BY STEPHEN GLEESON
Paddy Christie is a name that for years was associated exclusively with Dublin football, but now the former Dublin star plays a key role in Tipperary football. The Ballymun Kickham’s stalwart may have raised eyebrows when he first joined the Tipp set-up, but now he plays an integral part and has a connection with the county that stretches back to his childhood which was filled with days in Lorrha, north Tipperary:
“I would have spent my summers down there. When I say spend my summers, it could be four to six weeks and when you think about it, I don’t know how those people put up with us!” he told Tipp FM’s Stephen Gleeson.
“We had a massive bond” he continues, “and I suppose I started to go down less when I was seventeen or eighteen and started to play a lot of serious football.”
The former Dublin defender’s connection with Tipperary deepened even more when he became friends with the latest recruit to the Tipp senior and under 20 managements: Declan Browne.
“I became very friendly with Declan Browne and we were on an International Rules trip to Australia and I got pally with him and was in contact with him afterwards.”
The friendships with Tipp folk continued as football brought Paddy into the path of current Tipp manager David Power:
“I rang him a few times talking about football and we’d be talking for an hour and Tommy Twoomey as well. All these guys that I ended up working with afterwards, I’d been in contact with them. I’d been in contact with Tommy and David as I’d been trying to get in contact with Charlie McGeever in 2015 but he refused to answer the phone to me!”
Joking aside, the Dublin based coach says his recent involvement with Tipperary football and the success it brought has meant a lot to him:
“I have to be very thankful on a personal level for Tipperary football because from September to Christmas we were very busy and thankfully we kept on rolling and kept on winning until the All-Ireland semi-final there in early December so I’m very thankful for Tipperary football to be honest with you. Obviously I get a big kick out of being involved with a group and the team bond and the management bond and the whole group that came together. In these times in particular between school and Tipperary, I was going the whole time and, in my situation, it was a god send. It kept me totally focused and I didn’t have to think about anything else, and that’s where we find ourselves with everything closed down. School is closed at the moment as well and you’re finding things hard. So when I look back, I’m so grateful that things went well on a personal level and then obviously delighted to see those lads with Munster medals in their back pocket now. It’s fantastic!”
The sense of history around the occasion meant a lot to Paddy as well: “To think it’s 85 years that the county waited; they’re very special times. It would have been even nicer if you had 30 or 40 thousand people in Pairc Ui Chaoimh and celebrations afterwards but in a way, there was something very special about it as well. The nature of the day and the nature of the year that was in it with Bloody Sunday too, so you can’t really complain too much, I mean it was a great year.”
History was made when Tipp beat Cork in the Munster final and now is the time to build on that, according to Paddy who says he’s focused on this year:
“As good as it was and as I’ve learned in other parts of my life and in sports as well, I think you can’t be looking back too much. You have to move on now and I suppose that’s what this Tipperary under 20s stuff is about. We’re looking at Tipperary senior footballers to try and maintain the progress, not take our foot off the pedal and build for the future as well.”
The Tipp senior and Under 20s backroom team is a highly successful one that includes the 2015 Munster U21 winning manager Tommy Twoomey as well as Clonmel Commercials manager Charlie McGeever, who managed his club to a Munster title and also guided the Tipp 2015 minors to the All-Ireland final. All-Star winner Declan Browne is in there too, as is Toomevara clubman Joe Hayes alongside the most successful Tipperary manager of the modern era: David Power. The idea of deepening the playing pool by joining up the Under 20s and senior management is something Tommy Twoomey told Tipp FM about for many years.
Paddy Christie feels Tommy is passionate about all aspects of Tipp football and is thrilled the west Tipp man is part of the set up:
“Tommy Twoomey has been involved for so many years and I suppose I had spoken to him a couple of times on the phone over the years through GAA matters. To meet him and see the passion that he has…for him to be involved, and he certainly will be heavily involved in the 20’s set up as well – that’s a big bonus. Again, you want top people like that involved. You want them having some sort of ownership of it. I think the idea in principle is very good. I know there can be stumbling blocks and there can be problems but the pros far outweigh the cons.”
The new Under 20’s manager feels it’s a shared idea across the management set up: “I think David Power was very much in tune with that, and Tommy and Charlie McGeever too. Particularly David and Tommy had been preaching that for a while and it’s a brave step for David because you know people will expect Tipperary will have another good year and that’s not guaranteed.”
The benefits of under 20s and seniors training together are also explained by Paddy:
“There are two parts to it. It creates a pathway, a stepping stone for those under 20s in two different ways. It allows them to get to know what kind of training goes on at intercounty level because, needless to say, we’re going to try and bring in a lot of the stuff that we were training the seniors with. We’re going to try and bring it in to under 20s level.”
“Secondly, personnel wise and management wise the younger players get to know people from the senior management. So when they do eventually, please God, make that ‘step up’ and walk into that dressing room, before they walk in they’ll probably meet someone from the management outside that they already know and it should make them feel a lot more comfortable. I’m sure they’ll know some of the players if they’ve been following the Tipperary senior footballers. But they may not know them all that well and there’s a whole lot of different obstacles and barriers to a younger player which people take for granted. They automatically think a nineteen or twenty-year-old would love to be called into a Tipperary senior football panel and it would be great but the truth of the matter is that it can be daunting as well. You have to try and make that as easy as possible for players. You can’t make it comfortable for them because we don’t want people in their comfort zone but you certainly can reduce or remove some of the barriers so they feel a part of things.”
There will be no dual players at minor level in Tipp for 2021 as hurling manager James Woodlock told Tipp FM last week that he feels it is impossible to give full commitment to two sports. While Paddy Christie would like some of the dual players involved, he feels the dual player situation in Tipp is similar to that in Dublin where players gravitate to football in Dublin and to hurling in Tipp:
“I just don’t think it will work and that’s disappointing from a Tipperary football point of view because some of the best players are dual players and they’re going to go to hurling. But hey, I’ve been involved in Dublin for a long time and that’s the nature, I saw the flip side of that here [in Dublin].”
“If somebody can play both, fair play to them” the DCU Sigerson cup coach Paddy Christie continues. “I do think it’s difficult to play both but if matches are at different times during the year it’s certainly doable.”
“I mean, Tipperary is a big county and plenty of players, but when you compare it to Dublin… It’s grand for Dublin to say ‘look we’ll split it down the middle, people can pick and choose’. It sort of makes sense there, because your numbers are bigger and logistically its quite difficult to manage the dual player thing. When you have so many players of a high quality, I suppose you can make those hard decisions.”
Paddy Christie believes Tipp can continue with a previously successful juvenile model for both codes:
“I suppose with Tipperary, which is a fine county and a very proud traditional county in both football and hurling, but it will always be more hurtful to the footballers because lads naturally are going to pick hurling first. If you’re asking me do I think it can be done at senior level? I think it’s nearly impossible because of the amount of preparation that goes in. But at underage level, from 14s up to 17s, yea I think it can be done.”
The Ballymun Kickhams stalwart said he was open to all sports for his players at club level over the years. While some of them played hurling, a lot of them played soccer which Paddy encouraged:
“I’d like to see a young fella or a girl playing every day if they could. If they’re playing games and having fun, it’s no big deal. This idea about burnout, I’ve no idea where that came from, maybe it’s because people were running up and down hills, doing mad sand dune running and crazy aerobics in training but if you’re training and playing games and you’re active and you’re playing tennis and rugby and you’re swimming I don’t see that as being any harm to anyone and then at some stage later on you can make a choice.”
So would Paddy be in favour of dual players?
“If the seasons are not overlapping, it’s well worth looking at. It may be only four or five players; we’re working it out. It may be five or six at most that we’re talking about here but that they would have a choice. If they wanted to play: that they would feel that they could do it, it would be good.”
For Paddy Christie, it’s about developing the player to reach his or her potential:
“Ultimately its player centred. So, it has to come from them. If we have a really good set-up in place and we’re leading by example and there’s an atmosphere around, and after last year’s Munster championship – there is! If we set that up, you’d like to think that some players will consider playing both.”
The full audio interview with Tipp under 20 manager Paddy Christie and Tipp FM’s Stephen Gleeson about how Paddy came to join the Tipp set up, his involvement with Ballymun Kickhams and plans for 2021 can be listened to here: