David Tubridy at peace with being a part of Clare football's storied history

David Tubridy, the leading scorer in the history of the National Football League, has stepped away from inter-county football and will take up a new role as a Sunday Game pundit
David Tubridy at peace with being a part of Clare football's storied history

TOP SCORER: Clare’s David Tubridy celebrates scoring. Pic: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Last Sunday on his way up to Dublin, David Tubridy, while dressed in his Sunday best, made a pitstop in Moneygall. Walking through the glass doors of Obama Plaza to pay for his diesel, he noticed from all their tracksuits there was a team amidst the masses.

Shortly after he copped who they were, one of them similarly identified him. On his way back out to the courtyard, a car pulled up in front of him and an Offaly footballer stuck out his head. “You’re going to the game afterall, yeah?!” Tubridy could tell from the smile that there was a joke in there somewhere but at first struggled to find it.

“What game is that?!” 

Turned out Offaly were playing Clare in a challenge game nearby, the first Tubridy had heard of it. So no, he smiled, he wasn’t coming out of retirement and he wasn’t going checking out either how all his old teamates were faring without him. “I’m heading the other direction.” 

As it happens Tubridy was going to another game: The Sunday Game, or at least the big unveiling of its new anchors – Jacqui Hurley and Damian Lawlor – and new pundits, with Tubridy among their number.

Initially when he got a call from a man purporting to be Declan McBennett, Tubridy thought it was a hoax but when the head of RTÉ Sport called back a week later he knew it was genuine and he was willing to accept the invite. Watching the show down through the years, there was never a particular panellist he was adverse to but collectively there was one constant grating failing.

“It was like they only knew three players from Clare,” he says. “They’d only talk about Gary Brennan, David Tubridy and Gordon Kelly, when there were other fine players out there. And that goes for a lot of other counties.” 

That’s possibly why McBennett picked up the phone within days of Tubridy lifting one himself to inform Colm Collins he was finishing up with Clare. So that we can get a deeper insight on his native county beyond that great cliché that “Colm Collins is doing a fantastic job with Clare”; that we’re offered the perspective of not just someone who has scored with the football more than anyone in the history of the national league but knows what it’s like and what it takes operating in its lower divisions as well as playing in All-Ireland quarter-finals in Croke Park.

When he thinks of underrated players who made Clare what they became over the past decade he’s thinking of someone like Kevin Hartnett. The Meelick man also stepped aside this winter, along with Tubridy and Seán Collins, without barely a word of it, much like how he unassumingly went about his business on the field. About the one mention Hartnett got over the years was a particularly colourful and delightful one from Fermanagh’s Seán Quigley. “[Other markers] would be mouthing at you and all but he was a really good fella! Though Jesus Christ, if you went to the toilet he’d be in beside you!” 

As someone who went up against Hartnett far more frequently, Tubridy can vouch for how valid Quigley’s sentiments were.

“Hartnett was as tough as nails – and as sticky as glue. The amount of gloves I had to go through the years from him marking me in training, Jesus! He wouldn’t grab your jersey. He’d grab your fingers. So if you tried to get away from him, he’d pull the thumb off you!” 

All in all, he found most of his direct markers played the game in a similar spirit and vein to Hartnett – tough, physical but ultimately fair. In previous generations, a free-scoring inside forward like Tubridy would have been vulnerable to various forms of skulduggery but he made it all the way through a 16-year senior county career with all his teeth and his jaw intact.

“I never felt physically unsafe out there. You’d always get a few bangs and hard hits but I never came across anyone out to do anything malicious and take you out of the game.

“A few of the northern boys would talk quite a bit alright. The Fermanagh backs in particular. I remember kicking a free up in Brewster Park one day and there were three of them lined up in front of me and they started going, ‘Oh Keelan [Sexton] is warming up, David, Keelan’s warming up!’ No wonder Quigley liked Hartnett so much!

“But to be honest, I didn’t mind that. It was just a bit of mind games. I still nailed the free. You hear about players sledging and maybe when some Ulster teams played against each other it might have gone overboard sometimes because it’s so competitive up there, but to me it wasn’t an issue in all my years playing.” 

We meet him where you’re most likely to find him – in Tubridy’s Bar and Restaurant on the main street of his native Doonbeg. Just like his father and his father’s father before him he works at and runs the bar here, the place a shrine to Clare GAA and Doonbeg football.

On the main wall there’s a huge photograph of the legendary 1992 Clare team that won the Munster final, enjoying equal status and pride of place with the one of the hurling team that won the All-Ireland three years later; a string of black-and-white team photos of the various Doonbeg teams that won county championships from the mid-50s on; and in the top corner an action shot of his father Tommy vying with John Egan for possession of the ball.

Tommy isn’t in the pic of the team of ’92; he’d retired a couple of years earlier, in John Maughan’s first year at the helm, but he still departed with a series of claims to fame. He is only one of a handful of players to play minor, U21 and county for Clare in the same season. He played over a dozen years for the county. And though he was a member of the team that conceded 9-21 in the infamous Miltown massacre of 1979, Egan was held to fewer scores than any other member of that Kerry forward line that day and if people want to think that photo is from that day and not in the early ’80s that’s fine with Tommy.

As fabulous as the bar is though, it’s probably overdue somewhat of a makeover. With new photos with more colour that are more recent and with more David. You wouldn’t know that this is the home and workplace of the leading scorer in national football league history and that he was part of possibly the most consistently competitive Clare team ever that got to lift some silverware of its own like when they beat Kildare up in Croke Park in a cracking Division 3 final. His mother Bridget has a few images in mind and ready to put up. Now that he’s retired and at peace with the decision, it’s possibly easier and more comfortable for everyone that he can finally take his rightful spots up on that wall.

Part of why Tubridy is now such a part of Clare football history is because he has long had such an appreciation of it. He was there at those games in ’92, though at just five years of age, can’t really remember anything about them. But he knows every name and face in that team pic. Legends to him, every single one of them. Ask him so where does he think the Clare team of Colm Collins should stand with the team of the 1990s and he gives a considered view.

“I suppose,” he sighs, “the Munster championship win will always be ahead of what we have done over the years. But I do think in terms of our consistency over the last 10 years, and especially since 2016 when we won promotion to Division Two and got to the All-Ireland quarter-final, we should be up there [with them].

“It hurts that we didn’t get to reach a Munster final during Colm’s time. Every year I put down a list of goals and every year getting to a Munster final was one of them. There was a stretch there where over seven years we met Kerry in the semi-final six times and I do believe we would have got to several finals if we had been on the other side of the draw. People now talk about the importance of the provincial championships being diluted. But for me, because of ’92 and what that team meant to me and did for the county, that is something I’ve always wanted, for another Clare team to achieve like that.” 

Still, he thinks of all they did achieve, how far they came from where they started out. He made his debut in 2007, in the often-maligned Tommy Murphy Cup; his first game was Declan Browne’s last, an abiding image from that day being of the Moyle Rovers man swinging over a free while simultaneously having a few words with the ref.

That same day Páidí Ó Sé had rocked up to Ardfinnan and in the hallway between the two dressing rooms spotted a familiar physique face down on the physio table. Páidí duly instructed the player what he expected from him later in the game only to discover he was one of the opposing team’s midfielders. That was kind of Páidí’s stint in Clare in a nutshell: for all the good intentions, it didn’t quite work out, but still it had an upside with him blooding a teenaged Gary Brennan and a 20-year-old Tubridy that summer.

Tubridy would subsequently go on to score 22-421 in the national football league, a grand tally of 487 points, 18 more than Mickey Kearins of Sligo who he overtook in May 2021 and subsequently called into his bar in Doonbeg to offer his congratulations. In third place is Cavan’s Ronan Carolan on 19-387 (444). 

In truth, it’s hard to see Tubridy being overtaken any year soon. Back in fourth place is his favourite other forward of the last decade, Conor McManus (“I just love watching him play”), on 15-366 (411). It took McManus at 35 everything to come back again this year. It would take him at least another two years at the peak of his game to overtake Tubridy. No other active player is in the top 10.

What was the secret to Tubridy scoring so much? Again his dad Tommy deserves a lot of the credit. He sees his nieces and nephews now coming into the bar with a ball and first thing granddad will say is “Okay, let’s see your left foot, go on!” 

“When I was a kid we’d move all the chairs and tables back to clean the floor and I would make up a set of goals and be shooting with a small ball into them all the time. Right foot, left foot. It got to the stage with Clare I’d be more comfortable and accurate kicking with my left than my right.

“One day we played Roscommon in Cusack Park and I was shocking with the frees. I was practising them all right but not really focusing in on them. That week Dad brought me into Cusack Park to kick about 30 or 40 frees and wouldn’t let me leave until I hit ten in a row. The next day we beat Longford by a point and I made all five of my frees.” 

He’d show a lot of initiative himself though, working out ways to score. League football meant a lot of winter football and a lot of wind.

“I’d always be thinking what could I be doing to get into a scoring position. ‘Right, if he’s coming down this wing here, I can loop around him.’ And I always found that if we were playing with the wind and I got the ball within 45 metres out, I could score from there because I’d done so often before. If we were against the wind then, I’d take five to ten yards off that. I’d always say that to young lads. Stay that bit closer to goal against the wind; you can move that bit further out and create space when you have it.”

He’s spreading the word and secret at an early age; in recent years, even when he might have a game with Clare later that evening, he’d take the academy (U9s and younger) in Doonbeg on Saturday mornings with his cousin Eamon Tubridy and three other club members. He feels the body has another couple of good years left to give the club too; even not having to train on the astroturf these past few months he feels has helped the Achilles that were giving him so much discomfort in recent seasons.

He’s at ease with his decision. Other years, like when Clare lost to Tipp in the Covid championship, he felt he couldn’t leave it like that. Now he feels he has no more to give though he feels there’s a lot more in Clare (“Clare has pushed on since Gary went, since Gordon went. It’s not like we’ve all gone at once. This could be the year the county gets to a Munster final”).

Sure he gave plenty when he was there. “I leave with a smile on my face.” Having raised as many smiles as he did and prompting umpires to raise as many flags as he did, why wouldn’t he?

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