Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

Thomand Legends – Pat Spillane in interview

He's barely sat down in his seat. With one swig taken from his orange juice the pulp nestles on the neck of the glass. The all too familiar catch call rings in his ears.“Look! It's that bollocks off RTE”.
“Keep your voice down there, there's one fella after calling me a bollocks already”, Pat Spillane admonishes me as I launch into a question. With hushed tones the conversation continues in the lobby of a Dublin hotel.

It's Sunday afternoon and the Kerryman is squeezing in an interview before dashing off to RTE to begin watching the weekend's GAA action. From two o'clock on it'll be flat out until the studio lights disappear back into their light bulbs sometime after 11 this evening. He'll clamber off the Sunday Game couch and feel the tingle of relief because he won't have offended anyone come Monday morning. Spillane now goads others for opinions rather than being the one-liner machine of yore.“Now, I like that I can wake up on Monday morning knowing I’ve upset no one in any county in Ireland. I like that”, he says by way of explaining his preference for presenting the shiny new package that is the revamped Sunday Game.

Pat Spillane – the facts:

  • Pat Spillane won his first All-Ireland senior football medal in 1975 at the age of 19. As team captain Mickey Ned O'Sullivan had gone off injured in the first half, Spillane lifted Sam Maguire.
  • He ruptured his cruciate ligament in 1981 but played through the pain barrier in '82. However he eventually decided to have an operation after the '82 All-Ireland and missed the entire '83 campaign because of it.
  • He went on to win eight All-Ireland senior medals and still holds the record for the most number of All Star awards at 9. He also has 12 Munster medals.
  • He retired in1991 having lost to Down in an All-Ireland semi-final, before beginning work as a pundit with RTE where he has earned much notoriety since.
  • His most famous utterance was “puke football”, his description of the new style of football played by Ulster teams.
  • “We won’t be getting many highlights out of this game unless [Colm] O’Rourke and myself do a strip in the next few seconds”, on one particularly boring game of football.

New theme tune, new presenter and a whole pile of new shirts guarding the torsos of the Sunday Game panel. It's easy to see why a person would prefer to ask questions than give opinions when the itch to say “bollocks” is unbearable for others as he passes by.

But this is a rare occurrence now and as Spillane openly admits, “he who lives by the sword dies by the sword”. Goodness knows he's pulled his own Excalibur from the scabbard on many infamous occasions.
“When you're giving an honest assessment of a game, you're going to offend somebody. If a team has won you're going to praise them and the team that's lost you're criticising them and immediately you've alienated half the people. He who lives by the sword….” and he completes the cliché before bounding into the next topic.

“Criticism to me? I remember when I got injured, when I ruptured my knee in '81. I regretted that suddenly I was out of football and basically nobody gave a shite. I just vowed that if I came back, I came back because of me and nothing else.No one came back playing football in Ireland having ruptured their cruciate in the 80s.I came back a much harder individual. In everything, from then on I was just focused. From that day on I don't think I ever worried about anything”.

“My motto has always been I do it because I want to do it and I don't give a shite whether people agree with me or disagree with me. I say it because I want to say it”.


Pat Spillane grew up in Templenoe. His father and his uncles (Lyons) on his mother's side played for Kerry and therein lies the footballing heritage.

His father died when he was just eight years of age. His mother took over the running of the family pub while raising a family of four children at a time when a widow's pension was unheard of. It's from her Spillane believes he inherited the attitude of “the glass being always half full with me”, as he puts it.He played football for Templenoe and Kenmare and went on to the Kerry football nursery of St. Brendan's where Paidi O'Se was one of his pals but even when he started there, the senior school football team boasted John and Ger O'Keefe; a side which had just won the colleges All-Ireland.“If you got on the football team in Brendan's you were the king. That was the ultimate”, he says.

He boarded at Brendan's, losing both an All-Ireland College semi-final and final, while success with the Kerry minors also eluded him.And then on to PE teaching in Thomond College, the forerunner to UL.“I did well enough to get in to college, but I mean I was a slogger. I was never blessed with skill or brains. I was a slogger. If I was into anything I gave it 110 per cent”, he says.

“It was nice and casual. There was a great social life. We were blessed, it was a small college, everyone knew each other and it was really the extension of a boarding school. It hadn't the anonymity of a university campus or anything like that. You starved on the food to make sure you had enough money for drink!”

The year Spillane entered PE training college was just the second full group of students to be taken in at Thomond. The teaching methods were based on an English model which Spillane believes was outdated and certainly didn't prepare anyone for taking a class of 40 with just one basketball to use.
So in amongst numerous protests up to the department of Education in Dublin and suffering a fry-up for dinner every evening in his first year digs, the new kid from Kerry came under the tutelage of Dave Weldrick, a lecturer in NCPE (National College of Physical Education), who guided the Thomond Gaelic football team to an All-Ireland club championship in 1979. Thomond still remain the only college to have won the title.

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