This much I know: John O’Leary, GAA legend, former Dublin goalkeeper

Sport never fails to get people talking.

This much I know: John O’Leary, GAA legend, former Dublin goalkeeper

Growing up, I was probably more on the shy side. Playing sport helped with that and the more I progressed the less introverted I became.

I never really realised I’d a sporting talent - my dad did! And he learnt his football in Macroom so he knows his stuff. After a few ‘promising kickarounds’ in Balbriggan, as he says, he brought me down to O’Dwyers GAA to join the club. While I didn’t take the footballing side as seriously as I should have, once I got in goal I felt very much at home and very territorial about keeping the ball well out of my net.

My earliest memory is the carnival coming to the Market Green in Balbriggan every summer and searching in the grass after the carnival left for pennies where the slot machines had been.

I achieve a work/life balance by a rule of: no email on my phone, no text alerts, no fakebook account.

I’m not really that disciplined. I see life a bit like a football match. Throw the ball in and off you go. Every match is different, every day is different, teamwork is essential and so is working hard to achieve the right result. I’ve never been afraid of hard work.

The best advice I ever received is to always look for the bright spots and what’s working well, whether that be on the pitch, in business or in life generally. Then try to replicate that, to light up the whole playing field and that’s a winning formula. I’d like to see the healthcare system in Ireland following that advice. That game plan.

The trait I most admire in other people is positivity. Because a can-do attitude is contagious.

My main fault is that I expect a lot from myself, and as much from other people.

My idea of happiness is hopefully seeing my son Tom someday compete at the Special Olympics, with me and the rest of the family cheering him on from the stands and he knows it.

My idea of misery is how we’ve normalised such a low expectation from the healthcare system in Ireland. We should be aiming higher, shining a light on those bright spots and what’s working well. And replicating this across the board by employing the best qualified and motivated medical team, delivering a powerful service in the home, the community and in hospital; showing compassion and care for the patient and backed up by an administration that works. When we expect a bad result from our healthcare system, that’s what we get. I want Ireland to be a world leader in healthcare for sick people - young and old and in between - and supporting the carers that care for them. I think of that Manic Street Preachers song – ‘If you Tolerate This, then your Children will be Next’.

If I could be reborn as someone else for a day I’d be Stephen Cluxton, playing in the All Ireland and lifting the Sam Maguire for the third year in a row.

If money was not an issue I’d live in Italy for six months of the year.

If I could change one thing in Irish Society, I’d change the official attitude towards carers and the cared for in Ireland. Our version of Romanian orphanages, out of sight out of mind.

What I find most irritating about other people is complacency or promising to do something and then not following through.

The biggest challenge in life so far has been the birth of our son Tom [Tom was born with a heart condition called tertralogy of fallot and has a rare chromosomal disorder] and the unknown journey we’re heading on with him. But he’s rising to the challenges so well and as a family we have a glass half full attitude. Always.

My main skill is that I’m a good listener and can read people well.If I could pass on some advice about life to the next generation it’s this: Don’t make assumptions. Don’t take things personally. Always do your best.

My greatest fear is what happens to Tom if/when me and my wife Catherine are not around. Like all carers, that’s our biggest worry. But we’ll take it in our stride, and so will Tom.

I believe in an after life as I live in hope. As Audrey Hepburn said, ‘To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow’.

So far life has taught me to always expect the unexpected. React fast and strong and hope for the best. Just like a football game really.

  • John O’Leary supports the Jack & Jill Children’s Foundation as they ask people throughout Ireland to climb a hill to raise money. Register at

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