Connacht SFC Final
Roscommon v Sligo, Tomorrow 4pm (Castlebar)
THIRTY-FIVE years ago in Mount Irwin, Gurteen, Sligo, Robert Taylor bounced his eldest son on one knee and rolled a small ball into his arms.
Robert had played with his club, Eastern Harps all his life. When he hung up his boots he coached and supported the club, and he wanted to introduce his first born, Paul, to football from an early age.
Those formative years paid dividends. Paul Taylor went onto play with Sligo for 14 seasons and won five senior county titles with the Harps. He was the county’s most prolific forward during the 1990s.
Tomorrow he is outside the whitewash, but still involved, as a selector for Sligo in the Connacht SFC final alongside recently retired Sligo stars, Dessie Sloyane, Paul Durcan and Galway legend Kevin Walsh.
Taylor believes his county can collect what would be their most revered Connacht crown. Sweeter than 2007, as it would be a season when the provincial heavyweights, Mayo, Galway and Roscommon would have all been conquered.
Taylor is a busy self-employed building contractor with a four-year-old son of his own now, Robbie. He still plays senior club football and yet he could not resist the call to arms when Kevin Walsh contacted him.
“I have been involved with gaelic football all my life. And when Kevin phoned me out of the blue, the way we talked it was like we knew each other for years. I had been involved with the Sligo seniors since 1993 and it is very hard to get away from it. I was a member of the panel up to 2007 and I say every year that I would like to have a year off, but I don’t know any different. I love being involved. It is a key part of my life and my wife Naomi (sister of renowned chef, Nevin Maguire) respects and approves that as well.”
He smiles: “She actually feels that if I was at home in the evenings I’d only be giving out.
He thinks for a second and adds with a grin: “She’s probably right”.
Taylor had a good grounding in doing things the right way on a GAA pitch from U12 up the ranks.
Denis Johnston, his uncle in law, was a key influence as club manager at different grades and men like Christy Gallagher, Louis Carty and his father were other guiding influences with Eastern Harps.
Commitment brings rewards and the team that Taylor grew up with won everything in Sligo from U12 to U21 level and they have been the most successful senior club in the county for the past decade. He still lines out for the club.
“It is hard to keep the selector role going when still playing club as the trainings often clash. But when you get to my age (35) you try to enjoy every year. It’s funny. When you are not able to do it is when you really want to do it, so I am going to keep going as long as the body is willing.”
That has not always been the case. Taylor suffered a series of serious ongoing injuries earlier in the decade. He was unable to play 70 minutes when Sligo beat Kildare in 2001 or when they famously defeated Tyrone in 2002.
Pubic bone troubles took their toll.
“I hurt my pubic bone badly in 2000. At the time it was one of those things that was not that common. I went from Billy to Jack, and back to Billy to try and get it sorted. Nobody could get it right. In hindsight I should have just stuck to one opinion. It took about five years to get back to 100% and ultimately it was long-term rest that got it fully right. As a player you always try and come back too early and that never helped my cause.”
Taylor and his family have had to deal with much more than just football disappointments.
IN May 1998 his youngest brother Bobby died in a tragic drowning accident alongside two young friends at Strand Hill. It changed the family’s life forever.
“Bobby turned 17 the day he was buried. Three lads were lost. Bobby, Tommy Higgins and Tommy Coyle and one lad was saved. It was just a normal May day, but a freak wave came in on Strand Hill. The surfers up there say that if you get caught in one of those undercurrents you are in severe trouble. It was one of those accidents that you hear about all the time, but you never know what it’s like until it comes to your own doorstep. Bobby’s death was very tough for the family.”
“Time is a great healer though and it gets a bit better as time moves on. Something like that is hardest on the parents.
“I would have felt as brothers and sisters that we would have been able to go on and build our own lives as time moved on. But I didn’t fully realise the extent of the heartbreak and loss from a parent’s point of view until my own son was born. I felt a lot of my own parents’ (grief) when Robbie arrived. It probably took me that long to fully realise how a parent would feel if they lost one of their children.”
Paul looks out at the window of the car at the Sligo players doing their drills and continues.
“You have to get on with it. You can go a lot of ways. You can go the right way or the wrong way and nobody might blame you for going down the wrong road. But it’s only an excuse sometimes too. Football is great too to help you cope and keep you from dwelling on things too much. We won the Sligo club championship with the club, perhaps in memory of Bobby that season. He was a big tall young man and had very good hands. Who knows, perhaps he might have gone on and played for Sligo like myself and Tony (Sligo midfielder tomorrow).”
Paul was coming to the end of his county career in 2006 and 2007 and he was not on the team that annexed the county’s first Connacht title since 1975 three years ago. It was a bittersweet moment.
“It would have been great to have played in a Connacht final and won after I had lost a few finals. In the late 90s and early noughties we had a very good side and I believe we should have won a provincial title during those years, but we came up against good Mayo and Galway teams. We drew twice with Galway during those years and lost a Connacht final by a point to Mayo, but those are the breaks.”
TIMES have changed and Sligo are 4/1 favourites to win tomorrow.
“We struggled to get past having good performances but not winning in the past. Then Tommy Breheny came in and made a big difference. He came in late in 2006 and he instilled a lot of self belief and brought the county an extra step in 2007. Kevin coming in last year has helped us push on again and we have strengthened the panel with the likes of Eugene Mullen, Stephen Gilmartin, Keenan Cawley, Alan Costello and Colm McGee coming on board. The players are working a lot harder now and they are doing a lot of work on their own. They have a lot more support now and Mick Toland, our fitness coach, has done great work on both the physical and mental preparation.”
Sligo’s key objective for 2010 was to become a serious team. That developmental process continues tomorrow afternoon and Taylor appreciates that Roscommon have nothing to lose.
“Some of our biggest disappointments as footballers have come at the hands of Roscommon. We will need to say very little to the lads. They know what they have to do to win.
“We beat Roscommon easily in the league, but they have a lot of players back from injury since then. It won’t be easy and they are a big, strong team.
“We did what was needed to get over Mayo and Galway and we have to produce another top quality performance to win. We will not underestimate Roscommon in any way but we do believe in ourselves.
“We want to raise the bar every time we go out in championship and tomorrow is no different.”
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