Exclusive interview with Padraig Dunne

November 8, 2018

Padraig Dunne……………..’I was nervous the morning of the ’81 final. I had never been on a train before’!

Offaly and Gracefield legend Padraig ‘Podge’ Dunne was only 19 when he played in his first All-Ireland final in 1981 but it wasn’t the thoughts of the game that had him nervous, it was the getting there. This was Dunne’s first time ever on a train!

Now the former midfielder believes a huge overhaul is required at underage level if Offaly are to reach the next level and that an extreme lack of leadership and commitment on the senior team is the cause of our current demise.

In this exclusive interview the Portarlington based publican talks about his club life with Gracefield, the good and the bad days he had with Offaly and how not enough is been done to keep our stars playing football.

Who were your earliest influences on football?

‘My earliest influence on football would be a man who trained us by the name of ‘German’ Costello and also Frank Higgins who would have done a bit of work with us in the school. Frank played with Offaly in the ’60’s. They would have been the main two. Back then in Gracefield you didn’t train for underage you just got picked up for matches.’

Who were your footballing heroes when you were growing up?

‘It would have probably been Willie Bryan and Murt Connor. All the lads off the 70’s teams really were very good to be honest.’

How long did you play for Gracefield Seniors?

‘I played Senior from about 1980 until 1994.’

What was football like in Gracefield in the 80’s?

‘We had a very good and very big strong team in the 80’s but unfortunately we came up against Walsh Island. They would have beaten us during there six in a row roll. We would have been one of the strongest teams along with Ferbane. In 1983 we won the u21 and then in 1984 we won the Senior championship.’

What was your proudest moment with Gracefield and Offaly?

‘My club championship in ’84 would have been a huge highlight for me. I would say the ’97 Leinster for Offaly is the one I remember the best because I had my two kids with me. It was the excitement of them getting to see Offaly winning. It was a great feeling and as a player myself obviously winning the ’82 All-Ireland.’

Gracefield were tipped to challenge Rhode this year. What went wrong?

‘A few things really. There were some injuries and then there were some lads who thought they could win a championship without training and you can’t do that. I knew they wouldn’t win the championship. They have some very good players and if they really got committed and decided they wanted it they could really challenge. I am not saying they would beat Rhode but they would challenge them. They just need to knuckle down and do what they say they’ll do. I know I am hard on my own club but they always say they’ll do it but they never do.’

What young players coming through in Gracefield could make the Offaly team?

‘There’s a couple. Ruairi Allen is one anyway. He got a couple of games with Offaly this year. Adrian Murphy is very good I think. If he really committed himself to it he has all the attributes required to make a county player, whether he wants it or not is another thing. Of course there’s Niall Smith. The like of Niall Smith just simply can’t be allowed to go back to America. He’s home at the moment but he’s planning on going back because he has no work. I can’t see why it’s allowed that one of the best midfielders in the county is just allowed to go. There has to be a job somewhere for him. But apparently nobody has even tried and it’s a sin if he’s let go again because you won’t get him back again. He won’t be the same player. Something has to be done to stop all these lads going.’

Who was the best player you ever played with at club and county level?

‘I would have to say Richie Connor simply because of the influence he had over the whole team. Matt Connor was a better player but Richie’s influence edges him in front. I had a spell in America as well and played a good bit with Larry Tompkins and he was of the same calibre as Richie Connor. He also had a huge influence over the whole team. The best player with Gracefield was Mick Fitzgerald.’

Who was your toughest opponent?

‘Gerry McEntee was one and Jack O’Shea was right up there with him.’

What did you achieve at club and county level?

‘I won two Leinsters and an All-Ireland with Offaly. With Gracefield I won an u21 and Senior. On a personal level I won an All-Star in ’82 and I got the B & I award player of the month in September ’82.’

What were the best GAA grounds you ever played in?

‘Croke Park and Tullamore!’ (laughs)

Did you play much underage with Offaly?

‘I played more than people can remember. (laughs) A lot of people say to me ‘sure you never played underage with Offaly’ but I did. I played from u14 straight through to u21. Brother Sylvester was over us at u14 and we wouldn’t have done much training. When I was with the u21’s I made the senior panel.’

When did you make your Offaly senior debut?

‘I made my Senior debut against Laois in the 1981 Leinster final. I started that game.’

What was it like playing alongside Tomas O’Connor in ’82, an All-Star winner in ’78?

‘Brilliant. Tomas allowed me to play. With me been so young I probably went for balls I shouldn’t have gone for but Tomas never got on to me or said don’t do that. Sometimes there were balls he could have got that I just got because he was cute enough to let me go for it. He was brilliant to play alongside.’

Given your young age at the time were you nervous?

‘No definitely not. I remember the day of the All-Ireland final in 1981 we went on the train which was very unusual because we never went on the train. Some went from Tullamore and some were collected from Portarlington. Obviously I would have been picked up from Portarlington so before I got there McGee had asked some of the older lads to check on me. He kept saying ‘Im very worried about Dunne he’s only 19’. So Sean Lowry came over to me on the platform and brought me to one side and he says ‘well Padraig are you nervous?’ I just said yeah it’s terrible Sean, I was never on a train before! (laughs) Sean just went back to McGee and said I think he’ll be fine. 1981 was the first time I was ever on a train, I never had any need too because when we went to Dublin we went in the car.’

What was your reaction when you saw Darby’s goal going in?

‘I knew we had gone in front but didn’t no how much time was left. I don’t remember everything about that game but I do remember that. Far too many of us went to congratulate Seamus and I was saying to everyone ‘get back.’ We needed to pick up our men. I mean this was Kerry we were playing. They weren’t going to wait around for us to stop celebrating.’

Where did the team celebrate the week after the final?

‘Where did we celebrate? Where did we not celebrate more like? (laughs) That week is a bit of a blur actually but anyway we met in Murphy’s in Cloneygowan. That is usually were the team met, then on to Tullamore and dispatched all over the county from there. We tried to give everywhere a fair share of it!’

You won an All-Star in ’82, what was that like particularly given your young age?

‘That was absolutely brilliant. I was young at the time and it was very special to me. I actually got engaged the night of the awards and after 25 years I’m still married. (laughs) The All-Star night really is something special. I think some people think its not that big of a deal but its one of the trophy’s I look at and think ‘I am really glad I have you’ because its not easy to get it. Its very easy to get passed over especially when your young because people always say you have plenty of time to win one but it doesn’t always work out like that.’

What happened to Offaly after ’83 and why did they fall apart?

‘I was young so I couldn’t understand it but there was lads there the guts of ten years, they got tired. There were a few injuries. They needed to keep the whole thing fresh and that team needed new fresh players. Maybe a bit to with the management and a lot of the players didn’t want to go and do it. Matt Connor had his accident and Gerry Carroll went to America and Liam Currams got his knee done at that stage. We were a better team in ’83 than we were in ’82 and we just happen to loose to Dublin.’

You mentioned Matt Connor’s accident, what was your reaction to that?

‘I didn’t think it was as serious until I went to visit him in hospital. I was working in Dublin but I was home for the winter and I went to see him shortly after it happened. It was only then I realised how bad it was. I knew by him and he knew himself at that stage. Disbelief and hope were my first thoughts. Our thoughts were far away from football at that stage. Matt was always so full of life as well as full of football.’

Gerry Carroll recently criticised Eugene McGee’s speech in the ’83 Leinster final. Was it as bad as he made it out to be?

‘I can’t be critical of Eugene McGee’s speech. He was trying to bring it on another step and I understand what he was trying to do. He just wasn’t in that place and neither where the players. There was only one thing to blame for ’83 and that was the players. Eugene was trying to get us into a different place, a place were he didn’t need to lead us by the hand all the time. He felt this was a Dublin team we could have beaten and he felt we were the best team in Ireland at the time. We were the best team and I can say that without a shadow of a doubt. He tried to take it on a step and either we weren’t ready for it and we should have been because we’d been in an All-Ireland and won it and here we were playing a Dublin team that Louth should have beaten in the semi final. We all went to that game and maybe that’s what we shouldn’t have done was go to that match.’

What was your relationship with Eugene McGee?

‘My relationship with Eugene McGee was very little. Eugene didn’t say an awful lot to a lot of people. He only said it to the people he needed to say it too. He didn’t feel like he needed to say anything to me because I was only there to do a job. He had told me what that job was and so I wouldn’t have had an influence on other people until later in my career. So I had very little contact with Eugene until I retired and now we have a much better relationship. Back then I didn’t need to have contact with him because he had the right people told what to do and how to win games.’

Carroll also said that McGee worked very hard for the players in getting them little things like refreshments because the county board were so tight? Would you agree?

‘I wouldn’t have known that at the time but I do agree that McGee was a player’s man. However it’s very easy to be a player’s man when you’re winning Leinsters. It’s much harder when you’re not winning. It’s much harder for the county board to be seen not given stuff when you’re winning. When your winning you have to get the gear and the right things have to be done but when your loosing the county board sometimes can be excused for not doing it right which is not good enough. Offaly’s biggest problem and it still exists today is money money money. Its always money and that is going to have to change. I know these days everyone has an issue with money but with the county board its going to have to change, other counties had to, and did. Offaly’s excuse can’t always be ‘we’ve no money’.’

You played under a lot of different managers with Offaly. Who was the best and was there a need to change manager so often?

‘There probably wasn’t a need to change them but I think some of the managers themselves wanted to change it because they hadn’t the players they thought they had. So a lot of the time it could have been the manager’s fault and I know a lot of them got it hard to get on with the county board. But I would say that problem faces every county manager in Ireland and they have to fight their corner. When you are managing a team you also have to be able to manage the people over you. I would say four or five of the managers wanted to go anyway and just used the county board as their excuse. Apart from Eugene McGee I think Brendan Hackett was the best I played under. He could have been a brilliant manager and still could be if he wanted but I think he ended up doing what he really wanted which was athletics. He had everything. He was very good with players and knew what he wanted. We might not have won anything under him but we went very well. Meath beat us in the championship but we were very well prepared, we just flopped on the day. What I saw of Brendan I thought he would go on to win an All-Ireland and he still could some day if he wanted too.’

You have been described as the character of all teams you played on. Can you tell us about some of the pranks you pulled over the years on teammates?

‘I always have and I still do enjoy the bit of crack. I don’t see anything wrong in it once it doesn’t harm anyone. Sure we did anything and everything, from putting oil in shampoo bottles and shampoo into cartons of milk. Whenever we had functions or dinners you couldn’t afford to take your eye off your food because if you even got distracted for a minute someone would steal from your plate. I remember one night, whoever was beside me got sidetracked talking and I ate their ice cream. I left the bowl back down in front of them and I told him he could have my ice cream but before I gave it to him I had opened up the ice cream and poured pepper on it. I went on talking and he ate it and I think he ended up leaving more of it on the floor! I remember once we were rolling up napkins and heading them to one another and I put a salt cellar in one and ended up cutting Peter Brady on the forehead! Ah we were always acting the hoor in fairness.’ (laughs)

What were your reasons for going to America and how long were you there?

‘I do often wonder my reasons for going to America. I would probably say there was very little work and I was newly married. I think a lack of influence from higher authority maybe. Had someone grabbed me and said don’t go Padraig, don’t do this we want you to stay and play football I probably would have. I don’t recall one person asking me to stay home. I said I was going and that’s it I was gone. I lived out there for five years with my wife and we had our two kids out there. Then we came home and I played football because I had kept myself very fit. I played with Donegal over there. It was a very high standard. We actually went on tour of Ireland and beat four county teams.’

What teams have you coached?

‘I have coached a lot more underage with my own club rather than senior. I am involved with Gracefield around 12-14 years now. My first senior job was coaching Portarlington and they won the county final that year. I coached Emo but didn’t do so well and also with O’Dempsey’s.’

You’re currently involved with the Offaly u16 team. How is that going for you and does the future look bright?

‘It’s going fine. We have a good crop of player’s at all underage levels in Offaly. There is a seriously good u15 team at the minute and hopefully they will keep going. We have a good u16 team who are very hard to beat but we have done a nice bit of work with them. I have some very good lads with me. Roy Malone and Colm Quinn do most of the football coaching and Joe O’Connor and Fergal Beacon are involved as well. Unfortunately the club scene doesn’t allow us to do enough with these lads. When the Fr Manning cup is over the five of us are going to sit down and see where to go from here. We wont be held back by the county board because again even to this day things are not been done right.’

In what sense are things not been done right?

‘I don’t ask for much and we as a group didn’t ask for much but the things we did ask for never arrived. We need to sit down as a county and have another look at what’s going on. There was some great work done and I was delighted with it. Eugene Mulligan has headed it up along with Jimmy Stewart and Martin Buckley. They have made a great start but it needs to continue at a much faster rate and better quality if Offaly are to get to the level required. Some very simple things like nicks, socks and tracksuits are an absolute must. We played Leitrim on Wednesday and all their lads had nicks, socks, tracksuits and gear bags, our lads had nothing. I mean absolutely nothing. I think they were promised a t-shirt.’

Have they given you a reason?

‘Ah yeah no money, no money that’s it.’

Do you believe that?

‘No I don’t. I am not upset over it for the simple reason that somebody has to change it and I don’t mind been part of that group that changes it. I don’t mind been responsible for changing it. I have been talking with two or three lads and we are going to make a serious go at this in the very near future. We need to change everything and with the right mentality it could grow from there. Laois tried and it didn’t work because it festered. There was too much made about their underage.’

Is it important to have former players like Eugene, Colm and Roy involved with underage?

‘Absolutely. It is fierce important if they are good enough, which they certainly are, but it’s also fierce important not to have lads there if they are not good enough. If they are not good enough it’s important they are not there because some past players have idea’s about things that aren’t right and if it’s not right and it shouldn’t be allowed to continue. I know people over certain teams in the county at the minute that are not doing the right things and they have to be told that. If they are willing to go and do the job that’s a plus but if they are doing the wrong thing that’s a minus. There has to be someone strong enough to go and tell these people they are doing it wrong and that’s where it’s breaking down. It’s not being done across the board.’

What young lads can we expect to see make the break through over the next few years?

‘There is one young lad that should make the break through and that’s Offaly minor Graham Guilfoyle from Clara. He is the next big thing in Offaly football. He’s absolutely super. I won’t name names from the u16 because it’s not fair but I will say that there are definitely a number of them capable. They are so hard to beat and there are no superstars or big heads.’

You were recently tipped to be a future Offaly Senior manager. Is that something that would interest you?

‘I can’t say that is not something that wouldn’t interest anybody. I have been asked a couple of times but the timing never suit and there’s no point doing it if you can’t do it properly. The time simply wasn’t right for me and by the time it is right for me I might never be asked again. I like to think anybody interested in managing at all surely must aspire to manage their own county team and that must be your goal.’

What do you think is wrong with Offaly football at the moment?

‘An extreme lack of leadership among the players. There are no leaders on the Offaly team. There is a lack of commitment as well. For me to say there’s no commitment and then lads go out and train in the winter, look it takes more than training in the winter. It takes full commitment. Your body and head have to be right and you just have to be 100% committed and there are very few of them players who are willing to give that. Leadership on the field is crucial, we have none. I know the manager Tom Cribben has very good ideas. I have spoken to him, but whether or not he can implement them or this panel of players can in force them or not is another thing. Tom wants to take it on another step and well let’s just say I have seen some of these players and the things they have done at club football and I just keep thinking leadership is a huge problem. They have nobody to look to at the right time when they can say who will lead this team?’

Would you be in favour of parish rule for the championship?

‘Yes I would, I think it would make for a better championship. For some clubs it’s a disaster and for others it’s ideal. I can’t say I am 100% sold on it but we have to try something. I think it’s definitely worth trying anyway.’


Gracefield’s Dunne has joined a long list of former players including Edenderry’s Sean Foran and Rhode’s Seamus Darby who have recently called for the parish rule to be reintroduced due to the extremely poor standard of football currently on display in the county.