Model boys take the Lyng wayto the top

Sat, Jul 19, 2008, 01:00

LEINSTER SFC FINAL:First it was Gizzy Lyng preparing for the Leinster hurling final, now brother Ciarán squares up to the Dublin footballers. Tom Humphriesmet them.

THE HOUSE settles into its familiar time of hush. Grown adults tiptoeing on eggshells. Every word examined before it is softly issued. Tension growing with the long wait. An almost pre-natal sense of anticipation and watchfulness hanging over everything.

A couple of weeks ago it was Gizzy. Putting down the days, hours and minutes before the Leinster hurling final. Everyone creeping around his intensity. Tick. Tick. Tick.

This week it is worse, perhaps. Ciarán and a Leinster football final. He withdraws to a more distant cave of his brain than Gizzy does. The tune for the weekend is for everybody just to stay out of Ciarán's way. For three or four years before a big game all he does is listen to music. The girlfriend is banished. The walls go up. He doesn't talk to anyone.

"It's a real selfish time," says Gizzy. "If somebody has worn the battery down on your iPod you are like a bear; if somebody was eaten the food you wanted to eat you are like a bear; if there is noise you are like a bear. For three or four days you are hard to live with. Poor oul Michael, our youngest brother, is on tenterhooks the whole time."

Of the two, Ciarán would be more withdrawn in the run up to a game. Gizzy retains more of his natural affability in the face of pressure. That difference always found space between them.

"There was always something a bit different in him," says Gizzy of his brother, "he has the supreme confidence you need to make it at top level and a little bit more intensity than I would have."

A hurler and a footballer under the same roof. Both sharing a singular passion for boxing and the life and works of Muhammad Ali. One with a past in professional soccer. Both from handballing stock. Still the Lyngs are accidental ecumenists.

Davy, Diarmuid (Gizzy since childhood), Ciarán and Michael did their early growing up in Wexford town, playing for Clonard, a junior club dad Mick had worked for and nourished obsessively since its inception.

The boys were good players, but with a strange determination - most purely reflected in the single-mindedness of Ciarán - Mick moved his sons to St Martin's when Gizzy was 14 and Ciarán nine.

St Martin's offered senior hurling. Clonard didn't.

Moving the boys to St Martin's involved moving house. A mere detail. Hurling was the one true faith within the household. Mick kept working away for the club in Clonard, oblivious to the fallout. What was done had to be done.

"Growing up," says Ciarán, "there was no football and certainly no soccer in the house. And rugby was the furthest away of all. I don't know where dad's thing for hurling comes from, but my dad just loves hurling. Adores it. My mother's family are all Kilkenny so it's there too."

Mick Lyng's uncle was Dick Lyng ,who was World Open Doubles handball champion with Séamus Buggy back in 1970. Somehow that singular obsessiveness needed for beating a handball around an alley transmuted itself as it passed through the generations. It became a passion for hurling.

Now the family who watched Gizzy do war with the stripeymen a couple of weeks ago, head off tomorrow for a Leinster football final to watch Ciarán Lyng tilt at the Dubs.

So much success! Where did it all go wrong! When Ciarán was a young fella he took to playing soccer during the winter to keep himself going and stay fit. Nothing more than that. Next thing they had started an academy in Wexford and local coach Jack Stafford started to make an impact on Ciarán's thinking.

"Jack got me trials. Once you make the Irish Under-16 team that's when scouts start coming around."

He turned down more offers than he went along with, but he was at Arsenal and Derby and went to Southampton for a month. Got a good few offers. Arsenal offered a YTS (Youth Training Scheme), but he had the smarts to know a kid wouldn't be going very far at Arsenal with just a YTS wrapped around him to fend off the bad times. Preston offered a longer pro deal. David Moyes was the manager there.

Ciarán knew he was going before it was decided he was going. His dad had suffered a stroke at the time and things were tough at home.

"As Dad was sick a lot, the decision was down to Ma. To be honest, my Ma wasn't great about me going to England. She was adamant, in fact. I kinda knew I was going, though. I had no idea where but knew I was going. She was against it.

"Eventually she said if I did my A levels that would be all right. I did it for a year over there and realised I could get away with it."

"In fairness to her, she was great ," says Gizzy of Maree Lyng's time as a soccer agent. "She was meeting clubs and they were ringing. She would have had no idea what division they were in. She would be asking me what division are Southampton in.

"She was representing us," says Ciarán, "and she was under serious pressure. She was all over the place, having to deal with Dad and having to deal with that.

"I was determined to go, though. It was kind of a way out of here. When I was younger all I wanted to do was get out of here. Having been away for three-and-a-half years now I like being from where I am from now but I couldn't stand it back then.

"I just wanted to get away. I was young and immature and I just knew I wanted to go. I used to think there was a lot of narrow-mindedness involved in the club, this attitude that the club was everything. Maybe I was too big for my boots."

Maree Lyng would ask Gizzy, "Will he go, would you say?" Gizzy would say, "Of course he will go. If he doesn't he will always wonder. And he has the single-mindedness for it". So they knew he would go.

So eventually they settled on Moyes and Preston. A month later Moyes was gone. Craig Brown became manager. Lasted a while.

In a house of hurling the loss of a son to the mills of English professional soccer made for a strange absence. In his first year at Preston, Dad Mick remained sick. The youth team got to the Milk Cup final against Manchester United and his mother came up to see him play. Mostly everything in Ciarán's life happened out of sight away from the claustrophobia of club life in St Martin's.

"It was hard over there at Christmas," says Gizzy, "the young lads all in their apartments. There'd be bedrooms and a sitting room. Footballers live on their own in their bedrooms, with their iPods and DVD players and laptops. It was such a far cry form the way we'd been reared; Christmas Day is a massive day for us, lots of energy and the house always packed. We'd be thinking of your man eating pizza on his own. It was hard for us all.

"We'd be sitting eating the Christmas dinner thinking of him on his own. Da would be saying 'why doesn't he just come back and play a bit of hurling! That's what ya get for going over!' "

Mick Lyng would go over to his son around New Year every year for three or four days at a time. Fiercely proud of his son but never able to let up with the slagging over hurling.

Things went along smoothly under Craig Brown. And then he walked the plank. Billy Davies took over and the five Irish kids at the club were cleared out.

"In the last year I was in first team squad for pre-season and played both games in Ibiza on that pre-season," says Ciarán, "then Craig Brown was sacked. Billy Davies came in. He was the reserve manager. Not sure if it was my style of play but he never took to me."

Football left a sour taste, a bitterness which has shaped the rest of his sporting career.

" It's not the most honest of businesses. After Preston I moved to Shrewsbury for eight months. It was originally a loan and then it got made permanent. I was 18 or 19 and didn't know how these things worked.

"I had two years left at Preston and they should have been paid up the rest of my contract. My agent told me Shrewsbury had taken over my contract. It makes no sense in retrospect but I didn't expect to be mislead."

Shrewsbury cut him loose in February 2006 and he found it hard being back home at first. Swallowing his pride and placing his tail between his legs took the help of a few large bottles of cider, he says with a laugh. But he got in with St Martin's again and got a taste for competition again and the old juices started running.

" I knew when I finished I would play hurling and football, that I just wouldn't play soccer again. It left a raw taste. I have no appetite at all for it."

His hurling touch was a while in coming back and still isn't what it was but last year he was on both the county hurling and football panels. It says something about the faith which informs the Lyng household that although he was named county footballer of the year in Wexford and was just a bit player with the hurlers, the Lyngs expected something to consolidate rather than diversify.

The feeling in the house was something had to give and that meanwhile, the football was good for getting Ciarán fit for hurling.

"When John Meyler was asking me about throwing everything in with the hurlers it wasn't a question at all to Dad. It was more like, 'well how are you going to tell the football manager!'"

He chatted about the dual player thing with Redmond Barry, who was against it. Then word came of the arrival of Jason Ryan and Paddy Colfer, the senior figure on the Wexford football side, reversed a decision to retire and advised Ciarán he'd be mad to miss out on this.

He met Jason Ryan once and was impressed enough to know he would be going with the footballers. Not a day goes past in the Lyng house without Mick Lyng trading a few friendly barbs with his second youngest son, the footballer in a hurlers' house.

Gizzy speaks in defence of football, about what a spectacle the game with Meath was, about how much he enjoys watching the game, about having been in school with a few of the lads. The joke is that a Wexford hurler would be name-dropping footballers.

Gizzy: "Yeah me and Mattie Forde would be very close!"

Hurling still rules the conversation. You wonder aloud if in his heart Ciarán is a hurler or footballer:

Gizzy: "You know full well. He is going to say football and I will say hurling.

Ciarán: "It would be enough for me if the hurlers won it. Gizzy would have an All-Ireland and Eoin Quigley would have one. They get a lot of criticism as a team. Chances are they aren't going to win much with Kilkenny there."

So Ciarán, two envelopes on the table. One gives you a hurling All-Ireland, the other a football All-Ireland . . . Ciarán: "I'd pick up the football."

Definitely? Ciarán: "No! Not definitely! Ask me after the Leinster final."

The Leinster final! In the hurling instalment, Gizzy almost had his legs removed by a Tommy Walsh swing. Wexford lost by 19 points but hurled a little more than they have of late.

The football brings Ciarán into the house of the Dubs. A full house brimming with the sort of expectation Romans had when they bought tickets to Christians versus the lions fixtures.

Still part of the requirement for being a Wexford senior in either code is the willingness not just to give the blood, the sweat and the tears in a county pocked by fatalism, but to do so in a spirit of optimism and hope. "Going around the camps this summer," says Ciarán, "the kids have the Wexford jersey in their hands again. It has put a bit of pride in to the jerseys. It has been lost a bit since 2004.

"The hurlers struggled over Dublin a few times, and the footballers haven't got past a semi-final. We have to win or else all we've done is get past a semi-final at last. That's not why you do it."

These times their paths don't cross as often as they should. A few weeks ago Gizzy ran his annual hurling summer camp through Irish and Ciarán helped out for the week, his celebrity evident even in the face of visits from luminaries like Seán Óg.

That was the most they have seen of each other though.

Both are free-takers, which impact's the enjoyment of watching the other's games. Famously, Gizzy dropped a long-range free well short with the last poc of the drawn match against Dublin this summer.

Ciarán: "I love watching the hurlers still, but not when he is taking the frees. Gizzy: "Nobody likes watching me taking the frees!"

Sometimes they go together down the field to work on each other's dead ball skills.

They compare tales and experiences and wryly note the treatment offered to the respective panels.

Gizzy: "Sometimes he has a nice T-shirt at home and I'll be thinking 'how come the hurlers didn't get those?' "

Ciarán: "They were in chalets in Rosslare last year while we were in Carton House in Kildare in our robes!" Gizzy: "It's true, but we are more hard-core. They are fancy gyms and fancy hotels. We are sand in our toes."

So it continues, the eternal brotherly debate. Optimism runs through the family like a grain. Their father's Uncle Jim left for America many moons ago - he lives in Connecticut now and he is 73. He was home for three weeks earlier in the summer. Went home as scheduled. Was there for two days and then flew back again to see the hurlers and footballers in their double-header in Croke Park. Flew out again on Monday morning.

When Jim was home and seeing a bit of the old country he wandered into a bookmakers shop in Kerry, of all places, and having surveyed the boards noticed something.

"I notice," he said to the startled Kerry turf accountant, "that ye have no price on Wexford winning the football All-Ireland." There was a long silence as the Kerryman looked around for the hidden camera.

"Right," said the bookie after a while, "sure I'll give you one hundred to one."

"Grand," says Jim Lyng, "I'll take a tenner double on Wexford to win the hurling AND the football."

The Lyng boys, reared in the art of the possible, laugh at the story but they know Jim will be guarding the docket closely until it is beaten.

Sports stories have their own logic and make their own endings. Nothing is straightforward.

Clonard to Piercestown to Preston to Shrewsbury to the Leinster football final isn't the most credible of journeys for a man from a hurling household so why not believe?