Brian Malone talks about the challenges of representing Wexford in both hurling and football and the part that the Shelmalier club has played in his sporting and personal life.
Interview with Brian Malone, Shelmalier and Wexford football and hurling player.
As you approach the match against Louth in front of 83,000 spectators in Croke Park, what are your feelings on the match?
I always feel very honoured to represent my county and I am eagerly looking forward to playing in front of such a large crowd in Croke Park. I feel very excited as Croke Park is the place where all Gaelic players want to play and where every young player constantly dreams about playing in the future. Of course I will feel a little nervous as playing on such a large stage in front of such a vast audience is a daunting task for any player.
How do you prepare for such games?
The preparation for this game began in November last when the Wexford squad came together to begin our fitness programme. The programme places great emphasis on proper dieting, proper rest and relaxation, mental strength, flexibility, teamwork and of course improving your playing skills. I definitely feel the benefits of this programme at this time of year as the championship approaches.
Did you have to change your training and dieting habits?
Not to any great extent, as I have always looked after myself in areas of physical fitness, eating the proper foods, practicing the game, and proper rest. Perhaps I became more conscious of my fitness and dieting habits.
As the big match approaches what is your routine on match days?
I will take on plenty of water in the days approaching the match and I will also work on my flexibility by doing some stretching. I will practice a lot on my eye/hand/ball coordination in order to improve my concentration and sharpness on the day. On the match day itself, I will have my normal breakfast with my family, as following a set routine is very important. I will travel up on the bus with the team, where I will watch a DVD for relaxation; while other players follow different set routines. As the sight of Croke Park comes into view you begin to realize the enormity of the task ahead and your responsibility in achieving the team objectives. You generally can’t wait to get onto the pitch and begin the match. Your focus and concentration as the match begins will generally blank out any other thoughts you may have.
How do you find the Wexford management team?
They are highly professional in everything they do with the team and their approach to matches. Each and every player gets individual fitness programmes and their match performances are regularly analysed. The whole inter county scene is so professional at the moment and of course this is creeping down to the clubs in most counties which has to be good for the game in general. In the Shelmalier club we have for years taken this same approach from under 8 to senior level, which I believe is one of the secrets of our success.
Brian what is your family background?
I have 3 brothers, two older (Darren and Graham) and one younger (Glen) and their involvement in sport encouraged me to also get involved from a young age. Of course the help, encouragement and support I got from my parents was also a crucial factor in my sporting development. They always go to the matches to give me and the team support, which is sometimes lacking today with some parents. Players feel very proud of their achievements when their family are there to share the enjoyment. However, they are sometimes my greatest critics, when on occasions I don’t play particularly well in a match; they will offer their honest opinion. I strongly believe that constructive criticism is always helpful to any player.
How did you become involved with the Shelmalier club?
I started playing in Castlebridge National School and then Peter Walsh got me involved with the Shels at under 10 level. I immediately found a great bunch of team mates who have become good friends ever since. My earliest success with the club was winning two under 12 football titles under the management of Eddie Doyle. I also won a Rackard League hurling medal with the local schools. Since then I have been very lucky to win two Minor football titles, two Under 21 football titles, one Under 16 hurling title and an Under 14 hurling title with the club.
You have excelled at both hurling and football as you have represented the county in both codes at under 21 levels this year. But do you have a preference for any code?
No, I still like playing both games as I strongly believe that each code complements the other, as it develops and enhances your ability in areas of reaction, movement and eye/ hand coordination. Some people said that I would either graduate to one sport as I got older or have to concentrate on one of the codes to reach the highest level, but I have not found it a major problem so far in my career.
Does this put a major demand on you time, commitment and you physical welfare?
Many weeks I train seven nights a week and that can be demanding and strenuous. Naturally a night off can be a luxury, as it greatly helps in the area of physical and mental recovery. However, we have a great bunch of committed individuals in all of motivation and commitment, as they all thrive to achieve their stated objectives.
When did you first play with Wexford?
I started with the Wexford under 14 hurlers and continued hurling up to under 21 level this year. I didn’t start playing football with Wexford until I was 17 years of age. I had the honour of also captaining the side that year. However, I won no major honours with these teams.
When did you first play at senior level for the Wexford footballers?
My first championship match was against Monaghan last year. We had travelled up the night before, but the team wasn’t announced until the morning of the match. I therefore had little time to be nervous or worrying about the game. I felt very proud and excited when putting on the Wexford jersey that day and I was happy with my performance as we won the match. My objectives this year are to win the Leinster senior football title with Wexford, at club level to be successful at senior hurling and get the footballers to senior level where they belong.
What part has the Shelmalier club played in your sporting and personal development?
The club has an enormous influence on my personal and sporting development. The club has always focused on coaching the basic skills of the game to the young players and developed these skills as the player got older. The managers and selectors have always encouraged the players and this greatly helped in making the coaching enjoyable and beneficial. Eddie Doyle, Peter Walsh, Benny McCabe, Oliver McGrath, Larry Banville, Kenny Hearne and John Murphy are just a few of the people that have helped me in the club. Of course, there are many more who are continuing to do great work in the club. The life long friendships which I have gained from my involvement with the Shels and the great times we have had together are priceless.
What advice have you for the young players in the club who wish to follow in your footsteps?
I can’t emphasise enough the importance of proper dieting, eating the proper foods and staying away from the junk food. Exercise and flexibility are important as you get older, as proper flexibility and stretching prevents injuries occurring. But the most important thing for any potential star of the future is practicing the basic skills of the game on a regular basis. I believe that practicing in the field twice or three times a week in not enough for any player, the real difference comes when you practice at home on a daily basis. This may involve hitting a hurling ball or football against the side of the house to improve eye /hand coordination. When I was young I couldn’t wait to get home from school to practice and I sometimes practiced before I went to school, of course there was the occasional window to be repaired. I now feel that this practice at a young age has really made the difference for me between playing for the county and not. I would encourage every Shelmalier player to practice every day they can as I continue to do so to the present day. I also feel that no player should give up because they may question their own sporting ability. If you continue to practice and develop your game you will eventually get your rewards in the future. Many of the existing Wexford players failed to make their respective county teams at under age, but through persistence and determination they now proudly wear the purple and gold jersey today.
Outside sport what are your professional ambitions?
I am presently studying to be a secondary school teacher which was an area I was always interested in. I am looking forward to facing the challenge of the classroom in the future. I also hope to pass on my sporting skills and experience to the young players, both in the club and in the school wherever I will be teaching.