WHEN IT COMES to sporting double acts, few did it better than the late, great duo of Brian Clough and Peter Taylor.
With Taylor as his chief aide, Clough was a winning manager of two First Division titles and two European Cups across his spells at Derby County and Nottingham Forest.
Brian Clough and Peter Taylor were one of sport’s great double acts. Source: PA Photos/PA Archive/PA Images
Although their relationship would eventually become strained, Clough famously said of his pal: “I’m not equipped to manage successfully without Peter Taylor. I am the shop window and he is the goods in the back.”
This dynamic, as illuminated in various publications over the years, was a precursor to the one that existed between the two people who ensured that there were sporting dreams for me to chase as a child.
My dad was unquestionably the driving force behind an unwavering dedication to soccer and GAA. I can scarcely recall a Sunday afternoon that wasn’t spent alongside him in Turner’s Cross, Páirc Uí Chaoimh or some other venue.
When one of the teams I was a member of needed transport, he never required coaxing. When there was a coaching vacancy, he wouldn’t hesitate in volunteering to fill it.
However, while he was so often at the forefront of sporting endeavours, the whole operation would have fallen asunder were it not for my mam’s behind-the-scenes supporting role.
Courtesy of her, there was pasta on the table before training and hot water in the shower afterwards. When rummaging frantically in the drawer in search of the essentials, clean shorts and socks would always be found.
But – as I’d often be reminded – she wasn’t “put on this earth just to cook and clean for you, boy”. Her influence was varied and it was vital. Without it, the love of the games that shaped my childhood simply wouldn’t have been sufficiently nurtured.
Every week, she made sure the local newsagent reserved copies of Shoot and Match magazines, which kept my brain full of Anglo-Italian Cup results and the bedroom walls full of posters of Lee Chapman and Ian Woan.
As long as the photo frames and furniture remained intact, she’d turn a blind eye while her living room was transformed into Wembley Stadium.
Tipperary hurler Seamus Callanan with his mother Mary after the 2019 All-Ireland final. Source: INPHO/James Crombie
Recognising how much effort I put into recreating Dalian Atkinson’s solo goal against Wimbledon in the back garden, she was considerate enough to suppress her anger over the number of plants who died for the cause.
Even when the bathroom window became the collateral damage from my crucial missed free in the All-Ireland hurling final, she found a way to put a positive spin on it by insisting that it needed replacing anyway.
Her post-game analysis was delivered in similar fashion. I once arrived home from a soccer match to relay news of an 11-2 defeat, to which she responded: “Well, at least ye know that next week will be better – things can only go one way after a result like that.”
As a centre-back whose robust approach sought to compensate for a lack of raw talent – think Rigobert Song rather than Virgil van Dijk – red cards were an unfortunate offshoot of my efforts to nullify opposition strikers. A sympathetic ear was always waiting nonetheless.
“Those referees would want to cop onto themselves,” would be the gist of the assessment, the validity of which was slightly impaired by her lack of attendance at the game itself.
In general she stayed away, unless there was a big championship hurling match down for decision. In the aftermath of one of them, I learned that the father of a player on the opposing team hadn’t taken kindly to an overzealous challenge that I was guilty of. The man was subsequently offered out for a straightener by an unnamed female spectator standing nearby.
Of all the fond recollections of the part my mam played in facilitating my infatuation with sport, one stands out above any other. It pertains to a day in primary school when I arrived without hurling gear, having forgotten that there was a game scheduled for that afternoon.