Anyone who is into their Football, and by football I mean Football, not ‘soccer’, will know just how much an inter county footballer’s lifestyle has changed over the last 30 odd years. Nowadays it’s incredible really how much training and time goes into preparing your body to last the pace of 70 minutes in Croker, especially when Stephen Cluxton is the man between the sticks, dictating the pace of the game with his short quick kickouts, “Ah for jaysus sake cluxton, will ya fire one down the middle” says a bolloxed tired imposing midfielder with 5 minutes left on the clock!
Monday could be a gym session, Tuesday field, - during January/February this tends to be the torture session “I’m telling ya, if you don’t run the 200Meters in under 27 seconds you’re going again!!”, Wednesday gym again, Thursday back out onto the field, Friday, maybe a rest if you’re lucky, and then a game at the weekend. Repeat that cycle week in and week out, I’ll tell you that’s some serious amount of washing for the poor owl mammy’s!!”
“Maaa, I have a club game tonight, where’s them shorts??”
Then on top of that schedule you have to watch every last thing you eat “feck sake ma, I told you not to have sauce with my chicken, too bad for ya, I have to get my body fat down” or “By any chance do we have any green tea in the house?”… “GREEEENN TEA” says the confused looking head on the father of a budding intercounty star/farmer!
Things where somewhat different back when “men were men” and when there was no such thing as a ‘tight hammer’ or a ‘tweaked groin’!
Well during the early 80s my father was living in Ferguson Road, Drumcondra, Dublin 9, sharing a house with Offaly legend and GAA great Matt Connor. During this time the faithful supporters were living their glory days and a lot of it was due to Matt’s raw talent between the white lines. The auld lad often told me some great stories about Matt. One story I found really interesting was how Matt trained outside of Eugene McGee’s well ran Offaly camp.
Dad would be sitting on the couch having a cup of scald after work and Matt would come down the stairs wearing an old pair of runners with an O’Neills in his hand, “Joe, I’m running down to Na Fianna’s pitch on Mobi Road to do a few laps and have a kick around, any chance you'd follow me down in a half hour so I can take a few shots on ya?” “No bother Thresher (as he was known), I’ll be down soon”.
So off Matt would go running along the roads soloing with his left, then his right, while jinxing in and out of the telephone poles along the footpath! Dad never played football at a top level so he was amazed to see what Matt could do with a ball in hand; the man was a pure genius. Dad often described to me how Matt would place the ball on the edge of the either side line, about 55 to 60 yards out and shout at my aul lad who would be gathering the balls for Matt behind the goals “Right big Joe, left or right peg?? Inside or outside the foot?”. “Ahh jaysus whatever Matt, just hurry up ta fuck I’m feckin freezin here. “Right so” says Matt, as he’d swing the ball straight over the black spot with a flick of his left peg!!
One particular day, Matt asked my Dad to stand in the middle of the goal posts and not to move left or right; “Stand dead still Joe”. While Matt was placing the ball on the penalty spot, and peeking up, looking at dad with deadly concentration on his face, my aul lad was getting very paranoid and felt a bit intimidated. “Matt I’m warning you, if you kick the ball at my bollox or anywhere near it, I’ll give you a kick in the arse!”. “Ha, I won’t horse, don’t worry, now don’t move”.
Matt walked back about three steps, took one last look at his target, and “Bang”
The ball, according to my oul lad simply came at him with a spin and a bend, crashed through a hole in the net that was no bigger than a dinner plate right behind him.
Dad asked him, “Connor, ya aul shnakke ya! Were you trying to fucking hit me or what!?” Matt replied, “No I had planned to put it between your legs alright but when I noticed the hole in the net behind ya, I thought that would be a better target.”
My auld man didn’t realise at the time that he was kicking around with one of the greatest players to have graced Croke Park. Dad just thought of him as a friend who “was a bit of craic and handy at the oul football”.
After the ‘kick abouts’ they would call into the “Cat & Cage” on the way home for a few pints of black. The diehard GAA oul lads at the bar would often ask Matt plenty of questions; “Will Offaly stop Kerry this year Matt?”…. “They will Tommy, if they supply me with enough ball”. All this type of banter that goes on in all pubs around the country.
There was no such thing as Pilate’s classes, bikram yoga, top class diets, or any of that craic back then, it was just training with your county two nights during the week, a game at the weekend and make a holy show of your friend down on the local GAA pitch on the off days.
It’s such a pity that this naturally gifted footballer met with a bad car accident which ended his football career at 24 years of age, god knows what he would have went on to achieve in the game. Well my aul lad for one, was delighted to have had the chance to run after many a ball that Matt curled over the black spot below in the Na Fianna Gaa pitch on Mobhi Road.