Dedication is a quality that we admire most in our athletes…
Someone who is driven to the nth degree and willing to put themselves on the line time and time again for the cause. These are the people we call heroes. And yet for those outside the bubble of top level sport that dedication can seem misguided or strange to us. That singled minded obsession is out of the reach of most and it’s why only the cream rises to the top.
When the world is constantly changing, the constants become our world. 16 years is a long time in any measure. In football, it’s about 3 lifetimes. For more than a decade and a half, we’ve seen the popularisation of the blanket system and now it’s (mostly) been put back in the hotpress. In 16 years, Dublin have gone from the court jesters to the kings and Mayo… well you know. Throughout it all, there has been one ever-present. A calming influence through it all was the evergreen, Brian Malone.
What feeling do you get when you watch a player of Brian’s stature producing week after week away from the bright lights and the RTE cameras?
For many it’s wonder, others feel pride but some still will feel sorry for the man. They can’t wrap their head around what drives a person to take on a whole other life outside of work for little glory and less payment. What’s in the makeup of the man that can find purpose where others only find pity. The last few years of Brian’s career threw up these kinds of questions, but he hurdled every obstacle that came his way with that unwavering dedication to the jersey, the team, and the sport.
His introduction on the grandest stage came in a somewhat golden age for Wexford football. Matty Forde was at his peak and the side had taken the lessons from a League final defeat to Armagh. For a young defender with flowing locks, this was a good time to make yourself known.
His first few years in a backline with the likes of Phillip Wallace and David Murphy lead to the glory of multiple Croke Park visits including the nearly moment against Tyrone in the All Ireland semi-final and another against a predomination Dubs in the 2011 Leinster final.
However, from a great height comes the steepest fall. Retirements were common and devastating in the early 2010s. The talented youngsters were starting to choose the small ball over the big one. The interest dissipated as the crowds left Wexford to slide down league tables and shorten the summer with Championship exits on the first Sunday in July. No one could blame a player for walking away, focusing on the club and actually living a life outside of the lines of the pitch. Not Brian.
He became more focused. He worked his body to the absolute limit, extracting every extra inch from his talent to make football in the South East relevant again. His obsession brought his fitness to levels never seen before. At 36, he still smokes fellas half his age when it comes to going the extra mile.
That work put in during the midpoint of his career meant he was ready to attack the latter stages. He became an icon on the local scene. The engine that propelled Shelmaliers to their first county title and one of the key reasons why only they could put the horrors of provincial first-round defeats to bed. That Shels were somewhat lost in the Naas semi-final without him in extra time shows the measure of the player, leader and man.
Again, this was a man closer to 40 and yet kept us all on the edge of our seats like he did a decade previously.
After 174 appearances in the Purple and Gold, Brian has decided to walk away on his terms. His announcement joked that his next job was to make sure his young lads didn’t end up as corner-backs. He needed worry. Brian brought grace to an unglamorous position. He made some of the finest forward in the country respect the fact that they wouldn’t get an easy ride against lowly Wexford.
Kids who want to be defenders might still be scoffed at but kids who want to be Brian Malone should be fast-tracked into the team. They know quality when they see it.
Ultimately, Brian’s story is not one full of All Ireland success or All-Stars but it’s a career that is just as valuable. His dedication, obsession and focus kept football relevant in a county where it was in danger of slipping away. Despite his departure, there’s enthusiasm around the Wexford team again and Shels are a force that no one wants to face up to.
Brian would be the first to point out that one man couldn’t do all that on his own and yet he’d be downplaying his own role. All we can ask of our heroes is to bring the team on when you leave it. With players like Martin O’Connor, Mark Rossiter and Paudie Hughes coming in his wake, Brian has certainly done that. 16 seasons being obsessed. He deserves the rest.
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