A lot of folk talk about putting their bodies on the line for their teams. Paul Broderick went and did it, time and again, over the course of a decade and more that delivered little in the way of silver or spotlight.
The Tinryland forward was just 18 and a few weeks out from his Leaving Cert when an innocuous elbow during a challenge match with the club seniors in which he was a last-minute draftee left him on the ground and at the foothills of a nightmare.
It was a friend of his, Shane O’Neill, who suggested he be taken to a hospital. O’Neill was an occupational therapist and his medical intuition proved prescient.
By the time Broderick was discharged he’d had surgery on his spleen and a perforated bowel.
Oh, and his lung had collapsed during the latter of those ops.
All in all, he’s had 10 surgeries, all related to football. Plenty of opportunities to call time on his ties with Carlow, then, but the only time the thought ever found any sort of root was three years back after one of his three ankle surgeries.
“I was kind of like, ‘Jesus, is it worth it?’ Because you’re committing a lot of time. I was going out to training because I enjoyed it out there, but you’re still looking at other parts of your life, three or four nights a week, that you could be doing other things.”
That he stayed was down in no small way to Turlough O’Brien.
Broderick played only a handful of times for the county during O’Brien’s first two seasons in charge because of injury but he kept one hand on the fringes of the squad even though his watching brief was an easy target for the jokers in the dressing room.
“I liked what was going on,” he said ahead of Sunday’s Leinster semi-final with Laois.
Broderick is one of the 10-to-12 players mentioned regularly by O’Brien this last few weeks who have stuck with the seniors through the darkest of days. Days when only clubs would assent to challenge matches and some would even beat them.
Days like the one when Meath put 7-13 past them in Leinster.
O’Brien and selectors Benjy O’Brien and Tommy Wogan brought an encyclopedic knowledge of Carlow football with him. Add in the coaching nous of Stephen Poacher, imported from Down, and it’s made for a tasty mix.
Almost a hundred players turned up for weekly small-sided games when O’Brien took over in December of 2014 and a panel of 53 was in operation this year as they finally escaped the confines of Division Four and accounted for Kildare.
It’s easy to see why.
The manager is a no-frills operator who reads off an open book. The media is embraced, drink bans avoided and players are treated as individuals rather than a herd that is to be browbeaten into the one restrictive pen.
Those with exams were given the bones of a week off training to study before the Kildare game. Darragh Foley, who scored a key goal against the Lilywhites, was stood down from one evening’s session when told he looked stiff.
It all adds up.
“He was happy as long as lads turned up to the game in the right frame of mind and that gives great freedom to us,” said Foley. “In years gone by there was always stories of lads going off and doing stupid things. You wouldn’t hear of lads doing anything like that now.”
O’Brien quotes the maxim from the great US basketball coach John Wooden, who believes the bench is his greatest friend. The threat of it has been the only stick required with this Carlow side.
Among the most attractive of carrots has been Poacher’s training. Foley and Broderick have served under Carlow managers who dragged them up and down The Curragh but everything now is done with the ball and yet they appear to be fitter than ever.
The joy they have all taken in their awakening was captured perfectly in the photograph of Foley after the Kildare game in Tullamore as he embraced his girlfriend Shona Delaney and the emotion of the occasion flooded his face.
“We are having the time of our lives,” he laughed this week. “We don’t want to keep going back to the dark days but we were rock bottom there until Turlough and Tommy and the rest of the management team took over.
“It’s a credit to those lads and what they’ve done because it is more or less the same group of lads playing. We could never have envisaged in the worst of times that we would have a day like the one against Kildare.”
Or the one to come against Laois.
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