Pat Spillane: Balls, brawls and puke football … I am leaving the Sunday game with no regrets

The panel stalwart announced he was stepping down from his role as an analyst with The Sunday Game after the All-Ireland Final

Pat Spillane

Pat Spillane commentating© SPORTSFILE

Pat in his role with RTÉ sport

Pat SpillaneSunday World

All good things must come to an end.

At the start of Saturday’s broadcast I announced I was stepping down from my role as an analyst with The Sunday Game.

I’m sure I caught a lot of people on the hop.

I made up my mind a couple of months ago that my 30th season with The Sunday Game would be my last. I subsequently informed RTE’s Head of Sport, Declan McBennett, of my decision.

My last appearance will be on the All-Ireland Final programme in two weeks’ time — unless there is a replay, of course.

I have a life-long motto — always depart on your own terms.

I did it in respect of two of the most important decisions in my life; retiring from inter-county football at the end of the 1991 championship and taking early retirement from teaching.

Pat Spillane commentating© SPORTSFILE

Essentially, I believed the time was right for me to go. It was no more complicated than that. Having made the decision earlier this year I’ve since had time to reflect on it. With each passing day I have become more content with it. I’ve definitely made the right call.

Within a couple of weeks of quitting inter-county football after Kerry lost to Down in the 1991 All-Ireland semi-final, the late Peter O’Neill asked me to write a column in the Sunday World newspaper.

I am very proud of the fact that I am now the second longest serving columnist in the paper and have never missed a Sunday since I started. And, by the way, I’m not retiring as a columnist.

As far as I remember, it was Peter who recommended me to the late Tim O’Connor, then head of Sport in RTE, and so began my long association with The Sunday Game.

As far as I am concerned, quitting the Sunday Game is merely closing one particular chapter in my life — and one which I have really enjoyed.

Rest assured, over the coming weeks, months and years I will be writing a new chapter. Who knows where that journey is going to take me.

I have enjoyed being part of The Sunday Game family for three decades.

I would like to think I played some small part in making The Sunday Game one of the most iconic sports programmes of my time on Irish television.

I leave with no regrets but with many great memories.

So why now?

Thirty years is a long time in any role. In the world of television, it is akin to a lifetime. I have had a long and fruitful innings.

I will be 67 on my next birthday in December. The four-and-a-half to five hour drives from Dublin to Templenoe after the programme finished on Sunday nights were beginning to take their toll.

In recent years the enjoyment I used to get from working on the programme had started to wane.

It had become a chore. The increasing scrutiny, the criticism on social media and just the pressure of being part of such an iconic programme had started to exact a toll on my health.

Earlier this week my fellow Sunday Games panellist Ursula Jacob hit back at what she described as ‘nasty, tasteless comments from faceless cowards’ on social media. I know exactly where she is coming from.

Unless one experiences the bile these keyboard warriors spew out on social media platforms, it is difficult to explain its impact.

I would regard myself as thick-skinned. But I would have to admit that the anonymous critics, who probably made up less than one per cent of those who write on social media platforms, had started to get to me this year for the first time ever.

Listen, I have absolutely no problem when people disagree with my views. I always tried to make sure that any remarks I made on the Sunday Game were evidence based.

But in recent years, and more particularly in recent months, the comments appearing on social media had become vile, personal and ageist.

They had absolutely nothing to do with the comments I had made. Neither I nor my family deserved such treatment. Life is too short.

But just to be clear, the abuse I received on social media is NOT the reason I’m quitting.

However, I do believe something has to be done to force the companies who host media social platforms to adhere to the same standards as the so-called old fashioned media outlets.

Actually, a friend of mine recently gave me a bit of good advice on how to deal with these social media pests.

He said you would never invite a person who had personally insulted you into your house for dinner. Likewise, you should not invite anybody who has written vile things about you on social media into your head.

I’ve always said the ultimate dream is getting paid for doing your hobby. The next best thing is being paid to write and talk about your hobby.

I felt very privileged to fill that role with the Sunday World and The Sunday Game.

I guess my best memories of my years with The Sunday Game are the times I spent working alongside Michael Lyster, Colm O’Rourke and Joe Brolly. There were no scripts. It was like taking a ride on a magic carpet. It was great fun.

There were scary moments as well.

Prior to the redevelopment of Croke Park, The Sunday Game panel were situated in what we called the Crow’s Nest, high up in the Nally Stand next door to Hill 16. Access was via a steel ladder.

I wasn’t afraid of heights but invariably after games what I called the ‘lynch-mob’ would be waiting for me when I descended the stairs after the programme finished.

It was pretty hairy, though the presence of a garda at the foot of the steps usually kept the peace.

On one occasion though I had to lie under a blanket in the back seat of Ger Canning’s car until he drove me away from the stadium.

The only time my wife accompanied me to Croke Park for a match I was working at was for the 2003 All-Ireland final between Kerry and Armagh.

We had to get a garda escort from the stadium to my car to escape the Armagh fans who wanted to explain the finer points of the game to me. Needless to say, my wife never came with me again to Croke Park when I was working.

I want to place on record my thanks to the late Tim O’Connor, who took a punt on me all those years ago. In the early years my fellow Kerryman Maurice Reidy was the main driver behind The Sunday Game.

Later, the various Heads of Sport I worked with including Ryle Nugent, Glen Killane and Declan McBennett were always helpful.

Like Edith Piaf, I leave television with No Regrets.

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