From Boland's Mills to managing Barcelona in the 1930s, it's a gem

Mon, Oct 8, 2012, 01:00

TV VIEW:SOME OF us who knew no better wondered when they lost to Tyrone in the 2010 quarter-finals, having won the previous five All-Ireland titles, if that’d be that for Cork.

You know, maybe the players would move on and focus on other things in their lives, content with the five-in-a-row medals in their pockets. Besides, how could you still be hungry for more when you’d gorged on success for so long?

Fast forward to yesterday afternoon and there was Eamonn Ryan doing his seventh post All-Ireland-winning television chat in eight years, his Cork side having just retained the title they regained last year having decided they were still peckish for more.

It’s a sporting story and a half.

“There’s no secret really, they just love what they’re doing,” he told TG4’s Gráinne McElwain when she tried, no more than ourselves, to figure out why his players hadn’t reckoned they’d achieved more than plenty.

“They come back in January as if they’d never won anything and they work away mad for the next nine months – and usually it works out,” he said. “They’re just a brilliant gang of people outside of being great footballers, it’s no trouble training them at all.”

It does indeed usually work out for this team, a bunch of them now with just the seven winners’ medals, captain Rena Buckley and Briege Corkery with four senior camogie titles to their names too. Mad stuff. Yesterday’s final never really developed in to a contest, as good as done and dusted by half-time, but Galway, Armagh, Mayo, Monaghan and Dublin have learnt the past few years that this Cork team have a habit of doing that to you before you can whip up a bit of wind in your sails. In recent GAA terms, they’re incomparable.

Paddy Don Patricio was a bit incomparable himself, as we learnt in TG4’s exquisite documentary on a most extraordinary man. At 14 he was working in Boland’s Mills, his family having moved from Westmeath to Drumcondra when he was a child; by 1935 he was manager of Barcelona, revered to this day because he helped save them from going out of existence in the Spanish Civil war years.

Truly, you couldn’t make it up.

In between those years he played for Liffey Wanderers, moved to Belfast Celtic, then to Sheffield Wednesday, on to Hull City, then to Manchester United, where he was captain, on to Dumbarton, then to Ashington in the north of England, where he was player-manager, then to Spain, where he managed Racing Santander, Real Oviedo and Real Betis, before he took over at Barcelona.

“What makes Barca great? It’s not just Messi, Cruyff and Maradona, but also, figures like Paddy O’Connell,” a Spanish journalist told presenter Tony Devlin, but O’Connell’s career wasn’t, to put it mildly, without its hiccups, not least the day he sent a penalty a mile and a bit wide against Liverpool in “one of the most controversial games in history”.

The first Word War was looming, the English League was facing suspension, and the players, already earning modest enough salaries, fretted over the hardship to come.

Ahead of the game at Anfield, then, “players from both teams met up in a pub and decided to rig the game”, deciding it would end 2-0 for United. A commission was set up to investigate events of that day, but O’Connell escaped a ban, even though he was suspected of being involved in the betting scam, unlike four Liverpool players and one of his team-mates. From there his life got just that bit wackier. He eventually ended up at Real Betis, improbably managing them to the Spanish title. “It seemed impossible considering the opposition at the time, they were only Seville’s second team – they had no top players and they didn’t have a huge following,” said the Spanish journalist. “And their ground only had a capacity for 1,500 people.”

“We loved him very much,” said Alfonso Paramillo Gonzalez, a member of the Betis team, proudly showing his photo of the team signed by “The Maestro: O’Connell”. Barcelona took notice, appointing him manager in 1935. But the Civil War hardly helped his footballing plans. In the summer of 1936 he was back in Dublin for a short trip, the Barcelona president who’d appointed him sent him a letter saying he’d understand if he didn’t want to come back to a country at war. O’Connell insisted on going back, but by the time he returned the president had been murdered by Franco’s folk.

After that. Well, you need to watch it – it’s a gem.

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