Former Armagh and Sarsfields player Malachy Skelton says he wouldn’t feel comfortable playing in the modern game.
While admiring the effort put in by players who train five times a week, sometimes as early as 6.30am, the former Trasna stalwart believes that gaelic football has “lost its sole”, and much of the manliness which players from the past had in abundance.
The former High Moss player, who has been residing in Lurgan since the mid sixties, came from an era when there were no black or yellow cards and very little play acting particularly from forwards who he claims “stood on their feet, irrespective of the toughness of a tackle.”
The Skelton dynasty, who hail from Derrytrasna, have been outstanding servants of their club, also represented Armagh at the highest level during the Hoops most successful era when under the management of Brian McAlinden they won their only Armagh Senior Championship title and lined out brothers Paul, Shane, Dessie, Brendan and Eugene in the final against Armagh Harps back in 1990.
Malachy, who won an All County Intermediate medal with Trasna back in 1969, has always said this particular side would have gone on to senior success but faced teams who were of a very high standard at the time.
The 1969 team was full of County players including Malachy who made his Armagh senior debut in 1965 but was forced out of the game for a period through injury soon after. His team mates included Eamon O’Neill, Joe Scullion, Kevin Stevenson, Hugh Donnelly, Kevin McAlinden, Felix Austin, Gerry Moore, Patsy Donnelly and a player he speaks highly, Eddie Moore.
In his playing days Malachy had been described as being uncompromising; he would admit to have treaded a very thin line but has no regrets and stressed the friendships he built with what he describes as other “uncompromising players” have lasted a life time.
Skelton is from the old school, he isn’t afraid to shoot from the hip, and has said “no single player is bigger than their club.”
What is you first memories of playing for Sarsfields Seniors?
“I played against the Tones when I was just 14 and broke through having beaten Bill McCorry in a run for the ball, but I was afraid to put the ball in the net and shot over the bar. When Frank O’Hagan asked me why I didn’t score a goal I said I was scared it might annoy Bill who was a County legend at the time. Frank looked at me and said ‘did alright,’ being on the same field as Bill McCorry was a bit too much for me to handle.”
Which player in particular was hard to play against?
John Greene from the Clans, myself and John worked together but on the pitch we knocked lumps of each other. On many occasions a referee would say I’m not stopping the game so the two of you can carry on regardless. After the game we would count our money together and end up in the Clans for a drink, Greene was a tough one to play against.
What would you say to Sarsfields players who are currently playing for the club?
I would tell them the jersey belongs to the club and it is on loan to them for the duration of the match.
There is no point in a player pulling on the jersey if they aren’t prepared to give one hundred percent, no one player should be bigger than the club.”
Who in your opinion was the Sarsfields best player?
Sarsfields had many great players, including Brian McAlinden, Dennis Stevenson, Kieran McGurk and Joe Scullion, but to be honest my brother Dessie in my opinion was the best.
“I believe he was a man ahead of his time. He was by no means a catch and kick player and was highly mobile and elusive when on the ball. In the later years the skill of Eddie Moore was a treat to behold, Eddie came from the High Moss which was a hot bed for top players who lined for Trasna like Gerry Moore, Francie McAlinden, the Murrays, Dessie’s lads and of course the great Sean Quinn who captained Armagh in the All Ireland in 1953.”
How has club football in particular changed from when you were playing?
“To be honest I wouldn’t be a big fan of all the hand passing and I believe a growing number of players are into play acting which brings the game into disrepute.
“This would never happen in rugby, when would you ever see a top hurler begging a referee to send an opponent off as often happens in gaelic.When you take the physicality out of a game players will find a way to cheat as is often seen to happen at the top level in Inter-county football. If players are unable to be physical which may lead to a black card they will find other ways of stifling the opposition which in itself brings more problems for referees.”
What was it like playing for the Sarsfields ?
“Your daily routine was tough to say the least, I would have travelled to Belfast in a mini bus with lads from the Cash (Derrymacash) along with workers from town. We spent our days digging footings for new houses in all sorts of weather and on many occasions we were soaked to the skin before we got our first tea break. It was tough going landing home before heading out to a match. We worked hard and played hard, in my opinion we lived in a different era, times were hard and sometimes I think all of that surfaced on the pitch.”
What are your memories of your late brother Hugh?
“A lot of people would have said to me Hugh was a great Clan na Gael man. Although he was a true Trasna man he spent so much time around the Clans. Hugh was almost like a groundsman at Davitt Park, he did a lot of work and was missed when he passed away. You could say he had a foot in both camps, but he was a Trasna man at heart.”
What would you change about the modern game?
“All the hand passing bugs me. While catch and kick is a thing of the past, accurate kick passes should be used more often.
I hate to see players diving, gaelic games are still very strong but is it still a man’s game? I don’t know. Some would say the game has become boring and doesn’t contain the same amount of characters. I believe what you are seeing in the modern game are safe players, who are afraid to take risks with both their tackling and general play.”