behind Stephen Cluxton was a frustration.

"He was behind one of the greatest GAA players of all time," Cahill says. "The type of individual that Shane is, he had come back to play and enjoy his sport.

"With Dublin, he didn't enjoy not playing as much as he'd have liked. So he focused on the club."

Supple, who had mulled over going into the gardai, had a lot of other things going on in his life.

He had studied in college and looked into the area of motivation, which tied in with his interest in acting as an agent for young footballers and building IPK with Kelly (who now runs that company on his own).

There was also work with Legacy Consulting, an agency co-founded by Bernard Brogan. His most recent venture is doing some work with a company named AptOn, where he mentors young athletes.

He signed as a semi-pro with Bohemians, but the demanding League of Ireland schedule has made the Gypsies his main focus.

As recently as April, he was lining out for St Brigids on the day after a derby win over Shamrock Rovers.

But the 31-year-old has packed in the GAA for the time being to concentrate on Bohs business, and the Irish call after a well-timed visit from Martin O'Neill and goalkeeping coach Seamus McDonagh, who rates him very highly, has vindicated the decision.

He has bought into Bohs' community work too, including a programme helping out prisoners in Mountjoy, and has likened the atmosphere around the Phibsborough outfit to a GAA environment.

That's why he has spurned full-time offers from other Irish sides; he dislikes the culture of jumping ship from one rival to another.

"It's an incredible story," says Cahill. "When you look at the subs on the French bench the other day, it's mindboggling.

"I did think that at some point he would possibly go back playing soccer in Ireland, even though he was adamant he was finished with the sport. Over a period of time, he fell back in love with it.

"There's no doubt he is a loss to St Brigids but nobody in the club would have an issue with his decision because he was the most committed club player there for seven or eight years.

"He's a very likeable guy and you'd like to see guys who have that determination and work ethic succeed.

"Shane made a real success of being a GAA keeper, there's no doubt he's been one of the best.

"And when he got involved with the club, he would come and help coach the underage teams and the juvenile goalkeepers on his weekend off.

"I know he's interested in the coaching of goalkeepers in GAA because the art is changing.

"While our loss is Bohemians' gain, I doubt very much that he won't get the opportunity to pull on our jersey again further down the line."

Cahill will tune in this evening, desperate for Supple to get a cap. His is a story that knits sporting codes together, and it has captured the imagination.

Between his long association with St Brigids and his brief stint as a keeper with Crumlin United, he has crossed paths with a variety of sportsmen around Dublin who have witnessed some part of his resurrection.

Supple spoke with Loughran on the phone last week.

"He said 'At least I'm going to the Aviva with a bit of experience'," says the veteran manager, a reference to Supple's Crumlin swansong - an FAI Intermediate Cup final success over Letterkenny Rovers in May 2016.

"He was really good in the dressing-room," Loughran continues. "Because he could see that some other lads were nervous. He said 'Do you mind if I say something?' Fellas look up to a fella with that ability and it worked for us at the time. I had no problem with him speaking.

"He said 'Lads, this is a great day, a great place to play and don't leave it behind you'."

Crumlin won 5-0. Supple has tasted the winning feeling at the national stadium before, but a run-out as Ireland keeper would be the dream.

"I think he's the best goalkeeper playing in Ireland," asserts Loughran. "And I'm sure if he'd stayed in Ipswich, he would have played for Ireland. We'll all be there against the USA, hoping that he gets on."

It would be appropriate if that breakthrough came off on the evening after a low-profile posting for Bohemians in Limerick. Duty called.

There's a temptation to say that an Ireland outing would be fulfilling his destiny. But a twist of fate and the determination of a strong mind has brought him to the brink of a fitting reward.

Irish Independent

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