Pics: Michael McLaughlin/Sportsfile
Holding centre stage
Ronan McGarrity Interview
WE crowd around Ronan McGarrity like moths to a flame and his eyes light up as he discusses Kerry, his short inter-county career and the state of the Gaelic football nation.
There is seldom a dull moment with Mayo’s towering 6’ 5” midfielder. He may only be 25 years of age but he has lived his life to the full. When he leans forward to offer his opinions to the battery of dictaphones laid out in front of him, we all listen.
McGarrity is fascinating company. He is in only his third season as a county footballer and preparing for his second All-Ireland Final with Mayo. He won a club championship with Ballina Stephenites last year. He walks the walk and, yes, he talks the talk.
“I’m looking forward to it a lot,” he says by way of casting an eye towards September 17. “The preparations have gone really well so far and I’m looking forward to rectifying things from 2004. A lot of us have demons in our closets that we need to let out and I’m looking forward to trying to do that.”
A question is tossed in his direction about the impending ‘clash of the titans’ that sees him paired up with Darragh Ó Sé in the centre of the field next weekend. He smiles and flicks an answer back.
“I’m not an All Star, he is, so all the pressure is on him,” smiles McGarrity. “He’s the sort of player that I have looked up to since I was a young fella. He’s a phenomenal athlete. I remember when I was 13 or 14 watching him playing U-21s. He’s phenomenal, the benchmark for midfielders at this point in time. He has everything; he’s physically strong, he’s a good kick-passer of the ball, an excellent fielder. He’s caught some phenomenal ball this year. He’s a leader, he’s been around the block a couple of times.
If I do any good on him at all I’ll be happy.
“I’m looking forward to it,” he adds. “I have nothing to lose. The pressure is on the Kerry midfielders. Who the hell am I? I’ve achieved nothing so far in Gaelic football compared to what Darragh Ó Sé has done so I’m going to relish the challenge, I’m going to look forward to it. At the end of the day if I get beaten then so what, nobody expected me to do any good.
His praise of his opponent is 100% genuine but it also showcases his refreshing ability to be forthright and candid all in one. He doesn’t do rhetoric and cliches aren’t his thing. So what about this Mayo team then. Why are they different from any other year?
“I would put it down to the way our training is,” he says. It’s more ball-orientated. The ball is always involved. We do the running but it’s all ball work. With that, if the ball is given to you on the big day you’re confident of grabbing it, dishing it off, passing it. I think that’s one of the big elements of our game this year. We’re confident on the ball.”
CONFIDENCE is just one of the strings to Ronan McGarrity’s bow. He is also a talented basketballer, a shrewd bookmaker and willing interviewee.
A few more tape-recorders are slipped onto the table and the man himself looks relaxed. His white hoody hangs loosely from his frame and his eyes light up as the questions are tossed in his direction.
“I’d say that’s Mayo at about 80%,” is his response when asked about the team’s display in the last quarter against Dublin.
“I don’t think we’ve really peaked yet. Our attitude to training this year has been that we’re building up as the year has gone on. You could see the first day against Laois that we weren’t up to par but the second day we came on in leaps and bounds. Every game since we’ve come on in leaps and bounds.
“A lot of it comes down to the criticism we’ve got in recent years. That we’re not good enough, that we always buckle on the big day…that’s harsh. To hear that every year is pathetic, sickening. What about the other teams that haven’t got to an All-Ireland Final? What about Laois? Where’s the criticism for them?
“Tyrone or Armagh aren’t there this year…are they getting the same criticism we get because we lose an All-Ireland Final?”
McGarrity was handed his inter-county chance by John Maughan but is now under the watchful eye of Mickey Moran’s regime. His game has flourished under their direction and he has nothing but good things to say about the two Northern visitors.
“I think they’re two loveable guys,” he smiles. “I have great time for them. The two boys are like a second father to you. Training is all ball work, all different.
“If you’re going to training every day and doing the same things over and over then it gets a bit monotonous. We go training now and you really don’t know what to expect. We go out there and wonder what are we doing now?
“But they’re not light on you either. If they know you’re not performing then they get on your back and that’s what you need.
“The way we approach games is completely different now,” he continues. “But I’m not going to criticise John [Maughan] because he gave me the start and brought me into county football.
“We’re not doing as much hard labouring now as we did before, running laps and sprints…we’re not doing that. Everything is orientated around the ball which makes it more enjoyable. You’re still doing the work but using the ball which makes it more enjoyable.”
His philosophy on life and sport is unique in an era defined by stoicism and monosyllabic answers. Three years spent shooting hoops in the US helped shape his personality and he feels no reason to fear the biggest game of his season.
“We’ve nothing to lose because we haven’t achieved anything,” he offers. “I’m not worried at all because I didn’t perform in 2004 and I would like to rectify that. That’ll be on my mind but if it happens it happens.
“The first time I came in with Mayo I just said I’d go in and give it a try and see what happens. Everyone knows when you go out to play football you’re not going out to play poorly, you’re going out to do your best. And if it’s your day, it’s your day.”
We end on a suitably unusual note. One reporter brings up the subject of odds and the bookmaker’s apparent dismissal of Mayo’s chances. McGarrity has seen them himself in his father’s shop and plays ball.
“It’s embarrassing isn’t it? The odds aren’t giving us a chance at all but that’s fine by us. Everyone is expecting us to go out and get hammered again like in 2004. I’m looking forward to making ye all believers too.”