"My thing was just to play the game, have the craic and enjoy it afterwards" 7 months ago

"My thing was just to play the game, have the craic and enjoy it afterwards"

Will we ever see their like again?

Last week, it was Shane ‘Cake’ Curran. This week it’s the bould Johnny Pilkington. Laochra Gael is rolling out cult hero after cult hero and the carefree 90s are back in business.

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What a time to be alive. 

Pilkington himself is one of the game’s great mavericks. A perennial joker, the Birr man was king of the one-liner but behind the happy-go-lucky image, there was a perennial winner who emptied himself every time he stepped foot on a hurling field.

His off-the-field antics were based around tales of late nights and cigarette boxes but inside the four white lines, the man was an insatiable competitor. That was where it mattered and as a six-time All-Ireland winner between club and county, he has the medals to prove it.

Johnny joined us on The GAA Hour to talk Laochra Gael and to talk the quirks and stories that have seen him enter hurling legend.

“I’m in two minds to be honest about it,” he says when asked if he’s looking forward to the programme.

“There are a couple of videos on the trailer there which have made me cringe, made me feel ‘oh why did I say that?’ But then when I think about it, I say listen, it’s tongue in cheek, it’s a little bit immature but it was something off the cuff as such. There will be points that will make me cringe but other parts that I’ll be very proud of.”

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“It’s a double pronged sword really,” Pilkington says of his reputation, “I’ve been training young people and have been involved with teams and sure they haven’t seen me play, only hearing rumours that their parents are telling them. So they’re going down there and kind of looking up at me, and then you have these couple of clips when you’re making a right eejit out of yourself before matches so you know, so I’d wonder if they’d actually take me serious at all! But look that’s the character, that’s my nature, so hopefully it will show that there is both sides – the serious side and the kind of tongue-in-cheek humour – that it doesn’t always have to be serious.”

Off-the-field, that was Johnny’s mantra.

“Hurling is only that small little part of your life. It’s supposed to be enjoyment for you. To go in and take it as the be-all and end-all, well then you’ll be under an awful lot of stress in your life. So my thing was just to play the game, have the craic, enjoy it afterwards and so on. The match is only a small part of it and the enjoyment we would have got would have been straight after, in among the friends. The gas thing about it in all those areas was that we wouldn’t have really been talking too much about hurling.”

The night before matches, Johnny would drink three or four pints and he wouldn’t try to hide it. He says himself that as a big bag of nerves in the build-up to games, the few drinks helped take his mind off the job in hand.

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“I think it did help in a big way. I’d be a fairly nervous person in terms of…I’m playing golf at the moment and if you give me a two foot putt – well I can guarantee you, I’m a bag of nerves. You know, so if I had a little bit in the bag there just to take a swig out of to calm it a little, it did help in terms of the three or four (drinks,) you went home and had your sleep you know. I suppose the thing was I didn’t hide that, I didn’t hide the fact that I was a smoker as well."

“On top of that, the one-liners, the tongue-in-cheek, it kind of built the package then! But you know when you think about it, that is me, it’s the serious side and that. At the time, going to matches, I’d be down at the back of the bus. Four or five lads would have been smoking on the team, down the back, I’d be rabbiting on from about half nine in the morning until we got up to the place, rabbiting on about nothing! I’d say John Troy and Joe Errity and all these guys were saying ‘what is that lad after talking about?’ It was just nerves do you know. The focus really came in then when you’d have the team meeting and so on. When the ball is thrown in, you just tune into the game, where’s the ball, how do I get onto it and that.”

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“Fitness was one of the things I was blessed with. One, I was naturally fit, I had a natural running ability and the other thing was that I never had any injuries, never pulled a muscle really and that all helped. A few other lads always had to lose a stone or two, I never really had those issues."

Don't try it at home, Pilkington was limited edition. As soon as he retired then, Johnny gave up the fags.