The focus of this week's GAA Q&A with Oisin McConville is Fermanagh star Tomas Corrigan, who lifts the lid on the impact of his year out in Latin America, why the GAA central body has to do more for smaller counties and why it's a 'no' to professionalism.
Oisin: Tomas, you're on the way back from injury. How difficult is that in the current situation with the coronavirus crisis?
Tomas: The toughest part is trying to find the motivation to do those extra bits of pre-hab and rehab, especially when the whole world seems to have been turned upside down. It's really difficult to focus on football at the minute because it doesn't seem that important. To be honest, it's taken a couple of weeks to get into a little routine. I have no access to physio. I usually get the dry needling done on my calf, but that can't be done. At this stage, it's more about getting the head right. There is a plan there from the coaches and it's just a matter of following that now. Football will be back, so you need to keep a base level of fitness. I've been working away, especially on my left foot, and taking frees in the downtime.
Oisin: You work for a top legal firm in Belfast. How difficult is it to combine the long hours and high pressure of the job with playing inter-county football?
Tomas: Yeah, it's very, very difficult. There are very few other lads doing the job and playing inter-county football. I work for Arthur Cox. They have offices in Dublin and Belfast. In school I always wanted to do the best I could and get the best grades I could. That's how I ended up in law. I was in Dublin initially and it was a three-hour drive to get to training, so I would leave the office at four and didn't arrive back until after 12, so basically half a day devoted to training. I found myself exhausted from it all and my performance was affected. That's probably why I haven't properly pushed on with Fermanagh since the last good years I had with them in 2015 and 2016. Last year I took a break from everything, left my job in Dublin and took a break from football. I went travelling in Latin America for a year to get away from it all, reassess and be in an environment where football wasn't the common denominator for everything. I had always wanted to learn Spanish, so why not go to South America? I set myself a few little goals, and one was to be fluent in Spanish by the end of it and have a bit of craic - and I achieved that goal. I learned a huge amount about myself and I spoke to people from lots of different walks of life who were going through the same thing - people like me at a bit of a crossroads in their life. While football is certainly important, it shouldn't become a toxic influence on your life. When football is going well, you feel on top of the world, but if you place too much importance on it and you're not playing well or you're not winning, you can become equally as low. Being away for the year offered me the chance to manage those thoughts and pressures in my own head. As a result, since coming home, football has been way more enjoyable. I also moved jobs and I'm in Belfast now, which makes getting to training a lot easier.
Oisin: So, with all that in mind, why do you do it? What's the motivation?
Tomas: I have a few motivations. I thought when I went away, 'Do I really want to play football?', because it was causing a lot of stress. During the year away, I just wanted to understand why I was playing. Football gives me a great sense of meaning, so what I do on a football pitch can bring a lot of happiness to other people. People's identity can be wrapped up in their team. With Fermanagh, if we get a good run in the Championship, I love that feeling that you can nearly touch in the air. Everyone is walking around feeling a bit taller and a bit better in themselves because their football team is doing well. My dad Dominic is obviously a big football man, and when Kinawley or Fermanagh get a win, it's great to sit around the house and chat about the games, the scores and the misses - they are special moments. Without football, would we have them? I don't think so. Also, football is a real challenge to see if we can better ourselves. I enjoy the structure - it's got a lot of elements that professional sport has - and preparing as an elite athlete. I'm good at football, and when you have some sort of talent that you are good at it, would be a shame to let it go to waste.
Oisin: You've had numerous managers during your 10 years with Fermanagh, but who really stood out for you?
Tomas: Peter Canavan. Peter came in at a time when we were at a very low ebb and brought a different level of professionalism and organisation. He drove the standards to a totally different level. It was a real eye-opener working under him. He has a great way about himself. I would expect Peter to manage the Tyrone senior team in the next couple of years if and when Mickey Harte decides to move on, but he was definitely the one that impressed me most.
Oisin: Inconsistency is something that keeps creeping up in relation to Fermanagh. Can you put your finger on why that is?
Tomas: Good question... answers on a postcard, please! One season we are in an Ulster Final and getting promoted, but the next we are staring at relegation. It's obviously a little mental block. Perhaps when we have a good year we feel as if we have arrived on the big stage and take our foot off the gas. Maybe we don't have to train as hard and maybe don't do the extra little bits it takes to get to that level again. The inconsistency has definitely been a theme with Fermanagh. I think there is a PhD in it for a sports psychologist out there.
Oisin: Do smaller counties like Fermanagh, especially when you see what's going on with Tier Two, feel disrespected by the top brass in the GAA?
Tomas: No, I don't think Tier Two is disrespectful. For me, that's not the issue. The gap between Division One and Divisions Three and Four is huge now, so a second tier is the only real solution. For me, the disrespectful thing is the way the GAA distributes its funding. Look at Dublin's funding compared to the likes of Fermanagh - that's where the disrespect comes in. The GAA has a moral duty, in my view, to give way more funding to the Division Three and Four teams that are trying to improve their standard and bridge the gap. You can't compete at the top level without the funding, and counties like Fermanagh and Cavan, or the counties trying to push on, are at a severe disadvantage to the Dublins, Mayos and the Galways in terms of the sheer size of these counties, their support and their draw for sponsorship. Fermanagh are seriously handicapped by those elements. A hundred times more is needed to be done by the central GAA body. I mean, is that not what the GAA is supposed to be all about, that every team in the country and youngsters in those counties can still aspire to win the Sam Maguire? At the minute, we are not on an equal footing. It's like giving Usain Bolt a head start in the Olympic 100m Final. That's crazy in my mind.
Oisin: What are your concerns about playing in Tier Two?
Tomas: It's just that feeling of not being in the main Championship and having that feeling that just maybe this could be your year, even though you might not be within touching distance. If you are in the second tier, my fear is that experience of going on a run disappears. For me, that is the best part of playing county football. For me, you are taking away the best part and, as a result, a lot of players might choose not to play because the pay-off isn't what it should be.
Oisin: Do you feel there is a case for players getting paid, and let's forget about the amateur ethos?
Tomas: My answer to that is no, the reason being that even though we feel like we are training like professional athletes or that there are levels of professionalism, when you bring money into the equation, the whole thing could become toxic. For example, look at club rugby and the way it has gone in the last 15 years. Look at the GAA and it is probably on that road at the minute. You can point to the Sky TV deal and people paying to view matches, but as far as paying players, where does that stop? Say if some young player is growing up in Fermanagh. What's to stop him getting his parents to move to Dublin to have a chance to make more money? You are almost getting a transfer system. I think if that happens, then the GAA can forget about it, so it's a strong NO from me on professionalism.