Gerry Carroll: A player before his time

November 8, 2018

He has just one All-Ireland medal picked up with Offaly in that historic win of 1982.
A player that was feared and revered by opposition in every county in Ireland with a unique style that would make him an automatic choice for any fifteen.
Carroll believes that Offaly could have won more, particularly at underage level were it not for the attitude of the County Board.
In this exclusive interview the former half-forward lashes the board claiming they are backward, financially tight-fisted and should be booted-out.

First and foremost, where did the nickname ‘The Bronze’ come from?

‘I think it was Eamon Farrell, I went to school with Eamon, not a bad underage footballer either, I am almost sure it was him. I probably was always a bit tanned anyway but he came up with it when I came home from holiday in Greece one time’

Who were your earliest influences playing football?

‘Well my Father would have been one, I suppose when I went to the vocational school the lads that really got me going were Tony Guing and Tom Spain. They were over the football up there, I played with some serious footballers there, and I got on the Offaly Vocational schools team. I don’t think we ever lost a match. We won the Leinster u15. Johnny Mooney was a teammate of mine, Charlie Conroy, Peader Grady from Daingean and a lot of very good players from Ticknevin and Carbury.’

Your Father Christy Carroll played for Offaly. Did you ever see him playing?

‘I never saw him play with Offaly, I saw him at the end of his career playing with Ballyfore, and they weren’t in their current ground even, the pitch was closer to town then, I don’t think there were even nets in the goals. I never saw him at his best’

Did he ever talk to you about your performances either through praise, criticism or tell you where you went wrong?

‘He did, he definitely told me where I went wrong, I suppose the best one he ever said to me was, I remember coming home one time complaining about other players not passing me the ball on the team. His answer was very simple, go out and get it yourself. He would have always wanted me to use my right foot as well as my left foot’.

When did you realise you might be good enough for county football?

‘I suppose going back to the vocational school, I played under 14 football for Offaly then I played vocational schools football for Offaly and then as a juvenile I got on the Offaly minor team. I ended up playing three years in a row for Offaly. I suppose at that stage really. Wanting to play for Offaly though was probably when I was 14 years old and I used to go down and watch the Offaly ’72 team train in Edenderry. I remember as a 14 year old down there one night, the lads used to have a kick around before training. I remember someone kicking out a ball and I remember going up and catching it over Seamus Darby’s head as a 14 year old. I went home that night as if I was after winning the All-Ireland, then I realised how tall Darby was. (Laughs) I didn’t realise how small he was.’

What was football like in Edenderry in the 70’s and were they far off winning anything?

‘Edenderry were always second or third best back in the 70’s. I guess I didn’t play until ’77. We weren’t exactly well organised, we had good players but we didn’t have a lot of great players and we didn’t have enough of good players to win anything. It was very frustrating, similar to these days. We would dominate matches and possession and have scoring chances and still end up loosing.’

How did you end up coaching Edenderry at such a young age?

‘It was 1979, I think. Things had been going bad over the last few years and Paddy Fenlon took over. He asked me to come on board with him. I was 21 or so. I done the training but Paddy was in charge. We ended up in the county semi final against Rhode. At half time we were down by seven points but in the second half we got to within one point of them without scoring a goal. In the last few minutes we got a chance for a goal but we didn’t take it. It was frustrating but it was a good year for us compared to the previous seasons’.

During the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Edenderry dominated senior football. Most would agree Peter and Finbar Cullen were the clubs two best players. When you played who were the two players Edenderry relied on most?

‘I would probably have to say Brendan Fayne and Christy McGlynn’.

Who was the best Edenderry footballer you ever seen?

‘Peter Brady’

What did winning the championship in 1985 mean to you?

‘It meant a lot because we got beaten in the ’84 final by Gracefield, and actually they brought me home from New York for the final, but I played very bad, didn’t play well at all. So in ’85 I decided to come home on my steam and we won it so for me, I felt like I didn’t perform in ’84 so I was thrilled that they actually got to the final the following year. I came home early, about two weeks before it, on my own steam and lucky enough I played a part in us winning it. It was the first time we had won the Championship since 1957 and actually my Father was on that team’.

You were travelling back from the US to play in some of those games, how did that come about?

‘That only happened twice basically, those two times. I came back to help them win a championship and I felt bad over they way I had played in ’84’.

You played with Edenderry in the Championship in the early 90’s. Could you see a Championship winning team developing at that time?

‘Oh yeah absolutely, they could have won a lot more. They seemed like they had a lot of very good footballers and were very strong and of course they had Peter Brady and Finbar Cullen’.

What is your favourite Offaly and Edenderry memory?

‘Winning the All-Ireland in 1982, if I didn’t say that people would think I was mad. (Laughs). With Edenderry, winning the championship in ’85 is one and two, I think we beat Walsh Island in a classic game during the time Walsh Island won six in a row and I think we might have been the only team to beat them around that time’.

Who was the best player you ever played with at Club/County level?

‘Peter Brady and Matt Connor. The best player I ever played with though was Paul McGrath with St Pats, but in GAA terms Brady and Matt Connor were just brilliant. I remember in training Matt and Martin Furlong used to have this competition, Matt would hit shot after shot from the 21 yard line, absolute rockets. I felt sorry for Martin because any of them he did get his hand too it would have hurt’.

Who was the most talented footballer you played with at club/county level?

‘Declan Farrell with Edenderry and I would have to say Johnny Mooney with Offaly’.

Who was your toughest opponent?

‘Brian Mullins’

Who was your toughest teammate?

‘If I am going for the strongest, I would probably say Richie Connor’

A common comparison between yourself and Peter Brady is that you were both stylish left footers. What in your opinion are the differences between you both?

‘His wallets a lot thicker than mine but I am better looking. Basically I thought him nearly everything he knows about football!’ (laughs)

You were a very talented soccer player, how much would it have taken for you to pick it over the GAA?

‘Well actually I remember after my first game for Offaly in Croke Park I was approached in the dressing room wanting to know would I go for a trial with Arsenal. I turned it down. I just said no, my game was football at the time. I had the opportunity and I didn’t take it’.

What were the early days with Offaly like? Did you see an All-Ireland title in that team?

‘Not the first year, maybe not the second year. Maybe around 1980 I started thinking we could win an All-Ireland. The feeling got better the following year, and it happened a year later. We were gaining at least one good player every year. Brendan Lowry kind of came out of nowhere, Padraig Dunne came out of nowhere and Liam Currams came out of nowhere, so our team was getting stronger every year’.

What did you know about Eugene McGee before he arrived at Offaly? Did you think he could manage a team to win an All-Ireland at such a young age?

‘I didn’t know anything about him. I didn’t know who he was. Basically like I said earlier, I didn’t see it until around ’79/80.’

What was training like with Offaly?

‘I could write a book on it! It was brutal. Tom Donoghue did our physical training. A lot of people probably don’t realise we used to do pre-season training which was two or three months of just solid training on Croghan hill in the middle of winter, no ball, just sheer stamina training. That was basically to build our stamina up for a long year. It was very severe and very tough. As the weather got better and closer to the Championship, training used to get more interesting and we done a serious amount of ball work.’

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

‘I think my reaction was probably something like there goes your five in a row now! I was the closest to Darby at the time and had I been a step or two closer to him I would have been looking for a pass off him. I think I had two reactions really, I said to myself I can’t believe he’s hitting it with his left foot and so well, and I think my second was when I realised the score, you can stick your five in a row up your arse now!’

Bomber Liston supposedly said only two players of the 1982 Offaly team would have made the Kerry team, yourself and Matt Connor. What are your thoughts about that?

‘Well Bomber’s a very bright man isn’t he? (laughs) I didn’t know he said that actually, but that’s a huge complement coming from a player as good as him.’

What happened to Offaly after ’82 and why did they fall apart as they did?

‘I guess the team had been together quiet a while, maybe we lost players, maybe interest? After we lost to Dublin in the 1983 final, that was a huge disappointment because we were probably favourites to win the All-Ireland that year and the worst thing that could have happened, happened that Sunday before, Cork beat Kerry. Back then they didn’t have the same system they have now, when you lost you were out, in fact if they had we probably would have won the All-Ireland. Things only started to get worse after that.’

From the 1982 Offaly panel which of the players would you still be in contact with?

‘Matt Connor, Richie Connor, Padraig Dunne, Liam Currams, Seamus Darby, Martin Furlong and Sean Lowry. There the one’s I would be in contact with the most.’

Matt Connor, arguably the greatest Offaly footballer of all time, what was your reaction when you heard of his tragic accident?

‘I was in Boston at the time. I couldn’t believe it, especially how it happened. I used to travel with Matt to a lot of matches and he was a very careful driver. I often thought he drove too slow. I remember one time Matt saying to me, it was the week we had won the All-Ireland and we were travelling up from kilcormac to Tullamore, I was going a little fast, around 100mph and Matt just turned and looked at me and said ‘are you in a hurry?’ That was his way of telling me to slow down. It was just a freak accident because he was a very good careful driver. When I heard the news I couldn’t believe it, I was in total shock.’

Did you feel you could/should have played for Ireland vs Australia in the 80?s or was it something you would have had an interest in?

‘I think I was actually gone to America when that started. I would say I would have had an interest in it anyway. A trip to Australia would have been nice too.’

What were your reasons for going to America? Do you ever regret it?

‘I was offered the chance to go out for three months, I was given a job and a place to stay. Things weren’t good over here at the time so I took the chance. I have never regretted it.’

Did you play with any other well known players in the US?

‘I played with Jack O’Shea, Paidi O’Shea, Bomber Liston, John Guinan, Peter Brady and Ger Power, and played against Pat Spillane, Mick Spillane, Tom Spillane, Frank McGuigan, Greg Blaney, John L McElligott, Dinny Allen, John Kearns, Ambrose Rogers and Larry Thompkins. I remember bringing Peter Brady over with me in 1984 I think it was, he couldn’t have been anymore than 17 or 18. We were in the All-Ireland final in New York playing for Cavan against Tyrone. Peter played at half forward on Pat Spillane and roasted him.’

What is wrong with Offaly football?

‘Well the big problem with Offaly football has been the same forever that they have never looked after taking care of the youth at underage. I don’t think minor teams or u21 teams trained. Back in the 70’s there was no training sessions players were been picked by someone recommending them and not every player would be seen. Just lucky enough back then most counties were doing the same thing, but the counties that are all successful now have all started with youth developments, the teams in the north are perfect example of that. If you look at the talented players both Edenderry and Offaly have had and they end up not playing Gaelic football, where do they go?
They end up playing either soccer or rugby. The soccer copped on and the rugby copped on. They’re guaranteed a match every Sunday. They have great training facilities. Where did they get all the money, when I was playing with Edenderry soccer club they had no money, but just look at the facilities they have now or since then?
You have the same auld c**ts in on the county board that are there this 30 or 40 years that are as backward as you’ll get and as long as you have them around you’re never going to go anywhere, you’re definitely not going forward anyway. They don’t know how to go forward. It has to start at the top. The people in charge don’t know what there doing and maybe they don’t want to be successful at Gaelic football. There not going to go anywhere unless they start getting kids together and given them a reason to stay playing Gaelic football. What happens when you finish playing minor, your 18 years old and next year your 19, if you can’t make the senior team or the u21 team what do you do or what do you play? You play soccer or rugby.’

There is an age old myth going around that the county board don?t want to be successful it might cost too much money? Would you believe that?

‘I don’t know if that’s it exactly, maybe it is or maybe there afraid of been successful in case they might have to do some work.’

What did you think of Eugene McGee as a Manager?

‘He has to go down as the best ever for Offaly, I would say in the top 5 or 10 in the country. He took over a struggling county and he rebuilt it with a blend of youth and experience. We trained like a professional team. Eugene went to watch Arsenal train and he used the ideas that he had seen there. He would always analyse opposing players before every match and would know everything. He learned as he went along. The preparation was top class. The Thursday night before the final, when we arrived for training and he brought us down town to one of the schools where we watched the ’81 final. We sat there looking around at each other thinking ‘Jasus we threw that away.’ It made us realise we would win because we had missed so many chances that day we just believed we were better than them. The day of the All-Ireland final he delivered a speech that was as good as I ever heard. He fought with the county board over getting us refreshments, it started with milk and sandwiches, then a meal. At the time if you brought your wife or girlfriend to matches you had to pay for them, McGee soon sorted that out. The County Board officials were cheap c**ts. We had lads travelling from Dublin to train. He got us travel expenses. I think his weakness was on game day, maybe not the greatest on the sideline but clever enough to have Sean Foran and Paddy Fenlon, two brilliant men, in the top row of the Hogan stand telling him things via walky-talkies.’

According to the book, ‘Kings of September’ you and McGee didn’t get along?

‘I would say we did get along fine except at times, when it was a hot head in him and a hot head in me and then we would disagree. I guess it all started when I was dropped on the Saturday night before the Kildare game in the Leinster semi final for disciplinary reasons. Apparently I had given no effort in training. I really to this day don’t agree with him on that. I so very nearly quit. I went back to ‘The Corner House’ in Edenderry after training to meet my friends and they thought I was joking. It took me ten minutes to convince them. Ger Farrell and the lads advised me to go to the game. We struggled in the first half so I came on. I hadn’t stretched or warmed up and the very first ball I went for I tore my hamstring. I played on in the game but after that I was really pissed off with him. I didn’t want to play for him after that. I think I was only going through the motions. I went to America the following year. I am still to this day confused over his speech in the ’83 Leinster final. He basically told us to go out and beat Dublin by 10 or 15 points. It didn’t work, we went out flat and we lost. He later admitted it was huge mistake. I think he hated Dublin too much. I think he wanted to really rub it in, no doubt it cost us the All-Ireland because we were the best team around, no doubt.’

Do you ever intend or would you like to come back home to live in Ireland permanently?

‘No. I probably never will. I haven’t done it in 25 years. I have a three old son who is American born and my wife is American. It’s unlikely.’