Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Why I am voting Yes for equality

I am a goalkeeper. I am a member of the GAA. I am a son, a brother, an uncle. I am 24. I’m a straight man.

Years ago, when I needed some encouragement in life, a close friend left me an envelope with a little note in it that said:

‘Be the best that you can be. The best you can be is yourself.’

These days, when I see it hanging from a thumbtack in the wall of my bedroom in Cavan, I think of why I will be voting 'Yes' on May 22.

One-day I want to meet someone, fall in love and get married. I hope to spend the rest of my life with a special person that I can depend on in good times and in bad and go through life with hand in hand.

At this moment, I do not know if that will happen for me. I do however know my dream can become reality, that my dream is legal and my dream has Ireland's support. Our gay friends, family, teammates and colleagues just want the same thing – an equal right to live happily and be true to themselves. Just like that little note hanging on my wall would urge them to. We are all the same but at present we are not recognised as equals in our country.

We have the power to change this. It is in our hands to make Ireland an equal place for ourselves right now and indeed for future generations. On May 22nd, I am joining the majority of the Gaelic Player’s Association membership in voting ‘Yes’ for equality.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

I am staring into space and thinking about how I have played a match with tears in the back of my eyes..

To my friends and family, I was living the dream. But beneath the surface I was caught in a nightmare world from which I could see no way out. I felt trapped, and alone. I have shared my story in hope that others might reach out. Help is never far away . . .

I am an Ulster champion. I am an Ulster champion, I tell myself again. I know I should be confident.

I know I should feel privileged after winning a provincial title earlier in 2011 but I don't. I feel terrible and I can't sleep anymore. Night after night I lie in bed staring at the ceiling; questioning my existence. I question the GAA too and I wonder why I give the commitment I do.

My drive and focus have left me. My weekly dose of adrenaline and satisfaction is gone. Playing football used to make me feel ten feet tall but that all seems a distant memory now. I have come to dread a sport I once adored. My life feels pointless.
It's three days after Christmas in 2011 and I am gazing at the flickering flame in the fireplace at my family home. It's comforting. I can feel the heat rising out from the fire and hitting me in the face. I look at our tree, the gifts I have, the endless food nearby and I'm telling myself I don't want to go to a two-day training camp with my college, DIT.

There is a voice in my head telling me to stay right where I am. It tells me I hate football. Despite this internal conversation I force myself off the couch, pack my bag full of waterproof gear, boots, gloves, towels and get into my car. Football is the Grinch to my Christmas right now but I know I am obliged to be present. Despite ongoing injuries and niggling pains, I train that night.

The pitch we are slogging away on is barely lit. We rely on the floodlights from the astro-turf running perpendicular behind the goal to light up the area where we are working. I'm standing in the middle of a puddle and although I am there in body, I don't feel there in mind or spirit. The feeble light flickering its way through the net and railings reminds me of the warm comforting fire at home. My mind is away in the clouds, wondering why football is not enjoyable to me anymore. That little voice is whispering in my ear again; asking me what the hell I am doing here. It has asked me that question so many times recently. Still no answer.

After training I stay with a team-mate. I am dosed in negativity. It is manipulating my thoughts and that night I spend my time moaning about a sport I had always adored. I am completely and utterly disillusioned with football. Eventually, after being blitzed with all my pessimism, mixed with some recollection of fond old memories of playing football together for Cavan and DIT, we decide it's time to hit the hay because we have a challenge match in the morning. After he showed me to my quarters for the night he went into his room, shut his door and I presume he nodded off to sleep like any normal person.

Me? I took a sleeping tablet but even that didn't knock me out. Altogether that night I got three hours’ sleep. I'm taking sleeping tablets and I still can't sleep. I mean, what the hell is wrong with me? This has been happening nightly for a while now so I came prepared for my insomnia, on this occasion in an unfamiliar house. I stay up reading Olympic boxer Kenny Egan's book in the hope that it might distract the hushed whispers in my head enough so that I will be able to get to sleep.

Tiredness gradually descends upon me and my eyes get heavy so I turn off the bedside lamp and close them, desperately hoping to get some much needed sleep. It's a complete waste of time. Thought after thought races around my head. After switching to my iPod I eventually dose off but by 7.0am I’m wide awake again. That voice is talking to me once more.

I glance around the room to see if there is a TV; no joy. My head falls back into the pillows. I lie there staring at an unfamiliar ceiling; thinking, questioning and wondering about everything in my life. Football, my prolonged struggle with injuries, the death of a loved one, love in general, money, and all else that goes with it.

The voice in my head on this morning focuses on how every game I have played since losing the biggest game of my career has seemed a massive anti-climax to me. It tells me football is the reason for my unhappiness. That march to the 2011 All-Ireland under 21 final in Croke Park, the adventure of a lifetime with a special bunch of players, seems a lifetime ago.

For some reason nothing has been able to match the feelings I had playing on that team. Maybe I was too emotionally attached to it; maybe I invested too much energy, physically and mentally. It was the first thing I thought of when I woke up and the last thing that crossed my mind before I went to sleep. My dreams were often about that team.

The problem is I have not been able to match the feeling and satisfaction it brought me. It's like being taken to Disneyland as a child and being allowed to go on the most dangerous and thrilling ride only to be told after just one go that you have to stay on the bumper cars from now on. I was lucky enough to experience that rush, that extreme high and I thought nothing else could compare to it. All of a sudden the conversation in my head is interrupted by a knock on the door to wake me up for this game on a miserable winter morning by my good friend. Little does he know.

Three hours of sleep and a game of football later I am driving home on the motorway. This is a mundane, boring and soulless road. Its markings flash by in a blur. Now I am simply staring into space and thinking about how I've just played the majority of a challenge match with tears in the back of my eyes. I ask myself what the hell is happening to me and why I am feeling like this? I tell myself to pull it together and snap out of it but I can't change my train of thought. It's negative. So, my morning replays in my brain once more as the road continues to whizz by in a monotonous blur.

I hate myself for making me go to this challenge match when I could have stayed by the fire at home. I remember being younger, when all I wanted to do was play sport. I would spend my days jumping and diving on the concrete paths. When the call came from my parents to come in for the evening I had a sponge ball in my house and I jumped around after it on beds, on couches, on carpets and on wooden floors. I would commentate to myself, always so happy in my own little world. Back then the voice in my head was a far more innocent and positive friend to have around; we would dream of stopping goals in big stadiums some day.

The challenge game on this December morning couldn't have been any further from that innocent and inspiring place I imagined myself to be in my youth. All I remember was looking at the deteriorated surface around me wishing for a hole to open up and swallow me. Anything to get me out of the living hell I found myself in. This was as far from that exhilarating rollercoaster I had ever felt.

That's the conversation I am having in my head as I am driving home. There is nothing to catch my attention on this road; nothing to distract my brain. It's just me in the car, me and the voice that has become more and more prominent lately. It is getting louder. It gets to the point where it muffles out the radio. I keep driving. I keep thinking, questioning and wondering. How have I got to this point? The point where there is even a thought of swerving my car into the concrete wall on the side of the motorway.

I feel trapped; it's just me and that voice in the fast lane of a motorway. Deep down, somewhere, I'm aware that is not a good mix. The concrete wall to my right looks so appealing. How easy it would be just to swerve into it and finish it all. The voice whispers in my ear: ‘Will anybody even care if I do it?' The visualisation of my parents at my funeral rescues me from this horrible train of thought. I wind the window down and let the crisp air hit my face.

Eventually I get home and I want to switch off. I'm tired, I'm cranky and I've had a realisation that I am depressed.

A week after a chat with my GP and my prescription for sleeping tablets, a read of Kenny Egan's book, the experience of playing a game of football with tears in my eyes and an hour-long conversation with myself in the car and it finally sinks in. At least that miserable drive was good for something.

Like most mothers, mine has that special talent of immediately sensing when something is wrong so when I get home she asks. I say “nothing”. She knows I haven't really been sleeping, I told her that much, but I'm not me right now. I'm a pale shadow of me and she knows. She asks again. I try to convince her I'm just tired but she knows I'm lying. Mothers always know.

Now she is standing over me on the couch while I lie there with headphones over my ears and my hood pulled up. I try to pretend I am listening to them but she knows. Then she asks me if I am feeling depressed?

Eerie, creepy silence invades the room. Should I lie? What excuse can I give? All these thoughts are flying through my brain at a hundred miles an hour. My head has been swirling like this regularly. Sod it, what have I to lose. Look at the state of me. I swallow the lump in my throat, hold back the tears in my eyes and cough up something that sounded like “yes”.

She asks what is going on with me and what is getting me down but I don't open up. I still don't fully understand the whole process myself and why I feel like this. I head to my room to try and make sense of how I have reached the miserably low point of suicidal thoughts entering my brain. More thinking; more questioning and wondering but still no definitive answers.

* * * * *
It's March 2012 and I'm back on the same couch. I have tears in my eyes again. Two or three times earlier that evening I swallowed the lump in my throat and closed my eyes waiting for it to pass like it had done over the previous few weeks but it didn't seem to want to go anywhere this time. Something was different. Conversation would temporarily distract my tired brain but each time silence, other than the TV, spread around the room, thoughts start bouncing around my head at a frightening pace. We, my brain and I, have been doing this for months now. Talking to ourselves and questioning my existence. I felt like the Smeagol/Gollum creature from the Lord of the Rings series. Two voices within one person constantly debating and arguing.

The waves of emotion keep churning internally so I remove myself from the room pretending to be shattered and head for the sanctuary of my bedroom. I turn off the light and get into bed. I had been warned that this moment was going to arrive. My GPA counsellor, who I had been seeing on a bi-weekly basis since January, told me this was going to happen as part of my healing process. As my depression would lift my body would need to offload emotions.

The best thing I ever did was call the GPA counselling service. Twice before I had sat alone with the number typed into my phone but I just couldn't find the courage to push the green button. Who is on the other end of the line? Will he think I am making a fuss over nothing?

I was lucky enough that the service was free for me and, ironically, the clinic was based on the road where I was living. On the day I was first due to go to a ‘session' my body shook with anxiety at the mere thought of opening up to a stranger. Part of me wanted to reach out for help but the other strand saw the solution as getting back into bed, pulling the pillow over my head and waiting for all my problems to go away. I spent so much time in my bedroom my friends called it the ‘Batcave'. Day after day I was just lying there on Facebook and Twitter doing nothing, eating crisps and sweets instead of cooking food. I don't remember when or how the negative voice in my head became so prominent, but my brain became poisoned and I needed help.

As I lie in my bed on this March night I think about what he said to me over our sessions and playback the conversations in my head. I see the jar he drew in a box of sand beside the desk where we sat. I see the first line he drew towards the bottom of the jar — the point where a normal person's emotional content is meant to be. Then I can see my level a few inches above it, worryingly close to the brim.

We have talked about a lot in our sessions, and this races through my head now. My grandfather dying and how it inflicted a sense of loss that I had never really experienced before. My diminishing relationship with football and how I gradually sank deeper and deeper into a state of depression after losing that All-Ireland under 21 final in Croke Park. That journey was the happiest time of my life. I invested so much time, energy and thought into it and truly felt part of a team; a family. It's a special feeling.

For some reason, playing with other teams failed to fill the void I was feeling. Football became a chore and I think my consistent struggles with injuries played a part in that. They were intrinsically linked.

Luckily I had a job I loved. The brilliant thing about work was that it gave me responsibility and accountability. Things really spiralled downhill when that work came to an end. My energy levels declined and I rarely left the house. For a while the only thing I enjoyed was drinking but then the nature of the hangovers began to change. Sometimes I would just drink again to get rid of them. A temporary illumination of the dark mood I found myself in.

The alcohol began to affect my train of thought. Normally a feed of drink brings a sudden high which lulls you into a false sense of happiness but that changed with me. One night while out, I found myself sitting on the lid of a toilet in a Dublin nightclub hiding from the world. Laughter and conversation filled my ears from the outside, while on the inside my eyes filled with tears and my head filled with negative and self-conscious thoughts. I sat there trying not to cry.

On top of all this I think about love, my family, work, college and how it bores me, and my life in general; the point of my existence. For the first session, I walked into the room with the intention of telling this stranger that I hated football and that anything going wrong in my life was its fault. A few weeks down the line, with the help the GPA service provided, I could see that wasn't actually the case and I just wanted to be able to get out of bed in the morning and see the pleasure in life again.

I decided to try life without football and stopped playing for Cavan and my club, Bailieborough Shamrocks, after I was knocked out of the Sigerson Cup with DIT. I no longer wanted to be a pitiful human who passed day after day lying in bed. I yearned to be happy, confident and outgoing again.

As I lie in my bed reflecting on all this a tear makes the breakthrough from my right eye and begins to trickle to my neck. That sole tear is soon followed by another one on the opposite side of my face but this one decides to linger somewhere between my lip and ear. I lie flat on my back trying to relax the frame of my body.

I feel like I want to cry. I know I need to. But for some reason I can't. Am I imagining all this I ask myself? Is it all in my head? If the tears aren't coming, well then maybe I just think I am depressed. Is this all just a figment of my imagination? Have I just been fooling myself over the past few months and giving myself a reason for losing my drive and appetite to succeed in life? Gollum and Smeagol are at it again.

I search for a distraction. My bedroom is dark. Night has descended but my eyes have adjusted to the surroundings and I can make out things that I couldn't a few minutes ago. I can see my light-blue curtains and the outline of my television with a blue dot shining from the surface to signify it is on standby. I wipe the tear away that has been clinging to my cheek and think the worst of this peculiar mood is over. Is this it? I ask myself. Is that all you can muster?

Then my eyes fill up again. This time I roll onto my side and curl up into the foetal position. I pull a pillow out from underneath my head and draw it close to my chest. At that moment I could almost feel the jar physically shatter within my gut.

Tears start oozing out of my eyes and roll down my face like raindrops on a window pane. The feeling they create whilst touching my skin is unnatural. My stomach contracts as if more of my contained emotions are being forced up through capillary action towards the exit point. Memory by memory and emotion by emotion they climb.

I hear movement in the next room so I bite down on my duvet to smoother the sobbing noises. Tears are flowing freely down my cheeks and I can't breathe through my nose anymore as it is completely blocked with slimy snots. No cold or ’flu ever created this stuff.

My phone vibrates with a message but as I go to press the buttons I am trembling. My eyes are blurred and I struggle to make out the text on the screen. I toss the phone somewhere into the darkness and return to my curled up position. I am not going to fight this anymore.

Once or twice I thought I was done, wiped my face and blew my nose only for another wave to ooze out. About 30 minutes after I entered my bedroom I lie with my head in a wet and bogey-ridden pillow. I had been warned that at some stage I may erupt into tears for no apparent reason but I don't think I really believed my counsellor when he said that to me. Thankfully for me, however, it happened in my own bedroom where I could have this private and important moment. Nobody has a clue what I have just done.

It dawns on me that before I went upstairs I sat listening to Niall Quinn, the former Republic of Ireland striker, tell Ryan Tubridy about his experience with a mental health problem. Perhaps, that was my trigger or maybe it was going to a Cavan match for the first time in 2012, standing on the terrace feeling completely detached from the team.

All the time I am thinking about this dark spell of my life. I can see the light though, literally, as a ray of light meanders its way through the bedroom door frame and into my line of vision.

* * * * *
Depression has reared its head in my life again since that March night. I have hit potholes; there have been one or two occasions when I found myself with tears at the back of my eyes whilst sitting at work.

When I began my treatment the biggest mistake I made was that I thought I was just trying to beat depression in a one-off fight. Me and Depression. Twelve rounds. When I delivered what I thought was the knockout punch and finally felt good again for the first time in months, I naively thought my fight was concluded.

When depression stepped back into the ring for a second bout I was caught with my guard down. I wasn't expecting it, but I'm glad I got taught that lesson. The difference now is I can identify when it is starting to hang over me thanks to the process I went through. I sense the dark cloud over my head. Normally my relapses have occurred after a session of binge drinking and, moving forward, I know I will have a wary relationship with alcohol.

I also recognise my head physically feeling heavy, a lack of concentration and energy in my day-to-day life. When I sink low I get headaches that no amount of paracetamol can cure. They are at their worst in the mornings and will try to convince me to stay in bed.

I returned to football for the 2013 season and it definitely helps me. On the few bad days I had, especially at the beginning, and then when I broke my arm in an Allianz League game, I could be driving to Cavan for training and subconsciously I'd start thinking of excuses, but I never once turned the car around. By the time I'd be completing the return trip I'd feel great. I'm certain that is to do with the post-exercise mood-enhancing endorphins that experts talk about. Football can be the cause of fluctuations in my moods, I suppose that's the nature of competitive sport and investing your time, energy and emotions, but in general playing helps me keep these demons at bay. I love playing for Cavan. Having a job I love and daily structure helps me massively too.

The key thing for anyone who is feeling depressed is to always remember there is light at the end of the tunnel. And if you ever get to a point where you are struggling to see it, like I did, then that is the moment to reach out for help. Opening the vault that had become my head was crucial in lifting my depression.

I'm only 22 years of age but that dark spell has taught me so much about myself. Over the past two years I have felt depressed when actively involved with a football team and when I have been idle from GAA. I have experienced depression whilst in love and when single. It's hung over me when living with friends and been there when staying with family. It has been there as a student and been there at work. The common denominator in all those things is me. What's very easy to forget though is that I have also felt happy during most of those stages too.

* * * * *

The Gaelic Players’ Association, working with the GAA, has operated a counselling service for players since 2010. This service includes access to experienced health professionals and, crucially, an urgent confidential counselling support line for players which is available 24/7, 365 days a year. Freephone Republic of Ireland 1800 201346 and from Northern Ireland dial 080 234 5183. Over 70 players have engaged with the service in the last three years.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Win together, lose together


Football; it's just one big game of momentum. It twists and turns. It constantly shifts from one side to the other and that's what makes it so interesting. The constant alternation of that momentum. The unpredictability of it all.

Looking back on Saturday, Cork definitely enjoyed greater periods of that momentum. They found scores easier to come by and the slow, intelligent and patient build-up that was the trademark of the Cavan team throughout their gallant march through Ulster proved less successful against the Munster men for most of the contest.

Then the momentum shifted and Cavan came so desperately close to maximising their purple patch to snatch a result from a team that had claimed three consecutive provincial titles of their own. Clever use of the substitutes bench and decisions taken by management in the heat of battle was a key part in that shift of momentum. The stereotype of pushing a big man like Michael Argue to the edge of the square and lamping it in for 20 minutes was avoided.

Paul Graham reenergised the half-forward line, while the switch of Brian Sankey with Killian Clarke was a fantastic call. Brian has won an Ulster minor title in the full-back line and also played there for me on a DIT fresher team and that is where he is probably most naturally at home. He had put in a a serious shift at midfield on Saturday and swapping him with his clubmate Killian at centre-field added to the fresh impetus Cavan were finding.

The introduction of Conor Madden gave Cavan a real cutting edge up top. Time after time throughout the afternoon Enda O Reilly and Paul O'Connor made selfless runs seeking the ball and trying to occupy the sweeper that Cork had stationed in front of them for the betterment of the team. Not everyone automatically sees those runs but they drain the legs. Madden brought a freshness and directness.

Above all though it was Conor Moynagh who grabbed the bull by the horns. The Drumgoon man was the catalyst to the Cavan reaction. He didn't just run at people, he ran by people and there is a difference. Give and go. Overlap. Create gaps. Inch by inch, yard by yard Cavan clawed it back. The shackles were off and they played with freedom and abandon as they chased the game. Momentum was gathering!

Driving home from the game I couldn't get the lyrics 'when you try your best but you don't succeed' from the Coldlay song 'Fix You' out of my head. I was gutted for the team. I've been on that u21 journey from start to finish and it is one hell of a ride. The effort, the commitment, the honesty, the passion and the sheer energy both mentally and physically this team will have put in to wearing that blue Cavan jersey will have been second to none.

For years in Cavan all people said was that they wanted to see pride back in the jersey. It's a cliche but it makes you think for a second about what people really want from you when you pull on that jersey. These lads, some of them still 18 and others just about 21, put their lives on hold to play for Cavan. They drive from Sligo, Galway, Dublin or wherever they may be to Breffni Park on a weekly basis just to earn an opportunity to wear that famous blue and and I think Cavan folk have started to take pride in their teams again over the last three years. The size of the blue wave in Tullamore was certainly a fair indicator of that.

Few get the opportunity to become the physical embodiment of the area where they come from. To encapsulate the spirit and ignite the passion of their county. To stand centre stage and tell the wider public through actions rather than words that this is where I am from and this is what we are about. You do it for identity. To pull on the jersey and wear your tribes crest and colours with pride. You go to war together. You break bones, pull muscles, sprain ligaments, both live your dreams and have them crushed. Tears of joy, tears of sorrow. It's a rollercoaster full of highs and lows.

Nobody will feel that more than Mullahoran's Enda O'Reilly this week. A lesser man would have shirked the responsibility of the game winning shot in such dramatic fashion. There are so many excuses he could have told the management when they called for him right at the death as he had already put in his shift for the team. Tight hamstring or dead leg, he only had to mutter two words. Some would have blankly refused the responsibility but it's a sign of his character that he sprung from his seat when the opportunity arose. Michael Jordan once said; "I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."

Win together, lose together. Buckle up lads; the rollercoaster doesn't stop here.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

All entries from my u21 Diary - What a Journey!

That Wednesday night in April was without doubt the proudest moment of my life. Standing on the pitch, surrounded by my team-mates, my friends, looking up at the podium waiting for Gearoid McKiernan to lift our Ulster title – it’s hard to describe the feeling at that point. It’s an adrenaline rush but not like one any of us have felt before. It’s pure satisfaction. It’s happiness. That was the high-point of the journey. Things weren’t always that good…..

November 25 2010

My body’s shaking uncontrollably as a searing and repetitive pain shoots through my midriff. Moving makes it worse and I squeeze the unfamiliar bed frame in search of some sort of comfort. The nurse beside my bed spots my distress and finally comes to my aid. After fiddling at my hand she tells me she has pumped morphine into my system but the pain continues. She tries to distract me by engaging in conversation but talking only makes the pain worse. Ignorantly, I lie there and stare at the blank ceiling; manners are certainly not at the top of my priority list at this moment in time. Unfortunately there is absolutely nothing up there to amuse my eyes or distract my brain any longer and the pain overrides every thought in my head once more.

My sentences are coming out sounding like a have a bad stammer. I start to breathe heavily and the more I move my diaphragm in and out the worse it becomes. There is an oxygen mask covering my mouth and I suck in air like a rookie diver about to submerge myself underwater. The nurse, in her wisdom, tells me to slow down my breathing or I will hyperventilate. Does she really think telling me that is going to help calm me down? My facial expression clearly gets the message across. Thank god it does because talking is too much hassle and not worth the effort right now – normally you can’t shut me up but now I don’t want to talk – this pain is consuming me.

Finally, she takes the hint and pumps more morphine in an effort to help me relax. The pain begins to ease. Numbness begins to spread throughout my groin and it is a welcome relief. At this stage I’m drifting in and out of consciousness as the anesthesia works its magic. My eyes give up the fight and close.

I’m woken up by someone shaking my arm; this time it is a different nurse. I know I have my wits about me again at this stage as my immediate reaction is to check her out. She’s a tidy bit of work. Thankfully I’m no longer as high as a kite and I remember where I am and what has happened. I’m sitting in the Day Ward of the Hermitage Medical Clinic, Dublin. I’ve just had a Hernia Repair operation on my right side after playing with a mysterious pain in my quad and groin that nobody could pin down over the last two years. My surgeon Michael Allen thinks this will do the trick. I have no other option but to trust him.

2011 brings a whole new calendar year and with it a whole new set of competitions. I’m still a long way away from playing and I know I have an awful lot of gym work to get through but already lying here in this hospital bed, and briefly distracted by that stunning nurse I am already thinking about the months ahead and the opportunities they will bring. I have to play with the u21’s – it’s my last chance. For now though all I have to worry about is getting out of this hospital and getting home to Cavan for some TLC that only a mother can give in times like these.

December 10 2010

I met Enda King of Cavan Gaels, a physio out in the Sports Surgery Clinic in Santry, two days ago to start my rehab programme following the surgery two weeks ago. In general, I had been feeling pretty good. I was back driving and walking comfortably enough. Coughing was a horrific experience and I was unlucky enough to pick a cough during my recovery. At times the pain of doing that had me close to tears and throw in the discomfort of a malfunctioning waste disposal system due to the operation it really was not a comfortable time!

When I met up with Enda he more or less went through my whole body and tested various bits and pieces. Enda, a fine footballer with Cavan Gaels, also went through the exact same operation recently so if anyone knows the pains and problems I am going to suffer along the way it is him.

He went through simple exercises with me just to get my lower body ticking over again. Most of them were basic core stuff that every player in the country that has been injured will know about. They are about as exciting as watching paint dry. Chatting away to him I was optimistic and he knows I want to be back playing in six weeks. Leaving the clinic, he handed me a piece of paper with all the exercises on it and said, “This is your life for the next seven days”. I looked at him and laughed but he didn’t smile. He meant business.

3 January 2011

It’s great to get back into a team environment and to be in and around the lads again is reinvigorating. Recently I’ve been togging out with the lads but when they hit the 3G pitch I trot up to gym upstairs to do my bit. It’s better than sitting at home doing these things by yourself all the time. I have literally been doing them every day. I even made a stab at them on Christmas Day but I won’t lie; I gave up half way through them, ate a chocolate Kimberly before washing it down with a can of Heineken.

Most of the days up in the gym I had the company of Kevin Meehan, who was having troubles of his own. He kept me sane half of the time. A human encyclopedia.

Today though I’m out on the 3G pitch…….but it’s to manage the DIT Fresher team against the u21’s. To say it was a strange experience would be an understatement. It just made me want to play even more. After the game I went back to the gym and did more core work, which involved lying on my back and lifting my leg up and down for 30 minutes – literally. I was getting there.

5 February 2011

I won my first ever trophy with Cavan today but it was far from the bright lights of Clones or Croke Park. We beat Roscommon by three points in the final of the Hastings Cup in Longford and despite the awful conditions on the day we chipped in with some good scores.

Most times competitions like this are looked down upon but we got some good tests out of it this year and I don’t care what anyone says winning this will help lads believe in themselves that bit more moving forward. Winning is a habit and something we want to get used to.

11 February 2011

Tonight we played Dublin u21’s in a challenge match in Mullagh, the reigning All-Ireland champions at this level so it was a massive test for us. We played well in the first half and were winning 0-5 to 0-3 at the break. It was a scrappy enough affair with heavy underground conditions but we showed the basic requirements of hunger and work-rate.

I’m feeling an awful lot sharper now compared to just two weeks ago when I played my first game back against Meath. My reactions are getting quicker and I’m slowly building up my confidence. I remember one night training with Enda by myself thinking do I still have it as he mercilessly hammered goal after goal past me? He was relentless and I will forever feel I owe him for the service he gave me which was far beyond his job description. It turns out if you don’t play football for a year you get crap at it. It really isn’t a switch you can turn on. Anyway that’s enough about me.

Our second half was so disappointing. We only scored one point and the Dubs completely ran the show. At times it looked like we were men against boys especially at midfield where we were completely overrun without Gearoid, who was getting ready to play in the All-Ireland Junior Final with Swanlinbar.

From the team’s point of view lessons need to be learned and quick because lads won’t find championship sneaking up on them. We just stopped fighting and that is not good enough in a county like Cavan where nobody shows you any respect. If we want to get that respect we have to earn it and if we are not working hard then I honestly feel we are all wasting our time. That is the bare minimum for us.

23 February 2011

Let me quickly try and sum up yesterday. Leave Dublin at 5pm with G Mac, Oisin Minnagh, Shane Gray and Barry Tully in my car. Get to Newry and smell burning in car. Turn off the heater and hope it goes away. Windows steam up so put back on heat. Smell oil again. Check engine and realise no cap on the oil tank. Take off sock, on two people’s recommendation, to cover the tank. Get to game 45 minutes later than everyone else but beat Armagh in our toughest challenge to date. We really are getting there and starting to look sharp. If we play like we did tonight all the time it is going to take one hell of a team to beat us. Check sock and it’s still ok. Start driving home but car feels fucked. Get to Dundalk before car cuts out. After inspection, remove sock from tank with the help of two pens and Minnagh. Abandon ship on M1. There we are, late at night, the five of us sitting on the edge of the motorway with Cavan bags on the ground beside us. You couldn’t make this stuff up. Get Padraig Dolan, our stats man, to come back and get a lift home with nine of us squashed in the jeep. Get home at 1.30am. The things you do for Cavan football. RIP Ford Focus. You and that ‘Five’ tape did us proud over the years.

26 February 2011

19 days to our Ulster Championship match and here we are talking about drink. This week is RAG week in Sligo and Galway and a few of the boys expressed a desire to enjoy it. The game is just over two weeks away now and it is potentially the last time we might get to play together. Thankfully I wasn’t the only one against the idea and Minnagh, McDermott, G Mac, Smithy and Kevin Meehan all said it was time to cop on. We must have debated it for over 10 minutes at the end in the huddle together. The management stepped out of the huddle and let us discuss it ourselves. I love how Terry does that. He really gives the players a sense of responsibility.

In fairness I can see why some of the younger lads who are in their first year in college want to go out and enjoy RAG week but we haven’t been training since November to piss it all away just two weeks before the first hurdle. RAG weeks happen every year. We have serious talent in our ranks at the minute and this team could be the catalyst to awaken all from their slumber and give the senior team a new lease of life. I see it every time I go down to training with the seniors. There just isn’t the same buzz to them. No spark, no energy. They talk and talk and talk about doing things but when the time comes to do it nobody does. I have faith in Val to bring us lads through and get the right mixture of youth and experience going forward.

I pitied the lads that were fresher and in the end I sent a text to Aidan Moran, just out of minor, and asked him are we being harsh on them. The lads who are at every training session and don’t get playing deserve so much respect. At this stage the likes of Aidan know they aren’t going to make the Championship team but their commitment didn’t wane. Lads like him make a panel. The drinking can wait until we have Ulster medals in our pockets.

16 March 2011– First Round v Fermanagh

It’s D-day. I don’t know how many times I called up to DCU to chat to the likes of Minnagh, Smith and Tighe, who all live together out there or called down to Gearoid. Poor Facebook must have been sick of us talking about football. No matter how many times we tried to avoid talking about football the conversation always went full circle and looped back to the u21 set-up. The fact is without this team we wouldn’t be friends at all. Football is what brings us together a couple of times a week and we want to be successful.

The meeting before in the Meadow View was nice and relaxed. Terry talked us through various bits and pieces, while Fordey used video clips from previous games that year to show what we do well and remind us not what to do.

On the bus a few lads had iPods in their ears but most sat back and sipped some water as we watched the DVD that was based on the Galway football team in 1998, ‘A year til Sunday’.

Before I knew it we were coming into Enniskillen and the DVD changed from the Galway footballers back to the DVD which highlighted our successes over the year and what our whole team and style of football was about. The clips clearly showed our work-rate, tackling, desire, creativity in attack and most importantly support-play all over the field. We know we will need to get all those things spot on today to book our place in the last four of the province.

Standing in the dressing room just before the game I knew we weren’t going to lose. As we stood around the table with our arms linked in a huddle I glanced around. For me personally this was my first competitive game for Cavan in two years and I wanted this so bad. Looking at the faces of the rest of the team I knew they wanted it too.

23 March 2011 – Ulster semi-final v Donegal

Anthony Forde summed it up just after the pre-match meal in The Meadoview Inn. Tonight was going to make or break of this team.

Thankfully we learned our lessons from last year’s final and I have to give it to the management again – tactically we were spot on tonight.

To try and beat their swarm defence our half-back line was told not to go past the half-way line. Our game plan was simple. We were looking for swift and early ball straight into our full-forward line and if things did become too congested and crowded then ‘patience’ was to be our key motto. On numerous times when all avenues became blocked, we simply turned around and recylced the ball back out to our spare bodies out the field, who had refused to follow their men into the dangerzone, and from there we went at it again – simply probing for a weakness or an opening and with the quality and intelligence of the forwards we have they came.

Before the game we lost Niall Murray in the warm-up through illness so he had to miss out on his starting spot. It’s the type of person he is and when most would have went out and tried to start he held up his hand and admitted he wasn’t fit to do his job today and handed that task onto someone else. That takes a serious amount of courage. Before the game I saw him up against the wall in the corner. He was inconsolable and close to tears but it simply spurred us all on even more. We owed him another day out – we owed him an Ulster final.

After the game all the talk in the dressing room was the fact that the club league campaign was starting that weekend and we didn’t know whether we should play.

As the debate rumbled on it was put to bed temporarily by a scene that a comic writer couldn’t even imagine. As we were all sitting down, tired and exhausted, just wanting to hit the showers out of nowhere came a random shout ‘Mouse’.

For a group that where out on their feet with exhaustion I have never seen some of the lads like Marc Leddy move as quick. There was pure horror in some of their faces as this mouse meandered its way past boots, gloves, lucozade bottles and banana skins in the search of safety.

I genuinely just couldn’t have been arsed moving but a few seconds later I was nearly on the floor in tears of laughter. Darragh Tighe, our corner-back, who had the same groin operation two months after me but somehow made it back for our campaign, ran after this mouse swinging his left boot at it. He kicked bags, bottles and everything but the actual mouse. It was hilarious.

I can guarantee you if the club was at him to play or any other team for that matter there is no way he would have cut through the rehab the way he did. Two weeks after his op he went out running by himself. His wound hadn’t even sealed over fully and it reopened. All he wanted to do was play on this team.

I know for a fact it still hurts him and he will need to spend some time doing more rehab and core-work when this championship is over to truly sort himself in the long-run. Yet here he is doing his bit for the cause week-in week-out, taking anti-inflammatory tablets, chasing mice and just getting on with things. It’s people like him that never get the credit he deserves but he is an integral part of this team and I wouldn’t trust any defender more than I trust him. He is a joy to play behind and late on when Donegal came looking for a goal there was a massive goalmouth scramble. My save from the initial shot had trickled clear across the goal and all hell broke loose. My first reaction was to smoother it. Lying on the ground, facing the goal and surrounded by Donegal men I looked up. There was Tighe and Oisin Minnagh covering my arse as I crawled like a baby on the deck trying to clear our lines. Legends.

13 April 2011 – Ulster Final

This was it; our time to shine. I couldn’t have picked a better team to be playing. This Tyrone team was the one side we could never seem to beat when we were younger. At u16 they hammered us. At minor, they absolutely crushed us as our naivety cost us dear in Clones when we were on the brink of the Ulster Final.

We were all buzzing for it and there is no way we could let those boys get the better of us again. The ball got thrown in, G Mac grabbed it and banged it inside. Murray back from his previous disappointment races onto it and sticks it in the net after 11 seconds.

Talk about setting the tone. It was a serious game and I have never played with a team that played with the intensity that we did that night. We literally didn’t give them an inch.

Before the final, many people said it was our chance to gain revenge on Tyrone but I didn’t see it that way at all. I know if we didn’t win that game it would have annoyed me until the day I died. That game was about us proving a point to ourselves that we can beat anyone on our day. We were sick of having regrets.

Sitting in the dressing room before the game I closed my eyes and remembered my first time playing for Cavan. I’d say I was 14 and I remember getting on a bus full of unfamiliar faces to play in a blitz up the north somewhere. To win an Ulster title with those fellas was incredible. Seeing Darragh Tighe jump up and down like he did at the full-time whistle made all the effort and energy put in over the years seem more than worthwhile.

The feeling when the final whistle was euphoric. How did we celebrate? We went to the swimming pool in the Slieve Russell after the game and were in there that night at 12 o’clock.

Cavan for Sam!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Sigerson Cup: And then there was four

The chase begins......

Two days of action, which will be played over February 24-25, will see the cream of the crop from our universities and third level institutions descend upon the campus of NUI Galway in search of prestigious honours.

UCC, the defending champions, are back to try and successfully defend their crown but they face a difficult task. With four teams qualifying for the Friday’s semi-finals the Cork outfit have been paired with NUI Maynooth, while on the other side of the draw 2010 winners DCU will clash with UUJ.

All in all an exciting two days of third-level GAA action awaits and here we preview the four teams that have qualified for the Irish Daily Mail Sigerson Cup weekend.

How have they got there? As the defending champions UCC were always expected to qualify for the weekend. They began their campaign with a routine victory over GMIT and followed that up with a narrow win over Sligo IT to qualify for the last four.

Who do they play? UCC meet an NUI Maynooth side that has been knocking on the Sigerson door quite heavily over the last number of years and who will be confident of causing an upset.

Star Man: Stylish centre-forward Mark Collins has become a lynchpin of the UCC attack in recent seasons and having featured prominently in Cork’s NFL campaign this year looks set to be one to watch in 2012.

How have they got there? DCU began their campaign with a hard-earned victory at home to Cork IT and they followed that up with a convincing win over their city rivals DIT.

Who do they play? DCU have been paired up with UUJ in the semi-finals and this meeting looks set to be an enthralling encounter as both sides will fancy their chances.

Star Man: Blessed with attacking talent such as Dublin’s Paul Flynn and Eoghan O’Gara, DCU have an attack that will worry most defences. However, at the back it is Westmeath’s Kieran Gavin that has caught the eye and he will be crucial in thwarting a quality UUJ offence.

NUI Maynooth
How have they got there? Maynooth have had to overcome two stiff challenges already this season. Wins away to Queens and at home to UCD don’t happen by accident and they will fancy their chances of causing another upset.

Who do they play? NUIM will have to overcome the defending champions UCC if they want to make it to the Sigerson decider.

Star Man: Mickey Newman has grabbed the headlines so far for Maynooth and if they are to shock UCC they will need the Meath man firing on all cylinders.

How have they got there? UUJ survived a scare in the competition’s opening round against UL and then dug deep to carve out another win over hosts NUIG to confirm their place at the weekend.

Who do they play? The Belfast outfit have been paired with the 2010 champions DCU and although they will be underdogs there is no doubt they will fancy their chances of pulling off a shock.
Star Man: Tyrone’s Mattie Donnelly will be expected to provide the scores for UUJ once again after chipping in with five points in their quarter-final victory over NUI Galway.

Friday, February 3, 2012

It's Sigerson time!

Sigerson First Round Report from Jerome Quinn on Vimeo.

The first week of February normally means only one thing if you are a college student that has any interest in GAA; its championship time.

In my opinion, the Sigerson Cup is arguably the most competitive GAA competition there is on these shores. Before the tournament started this year there would have been eight or nine teams that would all have felt that they were in with a shout of winning it with UCC, DCU, Cork IT, UCD, Maynooth, DIT and UUJ just the first few names that come to mind. I mean, how many other GAA competitions can say that over 50% of the competing teams genuinely feel they can get their hands on the trophy?

Any footballer that plays the game wants to compete at the highest level as often as they can and for me that is the beauty of the Sigerson. Played in February, there is no competition in the country that is played at the same pace and intensity at this time of year.

Through college football you meet new teammates and it’s a nice break-up from the provincial constraints that we have generally been confined to from 16 years of age or so. It’s something different and fresh.

During the week I played with DIT against IT Carlow in the first round of the Sigerson Cup and there was 10 different counties represented in our starting line-up. College football is the only scenario that lets most of us experience anything like that and it opens up the football brain to different ideas, philosophies and styles as well.

Our game on Wednesday was very much a clash of two different styles. We knew coming into the contest it would be difficult as Carlow had only lost to an all conquering UCC side by a point in the league final. We had been pre-warned about their style of play too as they play with 13 men behind the ball and then try to pick off scores on the break, through he likes of Wexford’s Ben Brosnan. As a group it took us a while to adjust to the confined spaces that are left in attack as some of our players would never have come up against such a system before.

To be fair, it nearly worked for them but in the end we were rewarded for our patience and perseverance when Gearoid McKiernan curled over an equaliser just as the fat lady was climbing onto the stage at the end of the second half.

That style of play they chose to play is physically demanding on the legs and in extra-time our forwards thankfully found that extra bit of room to manoeuvre in and Alan Freeman got the ball in the net – just – to help us on our way.

The quarter-finals will see ourselves take on the winners of DCU and Cork IT, NUI Galway play UUJ, IT Sligo take on UCC and NUI Maynooth clash with UCD – all four extremely difficult contests to call.

Most players are out with their counties this weekend as the National League commences but you can be certain that next week all the teams mentioned above will be back on the training field and working hard to get one step closer to a dream.

Championship fever is hard bet at this time of year!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Remember the time when playing Gaelic Football involved training two or three times a week and playing a game at the weekend? Gone be the day.

Remember the time when you were only ever accountable to one manager? Gone be the day.

Remember the time amateur sportsmen and working men were allowed sleep in the morning until they had to go to work? Gone be the day.

Remember the time GAA players drank water and Lucozade instead of protein shakes? Gone be the day.

Remember the time farmers were able to commit to inter-county panels? Gone be the day.

Remember the time you spent more time on the football pitch than you did in the gym? Gone be the day.

Remember the time when football was predominantly about skill and intelligence rather than strength and power? Gone be the day.

Remember the time when the competition within an inter-county panel was about who could score the most or who could keep their man scoreless instead of who could lift the heaviest weight? Gone be the day.

Remember the time GAA players didn’t wear jerseys that were purposefully designed to be too small for them? Gone be the day.

Remember the time when young GAA players were able to play for their college and their county team? Gone be the day.

Remember the time when people accepted that amateur sportsmen were exactly that? Gone be the day.

Remember the time when the best players in the country were automatically able to commit to playing with their county? Cherish those days.

A man can only use love as a reason for so long. The GAA world is going mad. Mad, I tell you.

Time to go make some lunch. #disillusioned