From the last line of defence to getting back on the field

Man and ball: John Madden in action back in 1996. Photo: Sportsfile

Man and ball: John Madden in action back in 1996. Photo: Sportsfile

Two decades ago he was part of a brash young bunch of players who made their way into John Maughan's team that came from nowhere to almost claim an All Ireland title, but lost out to Meath after a replay. But he didn't hold a grudge against the Royal county as he ended up marrying a lady from there who "felt a bit of sympathy" for him. He broke his leg and dislocated his ankle in a game in 1999, and that more or less ended his serious playing career. But at the end of last month he tweeted "Playing Junior C Championship at 42 and at times trying to chase Colm Mcs nephew is a serious recipe for extreme stiffness on a Monday" Who is it you ask that's still playing football club football 20 years later chasing after the nephew of one of his team-mates from that All Ireland final? It's John Madden, the man who stood between the sticks for Mayo in those clashes against Meath.

Now firmly ensconced in MountTemple in county Westmeath, with his wife and three children, we caught up with Madden who was in Sweden for work this week to look back at the final 20 years ago and everything that's gone in between then. He doesn't look back on what happened in 1996 with any regrets, its just the way things pan out in life he said ""Time flies, but look in one sense it was like a lifetime ago so many things have happened since. The irony of it is that I ended up marrying a Meath woman, so it didn't end up too badly." Having married a Meath woman, there could always be a chance of some divided loyalties amongst their children, but Mayo's showings over the last few years compared to that of their mother's homeland has ensured their children are firmly in the green and red corner. "I have to say living in Westmeath, Mayo picked a good time for a resuragnace, as the three kids are now firmly in the Mayo camp, that's been ingrained in them now."

No regrets from a great time

Even now two decades removed, people still think that 1996 was the one that got away. Mayo were six up with the game looking like it was theirs for the taking, but Meath reeled them in. It wasn't a case of thinking the job was done, it was just one of those things John said. "I couldn't even tell yah, probably not during the game you never thought the game was won. That's the way it panned out, would I change a thing, I probably wouldn't. If it panned out different, I probably wouldn't have ended up marrying a Meath woman who felt sympathy for me, it's the way life pans out.

"I don't think it was a case of us looking at the finish line, it was only afterwards that you think of that, it was just the way that game panned out and we weren't ruthless enough to finish it off or smart enough, maybe clinical enough, there was maybe a little bit of innocence and lack of smarts and I don't think it was a case of looking at the finish line. We were so young and it was an incremental thing, a gradual thing. Six points up with 20 minutes to go, it's not like there haven't been more spectactular failings than that, even Dublin last year were that if not more up with half that to go and then Mikie Sweeney had a chance to win it, if he had kicked that score it would have been considered the greatest collapse in All Ireland semi-final history by the Dubs, such are the fine margins."

Mayo came from nowhere in one sense in 1996, but they had reached the previous two years u21 finals so there was potential there and Madden and a group of them made the step up and it was youthful belief in their own abilities that the brought with them into the senior set up that set them apart that year he thinks. "We were a bunch of cocky young fellas who were coming up from u21 and brought a bit of fresh imptus to it all, there were six or seven of us the backbone of Mayo teams for the next decade came from those u21 teams of 1994 and 1995. We took it in our stride, we were in an u21 final in 1994 and another in 1995 and it's what we did, we were used to being successful, it seemed natural to us, but I guess we just came up that one step to short in each of those along the way."

The kicking game

While Stephen Cluxton has trademarked the free scoring goalkeeper routine over the last decade, Madden could have started the trend himself way back then. His powerful lengthy goal kicks were one of the best in the game and was an accomplished free taker, playing most of his club and college football out the park. "Around that time I played Sigerson football for UCG in midfield. I played in and out of goals with the club, when I was playing in goals with the club I was taking frees as well, a man ahead of the times I suppose I was. Unfortunately I wasn't brave enough to do it in the senior, I was trying to line up a couple over the years. In the league semi-final against Derry in 1996, there was a free we got about ten or 15 minutes in and it was a bit out of Maurice Sheridan's range back between the 50 and 65 and I started to make my way up there as far I was going to take it, but Maurice ended up hitting it in the end and there wasn't a score out of it, so maybe if I'd gotten to take it I'd have started the revolution. Cluxton had to go and trademark it years later.

While playing club football and Sigerson outfield it was as a goalkeeper he made his name in the inter-county game, how he ended up playing in goal is a familiar enough tale from small clubs when 15 are needed to field a team for a game and numbers might be thin. "I played u16, minor and u21 before senior in goal for Mayo, how did I end up playing in goal? A few years before that, I think I ended up playing in goals for the club minor team. I was probably just u14 and not big enough size wise to play out field and I was able to kick the ball out, they stuck me in goal and it started from there. But I played damn all football for the club in goals, played in goals in maybe in 1993 when when we got to the county final in 1993, so would have been in goals that year, but from then on would have been playing outfield. I don't really remember the catalyst, but was probably too small at 14 to play outfield so in goals they put me."

Getting back to the field of dreams

Three years after lining out for Mayo in the All Ireland final, Madden suffered a serious injury that more or less ended his playing career at the top level he told us. "Around 1999, I broke my leg and dislocated my ankle all in one go, I was playing for the north Mayo amalagamation team who were playing their first ever game in the senior championship. It was against Ballina and it was their first championship game in anger back after losing the All Ireland final that year. I destroyed my leg in that game really when you look back at it and I was never able to really get back to where I was. A year or two later after that, I had started to come back and it had put an awful lot of pressure on my left knee and that had started to give me an awful lot of problems, so I went to a consultant, who told me I'd want to see a bit of sense here. I would have been 25 in 1999 when I did that damage."

How then you might ask was a man tweeting 17 years later about chasing Colm McManamon's nephew around the pitch in a Mayo Junior C championship game, well you never really stop playing do you when the club comes calling. Be it a new one and even more so the home one. "I moved into a village called Mount Temple and the local team Caulry had asked me about four years ago to come along. I signed not really intending to play and I ended up playing in a county intermediate semi-final in goals three or four years ago. I only played the one season, the goalie they had got the kick in the ass he might have needed when they drafted me in and I said look let him at it, he got the kick and that worked out.

"The lads then at home said that there would be a team in the junior C and would I be interested in it and I said sure look sign me up and I'll go home at the weekends when I can and play, played a few games, it was a good bit of craic, mixture of minors and over 40s and nothing in between as you'd expect, but it was a great craic. "It was great to be back playing a couple of games, now I'm 42 you can't but enjoy it."

Lining out with his home club in Ballycastle is something Madden loved doing this year and he's got great pride in the work everyone in the club has done over the past number of years to make sure it survives and flourishes. Last year, they won the Mayo Junior B Championship and went all the way to Junior A semi-final just a few weeks ago, just coming up short against Balla. "Ballycastle may be a small outpost, but not too many clubs can say they have a player on the team of the century and the team of the Millennium in Tom Langan and had a Mayo starter in 1936. While things were struggling along to keep a float over a few years, they've really worked hard and bounced back over the last few years and were. When you look at the players they have and the commitment they give if they had a bit of luck a county title isn't out of the question, but it was a step in the right direction the last few years and it's great to see."

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