Pat reflects on the rivalry between soccer and GAA

THE recently released autobiography of Norman Uprichard went on sale on both a local and national stage recently.

The publication illustrates the life of the late Norman Uprichard who grew up in Lurgan and played for the St Peter’s under 16 team before moving across the water to sign for several English league clubs including Arsenal.

In the book’s first paragraph, entitled ‘Banned for Life’, the former Wellington Street man talks about the time when, as a youngster, he was not permitted to receive a championship medal because he played for Glenavon at the time.

Thankfully the ban has long gone from the GAA rule book and, in an era where the Cumann Luthchleas Gael finds itself amongst the revisionists in society, the St Peter’s club, who set the record straight and presented Norman with his medal many years later, like an entire association, functions better without the archaic restrictions of a dark past.

But in this ever changing world, has a younger generation fared any better and is the GAA, as a collective body, ready to embrace a new order where sports men and women move together in sporting tandem?

Had Lurgan man Pat McGibbon been born in the same era as Norman Uprichard, he may never have pulled on the famous Manchester United jersey.

But when he left Portadown Football Club in his youth (during a time when the ‘noisy neighbours’ of Manchester certainly were not hitting the Reds for six), a thawing out of relationships between the GAA and other sporting bodies, ironically, coincided with the ending of the Cold War. Pat McGibbon, however, describes the competition between Gaelic and Soccer in Lurgan as “the bane” of his life.

Modernly, with the recession continuing to bite, Gaelic footballers are on a more frequent basis taking up contracts with Irish League clubs. According to Linfield boss David Jeffery, there is absolutely no chance of former Tír na nÓg player Mark McAllister pulling on the Armagh jersey any time soon, and with Ryan Henderson continuing to thrive at Donegal Celtic, Paddy O’Rourke can rule the Lurgan man out of his calculations at least for the 2012 season.

Sean Mackle (Portadown), Niall Henderson (Glenavon) and Brian Mallon, who is currently playing with Pat McGibbon’s Newry City side are all making the headlines in the Irish League.

In the modern era players are moving more freely between sports, seeing the benefits of the specifics of each and broadening their horizons in a way very different from the past.

So what does a former Manchester United defender, who wore the Armagh colours in an Ulster Final, believe he has learned over the years at places like Old Trafford and on the Gaelic Football pitch?

This week, Pat McGibbon talks to the ‘Mail’ about the GAA, his time over the pond, and what changes he would like to see which would benefit sports people and society in general. His answers are both frank and interesting. Still in his late thirties, the Lurgan man has a wealth of knowledge to share here are some of his views.

From your schoolboy days to date what has been your history in both Gaelic and Soccer?

I started playing Gaelic Football at nine years old with Clann Éireann U10s, playing up to the age of 18 with the club’s seniors. The senior management team at that time was Danny McCrory and my dad, and that panel was promoted into the first division. I played at school level with Tannaghmore (Brian Curran), St. Paul’s JHS (Jimmy Smyth) and St Michael’s SHS (Seamus Heffron). I also played for Armagh Minors in the year 1992. In that summer I moved to England. On my return from England I played a couple of seasons with Clann Éireann at ‘B’ level; a bit of craic, I suppose. After moving out to Derrytrasna to live, I played for Sarsfields, again mainly at B level but played some Senior games under Brian McAlinden in 2006.

I started playing soccer in first year with St Paul’s, with Paddy McAnallen running the team. From there I joined Lurgan United U12s, managed by, amongst others, Joe Leathem, Dessie Magennis and the late Don Mackin. At sixteen I joined Portadown, where I remained until joining Manchester United in 1992. I then played for Wigan Athletic from 1997 to 2002. I won full International caps during my time in England. I then came home to again play for both Portadown and Glentoran, where I won a CIS and League winners medal in 2005.

I then managed Lurgan Celtic, was assistant manager at Monaghan United and I am currently manager of Newry City FC.

What is your current profession and what qualifications do you have in your field?

I am currently working with The Southern Regional College, Newry as a co-ordinator of a sports programme. I work as a physiotherapist on a part-time basis having graduated in 2002 in Manchester. I manage Newry City FC and have coaching qualifications up to UEFA’s A-level.

Which do you believe is tougher - Gaelic or Soccer training?

In soccer, more strength needs to be generated by the legs and lower torso, whereas Gaelic demands more upper body strength. Whilst Gaelic methods to training have changed over the last number of years, soccer is a more explosive game where shorter bursts of speed are more important. Gaelic has a more stamina based element.

I remember watching Ryan Henderson over the first few games he played with Lurgan Celtic. He was terrific for the first 60-70mins of games, but his performance dropped at this time. He was so used to playing full out for 60/70mins of a Gaelic game but didn’t pace himself for 90mins. Both sports are tough, but it depends on the individual player as to what he finds tougher. I think Gaelic would be tougher physically at times, but soccer is tougher mentally on concentration.

What were your first thoughts when you walked through the gates of Old Trafford as a player?

Whilst it was an eye opener to see players like Brian Robson, Mark Hughes and the likes on first arriving to Old Trafford, I soon realised that they were ordinary people with their own strengths and weaknesses. The most successful people at the club are, mainly, the most knowledgeable, hard-working and modest ones. That’s why it’s a great club to be connected with. It’s a great club with a great tradition”.

So which club do you support?

I like to also get over to see games at Wigan when I can. They’re another very homely club”.

Do you have an opinion on the big number of young Northern Ireland players declaring for the Republic?

Whilst I can’t speak for the young lads since I don’t know their reasons, I would say that if it’s from a purely footballing point of view, then they should have made that decision from the start at underage level. If they get the chance to play International football, it should be an honour; it shouldn’t be something that should change just because they think they might achieve more by declaring for somebody else. If their reason for change comes down to peer pressure, family pressure or feeling uncomfortable in the environment, that’s for them to decide, as Neil Lennon did”.

I’m still confused as to why the IFA didn’t think it was a more intelligent idea to build a national stadium at the Maze. Whilst the IFA have worked hard to remove sectarianism from the game, a new modern stadium would have introduced a more neutral feel, with people from outside Belfast being far more likely to bring their children to see the best international teams. I think putting money into an old stadium, which some sections of the community feel uncomfortable going to, is a mistake”.

In your minor days with Armagh, which player stood out?

I played against Paul McGrane at club level growing up. You always knew that you were in a game with Paul. Also, playing against a Clan na Gael team with Diarmaid Marsden and Barry O’Hagan in it was always difficult. By the time I got to St Michael’s SHS, I played in midfield with Barry, and did all his running for him. He did all my scoring for me!

Which managers do you admire the most in GAA, in Irish League, Premiership?

Mickey Harte for his knowledge, how he cares about his players and is modest about success. In the Irish League, Ronnie McFall for having achieved success outside Belfast’s ‘Big Two’, and David Jeffrey for his ability to take the pressure of needing success each year and delivers. In England; Sir Alex Ferguson, for the same reasons as David Jeffrey but on a global scale”.

Do you believe that Gaelic and soccer can survive together in Lurgan?

I have no doubt that Soccer and Gaelic can survive together in Lurgan, but only if certain people within the area stop following their own agenda and start thinking about what is most important for the child being coached.

What surprises me most is that a sizeable amount of these coaches, managers and mentors who are involved with teams and are against playing dual codes did the very same even themselves at underage and senior level. My philosophy is that these boys, girls and adults should have the opportunity to achieve as much in sport as they can and by narrowing this pool down, requiring them to choose one sport over the other, they are potentially stopping another Neil Lennon from putting Lurgan on the map.

It is my opinion that no mentor should be putting undue pressure on a player to give up or choose one sport. It is up to both the player and the parents or guardians to give themselves the best possible opportunity to enjoy and be successful at sport, following their dreams and not the dream of narrow minded individuals who can’t see beyond the colour of a shirt or a political agenda. I am very proud to have played at a decent level in both codes, and would like to continue to see lads like Ryan Henderson, Andrew Murnin and others do the same.

And finally, where do you believe your journey in management will take you?

At this moment I’m enjoying working with the players at Newry who are a good honest bunch, but I’ll be the same in management as I was as a player which is hard-working, ambitious and hopefully knowledgeable from the experience of meeting so many great footballing people. We’ll just see where it takes me.