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Antrim duty wiped away my joy, says Liam Watson

By Declan Bogue

Liam Watson moves a ten-inch squeegee across the droplets before giving the pane of glass a wipe with a cloth. Clean 'n' clear, just like his company name promises, as he works over a residence in the quiet main thoroughfare of Loughgiel.

In a previous life he was a joiner, and he has also been the proprietor of a car wash. He is the kind of man that one clubmate says: "You could find him doing anything at all, but he's never doing nothing".

As he dismounts a ladder, he says: "That's me finished up now, I have to go and pick up my son.

"I will go home and get things sorted for tomorrow, then pick my son up at half five. And I'll have dinner on for my wife coming home."

His wife is Mairead. She was raised as a Gort na Mona camog in Belfast, but Liam laughs: "I got her transferred to the big smoke of Loughgiel".

Watching him at his work reminds me of the quote earlier this year from Cavan football manager Terry Hyland, who says inter-county football and hurling will soon be the preserve of students and not the working man.

A few weeks ago, a combination of disillusionment and lack of free time ended Watson's season with Antrim hurlers. He is possibly their most naturally gifted forward, but at 33-years-old and with the team managerless since PJ O'Mullan's shock exit last Friday, the show might be over. What a dreadful shame for all parties.

He explains: "A county player's life is a big commitment. Some of the things that other counties get, compared to what Antrim get…

"If you were a Kilkenny player or a Waterford player, it wouldn't be too long before you would see them sitting in a bank. Whereas the hurler from Armagh, Down, Antrim can be slogging doing plastering or building and are then expected to peak at the height of their level after a hard day's graft.

"I just don't think you are thought about. You are there, you are ticked off on the sheet, but at the same time you can't be performing to the best of your ability."

The obsession with clocking up the gym sessions also had him ground down before he decided enough was enough.

"I was considering quitting the whole game after this latest thing. I said to my wife, 'this has just knocked the heart completely out of me', it was that bad," he recalls.

What he will say is that the inter-county game in both codes has lost its joy.

He said: "If a fitness trainer comes in and says, 'there are eight nights in a week', then we would start training eight nights of the week."

Last September, his father Paddy collapsed during a club Championship match against Cushendall. He's doing great now, even feeling well enough to smoke the odd cigarette, which earns him a scolding from Liam's son Eoin.

"My father always likes to see me hurl and hurl well, and if I gave it up, he would be more annoyed about me giving it up than having his heart attack!" he says.

"That's just the way he rolls and that's the way he is always going to be."

When Watson told Eoin he was going to go back to the Saffrons after a three-year exile under Kevin Ryan, his main concern was that his father would get injured and miss Loughgiel duty.

A protective cast over Liam's right hand demonstrates to Eoin that he can pick up a few knocks and bruises just as easily when playing and training with the club.

"He has come round a bit now. I told him I had quit and he said, 'Well, when are you going back to Loughgiel?' I said 'tomorrow morning'.

"He scored 2-3 there at the weekend. The wee Under-12 hurlers were playing the Under-14 camogiers.

"He did well. Our Under-14s would be very strong. They won the Feile and it was a good enough wee test for them all."

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