Colm Parkinson has a fair idea what you think of him. And he’s fine with it. It’s not that he thinks you’re right – he absolutely does not, for the record, and he’ll tell you right between your eyes precisely how and why you’re wrong. But he won’t expend a whole pile of energy trying to convince you, either. A good row is a good row and he enjoys an argument more than most. But you’ve got to get on with your day, too.
We’re talking because the intercounty season is kicking into gear and Parkinson’s Smaller Fish podcast is picking up the pace and matching strides with it. The 44-year-old former Laois footballer puts out five shows a week on all things GAA. Previews, reviews and interviews, football and hurling, club and county.
If there’s a row in there, well and good – he still isn’t entirely sure how he got caught up in the Glen-Kilmacud wars but he knocked a few good days out of it anyway. And if there isn’t, he’ll power on with a rotating cast of guests anyway, breaking down the games and trying to separate out the guff.
“I’m not perfect,” he says. “I can be a dickhead at times. Everybody can. If you were to ask Itzy [his partner] what I’m like, she’d say half the time he can be a dickhead. But I’d say most people’s partners would say the same thing.
“When you put yourself out there publicly, it’s like you’re trying to show this perfect version of yourself. And I don’t do that. So generally, there is nothing I wouldn’t say on the show or in an interview talking here with you that I wouldn’t be saying in my normal life
“Obviously, people hate opinionated people that don’t agree with their opinions. And I’m the same. So if people hate me, I don’t have any problem with that. Like, I am very opinionated and especially online when you see somebody now that has a different opinion, it really pisses you off. You know, it’s so polarised. So I don’t mind that – that’s just the way I am.”
How Parkinson got here isn’t a roadmap he’d necessarily be handing out to anyone else. He was a retired footballer in May 2010, working in finance, filling time. He was just the right mix of articulate and mouthy to be invited on to radio panels here and there and during one of them on Newstalk, he threw out a line – half-joking, half-sort-of-not-really-joking – calling his former Laois boss Mick O’Dwyer a bluffer.
“This was a terrible introduction for me to the media,” he laughs. “To actually be calling the greatest manager of all time a bluffer. And that was well pointed out. There was an article in the Independent by [Eamonn] Sweeney, I won’t forget him, now. He listed out every achievement in Micko’s career, every last one of them. And then he wrote, ‘All I know about Colm Parkinson is he couldn’t make the Laois team in 2003.’
“So yeah, it was a terrible introduction. I did a couple more Saturday panels on Newstalk and some co-commentary and it went on from there. I got a bit of a bug for it after a year or two and I knew I was good at it. I hated the finance job so I quit it and went to do a master’s in DCU in journalism. To be fair, Ger Gilroy helped me a lot around that time.
“But I remember saying to him that January when I was doing the master’s, would there be a chance of full-time work when I’m finished here? And he was going, ‘No, like, we just don’t have the space.’ And I was thinking, ‘F**k, I’ve made a huge mistake here.’ I had no full-time income, I was living in Dublin and I was basically going, ‘What a f**king idiot I am to have done this.’
“And then I woke up one morning and saw on Twitter that all the Second Captains lads had left Newstalk. Can you believe the timing? And literally as soon as I saw it on Twitter, I got a text from Ger saying, ‘Would you be interested in doing some regular freelance work?’ And that was it.”
Parkinson stayed at Newstalk for three years before moving on to Joe.ie where he stayed for another five. By his own admission, he wasn’t always interested in playing nice with others. He was insecure at times, trying to find his way in a new world. He has always been restless and always been an attention-seeker. He is who he is but he knows it has cost him at times.
“Ah yeah, absolutely,” he says “Sure, I mean, look at my playing career. My personality completely got in the way of that because I would have fallen out with most of the managers along the way. I fell out with Ger in Off The Ball. I had run-ins with people in Joe.ie. I didn’t follow up with them to that extent but there was definitely tension at times.
“Because if I get pissed off, I can’t really plámás it. I’d prefer to have an argument or prefer to be thick than pretend everything’s grand when it’s not. That’s just my personality.”
Through it all though, Parkinson was turning into one of the more interesting voices on the GAA media scene. He did interviews with the confidence of someone who carried a decent intercounty career in his knapsack and so he was never cowed by cranky managers who didn’t like his questions. Jim Gavin, Mickey Harte and Brian Cody all got into prickly back-and-forths with him over the years and by leaning into the awkwardness, Parkinson generally got something memorable out of them.
Eventually though, he wanted more. He found himself doing most of the producing and editing work on the Joe.ie podcast himself anyway so he figured there could be a future in going out on his own. He set up Smaller Fish – the reference is a Davy Fitzgerald interview where the then-Clare manager was moaning about some refereeing injustice or other – and jumped out of the plane, hoping the parachute was working.
One of his first acts was to change his public face. Or at least the show’s public face. Throughout the pandemic, Parkinson had become one of the more belligerent voices on Twitter, kicking against Government regulations. He alienated plenty of us who liked his GAA stuff but couldn’t be doing with all the other carry-on. So he decoupled his personal Twitter account from the Smaller Fish one.
“During Covid, I lost thousands of followers. I could criticise Tony Holahan and there’d be 150 gone in a couple of hours. I knew if I went out on my own, number one you’re following a GAA account. This is supposed to be a serious business. You don’t want me talking about fecking politics. In fairness, to be honest, I never really talked too much about politics. I don’t know about politics.
“But the Covid thing really annoyed me. I would be a bit of a rebel. I don’t like following rules that I find really, really stupid. And that time, being stuck in the house, the children were bored, I wasn’t happy in myself and that all came out of me online.
“You can get sucked into it. During Covid I was definitely sucked into it. I was following loads of accounts. And I have a bit of a weakness for these culture wars. I’m not going to lie. I would have a position in the middle and I find this side off on the left are total lunatics and this side on the right are lunatics too. And they’re never ever going to agree with each other. And both of them wouldn’t even agree with somebody looking to know both sides. I have an unhealthy interest in this. I don’t know why.”
The Smaller Fish Twitter account has over 72,000 followers now – his personal one only has around 3,000 – and from it, he has essentially built the podcast audience from scratch, beginning in January 2021. He charges a fiver a month and at its height last summer, his subscriber base rose to 4,070. There was an understandable drop-off during the club season and so he starts the year with 3,250. But as the weeks go by, that will start building again. Once Patreon take their slice, the company brings in €4.13 of every €5. A year in, it’s a pretty respectable start.
“I enjoy it,” he says. “I enjoy talking about the matches, I find it very natural. And I think the hardest part of the show is producing it and picking the subjects. What’s the best thing to talk about here? That’s where I would find the most pressure. When you actually go on and actually talk, it’s incredibly enjoyable and the hour flies.”