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Pat Jennings reveals secret to his success - his GAA roots

By Nevin Farrell

Former Northern Ireland goalkeeper Pat Jennings has revealed the secret to his soccer success was playing Gaelic football.

'Big Pat' from Newry turns 70 on Friday and he has spoken of how leaping in the heat of battle as a GAA midfielder helped develop his ball-handling skills as a goalkeeper and also toughened him up.

The legendary keeper, who is still hero-worshipped at his former clubs and for his international heroics with Northern Ireland, revealed GAA helped put him on the road to sporting success.

Rated as the best goalkeeper in the world at his peak, Pat swapped Gaelic football for soccer in Newry in 1961 and became one of the best-known faces in the sport.

Jennings is regarded as one of the greats at Tottenham Hotspur where he works with the Academy and as a match day host.

He even has his own lounge at White Hart Lane. In an interview on the Spurs website, Jennings recalled what it was like growing up in Northern Ireland in the 50s.

He revealed how one of his heroes was Peter McParland, another Newry man who went on to great things on the football pitch.

McParland was spotted playing for Dundalk in the League of Ireland by Aston Villa manager George Martin, who signed him up for £3,880.

"It was brilliant," Jennings said. "My dad took me to all the sporting events - Gaelic football, boxing, internationals - that's what we all looked forward to.

"We all looked up to Peter McParland, who lived on the same street as us in Newry.

"We followed his career at Aston Villa, he scored two goals in the 1957 FA Cup final against Manchester United and made it into the 1958 World Cup squad."

Recalling his GAA days, Pat said: "I didn't realise at the time how beneficial playing Gaelic football was going to be to me. I played in midfield, the position where you were most involved.

"It was a great upbringing for me in terms of doing everything with your hands.

"You had to take a few knocks as well. When I first played football, crosses used to come into the box with snow on them, people were trying to head it but I was three feet above them."

Pat recalled leaving home for the first time.

"It was difficult for me because I'd never been away from home aged 17, but I was getting paid to play football and I couldn't believe my luck."

He added: "I went from earning four, five pounds a week working in a timber gang on a mountain to getting 23, 25 at Watford, plus bonuses.

"Twenty-five pounds a week to play football? I would have played for nothing."

Facts about a goalie great

1. Pat Jennings joined Watford in 1963 before playing for London rivals Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal.

2. In 1983 he became the first player in English football to make 1,000 senior appearances.

3. He picked up 119 caps, a Northern Ireland record. His final game was in the 1986 World Cup against Brazil on his 41st birthday.

4. He scored against Manchester United in the 1967 Charity Shield. He kicked the ball and it bounced over goalie Alex Stepney into the net.

5. He was voted as one of the 100 greatest players of the 20th century by World Soccer magazine.

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