Charlie McGeever recalls how GAA game ended his hopes of making it at Tottenham

It’s 33 years ago but Charlie McGeever still has vivid memories of the Gaelic football match he should never have played in.

It was the summer of 1982 and having trained with FA Cup champions Tottenhan for a matter of months, the Donegal lad was well positioned to progress with a professional career before returning home.

A highly-rated county U21, McGeever was soon collared for a Gaelic football game. Disaster struck as he suffered a cruciate knee ligament injury that put him out for a year and ended his hopes of playing in England.

Behind him, McGeever left a Spurs side containing Argentina’s 1978 World Cup winners Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa as well as England legend Glenn Hoddle. They would collect the Uefa Cup title just months later.

“Keith Burkinshaw was the manager at the time,” recalled McGeever. “I went over after they won the FA Cup, World Cup year, and the two boys, Ardiles and Villa, were late back for pre-season as people would tend to be.

“I remember going out one Monday morning for the training session and Burkinshaw set it up that it would be running sessions, serious hard stuff, all based on 100, 200 and 400 metre runs. Villa just blew everybody away!

“For a fella who was a very laid back character, he came back in unbelievable shape and just blew everybody away. That was the end of the argument! Ah it was a privilege, it was a great Spurs team. It was nice to see actual World Cup winners in action. I spent the summer there and came back and did the cruciate in a Gaelic match I wasn’t even supposed to play in.

“That was that. End of story. I was 20 at the time. I played on until I was 33 or 34 with one and a half legs.”

To compound matters, the Donegal U21 side that McGeever was eligible to play on — he captained them the previous season — won the All-Ireland title without him.

McGeever is reciting the tale in the build up to Sunday’s Electric Ireland All-Ireland minor football final. The fact that he is centrally involved as Tipperary’s manager is another story.

The quick version is that his wife is a Clonmel woman who eventually pointed the family car south after 14 years in Donegal. McGeever followed.

“She said that after 14 years, ‘you’ve had your cut at it, now it’s my turn’,” smiled McGeever, who has become a central figure with the local GAA club, Clonmel Commercials.

Naturally, he smiles at all the talk about dual players in Tipperary this year after both county teams made it to their respective All-Ireland finals.

“If you are in Donegal, everybody is a dual player. This talk of dual-ship is a huge phenomenon down here but every player in Donegal worth his salt would have played soccer and Gaelic football.

“It’s what they do and in fairness it’s easy to manage because the two seasons are different.”

In all, there are nine Tipp players who are part of both the football and hurling panels. Those players’ mood since losing the hurling final to Galway last Sunday week may have brought the rest of the group down or, alternatively, may have inspired them to make sure there is no second slip up.

Like everyone else in Tipp, he has been particularly impressed with Alan Tynan, the young forward who is a key player with both panels and also a talented rugby player.

“The story there is how he’s being managed, exceptionally well is the answer,” said McGeever. “He played a great game against Galway in the football (quarter-final), was outstanding on the day, was outstanding in the All-Ireland semi-final when he moved to centre-forward, turned the tide for us, and played with Leinster schools rugby in England and my understanding is he scored two tries and kicked five out of six, scored 20-odd points, so that went well. He played in the hurling semi-final and final, what a summer! He’s managed it all, played them all and hasn’t been affected by any of it.

“I brought him into the minor football panel at 15 and he was brought in for a reason. He was identified as being special a good while ago.”


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