I haven’t missed a single week since October 1991... It is a record I’m very proud of
Pat Spillane tells how writing filled the void when he hung up his GAA boots
It burst on to the Irish scene like a bombshell in 1973. The Sunday World was a newspaper with serious attitude. It was irreverent, campaigning, questioning — and, most of all, it was fun. This year marks our 50th birthday, and to celebrate we’ve asked some of our biggest names to recall their favourite moments of Ireland’s favourite Sunday.
Adjusting to life after a career in sport can be very challenging.
Stepping off the conveyor belt of training and matches leaves a void, which many retirees struggle to fill.
After a 17-year career with Kerry I stepped off that conveyor belt after we lost to Down in the 1991 All-Ireland semi-final. But I was lucky.
In September 1991 I got a call from the late Pat Quigley, then deputy sports editor of the Sunday World. He asked me if I would be interested in writing a column for the paper.
That phone call changed my life. It has filled that void for nearly 32 years now.
I’m now the paper’s second longest-serving columnist after Fr Brian D’Arcy.
Since penning my first column in October 1991, I haven’t missed a single Sunday. It is a record I am very proud of.
The ultimate in life is to get paid for doing your hobby. The next best thing is getting paid for writing about your hobby — and that is what I have been doing for more than three decades.
So, I never experienced that dreaded void after I retired from inter-county football. Travelling to and writing about the big matches meant I always felt part of the big occasions.
After taking up the role I subsequently got advice from the then editor Colm MacGinty. His words have stayed me ever since. He said: “Be honest, back up your opinions with evidence, but, most importantly, don’t sit on the fence.”
Those are the principles I have tried to stick to. I’ve also called it as I see it. The column is not a work of fiction.
Prior to the 1990s, GAA writers sat on the fence.
They were cagey and wrote about games being a 50/50 contest, a bounce of the ball between the teams while the result could go either way. It was safe and predictable.
As Colm suggested, I got off the fence and called things exactly as I saw them.
The problem with going bald-headed and announcing a winner is that a lot of the time I got it wrong. Readers might suggest I got it wrong an awful of the time.
The worst was when I predicted Kerry would beat Cork in the 2020 Munster semi-final. Christ, I went over the top and gave Cork absolutely no chance. And, of course, Cork won.
I always had a standard retort when readers (actually a lot of them) would shout at me “Spillane you bollix, you got that verdict badly wrong again last Sunday.”
I always replied: “I know, but next week in the Sunday World I get paid for explaining why I got it wrong.” It’s called cracking the system. The last laugh is on me...I think.
I have been working in the media now for more than 30 years between the Sunday World and RTE.
But there is a world of difference between the spoken and the written word. On RTE I could talk my way out of or into trouble.
The written word is open to different interpretations and is something you cannot control.
Over the years comments I made in the Sunday World have often been misinterpreted and, as a result, I have upset many. As they say in French, quelle surprise.
Frankly, it’s a long list, but here’s a few samples:
By far my harshest critics. They always felt I should only say good things about my native county. But it’s gas — in Kerry they say I’m anti-Kerry. Outside the county, I’m told I’m pro-Kerry. So I can’t win.
Particularly in the first ten years of writing, the hierarchy felt I should be a cheer leader for the association and not write anything negative about them. Come off it. For many years they complained to the bosses in the Sunday World about various articles. Thankfully, they were always told to get stuffed.
I have had a love-hate relationship with the province from day one. You know the old saying, if you poke a bear you will get a reaction. If I ever wanted a reaction, all I had to do was write something critical about somebody in Ulster.
They say elephants never forget. I can vouch for the fact that Ulster people never forget either. They can quote things I wrote 20 years ago. Meanwhile, I can’t remember what I wrote last week. But, hand on heart, I will say the Ulster GAA people are the most passionate and knowledgeable I have ever encountered.
I could fill the entire paper with a list of people who have been offended. The gas bit is that it is the harmless and easiest to write columns which provoke the most reaction.
For example, if I name the top five football teams of the 21st century or list the best 30 footballers around, all hell will break loose. There is no chance of anybody agreeing with my choice.
But my mantra as a sports columnists is to cling to the Oscar Wilde motto ‘the one thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about’.
I have been privileged to be part of the Sunday World family for more than 30 years. They are brilliant people with no egos: a real team delivering a quality paper every Sunday.
It has been a labour of love and remarkably I’ve never had an argument or a disagreement with anybody from the paper over all those years.
There is a little message I once saw on a calendar. ‘May the best of your past be the worst of your tomorrows.’
Happy 50th birthday to the Sunday Worldand here’s to the next 50.
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