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Paddy Gumley Is The Man With The GAA's Most Improbable Success Story

Paddy Gumley Is The Man With The GAA's Most Improbable Success Story
By PJ Browne Updated

If you do a search for Paddy Gumley in the library of Irish sports photography agency, Sportsfile, your curiosity will pique.

There's one image of him playing for Cavan in a 2009 McKenna Cup game against Armagh. Next, there he is in the colours of Nemo Rangers playing in last year's Cork SFC final against St. Finbarr's. In between: nothing.

His career trajectory isn't the road less taken, it's more the one which has never been mapped. He didn't even play football between the ages of 15 and 21.

The 35-year-old from Redhills in Cavan joined Nemo Rangers two years ago.

"I was working down there and travelling up and down to the club at home. I just joined Nemo and came through what I call the overage system in Nemo Rangers," Gumley told Balls ahead of this weekend's AIB All-Ireland Club Football final between Nemo and Galway's Corofin.

"I played with the Junior C's, B's, A's and then the intermediates and then on to the seniors and I haven't looked back since."

Gumley's progression through the Nemo ranks was rapid. He joined the club in January 2016. By the end of May or early June, Larry Kavanagh had asked him to train with the senior team.

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"He just wanted to try it out, and someone at the club was like, 'Who is that fella?'" Nemo's Barry O'Driscoll told Balls last month ahead of the All-Ireland semi-final against Slaughtneil.

"Oh, that's Paddy Gumley. He's after joining," was the answer.

And the response: "He shouldn't be playing with them [juniors] at all. He should be playing with the intermediates or the seniors!"

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"He came in and then we realised. We were like, 'Who the hell is this fella?' He's an awesome footballer to be fair to him. He's been a great addition to us," said O'Driscoll.

"I would have just come on in games," Gumley explained. "Played a couple of League games. There were only two or three Championship games left, Ballincollig beat us in the semi-final. I came on in the quarter-final and then that was it."

I continued to train and we won the League that year. That probably helped me a lot. I kept at it and I never missed a training and got to play in the League semi-final and final.

I'd say there were three or four games there and that was probably a good base for me. They probably saw what I was capable of at the end of that League.

And then from January (2017) on they gave me a shot at it and, thank God, I've done alright. I've held my own. There's serious competition for places in Nemo Rangers.

Gumley has negotiated a steep learning curve at Nemo. The use of short kick-outs by opposition teams caught him out initially. An observant sort, he quickly picked up a few tricks.

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"I played a game once and got caught for a few short kick-outs. I was corner-forward and I got caught for three or four kick-outs. I was just like, 'Jesus Christ, this is not good!' It was only a League match.

"I just watched the lads at training one night and I just picked up a little thing they do to stop that, to counteract that. It's just positioning yourself, and that stopped that. Because if you're a corner-forward and you're getting cleaned out on kick-outs! It's not the way to go!

"In that game, it wasn't that I didn't know to counteract it, I just didn't see how I would prevent it. But then after training a few nights I just picked up on a few little bits and pieces, zoning off and stuff like that. Stuff I would never have even thought of."

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Gumley's rise has been made all the more improbable by a heart condition - hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. It's a disease which causes the heart muscle to become unusually thick and can made it diffcult to pump blood around the body.

The condition, Gumley admits, was the main reason behind the briefness of his inter-county career. He was told aged 26 that he should retire.

"It didn't help. I was getting on well and then I had to take six months out from training and when I came back there was probably a lack of a little bit of confidence.

"Knowing there's more in you, but not pushing yourself. Any training you were doing you just kind of had it in the back of your head not to push it. Even though you knew it was there. It's frustrating at times, knowing there's a little bit more in you but you just have to hold back.

"Now, I don't always hold back, I still push it as hard as needs be."

That health concern is also why he believes he doesn't have much longer left at this high level.

"I probably shouldn't be at the level I'm at. But, sure, I thought, 'this was it', and then it's still it. You know what I mean? You're not going to back out now.

"At the start of the year I would have said it was my last year at this level. And now we're still going."

The corner-forward went into the semi-final against Slaughtneil carrying a calf injury. He would last just 20 minutes against the Derry side. He's hopeful of lining on St. Patrick's Day in what would be his first ever game at Croke Park.

"I'll go out and jog and warm-up anyway and kick a ball over and make sure someone sees me do it anyway, and then I'll die a happy man! I'd be able to say I got out on Croke Park, even if it was only a warm-up!

"It's something that I would never have envisaged ever. Who would, like?"

Gary Sice of Corofin, left, and Paddy Gumley of Nemo Rangers are pictured ahead of the AIB GAA All-Ireland Senior Football Club Championship Final taking place at Croke Park on Saturday, 17th of March. For exclusive content and behind the scenes action throughout the AIB GAA & Camogie Club Championships follow AIB GAA on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat and www.aib.ie/gaa.

Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

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