Brian McEniff . . . affectionately known as 'Old Man'
When asked to reflect on “characters” that I have met through my time involved with playing Gaelic football, thinking back on all the different people involved, from supporters, team managers, trainers and coaches, medical staff and, of course, the players, the list became endless.
So many people are involved in any player's journey it’s hard to do justice to them all.
For me it was always about the dynamic of the dressing room and what went on, the endless training sessions, meetings were managers and players gave their insights into how the game should be played, especially in the big games.
For many when you mention the word character it’s usually directed at those that are always making people laugh, a bit of a joker and someone that can work the room without any difficulty; those that always have the answer and we certainly had our fair share.
But there is more to it than just that. Many would question the character of players when things are not going that well, when the team is struggling to get the results that everyone searches for. Those players, managers and trainers than can get the best out of everyone both in good times and not so good times.
John Wooden, the great American basketball coach wrote: “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think of you”.
As I can only name a few, I have picked those with different characteristics that make the “characters” that every team needs.
I’ll start with the manager, hard to pass Brian McEniff, the “old man” as widely known in the squad; lived for Donegal football and the players that wore the green and gold. For me the best part about the character that he portrayed to the rest of us was his ability to gather a group, players, mentors and medical staff and make it work; always in your ear, never raising the voice on too many occasions and giving players the confidence to be at their best.
The trainer: I had many, some brilliant men that when the dark winter nights, rain and wind blowing got you to work to the level required to get to your best. Michael “Sparks” (Gallagher), Michael Oliver McIntyre from Glen, Eamon Harvey, Anthony Harkin, but Patsy McGonagle, the experience of working with someone who managed some of the best athletes in the country, was amazing. When we had to run in the muck and the wet of Finn Valley Centre in the depths of winter, Patsy would be running beside you, telling you exactly what you were not doing, always demanding more, always giving you the opportunity to go further and funny with it. In all the seriousness that was going on Patsy would break the moment with a brilliant story or would stir one of the lads into a reaction.
We hit it off the first day; when we turned up late to the first training session under PJ McGowan in Ballybofey, he dogged into me about timekeeping. I replied by telling him all he had to do was roll out of bed and he was at training. The following weekend we trained in Fintra, he was early; great man.
Injury has always been a part of any sport. We had our fair share. When Tom Conaghan took charge of the county team in '87, he introduced Dr Austin O'Kennedy to the squad, and we have known him since. Every player has had to sit in front of “Austy” and explain to him one injury or another. If you needed an operation, it was sorted before you left the office; anything to get you right, not just to play; he sorted it.
Gave a great rendition of Don McClean’s song 'American Pie' that will last in the memory for a long time; great fella who would do anything for the lads.
The players: There are those that like the quiet, there are those that get themselves ready for battle whether it’s for training or playing a game. I mentioned the character of those that dug deep when things were not going well but then you needed the lads who would keep the dressing room going, the lads that kept everyone on their toes.
Do anything wrong or make a show of yourself. up stepped the resident joker and we had more than our fair share - Paddy Hegarty, Dermot Ward and Thomas Maguire come to mind from the 1987 U-21 squad; never let up, even when we were back in Dom’s.
The '92 squad wasn’t short of jokers either but one stood out more than the others; “the Legend,” that is now our county manager Declan Bonner, was top of the class; never stopped, even at our lowest point he would lift the atmosphere with a one liner that Tommy Tiernan would be proud of.
As a manager and with age he has tamed a bit. However, on our 25th reunion a couple of years back he was back at his best requesting more information from the “Old Man” about those gold watches that we were supposed to get in '92; Brian left speechless one more time.
Then there was the quiet ones, the serious ones, the lads that it was all about winning, the thought of losing made them sick, in order to get to the top. These lads are invaluable. Donegal squads past and present have had plenty.
I would point out that these lads could enjoy themselves just like everyone else. While many supporters and those outside of football squads may believe that everything is about the winning and there should be no place for the so-called jokers, it takes all kinds to get every squad to work, and I would argue that it wasn’t all about the winning and more about the memories and the journey.
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