In this week’s Player’s View column, Robbie Dunne reveals the difficulty in separating Robbie Dunne – the person, from Robbie Dunne – the GAA player.
I’M finally getting around to reading former Roscommon and St.Brigids goalkeeper Shane Curran’s book. It’s a very interesting read which covers everything from the day he took “that penalty” in the Connacht minor final to the 33 years he spent inside a dressing room with “bare-arsed men” who he fought and laughed and cried with. The same dressing room that he refers to as a “kip, a hovel and a slum” but he also goes on to say that on victorious days it can be “a little corner of paradise” and “heaven”. You can feel the emotion in between the pages and when I clicked into his Twitter page and saw him describe himself as a “Rossie forever” I started to think about how I might define myself when I am retired. I also saw massive similarities between myself and “Cake”. He is an extrovert and someone who relies on his gut to make decisions. While many of his reactions seem instinctive and lacking pre-planning, he assures us that his actions are thoroughly thought through. I get called up on my actions and if I tried to rationalize my thought processes in any given week, I would probably be surrounded by men in white coats before too long. It’s interesting that many gaels can read a book like that and draw similarities because as different as we think we are, and try to be at times, we are all chasing the same thing and thinking about things in the same skewed form of reality.
During a speech from the GPA last year we were told that they wanted to help us in any way they could off the field. It didn’t matter what number I had on my back or how many points I kicked in the previous game or how long I had been out injured. It is how people in the real world see things and treat people because the one thing that they feared for footballers was that they would finish their careers and have only one thing to describe themselves. “I’m an ex-centre forward for Clane” or whatever position or team you played for, instead of being many things to many people. It’s how people with strong athletic identities look at themselves and can get swallowed up by lack of form or a devastating injury. I could be a son and a brother and an aspiring sportswriter but the fear is that many of us only define ourselves by what we do on the field.
It’s such a fragile thing because when you go out and play a stormer the next week tends to be that little bit easier than other weeks. Getting up off your arse to go down training isn’t a chore when you’ve played out of your skin in the previous game and got an excellent write-up in the paper. It can work out that way but more often than not, you don’t play a stormer so you have to try and balance the praise with the criticism if you are to have an enjoyable life during the season and beyond. That’s easier said than done when you’re conditioned from the age of 14 to think you’re a hero when you play well and not so much when you don’t. If you get injured, life can be tough. You start questioning your own strength, your ability to offer something to the team. It’s a crazy world that we live in and participate to be involved in every January when the manager calls for the team meeting at the start of the year. I believe as you get older, you start to disconnect from this as a form of survival and don’t attach as much weight to games as you might when you’re a youngster. Its maturity, of course, but your brain is also doing you favors and remembering not to define your whole week’s mood based on sixty minutes or one bad decision you made that defined the outcome of the game.
It’s a paradox though, because this is how I do define myself much of the time. When I meet people from different countries or people who haven’t stepped foot inside a GAA ground in their life, I feel as though they don’t know the real me. They only know a little bit of me and while I understand that I have to be other things in my life, I will always be tied to this club and my performance and I will always think about it when my mind wanders. I lived in Chicago for four years and it is not an exaggeration to suggest that I thought about togging out for Clane along with glimpses of the main field in the village springing to my mind every day of that time. I played for other clubs out there and it was as if I had lost my bottle because it didn’t mean as much to me. I never bothered to prepare like I had before and when I look back I know that it was because it wasn’t the white jersey I was going to be pulling on at the weekend. It is something that has defined a large portion of my life and as much as I try to not attach as much emotion to games, I need to just accept that it isn’t possible for someone like me because as Shane Curren describes the dressing room as a prison, he also declares that he is “a willing prisoner, a happy inmate of that concrete box with its bleeding walls”.
Just like me.