This week, I have ventured outside Ulster for the first time to speak to Kerry legend Tomas O'Se.
O'Se was the first of the offensive wing-backs, often man-marked such was his attacking prowess. His longevity is something which makes him stand out having excelled in the green and gold for 15 years, winning five All-Ireland medals, three National Leagues and five All Stars.
But that doesn't tell the full story. He has been honing his skills at College level with UCC under the guidance of Billy Morgan, as well as some notable under-age appointments. You couldn't accuse him of being a one-trick pony, as he has been a regular RTE pundit and is now one of the most respected analysts in the GAA world.
Away from GAA, he is an extremely handy golfer, not to mention an engaging and top individual.
Oisin: How difficult has the Covid situation been for you?
Tomas: Well, it was a bit of a special time for the family, we had a small baby and that took a lot of the focus so it was exciting times in our house. I’m a teacher by profession and I’m looking forward to getting back into school now, I feel it’s a must for the kids’ mental health to get back into the thick of it, start mixing again and find some sort of normality, and I think school is crucial to providing all of that. Routine will be great for them but, in truth, better for adults like me! I am not really one for reflection, never mind self-reflection, but there was definitely a period of reflection and taking stock for me.
Oisin: You’ve been one of the voices of concern in relation to a return to play for inter-county teams, why are you so sceptical about it?
Tomas: I was definitely a voice of scepticism in the beginning, but in truth I didn’t fully understand this pandemic and what it was capable of. I thought it was this deadly virus that would disappear in time. Now I look at it and the devastation it’s caused in a lot of families, but it’s not something that’s going anywhere quickly, we could have another two years of it. As proven, you cannot get the numbers down by hoping it goes away, but I have come to the realisation that we are going to have to live with it and live with it as safe as we can. So with regard to the inter-county Championship, I’m really hoping it can happen. The Club Championship has been run off really well with very little instances, so if that continues and the counties stay open then I’d love to see it go ahead.
Oisin: What involvement do you have with the GAA now?
Tomas: I’m obviously involved with RTE as a pundit, but involved also as a parent and I take both the football and hurling at the school I teach at in Fermoy. I’m currently managing Glanmire Minor team and we are in the Semi-Final of the Championship, which is a huge deal. I’ve also been involved at Sigerson level with Billy Morgan at UCC, so you could say I’m still heavily involved. I love it, I’ve been involved since I was very young and I don’t think that’s going to change any time soon.
Oisin: You are considered one of the best pundits on the island, but what does it take to be a good pundit?
Tomas: I wouldn’t regard myself as a top pundit. I just like to call it as I see it and maybe give the viewer something that they haven’t seen or is not obvious to them. I see my job as to explain to the viewer why certain things are happening, also to explain what players are thinking or going through during games. I wouldn’t be clever enough to play games so I feel I’m much better being straight up.
Oisin: What do you enjoy most about being on telly?
Tomas: What do I enjoy most about being on telly? That’s a great question, probably the money!
Oisin: Why have Ulster teams failed to win All-Irelands in recent times?
Tomas: If you take Dublin out of the Championship, I think it’s a much different Championship and I think you would see Ulster teams not just competing but also winning All-Irelands. People say that if Dublin were gone it would be Kerry winning Sam Maguire, but I think you have to bring Donegal and Tyrone into the conversation. Kieran McGeeney is building something with Armagh, I think that is a squad going places. But Donegal for me are the team going places, they just need an injection of belief, that seems to be the only ingredient they are missing to go all the way. I don’t think that there is that much wrong with Ulster football when you look at the likes of Donegal, Armagh, Monaghan and Tyrone. But Dublin’s dominance is the real issue for all counties right now.
Oisin: What is the Kerry perception of Ulster football?
Tomas: I’m not sure about Kerry, but my own perception is of tough, hard, honest and talented footballers. The Armagh and Tyrone teams that beat us were ferociously competitive but had serious, serious talent in their ranks. We would have great respect for all of that. When I was growing up I admired the Down, Derry and Donegal teams that won in the 1990s. I also have a lot of time for the Ulster supporters and how fanatical they are about their football and their teams. Having gone through the Troubles, I love what the GAA means to people up there.
Oisin: Apart from me, who has been your toughest opponent!?
Tomas: Ha ha, not just because you’re asking the question but yourself and Michael Donnellan. Not just because of the talent you had but because of the pace and you were also two out and out finishers. You were both clever and thinking about sorting out what was going wrong on the pitch without consulting the sideline.
Oisin: What do the GAA need to change in the short-term?
Tomas: In the short-term the inter-county season needs to be changed, I think it’s very tough on inter-county players who are also playing college and club football. They have no life and very little down time, in my view it’s unhealthy. I think some realise there is more to life. Take, for example, Jack McCaffrey, who is prepared to walk away and enjoy life and not feel guilty or sorry as a result. It’s crucial the season changes sooner rather than later and it was refreshing to see the GPA proposals and I think a split season has legs.
Oisin: And what about long-term?
Tomas: Well, the provincial Championships are the real issue when it comes to fairness. I think it’s a massive change to bin the provincial Championships but I feel that may be the only solution long-term, regardless of how special they are or how important they are seen to be.
Oisin: What player past or present would you like to have played with?
Tomas: Peter Canavan for the size of him, the bravery he showed, the skill level, the ultra-competitive nature and his leadership. He was the full package. Stephen Cluxton is not far behind when you look at how he changed the way we view keepers.
Oisin: What modern day player gets you off your seat?
Tomas: I think David Clifford is on a different level. An outstanding talent with a great attitude.
Oisin: Do you have aspirations to manage Kerry?
Tomas: I’d love to get involved on some level. But in terms of being manager, you have to make your mark elsewhere first and I haven’t so right now no.