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I’ve stopped looking at social media - I didn’t want these vile people in my head space

Social media abuse during time on Sunday Game wore me down but my home club Templenoe is a tonic

The Spillane's have football in their blood. L-R; Killian, Pat & Adrian Spillane with the Sam Maguire Cup at Templenoe GAAs Ring of Kerry Golf Classic. Photo: Mary D O'Neill

The Templenoe Chairman Pat O'Neill with the four Templenoe players on the Kerry Senior Team. L-R; Gavin Crowley, Killian Spillane, Pat O'Neill Chairman Templenoe GAA Club, Adrian Spillane & Tadhg Morley. Photo: Mary D O'Neill

Templenoe's four Kerry Senior players; L-R; Gavin Crowley, Killian Spillane, Adrian Spillane and Tadhg Morley. Photo: Mary D O'Neill

Pat SpillaneSunday World

Please forgive me if my musings come across as melancholic and personal today.

Since announcing my retirement as an analyst with the Sunday Game last month, I have been reflecting on several aspects of my life.

One of the reasons I quit the Sunday Game was the volume of vitriolic abuse I was receiving on social media.

Christ, if I was even getting a few cent for every time I was called either a ‘b’, ‘c’, ‘w’, or ‘p’ I would have had to become a tax exile.

I have no problem with people disagreeing with me, or engaging in a debate.

But how can you have a debate with somebody who accuses you of being arrogant, out of touch with reality, old-fashioned, or that I hated this player or that county.

Let me state categorically, hate is not a word in my vocabulary.

Of course, the real issue here is that all this abuse has been facilitated by light-touch government regulation.

Which means the social media companies, unlike traditional media outlets, are not held accountable for the content they carry.

Frankly, in recent months I became obsessed by these vile comments – they had started to get to me.

But I have become a changed person in recent weeks.

I stopped looking at social media, having decided that I was no longer prepared to invite these vile people and their comments into my head space.

Something else happened, too, which restored my faith in humanity.

I have been inundated with goodwill messages, letters, postcards and mass cards from all over Ireland since quitting the Sunday Game. And they are still coming.

I had intended to reply to them all. But, frankly, there are so many that I may never get around to it.

All I can say is a heartfelt thank you to everybody who has been in touch.

I was gobsmacked by the lovely letters I’ve received from total strangers.

Who are these people? They are the silent majority in Ireland from whom we rarely hear.

Templenoe's four Kerry Senior players; L-R; Gavin Crowley, Killian Spillane, Adrian Spillane and Tadhg Morley. Photo: Mary D O'Neill

So, my message this morning to anybody being abused on social media is not to let the keyboard warriors get to you.

Their hate-filled and bitter narrative must be challenged. And don’t forget they are a tiny, unrepresentative minority.

I feel better knowing that the vast majority of Irish people saw me for what I really was.

In recent years I had started to question my role as an analyst on the Sunday Game.

It was beginning to define me a person.

I don’t think it ever should have – and I didn’t want it to.

But, sadly, perception is everything in this age.

On the Sunday Game I spoke on average for about four hours a year. But there are 8,760 hours in an average year.

Nevertheless, people were judging me solely on the basis of the views I expressed on the programme.

I felt I was being labelled in a certain way as a result of comments I made on TV, which was unfair.

Last year I decided to challenge that narrative for the first time and address who I really was.

I agreed to appear on the Living with Lucy programme for two reasons.

Firstly, I wanted to show the natural beauty of my beloved Templenoe.

But, primarily, I wanted to demonstrate who the real Pat Spillane is.

I’m an ordinary man who lives in a modest bungalow, with no trappings of wealth. I live a very simple life.

My emotional reaction on television after the All-Ireland final – when I talked about what the Kerry victory meant to me personally, and the significance of the day in terms of remembering my late father – demonstrated who I actually am.

I am a proud family man, a proud Templenoe man and proud Kerry man.

The All-Ireland final was a special day for the Spillane family, with my nephews – Adrian and Killian – winning All-Ireland medals.

It was also a proud day for Templenoe, with two more club members, Tadgh Morley and Gavin Crowley, also securing All-Ireland medals.

We are the only rural club participating in the Kerry Senior Championship.

Our club has no national school in our hinterland, just one shop, and little or no local employment.

Yet tiny Templenoe had more players on the field on All-Ireland final day than any other club in Kerry.

We’ve a big heart and are most definitely overachieving at the moment.

Like all small rural clubs, we have our difficulties.

We have to accept that our current success is but cyclical.

The bad days will roll around again, and there will be plenty of them.

But, at the moment, we are enjoying our days in the sun.

Like all small clubs, families are the glue that hold us together.

Families pass on the love of the GAA to the next generation.

Gavin Crowley, Killian Spillane, Templenoe Chair Pat O’Neill, Adrian Spillane and Tadgh Morley

In Templenoe, families like the Crowleys, Sheehans, Mahonys, Cliffords, Neills, Sullivans, Rices, Granvilles and the Spillanes, and, indeed, many more, have played a big role in keeping the club alive over the decades.

The club was founded in 1933 and there has been a Spillane presence on its teams ever since. During the 1950s two families of Spillanes, my father’s family and my cousins, made up seven of the team.

There is a long history of sporting involvement in our family.

Brian Spillane, a member of Ireland’s Triple Crown winning rugby team in 1985, was a son of my cousin Paddy.

My late father Tom was the driving force behind the club’s acquisition of their first pitch, which is still our home today.

I served as chairman for seven years. I am very proud of the fact that during my term we undertook further development of the pitch, and turned it into the facility we have today.

My late uncle Paddy emigrated to Chicago after finishing his playing career. Despite living there for 50 years, he never lost his love of Templenoe and Kerry.

When he died last year in Chicago his final request was to be buried in the Templenoe jersey.

My only surviving uncle, Gene, is 92, but he looks 62. He is a proud Kerryman – but an even prouder Spillane.

He was at the All-Ireland final and was in Templenoe last Saturday evening to watch Templenoe play Dr Crokes in the Kerry Club Championship.

He is the sort of uncle every nephew wants at a game: Passionate and completely biased – in his eyes, the Spillanes always play well.

He was a great man to ring after I had a bad game for Kerry. He would always reassure me I was the best player on the field.

As I alluded to earlier, I was club chairman in 2003, when we undertook a big development. We needed to raise money to finance the project.

We didn’t sell tickets to outsiders or organise fancy banquets. Instead we asked the families of Templenoe to dig deep into their pockets.

They could either contribute €1,000 as sponsors or €500 as patrons. We raised almost €60,000 and 90 per cent of it came from families.

Since the All-Ireland final, it feels like Templenoe has been on a magical roller-coaster ride.

Aside from having four current All-Ireland winners in our ranks we have beaten the two powerhouses of Kerry club football, Austin Stacks and Dr Crokes.

There were almost 700 people at our match against Dr Crokes last Saturday in what I think is the most beautiful GAA ground in Ireland (well, like my uncle, I am biased).

This equates to virtually everybody in our catchment area. It was Kerry football in a nutshell. It is all about passion, enthusiasm and a deep love of club.

The battle to keep the club operating is ongoing. Financially, the going is tough.

At the moment we are in the process of purchasing another field to turn it into a car park, and there is an ongoing battle to save our pitch from coastal erosion.

We had the Sam Maguire Cup at the club’s golf classic last week. It was heartening to see so many youngsters coming and wanting to get their pictures taken with the trophy.

Monday last was the Fair Day in Kenmare, and the club organised a fund-raising raffle there.

The first prize was a heifer calf; second a fattened lamb.

I’m not too sure whether that would work in Kilmacud Crokes or Cuala, but I know the raffle made a lot of money.

Our struggles are mirrored the length and breadth of rural Ireland, as clubs strive to keep afloat.

The unsung heroes of these battles are the people who wash the jerseys, line the pitch, sell raffle tickets, collect gate money and do so many unseen, but vital jobs.

To me, they’re as big a hero as Killian, Adrian, Tadgh or Gavin. They do it out of love for their native place and club.

I spoke recently about my love for the GAA to my daughter Cara. I think her comments summed up exactly what the GAA means.

“The GAA is family. It is where we make friends, it is where we nurture them. It is where we learn and grow and where we go when we need it most. It’s home, no matter where home is today. It is in our DNA.’

That’s Templenoe, that is who I am and that’s what makes me happy.

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