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"I Was Never The Most Graceful Of Footballers" - Tomas O'Leary On His Return To Junior GAA

"I Was Never The Most Graceful Of Footballers" - Tomas O'Leary On His Return To Junior GAA
By Gavin Cooney
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Tomás O'Leary is back.

Well, kind of. Having announced his retirement in July, O'Leary confirmed his intention to return to club hurling with Erin's Own, 15 years after swapping sports for international recognition. Monday night proved to be O'Leary's return to GAA, although not to hurling. No, O'Leary turned out for the closing minutes of a Junior A football match for Erin's Own against Belgooly.

It was brilliant, I enjoyed it. It wasn't planned. I got a text off one of the lads to say that they were fierce stuck for numbers as they had played the Saturday night in a hurling quarter-final replay so there were a few sore bodies. So why not jump in there and help out when I was needed.

O'Leary hadn't been training, and has only returned to his own personal fitness regime in the last six weeks after, as he describes it, "living the good life in France: vegetating and put on a lot of weight". In terms of the game itself, O'Leary was denied the chance to be a gamechanger by dint of there being no game to change: Erin's Own were eight points up by the time of O'Leary's introduction.

It was good, like. I went up to help out in case there were any injuries or black cards, but we were comfortable throughout the match. It wasn't the best game of football ever, but it was lovely to get back, kick a ball again and pull on the Erin Own's jersey for the first time in 15 years.

I'd like to see I was a game changer but the game was well and truly over. I had one shot at goal alright, but it was more of a Garryowen than an educated, right-foot football effort. I got on a couple of other balls, but to be fair to the poor cornerback, he had played 55 minutes and I was coming on fresh.

As to whether he will keep kicking ball for Erin's Own this year, O'Leary admits he doesn't know. "I was added to the WhatsApp group on Tuesday morning, so we've training on Thursday night. I don't know, I'll probably go for a kick about and see where it goes. I can't imagine I'll be starting, but if they are in dire straits with a few minutes left they might throw me in, but I was never the most graceful of footballers".


Perhaps, but O'Leary is steeped in Cork hurling. His father Seanie enjoyed one of the truly great careers. In 13 years with Cork, he won nine Munster titles and four All-Ireland titles. That is a long shadow to cast, but had he not elected to pursue a rugby career, his son could have matched it. After this year's disappointment in the All-Ireland minor final against Galway, O'Leary remains the last player to captain an All-Ireland winning Cork minor hurling team. The pull of the ancient game was strong upon his return to Cork six weeks ago:

I was never the best footballer ever, hurling was my game. That's my major passion. I'd have loved to go back hurling this year, and went to the quarter-final between Erin's Own when they drew with Imokilly.

Typical hurler in a ditch, I was severly tempted to dust the cobwebs off the hurley and go back and help the lads. But it's a game you need three or four month training to get back at, so I'd probably have made a fool of myself if I went back straight away. But hopefully I'll get back next year.


O'Leary's record as Cork captain remains intact after the All-Ireland minor disappointment of this year, not that it is something O'Leary is eager to hold onto:

That still stands unfortunately. Being in France, I didn't get to any of the games. But Denis Ring, the Cork minor coach, invited me in to have a chat with the lads before the final. So whatever I said obviously go down too well!

Hurling is on the horizon for 2018, but for now O'Leary's appetite will be sated by football. Should Erin's Own survive the quarter-final challenge of Kilmurry this weekend, it will set-up a semi-final with Kilmacabea, and one of the GAA stories of the year. Last month, they won the West Cork championship for the first time in their 129-year history. It will be a family affair for O'Leary, too: his brother-in-law Timothy Nyhan plays with Kilmacabea.


Such internecine rivalries can punctuate O'Leary's thinking now that he has returned home, although he is far from idle. Having settled in Cork, O'Leary is running a watch company, Tomas O'Leary Designs (TOLD) and Co, and is involved with a recruitment company RedZone Recruitment based in the UK.

November brings a trip to Bermuda for a Classic Lions game with other UK and Irish legends, which O'Leary freely admits will be "more social than rugby".

Leave the serious business for Junior football.


See Also: Steve Staunton Recalls Scoring The Winning Goal In The 1985 Louth County Final As A 16 Year Old


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