Friday 24 November 2017

Where are they now?

MICK LEECH

(former Shamrock Rovers

player)

Mick Leech made his debut for Shamrock Rovers in 1966 at a time when the League of Ireland was hugely popular. It attracted massive crowds every week, produced players of international standard and captured the imagination of sports fans around the country.

"We played in front of 40,000 people in an FAI Cup final," recalls Leech. "Games were often sold out, Cork had 25,000 supporters at nearly all their games and Waterford had 15,000. It was a totally different era in sport. People in this day and age don't realise how significant the League of Ireland was, they don't understand how significant a role it played in people's lives.

"In my time, if you bought the Independent newspaper there would have been three or four pages of League of Ireland and a half page on English football. Everyone supported an Irish club and while they did support English clubs too, that would have been their second choice. My father was an Everton supporter; he went to England every month or so to see them but he would watch Patrick's every week, he would never miss a game."

While playing for Rovers Leech amassed three FAI Cups, a League Cup and a Leinster Senior Cup. Towards the end of his career he moved around clubs before finally finishing up with Dundalk.

At the height of his success he made eight appearances for Ireland, earning his first cap at Dalymount against Czechoslovakia. Ireland lost 2-1, Leech was carried off injured at the end of the first half but it was still a special moment for him.

"Running out with an Ireland jersey and standing there listening to the national anthem was an amazing feeling. I'll never forget it. I got injured but I didn't care, I had played for my country and I wanted to do it again."

All through his playing career, Leech worked for Guinness. He spent 43 years there. It was a place that accommodated his soccer career, and allowed him time off for away games with Rovers and Ireland internationals. He is retired now and dedicates his time to his family and watching sports.

"I love all sports, it doesn't make any difference. I'd go anywhere to watch sport," he says. "I'm a full-time supporter. In the last week I've been to three soccer matches, a Gaelic football game and a rugby game."

Sunday Independent

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