Colm Parkinson: 'I would have fallen out at some point or another with nearly every manager'

Once he was on Jim McGuinness’s wedding invite list. Now he’s on Jim’s blacklist. And his own club’s list of suspended members. 

Stephen Cluxton, Mick O’Dwyer and almost every manager he’s had wouldn’t be mad about him either. But ahead of Laois GAA’s biggest day since the 2012 All-Ireland quarter-final, the county’s biggest GAA personality, Colm Parkinson is happy to talk about how he fell in and out with them all and a lot more besides.

Sure what’s he done?”

Colm Parkinson hears it all the time. When Kerry fellas can use Celtic Crosses to scratch parking tickets, who is he with, as the Wikipedia page points out, his 0 All-Irelands and 0 All Stars to be on the radio calling Mick O’Dwyer or anyone else a bluffer?

It’s something he got over a long time ago. Hey, he’s from Laois where nobody has an All-Ireland senior medal, so what he’s supposed to do?

Anything Laois have won, he tended to be there for it. He’s always been comfortable in company talking Gah, assured in the knowledge that his opinions are good and strong.

“It’s a bit snobbish, a bit of an RTÉ thing,” he says to bring the medal count into it.

Newstalk looked at it differently. After he dropped that grenade about Micko on a Saturday panel, they asked him back to do a few co-commentaries.

Joe Molloy sent him a match that Conor Toland and Keith Wood covered, full of insights and war stories from their own days.

Parkinson ate that up. Stories from his playing days? He had plenty of them. A year later, he’d a masters in journalism from DCU to go with them, as well as the reputation for being the most entertaining GAA personality on Twitter.

So, yeah, the medal count isn’t the most hectic, though he played International Rules for his country at 20. Yeah, he fell out with just about every manager he had, but when you hear him out, you realise he was just screaming to be coached rather than flogged and judged. For 15 years as a county player, Alan Brogan would call his old Maynooth teammate as a sounding board and source of advice.

Would Brogan have done that if Parkinson was an out-and-out bluffer himself?

Would so many county players smile when he pulls them up playfully on air – “Ah come on now!” – because he’s been that soldier too?

‘Sure what’s he done?’

Well, for starters, he’s been through five colleges, though he only sat an actual exam in two of them. He’s made it on to Jim McGuinness’s wedding invite list only to fall out with him. He never really got on with Stephen Cluxton in the first place...

And he has personality. And as Samuel L Jackson pointed out to John Travolta in a diner, and as a chat with Parkinson in another diner, only in Dublin, will confirm, personality goes a long way.

MICKO, MANAGERS AND DRINK BANS

KS:

How do you square saying Micko was bluffer and his period in charge coinciding with Laois’s most successful period ever?

CP:

That [comment] was just completely off the top of my head. I’ve qualified it since by saying we’d never have won Leinster without Micko coming in. Micko was unbelievable the first year.

But that was the year Tyrone won it. The year before, Armagh had won it. The game was changing forever. Strength and conditioning was coming in, systems were coming in, and Micko wouldn’t embrace them at all.

The second year he just did the same as the year before, there was no variety or progression. One or two of the respected fellas like Fergal Byron and Tom Kelly went to him and asked could we do weights.

Maybe bring in a nutritionist to talk to us; we were eating full fries in the Red Cow before games in Croke Park. We were hearing stories from other squads. I remember Alan Brogan talking to me about one-rep maxes and core work and I had no idea what he was talking about. I’d be too embarrassed to ask. But that’s where Dublin were going. They were taking the lead from Armagh and Tyrone.

I don’t blame Micko. He didn’t make the media jump all over the messiah narrative. He was an old man who had won in the past with his old ways. But because of that he couldn’t sustain the trajectory the team could have had and we fell behind.

KS:

Have you bumped into him since?

CP:

No.

KS:

And if you did...?

CP:

I don’t know. I actually considered putting feelers out about interviewing him. I have no ill feelings towards Micko. It’s only bloody football at the end of the day.

KS: How do you look back on your career?

CP:

Chequered! (Laughs). It became a bit of a joke towards the end of my career – another manager argument, gone off the panel. I would have fallen out at some point or another with nearly every manager. Tom Cribbin, Colm Browne, Micko, Justin McNulty, Mick Lillis with the club... Liam Kearns was the one manager who’d been man enough to have a barney with you and the next day it would be ‘Howya, Wooly’ and move on.

Just a mature, man-to-man approach. All the others were more student-teacher relationships and I didn’t really respond to them.

But like, I spent five summers in America. My twenties were not wasted. I travelled around the world. Southeast Asia, Australia, South America. Like, I look back on it and I missed out on nothing. The 2005 Leinster final, maybe. I remember watching it in Boston and I was completely torn. It was a horrible feeling where 50% of you wants the lads to win and 50% of you selfishly wants them to lose because you’re going to miss out on it. The other years away were fine. Like the year they got hammered by Meath, I was in Chicago for that. The only year I regret missing out on was 2005. Dublin beat them by a point. I could have made the difference.

KS:

You mentioned all the falling outs with managers. It’s a bit like the comedian’s take on The Incredible Hulk. Dr Banner might have said ‘Don’t make me angry’, like it was someone else’s fault, but that show ran for years – a lot of people made him angry. There was a common denominator there – you know, Doctor, maybe you’re the problem! Well, were you?!

CP:

Look, I’m obviously the common denominator. Obviously, I couldn’t entertain drink bans for three months. Or leaving Dublin city centre at rush hour, getting down to Laois at about 7.10, running onto the field and finding the management over talking among themselves and there’s no training ready to go; instead we’re kicking points aimlessly for 25 minutes before training even starts. After three weeks of that, I’m landing down in a horrible mood and bitching in the dressing room about how shite it is, and I’m actually not good to have around.

KS:

A lot of your frustration must have stemmed from having a glimpse, a vision, of how it could or should be. Where had you those glimpses?

CP:

Well, training with Jim [McGuinness] in Tralee IT. Tom Cribbin in 1999 was very good; he kept training really interesting. The time in Portlaoise we won Leinster (in 2004) and reached the All-Ireland, Tommy Conroy and Niall Tully were brilliant. They used to have the players leading the video sessions so it was your peers that were pulling you up. They’d stand in the middle of the field with the ball and coaching the full forward line how to break out and make better runs.

KS:

So what you would say was the knack to getting the best out of Colm Parkinson?

CP:

Just know your stuff and have a really good work ethic. If you have me onside, you have a brilliant asset. But if you’re lazy or living off past glories or don’t know what you’re doing, or making big deals out of things that aren’t even important...

KS:

What would your teammates have made of you?

CP:

[Pauses]. I would be well liked by some. I’m sure there are some that wouldn’t like me.

KS:

Say Fergal Byron [Former All Star goalkeeper and respected, solid senior player].

CP:

Fergal would like and respect me. He’s written pieces in the local paper saying that I’ve got a hard time unfairly but that I did it for Laois in big games. But Fergal would have understood the way I was thinking and what would have been annoying me.

KS:

The [Off The Ball] show uses that line of yours a lot about the Laois side of your era: “Probably because we were drinking all the time!” How rock ‘n’ roll was it?

CP:

Not that much, to be honest. I know at times I’ve played up that whole partying thing but Micko got that completely out of us. It had been a problem before him but he eliminated that. But it got ridiculous. We were nearly on six-month bans.

I remember in his second year I went off the drink from January 1 for 10 weeks. In that time we played three leagues and I wasn’t playing well. Like, I had no girlfriend, so I’d sit in with my parents at weekends and I’d be absolutely depressed! We played Cork in a challenge game.

Again, flat. And I just said, ‘Feck this, I’m going out.’ So of course, we ended up doing the dog on it and going out all weekend, and ended up getting thrown off the panel for a week. Now, wasn’t that bad luck, that you make one mistake like that and end up being shamed nationally, after sitting in for 10 weeks? (Laughs).

In Micko’s last year I would have gone out at the weekend because I was way down the pecking order. I was thinking, ‘I’m not giving that commitment when I know he’s not going to play me.’ We were playing Carlow in the first round of the championship. I was injured so wasn’t with the match-day panel. It was a lovely sunny day so I had a cider before the game with my friends.

After the game I went back up the town and was sitting outside the pub when I got this text. ‘No drinking.’ Our captain had apparently stood up after us been off the beer for two months and said, ‘If we’re serious about beating Dublin in three weeks’ time we won’t be out tonight.’ But I was sitting outside after having two more and thought, ‘Feck that! The deal was we were allowed out and I’m not changing now!’ And I was caught for that as well.

COLLEGE AND AN OLD COLLEGE BUDDY

KS:

You and college. Or colleges, I should say. You’ve been through a fair few.

CP:

Yeah. The first was Waterford IT. Rec Man [Recreation Management].

KS:

How did that go?

CP:

I couldn’t tell you. We’d just won the minor All-Ireland [1996] and I was still in celebration mode. I dropped out in December and then in January reapplied to DIT to do marketing. That was the season we got to the U21 All-Ireland. We played the final on the Saturday and I went out. My exams were on the Monday. So that was another year wasted.

KS:

Next up so was Tralee IT. That would have been just after the International Rules [in 1998]?

CP:

The very next day after the second test, me and Jim McGuinness got the train down with Seamus Moynihan. Pat Spillane was on the train as well, holding court. Sure we were delighted. Pat Spillane from the telly! I would become very good friends with Jim in Tralee. I was up at his wedding and all. But we’re not friends anymore, let’s put it that way. Jim doesn’t take criticism very well. He kind of cast me aside – over nothing.

KS:

What happened?

CP:

We [Newstalk] were doing a match down in Wexford and it was a really good, open game.And I said that a lot of the new young managers like Justin McNulty and Jim McGuinness were coming in with defensive systems and it was refreshing to see someone like Jason Ryan sticking with a more traditional style. A little bit later I sent Jim a text, checking in with him and his response was cold. I texted back: Come on, we’ve been mates for 15 years! And he came back: Mates don’t diss each other on the radio. It hasn’t been the same since. It’s unfortunate.

KS:

What was the Jim that you knew like?

CP:

Jim was brilliant. A real larger-than- life character, really fun to be around, really dedicated as well. He was very like me at the time.

KS: Did you get to see the Jimmy Tunes side of him?

CP:

Oh yeah. But you have to remember, his brother had just died a few months before I met him. So Jim was in a place where he was partying but it wasn’t for the fun of it. And I didn’t really appreciate it at the time; that he was definitely going through that phase of burning the candle at both ends. He’d be up first thing in the morning picking us up for training, because he was captain of Tralee IT.

KS: Could you see then that he was going to be the manager he’d become?

CP:

Definitely. He was practically our manager down there. He took the training and it was brilliant. His speeches in the dressing room were as good as you’re going to hear. Inspirational. He led by example. He had everything as a leader.

KS:

That was some team you had down there and ye’d win the Sigerson. What course were you down to do?

CP:

Advanced Tourism! To get onto the course I had to say that I was opening up a B and B in Portlaoise! They were definitely onto the footballers at the time so I had to put on a good show. I told them my mother was building an extension to our house!

KS:

Well did your tourism including travelling and advancing as far as the lecture hall?

CP:

No! The course had a government grant where you actually got paid to go in and I still didn’t go in. Two weeks before the Sigerson weekend I got deregistered. But I appealed it and by the time of the hearing I’d already played in the final.

KS:

So you were basically just a baller? Were you thinking at all about what were you going to do?

CP:

I was just thinking in the moment and of playing football.

KS:

What were your parents saying?

CP:

Well after I had dropped out of three colleges they were annoyed and were saying I needed to get a job. So I went for the prison officers exam and got it. I went for the interview and got it.

KS: Why did you want to do that?

CP:

Desperation. And I went back to my parents and pleaded with them. “Look, I don’t want to be a prison officer. I’m too young. Please let me go back to college and I’ll pass it this time.” And they said: Okay.

Parkinson would go back to college, in Maynooth, and this time he’d study – finance. He’d work in sales for a while, then in finance inputting data for fund management schemes. But it still wasn’t for him. He still hadn’t found what he was looking or born for until the Saturday Panel found him and he found himself blurting out that Micko was a bluffer. He’s continued to irritate and alienate some people. Jim Gavin was initially fine with him brilliantly grilling him over the Davy Byrne challenge game incident last summer, though maybe not later when the Dublin manager was exposed so blatantly returning to the same stock answer. He never hit it off with Gavin’s captain, Stephen Cluxton, in their time together in Parnell’s. In truth, Parkinson never connected with a club notorious for their out-of- town recruitment.

“I’d compare it to playing in America. You’re out there, having to do your shift because they brought you out, but if you lose, you’re not cut up about it.”

Only at the moment the club he loves has another executive that don’t love him after he publicly said he didn’t love or rate the management that brought them to a 2011 Leinster semi-final against Dublin’s St Brigid’s. “I’m kind of torn with the club,” he says. “The suspension is there unless I apologise to the two manages which is never going to happen, so the suspension is indefinite. A lot of people in Portlaoise tell me, ‘Woolie, don’t mind them, the executive are not the club.’ And I say to them, ‘Well, there’s been five AGMs since I was suspended and I don’t hear anyone bringing it up!’” And yet for all the blacklists he’s on, his list of followers on Twitter is much longer. He entertains – and informs – more than he irritates. In the media, social and otherwise, his cheekiness and independent thinking is a virtue, not a nuisance.

He’ll be in Kilkenny to see his home county play the Dubs tonight – though he strongly feels it should be played somewhere else – O’Moore Park; for the first time in his lifetime the place could have been packed.

He’ll be taking a different route there. A couple of years ago he met his Spanish girlfriend at Electric Picnic (where else but Stradbally did you think the hippest hipster in Laois would be that weekend?) She loves surfing so the last few days they’ll have camped and surfed in Tramore before making their way back up for the game. Not your normal or shortest way to get there, true, but like with everything else, he’ll have got there eventually, in his own, fun-loving way.


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