There’s a pair of football boots in the trophy cabinet of Killeavy’s clubhouse. They’re the Adidas predators worn by Steven Mc Donnell in September 2002 when he kicked the winning point in the All Ireland final. Unfortunately my own footballing career never reached the global heights that would afford me such recognition. At 24 years old, I was a late comer to the Gaelic football scene.
There is a theory among people not involved in the GAA that a club has a ‘click’, and if you’re not part of that click, then you aren’t welcome. As an outsider, I believed it myself for a while. But by the end of my first pre-season training session that year, on the coldest of February nights, I realised that it couldn’t be any further from the truth. My hands were numb and my extremities all but frost bitten, and already I couldn’t wait for the next session.
Killeavy is most well-known for the exploits of the man whose boots reside in our trophy cabinet.
Stevie from Killeavy has won it all for club, county and country. As he likes to remind us from time to time, he has won 7 Senior Ulster titles, a national league division 1 title and a coveted All Ireland medal with his county. With his country he has won the International rules series 3 times, still holding the record for highest point’s scorer. A plethora of personal accolades and a club championship with his beloved Killeavy are just a couple more achievements I could add to a list that puts him up there with the greats of the game. I’ve probably missed a few accomplishments but no doubt he will let me know if I have.
What I love most about a GAA club is that we are all equals. No one is better or worse than anyone else. We do like to take the piss a bit but in all seriousness, despite Stevens’s success on the pitch, when he walks through the doors of our club, he is a Killeavy man like the rest of us. You might find him coaching an underage team, lending his time to fundraising efforts or having a pint in the clubhouse. If you get him on a good night, he might even get off his throne and mingle with the rest of us!
There are hundreds of people that keep a GAA club ticking over, each one as important as the other. From the Chairman right down to the 6 year old child making their first appearance for the club and from the All Ireland winner to the lad who, as a full forward for 3 seasons in the second’s team, managed only a solitary point. I remember that point well. It wasn’t Adidas predators on my feet though, it was a pair of white Reebok mouldies with a Union Jack on the tongue. My friends who knew better advised me against them. Who on Earth did I think I was showing up to training in white boots? Apparently I wasn’t at that level yet. I was to ply my trade in the classic black boot before even thinking about a fancy colour.’It’s not the colour of the boot but the foot inside it’ was always my adage, not wanting to admit the only reason I had them was because they cost £11.99 in a Sports Direct sale.
And it only took two and a half seasons into my floundering playing career to prove that old adage true. On a beautiful day in Dromintee, an electric counter attack by the Killeavy men was finished off by the right boot of yours truly. It couldn’t have come at a better time either. Minutes before the score, my wife had just landed, the first time she came to watch one of my games. The fact I wasn’t on the bench made her short drive to Dromintee worth the effort but more importantly, the score meant she had no reason to doubt the lies I’d been telling her about all the points I’d been scoring.
That same lad, the novice in the white boots who couldn’t kick snow off a rope, is as welcome around Killeavy as the three time All Star mentioned before. Not only was I welcomed onto a team of mostly has-beens, but when I drank in the bar or attended fun days with my family, it felt like I’d been part of the club my entire life. The fact I hadn’t been scoring on a Sunday was of no major concern to anyone. No matter how many times I fumbled the ball in training, or dropped a wayward shot into the arms of a half back, the lads would tell me to keep at it.
Special mention should go to the more senior lads on that second’s team. Mark Mc Donnell in particular, Stevens’ brother, kept me going through times of self-doubt, of which there were plenty. Finbar Mallon was so composed on a football that it would calm me down just playing alongside him. Then there was the less intentional support I received from Legs McArdle. Kevin, as he was christened but known to all as Legs for reasons we won’t get into, had such a terrible shot that he made me look like the Gooch Cooper. Maybe he was good in his day, I don’t know, I’m too young to remember. He drives a Brennan’s bread van now so I think the club let him play beyond his years so they could keep getting the free bread for sandwiches after matches. All these lads helped me immeasurably, as well as everyone else on that panel. In your own clubs, the names might be different but the characters are the same. These people live for their club and are only too happy to welcome new blood, no matter their creed, colour or footballing ability.
Maybe you left your club after under age or maybe you were never part of one in the first place. Maybe you’re a long haired metal head who doesn’t know how many points a goal is worth. Whatever your circumstances, I can say without fear of contradiction, if you show up to your local club, wherever it may be, and are willing to roll your sleeves up and be part of a community, you will be welcomed with open arms. I can’t guarantee you success on the pitch but I can guarantee you a lot of fun, plenty of new friends and memories that will last a lifetime. Good and all as a bulging trophy cabinet is, for the majority of us, it’s the memories of training ground banter and nights out with your teammates that stick with you. Killeavy are particularly good at that aspect. On a scale of 1 to Ballyragget, I would place us in the upper echelons. We have yet to resort to hiring hookers to liven up our parties, but three day benders and drinking Jaeger bombs from a championship trophy are perfectly acceptable forms of celebration after a championship win.
With all that in mind, I have a thought. To honour the fact that we are all equals in the GAA and that no man, woman or child is better than another, maybe it’s time we clear a spot in that trophy cabinet of ours for a pair of old Reeboks. Maybe they didn’t score the winning point in an All-Ireland final, but to me they symbolise a lot more. In the 7 years or so I’ve been involved in Killeavy, I have met scores of people I now consider close friends, I’ve gotten battered out of the boxing ring in Killeavys ‘Brawl in the Hall’ white collar boxing event, I scored an important point in Dromintee 5 years ago that meant we won by 9 instead of 8 and I got to partner the famous Micky Linden in a charity match, where between us we scored 7 points. (You won’t need three guesses to figure out who scored them all). Just a few of the many good memories I have from my time with Killeavy, and it all started on a cold February night in a pair of white Reeboks I bought for £11.99.
If you would like to support a newbie trying to get his own blog off the ground, head over to www.mrdeerice.com for more of the same. Thank you to Steven for the giving me the opportunity to be a guest on his blog.