Bonds of friendship driving Glen to new heights
By John Harrington
Natural ability and tactical nous go a long way in team sport, but a sometimes overlooked quality is friendship.
The most successful teams almost always have a natural camaraderie and spirit based on friendship.
Not everyone is going to be best buddies with everyone else in a team, but if there’s a closeness in the group off the pitch as well as on it, then chances are you’ll win more than you lose.
The Glen team that has reached Sunday’s AIB All-Ireland Club Football Final ticks all three boxes.
They have some individual players of a very high calibre, are tactically very clever as a collective, and they click together away from football as well as they do when they lace up their boots.
“We all grew up together, lived very close by,” says Glen captain Connor Carville.
“We're all mad about football. A lot of the team would be best friends. You'd see lads being best men at boys' weddings and that kind of thing.
“We're a really tight bunch. Even though there are different age-profiles, it's great to see lads like (Michael) ‘Spike’ Warnock, who's 30 now, and (Cathal) Mulholland, who's 22 - you see them boys going out for breakfast and for coffee together the whole time.
“So they're even bridging gaps that way over the age profiles. It's great to be on this journey with your best friends.”
The majority of this Glen team grew up together winning multiple underage titles at club and provincial level and their dynamic has always been to push one another to get better.
“A lot of us are very, very competitive, and don't like losing, so you'd be trying your hand at anything really,” says Carville.
“Even, if you beat the likes of Emmett Bradley at darts, he wouldn't talk to you for 20 minutes he'd be in that foul a mood, and a lot of the lads would have played hurling and soccer too - but playing for Glen and winning a Derry championship for Glen was something we talked about from when we were ten years of age. So Gaelic and playing for Glen was always number one.”
The best teams are self-motivated ones where there’s an honesty in the group that doesn’t accept anything other than a maximum effort from each individual.
And because these Glen players are so tight, they’re not afraid to bruise the feelings of others by calling them out when they’re not reaching what’s regarded as an acceptable standard.
“Absolutely,” says Carville. “I would say the thing I'm most nervous about doing this media day is the stick I'm going to get from lads if I get something wrong. They don't be long calling you out, now! It's the same on the pitch. We've a couple of lads who just do not accept any drop in standards at all and we're proud of that as well. That if you're going to be a Glen player you have to do things the right way and that's massive for us.
“If you're letting boys away with not living the right lifestyle or not doing things well in training then standards drop and it just doesn't work out for you.”
Despite the natural talent that saw them win all before them at underage level, it’s taken this generation of Glen players longer than many expected to achieve success in the senior grade.
There have been some hard lessons along the way, but they’ve been put to good use.
“I would say a lot of it has been mental learning,” says Carville.
“The talent has always been there. We've maybe lacked at times and people have been very quick to tell us too that we were mentally weak and had no character or leaders.
“Learning through playing games and the experience of big games has been massive for us. And then I would say the jigsaw pieces came together at the right time for us as well.
“A good few lads have experienced playing for Derry and then you had Conor (Glass) coming back from Australia and Malachy (O’Rourke) and Ryan (Porter) coming in as well so everything just fell together well.
“As all the other lads had spent the years learning getting beat and losing with Glen, the likes of Malachy and Ryan and Conor brought that experience of winning things as well and it just came together for us this year at last.
“There's a great saying that you either win or you learn, and we spent a lot of years learning. That experience of losing and taking one or two wee nuggets, what would you do differently there, has been massive for us.
“We lost our first county final in 2019. Learned massively from that. We learned massively from losing to Kilcoo last year in an Ulster semi-final. Yeah, it's all built in to learning how to win.”
Two Derry championships and one Ulster in the last two years have been very satisfying achievements, but not ones these Glen players have basked in.
They’re on a roll now, so it’s very much a case of their gaze being trained on the horizon for the next challenge to come rather than really taking stock of what they’ve already done.
“There are certain moments where it would hit you, but you’re very much in the bubble,” says Carville.
“One of the moments was after the Ulster final I took the cups for an evening and went and visited a couple of houses of men who would have put their whole lives into the club.
“One man, who was chairman of the club for 25 years, he had a bit of ill health, I went and visited him. When he came to the door I handed him the cups and the tears started falling from him.
“You sort of realise then then that it’s bigger than we realized. It was nice to see how much it meant to people. He held the trophy and said he never thought he would see Glen win anything, never mind winning Derry and Ulster championships.”
They have the chance to claim another first for the club when they play Kilmacud Crokes in Sunday’s All-Ireland Final.
And the way Glen’s band of brothers see it, it’s an opportunity to be embraced.
“That's it,” says Carveille. “You'd be a fool to think you'll get many more chances in an All-Ireland Final so you have to make hay when the sun shines.”