GAA Football

Competitive Liam McGoldrick strikes the balance between life and football

Liam McGoldrick's only Ulster championship appearance for Derry was as a sub against Donegal in the 2015 semi-final. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin.
Cahair O'Kane

FOR New Year’s, the entire McGoldrick clan and their plus ones went to Paris. It was the first time the whole family had been away together.

Second youngest Liam had been in the French capital over the previous year’s festive holidays and came back with the idea of the 16 of them all going back to sign off on 2017 together.

On New Year’s Eve itself, they signed off with a round of the board game Articulate.

In a house containing seven offspring and a brother-in-law that have made the grade at senior inter-county, a talented eighth who’s just too young yet, a mother who was an ace swimmer and a father who’s been managing Eoghan Rua, Coelraine’s senior footballers for almost two decades, it’s unsurprising that things turned competitive.

“We played a game on Christmas Day a few years ago and it turned into: “You’re a cheating….” 

That game was abandoned.

“We played Articulate on New Year’s Eve and it got out of hand. It was close to getting abandoned too. We said we’d never play again.”

The eight McGoldrick children were all born and reared in Portstewart, their father Sean having come from Andersonstown to work at the Ulster University campus in Coleraine, where he met their mother Schira, a native of Derry city.

Their home is 400 yards from Portstewart Golf Club, but it wasn’t a sport any of them excelled at. They were all talented swimmers in their younger days, while Barry is a former cross-country runner who once raced against Mo Farah.

The natural competitive streak didn’t fall off the trees, though it’s hard to square it off with Liam McGoldrick’s demeanour as he sits casually sipping at his flat white by the window of Costa on the outskirts of Coleraine.

So much about the 23-year-old seems horizontal as he casually chats for almost two hours.

Gaelic football is his life and it’s not his life at the same time.

He has an inclination to drag the best from himself and grew up with the culture in Eoghan Rua, where he acted as waterboy to the 2010 Derry SFC-winning team, that made leading a healthy lifestyle a very natural thing to do.

“I can put on weight very easily. Somebody found two pictures on Google of me. The time of the second one, I’d torn my hamstring and was out for six weeks.

“I had this big fat face, my hair’s starting to recede and that’s just one year, boys were saying ‘you’re f***** when you stop playing, you’re gone’.

“You do keep yourself ticking over when the club season ends. Doing exercise, I love it, you feel good about yourself afterwards. I’d be one for doing it to keep yourself mentally happy.”

McGoldrick never made a Derry minor championship panel, played ‘C’ football in the Nolan Cup at Loreto College and is yet to start an Ulster Championship game.

But he wants to nail down his place in the Derry side under Damian McErlain, even if that place is at full-back, though he’d rather it wasn’t.

Healthily, though, football is not all-consuming in the way it is for others.

He took last year away from inter-county football because he didn’t want to let his classmates down on group-work in his final year studying Business IT at Queen’s.

Despite the nature of his degree it might be teaching in the end for him too, just like his mother and four of his older siblings, but the truth is he doesn’t really know what he wants to do.

“Teaching is good with football. It’s quite an appealing lifestyle when you finish work at 3.30pm. Though I’d see my ma, she does a lot of A-Level teaching, she’d still be marking at 9 or 10 at night when I’m going to bed.”

That he’s thinking about a career based around his football is something of a paradox given his general attitude towards the idea of committing long-term to the inter-county game.

He took last year out and enjoyed it. Paris for the new year, skiing in spring and Tenerife in the summer.

While the swirling rumours that the decision was based around playing for the club alone annoyed him, it turned into a rewarding year with Eoghan Rua.

They lost just three games and won three trophies they’d never won before, the Derry league, Dr Kerlin Cup and, most satisfyingly, the All-Ireland Sevens.

They lost eldest brother Barry to an arm injury in the second game of the latter competition yet battled through to beat hosts Kilmacud Crokes in the final.

“It was pissing down. They were in the changing room next to us and they had their masseurs in, came out with a brand new strip, shorts and socks. We came out bogging.”

The feeling he got after that win was the nearest thing to fulfilment he’s ever had as a result of football.

“Don’t get me wrong, there’s times I play it and absolutely hate it. But that would be with anything. If I’d lose a game, I’d be fairly down about it.

“A lot of it comes down to winning and losing, but even some games you win… There aren’t many times at the end of a game I’d be ‘that was brilliant’.

“Days maybe the team wins and you’re happy but you think then you were crap yourself. 

“There’s a certain amount of happiness when you win but to get that 100 per cent happiness, you need to have played well too, and you don’t often get that. That’s probably a good thing.

“The only time I’ve probably ever got it was after the Sevens this year, the satisfaction of not expecting to win it, losing Barry and winning it with nine players, and beating Kilmacud.”

Travelling, for a few weeks or months, is on his mind for next autumn, the idea of Asia and South America looming largest.

He saw three brothers and six other clubmates take off in October 2009 and do a six-month around-the-world tour, come home refreshed and go on to win that historic first ever senior football title in 2010.

McGoldrick, who says he “begged” brother Sean Leo to return to the Oak Leaf camp this year with him, wouldn’t ever live on the far side of the world but he has a thirst to see it at least.

“There’s a lot to be said for being around your family. 

“But if I hadn’t been playing Gaelic this year, I definitely would have been away.

“I’m not saying for the full year but I would have taken a lot more holidays.

“[My girlfriend] Simone said she might be going to Florida this year in July and I was just saying there’s no way in hell I’d be able to go.

“But those are the things you do. Those sacrifices are taken for granted. 

“People don’t realise, if you’re playing for Derry, you have to be here the whole year and not be able to go away.

“Say you went to Damian [McErlain] and asked him, I’m sure he’s not going to say no, but if you did go away, you’ll miss a match and if whoever comes in plays well, you’re out. It’s ruthless that way, and rightly so.”

A football career is a short one but so is life itself. And unlike so many others, Liam McGoldrick seems to have a mind to balance the two.

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