Looking for leadership? Look no further than Slaughtneil
Winning Ulster senior football, hurling and camogie titles last year would have been viewed by most as a once-in-a-lifetime achievement. Not for Slaughtneil.
After the camogs and hurlers did their bit in defending their titles, Patsy Bradley was lifting the Seamus McFerran Cup after the footballers saw off Cavan Gaels on Sunday.
I have played against Patsy on many occasions at inter-county level and you could never meet such a committed, dogged and skilful midfielder.
He can run, catch and is as tough as nails.
When you talk about leaders, he is the sort of character you would want to go to war with.
They say that leaders are born, not made. Leadership can take different forms.
I have always felt that leadership on the field meant taking a game which is in the melting pot and pulling your team through tough times by actions, not words.
At times too many players feel that it is verbal feedback, which is the ‘true’ sign of leadership.
How many generals in the First World War gave the order to ‘go over the top’ yet didn’t follow?
The bravest ones were those stood with their men – they became real heroes.
Leadership usually involves behaviour that will influence others.
That may involve being humble enough to go to a team-mate’s house and ask him why he continually misses training or matches.
It means being able to take criticism when the easiest thing to do is to make an excuse.
Leadership means improving oneself first before turning your attention elsewhere.
I have never thought of myself as a leader. In addition, I rarely captained any teams.
It never bothered me much, to be honest, as I always assumed that my best influence would always be in my actions on the field and, indeed, how I conducted myself off it.
I could always have said that no-one trained harder and I was proud of that.
I was never the best timekeeper.
In fact, at club level, I always arrived just as the warm-up had started, for no other reason other than the small issue of taping nearly every joint in my body prior to every training session and match.
Captain or not, I could never bite my tongue and, positive or negative, if I felt something needed to be said, I said it.
On many occasions, I was completely and utterly wrong in this approach – a nightmare to play with.
If I was in a position to get a ball and it didn’t happen, I would erupt.
I would certainly never claim to be the best communicator in positive feedback, certainly not in controlling my emotions, anyway.
I took the whole thing too seriously.
However, that is just the way I am and, to quote Bill Shankly, I had “a natural enthusiasm’ for the game.
If you don’t, as Shankly said, “you are a bloody menace”.
I could write a book on the clichés I have heard over the years in changing rooms, that “it is not personal, just business, etc etc.
For me, football is the most personal thing in the world.
As Slaughtneil have demonstrated this week, it is the most personal thing in the world, to their families and their community.
When I see some parents drop their children off at the local club and spin the wheels as they drive away, I begin to think that the club and community are being taken for granted. Perhaps parents at times think of the club as a crèche.
But the community spirit that can develop from GAA clubs such as Slaughtneil is the reason they are currently the most successful club in Ulster.
I remember the days of my dad jamming 13 lads into a Renault Savanna and heading into the Mourne Mountains to play Attical in an U12 game.
While illegal, that’s what had to be done to fulfil the fixture as we didn’t have enough parents who cared enough to take their own kids to the matches.
I have heard recently of clubs, for health and safety reasons, instituting rules obliging one parent to be present at all club training and matches.
It may not be practical, but it is an excellent way of encouraging our young people – and parents – to stick with the game.
I am in a new phase of my life.
I met a father of an ex-county player (and rival) recently and we sat and chatted at length about adjusting to life away from the game.
I told him that I felt the comedown difficult, the void huge. In his wisdom, he explained that I needed new goals, perhaps as a coach. I told him my doubts over whether I would be cut out to be a manager.
The demands I had as a player wouldn’t be diluted to those I would have as a coach – and those might not do anybody any good.
But when you talk about leadership off the field, he said, as a parent you can only hope that you will encourage and embrace the responsibility that comes with introducing GAA activities to children.
And with that, he left and gave me a better understanding that you can still have and influence with the right behaviour.
While overloading a Renault Savanna is not one of these, standing encouraging your own, wind, rain or shine, is an appropriate starting point.
That is the only way we can become a Slaughtneil.
That is true leadership.