When John O’Brien emulated one other Tyrrellspass native, the late and incomparable Mick Carley, by successful two Railway Cup medals in 1996 and 1997, it rubber-stamped him as certainly one of Westmeath’s most achieved footballers of his technology.
It was a time when the Lake County garnered new-found respectability nationwide after having reached some appalling lows. For his half, John may be very eager to downplay his persona achievement, saying: “I didn’t get any sport time”.
Soccer was in John’s genes as his father Jack, a widely known determine in and across the Mullingar space for a few years, however who sadly handed away 16 years in the past aged simply 65, gained a Westmeath SFC medal in 1962 with St Mary’s.
The Clonfad man performed with the Rochfortbridge-based outfit with soccer within the doldrums within the ‘Tidy City’ at that juncture, and Jack performed alongside his brothers Joe and Paddy within the defeat of Rosemount. “I nonetheless have the unique Westmeath Examiner memento preview of that sport, and once I was rising up St Mary’s have been all the time on the wall at house,” John states.
Fortunately, John’s mom, Kathleen (née Gogarty) is hale and hearty. She is a local of Kilbride in County Meath, and her brother was a Meath panellist once they gained the Sam Maguire Cup after a 13-year wait in 1967. John’s brother Barry “by no means performed soccer”, and he additionally has two sisters.
John attended Tyrrellspass NS, however soccer wasn’t a very excessive precedence in extra-curricular actions there. “We performed a few problem video games yearly in opposition to different native colleges,” he remembers, earlier than including: “I went on then to St Joseph’s, Rochfortbridge, who’re Leinster senior champions now. In these days, we wouldn’t have been even near the likes of Coláiste Mhuire in Mullingar, as we had a smaller choose.
“The varsity has an enormous catchment space now. Luke Dempsey was a younger instructor within the faculty on the time and he and Noel Foynes saved soccer going. I made the varsity group, however we have been the poor relation when it comes to soccer.”
Certainly, John brazenly admits to having had “a serious inferiority complicated” when he went into Westmeath minor trials alongside “Coláiste Mhuire lads who had been contesting Leinster finals”. He had already represented his county at U14 degree beneath the tutelage of Dessie Doolin (a Leinster first spherical loss to Meath was the end result), however had skipped the U16 grade. In 1989 he was on the minor panel which misplaced a second-round tie after a replay to eventual All-Eire finalists Offaly.
“I used to be a ahead and was a really common participant. Certainly, I used to be introduced on in regular time and was taken off in extra-time. You possibly can’t actually choose a lad as a minor, as a result of the next 12 months I used to be midfield for the county U21 group and performed U21 for 3 years. Typically, one thing simply switches on at that age. It may be all the way down to confidence,” he opines.
It was the aforementioned Devoted County which offered John with an ignominious senior inter-county debut on a December afternoon in Moate that these of us in attendance will merely always remember – and for all of the incorrect causes.
John takes over: “We misplaced by 2-25 to 0-1, a low level for Westmeath soccer, a match once I got here on at half-time as a nook again. I used to be meant to be taking part in a delayed minor ‘C’ remaining that day for Tyrrellspass, however a telephone name got here the evening earlier than to go to Moate. I ended up within the full again line together with the present county supervisor, Jack Cooney, an in depth good friend of mine nonetheless. That was my begin to inter-county soccer! We have been rudderless at that stage. There was no construction or something.
“Fortunately, it circled rapidly sufficient afterwards and the arrival of Mattie Kerrigan in 1992 was a giant increase. I wasn’t concerned initially, however just a few gamers determined that issues needed to change. Enormous credit score goes to Pat Lynagh and Seamus Whelan for his or her roles in getting Mattie in, and to each of them for altering the angle and mentality in Westmeath in direction of the county soccer group.”
John returned to the inter-county fray within the autumn of 1993, initially as a nook again earlier than switching to full again. “We had a really younger group,” he remembers, “and ten of the lads on the beginning group have been beneath 22 years previous in opposition to Meath within the Nationwide League semi-final the next April.”
Many people recall with nice delight the long term to that high-profile sport in Croke Park – John Murray’s successful objective from a (very!) close-range free within the remaining spherical robin sport in opposition to Wicklow (“a turning level for Westmeath soccer because it was all the time a dogfight to get out of Division 4”), skipper Dermot Ryan’s last-gasp penalty save within the play-off away to Longford, and particularly the never-to-be-forgotten quarter-final win within the Enniskillen rain in opposition to reigning All-Eire champions, Derry.
“Mattie modified the entire mindset. Lads would have completed something for him. We obtained promoted in consecutive seasons from Division 4 to three, after which 3 to 2. Sadly, we have been solely a Nationwide League group and we simply flopped when it got here to the championship.
“The low level was the Wicklow sport in 1995 in Athlone once we misplaced 0-9 to 0-3 and there was no ‘again door’. Mattie give up that summer time, however within the area of 5 years we had earned some respectability.
“Barney Rock got here alongside then. It was his first county job and he was a gentleman. The primary time that we met him, we have been stunned that he was so softly spoken. Perhaps he wasn’t powerful sufficient, or exhausting sufficient, with lads, however as a coach he was sensible.
“The coaching we did beneath him was incredible. Earlier than him it will have been ‘old fashioned’ with laps of the pitch and no science concerned. We must always have overwhelmed Offaly in Tullamore in 1997. Had we gained, it will have been the breakthrough. They went on to win the Leinster title.
“I performed beneath Brendan Lowry for 2 of his three years, however I had just a few accidents and was dwelling in Dublin at that stage, and my urge for food wasn’t what it ought to have been. I made a decision to drag out then.
“There was enormous progress within the Nineteen Nineties, and I wish to assume that our senior group, together with Luke Dempsey’s minors and U21s, had a small half to play within the eventual Leinster championship win in 2004 beneath Páidí (Ó Sé),” John suggests.
Mattie Kerrigan clearly rated John very extremely and the Summerhill man promoted him to the Leinster panel with which he gained the 2 aforementioned Railway Cup medals. John displays: “Dermot Brady began within the second 12 months and he was most likely probably the greatest nook backs we ever produced. The competitors meant one thing then. We have been in with lads like Paul Curran and John McDermott, the cream of footballers.”
When he thinks again to his fellow-county males within the Nineteen Nineties, John states: “Larry Giles, Ger Heavin, ‘Dobsy’ Prendergast, Mickey O’Reilly, Kieran Ryan and Kenny Lyons have been all positive gamers. Fortunately, I by no means needed to mark Dessie (Dolan) within the Westmeath championship, or ‘Flan’ (Martin Flanagan) both!
“I reckon the hardest was most likely Larry (Giles). He had enormous talent, mixed with an amazing soccer mind and critical energy. As soon as he obtained the ball it was unattainable to get it off him. He’s certainly one of Westmeath’s greats and a gentleman too, on and off pitch.”
Reflecting on powerful opponents exterior of Westmeath, John remembers “very powerful battles in opposition to Kevin O’Brien (Wicklow), Ollie Murphy (Meath), Dessie Barry (Longford) and Colin Kelly (Louth),” within the maroon and white colors, and Tony Boyle (Donegal) when John represented DIT, the place he was a colleague of present Dublin boss, Dessie Farrell, and Declan Darcy (Leitrim/Dublin), earlier than including, “the standout participant I got here up in opposition to was in a problem sport in opposition to Galway the 12 months after they gained the All-Eire once I marked Ja Fallon for a half, and by no means obtained even near him or the ball! He was in a special class.”
Whereas John was an integral a part of a progressive interval for Westmeath soccer, his membership profession with Tyrrellspass coincided with the exceptional rise and rise of the sky blue and navy-clad outfit. John remembers: “It was a gradual development culminating within the senior championship win in 1999, my eleventh 12 months taking part in grownup soccer. We misplaced intermediate semi-finals in 1988 and 1989, and the ultimate in 1990 to Tang once we have been forward by seven or eight factors with ten minutes to go, earlier than successful it in 1991 with Billy Flanagan as supervisor. He was nice for the membership. We beat Mullingar Shamrocks’ second group within the remaining, albeit I used to be away that summer time.
“As a senior group, we misplaced the semi-final to Shamrocks in 1993. We had turn into a group to be reckoned with and obtained to the senior remaining in 1994 forward of our time, however an amazing Shamrocks group blew us away. We had a really younger Mark Staunton and a fair youthful Martin Flanagan, and a few superb membership gamers.
“We did nothing in 1995, nor in 1996 or 1997, when Coralstown/Kinnegad and Moate All Whites gained their titles. Athlone beat us within the semi-final in 1998 en path to successful, however we ultimately obtained over the road in opposition to them in 1999. Captaining that facet was the spotlight of my soccer profession, full cease.
“Olly Gallagher shared movies with us throughout lockdown final 12 months, together with interviews with folks earlier than and after the sport. It was nice to look again on all that. My father was a quiet shy man, nevertheless it was nice that he was alive to see that win. I additionally actually loved the 20-year reunion in 2019 and all of the banter with the Athlone lads,” John provides.
Paradoxically, a delay in finishing the Westmeath championship meant that the first-time champions have been unable to signify their county within the Leinster championship, with Athlone taking their place. When it was advised to John that comprehensible celebrations might need led to a ‘ropey’ provincial debut, he laughed when responding: “Funnily sufficient, we performed a league sport in opposition to St Loman’s the next Saturday and it was certainly one of our greatest performances. It’s superb the arrogance that successful a championship brings.”
In a exceptional mirror picture of his father’s profession – Jack gained in 1962, however misplaced the 1963 and 1964 county finals – John additionally suffered the heartbreak of consecutive losses within the deciders of 2000 (“to Shamrocks in most likely the worst circumstances a county remaining has ever been performed”) and 2001 (“when a younger Garrycastle group pipped us”).
John continues: “I don’t have many regrets, however clearly it was disappointing to have misplaced two out of three finals. We have been adequate to have gained all three. I used to be solely a fringe participant for our later two wins in 2006 and 2007 (when Tyrrellspass went on to succeed in the Leinster remaining). General, I used to be a part of the taking part in squad for 18 or 19 years.
“Apart from my mother and father’ encouragement, underage coaches who had an early affect on me included Mick Carley RIP, Edmund Seery and Hughie Harte RIP, and at senior degree, Frank Ryan, certainly one of our personal who managed us in 1999, after we had been uncommon for that point by bringing in outsiders akin to Tom Carr, Liam Harnan and John Maughan.
“I took a break for some time and simply went to Tyrrellspass video games as a fan. Then I obtained again teaching underage and was a senior selector beneath Alan Mangan and my Dublin namesake, John O’Brien. From being utterly eliminated and indifferent, I used to be proper again within the thick of issues once more. It was heart-breaking in recent times to lose these finals to St Loman’s, Mullingar. These defeats I discovered more durable than the defeats as a participant.
“No matter leads to finals, it needs to be an amazing supply of delight for everybody related to the membership to have remained so aggressive over the 30-year interval since we turned a senior membership. It’s a nice achievement for a village with restricted taking part in numbers and small assets.
“You need to see Ger (Egan) and Jamie (Gonoud), and lads like that, successful a championship. They’ve come so shut, and yearly they hold coming again although they’re written off by everyone. Denis (Glennon) in the previous couple of years appears like he might play one other two or three years.
“I’m not concerned with the seniors any longer and Davy Byrne is the supervisor now. It’s very early days and he has solely been down as soon as with all of the lockdowns, however I’ve little doubt that the present group will win a championship,” John opines.
John concedes that being concerned in inter-county soccer these days is a really completely different proposition from his days representing Westmeath. He states: “Each ex-player will look again and assume that their time was higher. In case you are a 21- or 22-year-old participant there may be nothing higher to be doing than taking part in in your county you probably have the flexibility. County soccer is an elite sport with out the monetary advantages and there needs to be a steadiness.
“It’s tough for lads in a county that’s not going to compete and a few lads will assume it’s not definitely worth the sacrifices. Lockdown has given the GAA the time to reassess and take inventory.
“It have to be disheartening for lads to see the hole with Dublin getting wider. The answer isn’t inside Westmeath, it’s a Croke Park downside, and through the years they haven’t been in a position to handle it. 12 months in 12 months out we’re speaking about the identical downside, however nonetheless I don’t know any county gamers who’re sad, as they like the life-style.
“After we have been taking part in we weren’t placing in a fraction of the time that they’re, however we thought it was a giant sacrifice on the time even doing two or three nights per week. It was positively a sacrifice in contrast with what the earlier technology did. These days, it appears to be 5 – 6 nights per week whether or not in a gymnasium or on a pitch.
“I feel the GAA should shorten the inter-county season to 6 months as a result of the quantity of video games that lads play relative to the quantity of coaching classes, effectively it simply doesn’t make any sense. The entire GAA neighborhood can be a lot better off with a compact inter-county season after which have a membership season with all gamers accessible.
“It was all the time a badge of honour for a membership like Tyrrellspass to develop good inter-county gamers, whereas now some golf equipment don’t need lads going with the county and having to play all their league video games with out them, in addition to risking accidents. We misplaced each Ger (Egan) and Jamie (Gonoud) one 12 months via harm. However we’ve additionally been discussing this for years,” he frustratedly provides.
After secondary faculty, John studied advertising and marketing for 4 years in DIT. These days, he runs his personal consultancy enterprise, Indietel Consulting Ltd, having spent 20 years within the cell phone business. He works as an unbiased advisor with firms serving to them to develop new enterprise and opening worldwide markets.
He’s at the moment working with an area enterprise, Decotek Automotive (previously Iralco), and is quickly beginning a venture with Future Ticketing, an Irish-owned and Tullamore-based sports activities ticketing firm, on GAA-related enterprise improvement initiatives.
John, who turns 50 in Could, has been married to a Mullingar woman, Siobhán (née McCarthy) since 2004, and so they have 4 youngsters, Anna Could (15), Daragh (13), Evan (10) and Sarah (8). He moved again from Dublin to Mullingar in 2003, and is now 11 years dwelling once more in his native Tyrrellspass, “1.5 miles because the crow flies” from his house as a baby.
Tyrrellspass soccer stays an enormous a part of John’s life. He’s a member of the membership govt and chairman of the membership’s underage govt, along with teaching the boys U13 facet. He displays additional on his beloved membership’s rags-to-riches story over the previous three a long time specifically, as follows: “After I began out as a senior, it was males like Liam Maher and Sean Sheridan main the membership off the sphere with pitch improvement works and setting ambitions for the membership to turn into a critical senior soccer group.
“This was maintained into the Nineteen Nineties, led by player-chairman Des Scally, Rom Deegan, Joe Daly, and coaches like Frank Ryan, Vinny Hoey, Mossie Slevin and PJ Brady at underage. Des, Joe, Declan Feery, Gerry Sheridan and Frank Martin continued the work into the ‘noughties’.
“There’s no particular secret to this aside from having the fitting underage constructions in place and ensuring our coaches instill the proper values into children, and serving to to develop younger gamers into future senior footballers. As a small village membership, our underage ambition will not be about successful underage titles. With restricted participant numbers, that’s utterly unrealistic.
“So what we intention to do, and have completed efficiently thus far, is produce 4 or 5 gamers yearly from minor grade who could make the step up into the senior set-up. As long as the senior group is profitable and we now have function fashions like Jamie, Ger, Denis and so forth, our underage gamers will all the time try to win senior championships for Tyrrellspass,” he concludes.
Bringing via just a few younger defenders even half pretty much as good as John O’Brien was can be an amazing begin in Tyrrellspass’ ambition to regain the Flanagan Cup.