All Star Charlie Harrison leaves Sligo football with only one regret

One of county’s most decorated players says he wanted to win second Connacht medal

Sligo’s Charlie Harrison and Anton Sullivan of Offaly. “I’ll miss playing at the highest level, being the best you can be against the best.” Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Sligo’s Charlie Harrison and Anton Sullivan of Offaly. “I’ll miss playing at the highest level, being the best you can be against the best.” Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

 

He understands that it’s not a bolt from the blue, but Charlie Harrison has decided at the age of 36 that it’s time to draw a line. This summer has marked his last season with Sligo, and the curtain falls on one of the county’s most successful football careers: just four Sligo men have a Connacht medal and an All Star and he’s one of them.

It had a prologue: as a student in Strawberry Hill, he was called up by London for the 2004 season. As fate had it, it meant trial by fire for a young corner back, who had to mark Michael Meehan and Alan Brogan, but would finish with career recognition as an excellent defender despite the disadvantages of being from a small county.

He looks forward to giving his club St John’s “three good years”, and his work as national co-ordinator of the Cúl Camps summer training programme for children keeps him busy now that he is no longer answerable to “the bio-, psycho- and social demands” of inter-county involvement.

“Being a county footballer is a very selfish existence,” he says. “I got married just six weeks ago and it’s not solely because of that, but the amount of training you can do gets less and less because you have to look after your body and train smarter if you’re going to play.

“That frustrated me because I wasn’t able to do what I used to do.”

Rigorous session

He remembers turning up at training at the start of last season and doing a rigorous session, with a match against Down the following day. He explained that his muscles felt a bit tight but he played anyway and pulled his calf. It was probably for the best in that it established his credentials for self-diagnosis, but it was also an occupational hazard for the older player.

I don’t want to be one of those guys hanging around for the sake of it

“We’ve been let down by how quickly managers have left Sligo [next season, Paul Taylor will be the third in as many years]. For the first time since I’ve been in my 30s there’s a young crop of players who can develop and compete with the Roscommons and Mayos, but managing that process is going to be a three-year project.

“A new manager comes with his own culture and values. I’m not going to be involved for another three years and I don’t want to be one of those guys hanging around for the sake of it.”

Early success came with a Connacht medal in only his second season. For a Sligo player that’s a bit like seeing Halley’s Comet; for another 10 seasons – allowing for a cruciate injury in 2015 – Harrison looked confidently at the skies, determined in his conviction that he would win another.

“In 2010 and ’12 we suffered narrow defeats but I really wanted to win two medals – to be as successful as I could be or even the most successful.”

Favourites

It was 2010 that cut most deeply. Having beaten Mayo and Galway, Sligo faced Roscommon in the final and did so as favourites.

“That week we were talking about Roscommon and their history and not being favourites – about them having 21 Connacht titles and us having three. When it was over I just remember being gutted, as Roscommon celebrated. We weren’t able to lift it for the qualifier against Down.

“It was such a pity that we didn’t get over the line that year. I’ll never forgive myself in that in 2007 I was a newbie but by 2010 I was captain and one of the main players. All I’d ever wanted to do as a kid was make the county team.”

Charlie Harrison: looking forward to giving his club St John’s “three good years”. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
Charlie Harrison: looking forward to giving his club St John’s “three good years”. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

The year ended with the consolation of an All Star – only Sligo’s fourth – and if that didn’t make up for the absence of a provincial medal, “it meant a lot to me, my family and club”.

His views on tiered All-Ireland championships have mellowed over the years.

“When I was younger I would have said ‘no way’, but once there’s a pathway from a Tier Two competition, I don’t see a problem. Under Kevin Walsh we worked our way up from Division Four to Division Two and it was no coincidence that that was the year [2010] we did well in the championship.

“I’ll miss playing at the highest level, being the best you can be against the best and knowing you can compete. Come championship time when you’re in your best shape and you’ve worked hard to sharpen your skills and you get to compete against the best players in the country – I’m going to miss that.”

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