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Mayo GAA legend David Brady talks the highs and lows of a colourful footballing career, the importance of communicating and what makes the GAA the heartbeat of Ireland. David features in AIB’s The Toughest Summer, a documentary which will tell the story of Summer 2020 which saw an unprecedented halt to Gaelic Games.

No matter what we do in life, we’ll always need people in one shape or form.

Communication is a powerful thing. A simple phone call can alter the direction of someone’s day. A word of advice can stick in someone’s mind for years.

The power of communication is listening, and that’s something I’ve struggled with at times. We’re given two ears and one mouth for a reason.

But, when you’ve something to say, say it. I always said what I thought and wore my heart on my sleeve, to my detriment at times.

Between the GAA and my job, that’s what I love the most. Sharing stories. Sharing journeys.

David Brady lifts the cup after Ballina Stephenites beat Portlaoise

David lifts the cup after Ballina Stephenites beat Portlaoise by 1-12 to 2-8 in the All Ireland Club Final in 2005. Photo Credit: Inpho.

I’d been a loser all my life, as I said in my post-match interview. I’d lost so many All-Ireland finals, but that day in 2005, I was walking up the Hogan Stand as an All-Ireland winner.

There’s a difference between being confident and being convinced. But, I was convinced that I was going to win an All-Ireland medal with Ballina Stephenites that day.

You need a bit of luck too though. My mother gave me a prayer at the time that I still carry in my wallet today that says, ‘Lord, help me to remember that nothing is going to happen to me today that you and I together can’t handle.’

Leaving on the team bus the night before the game, I just knew it was different. I said specifically, 'I'm bringing the effing cup back to this house'. I'd have never said that before.

I was very superstitious in how I approached games. I had a ritual of going to my Grandparents house a few nights before. St. Patrick’s Day fell on a Thursday that year, so I went up to them on the Tuesday, just to get away from it all.

I left the house to head to Dublin like I’d done so many times before and a gulf of emotion came over. I just said, ‘I have to do this for them’.

They were getting on at that stage, and they’d played an integral part in my growing up. For every game, their house would have been packed with neighbours, friends and family all congregating around the television. Their house was a focal point for The Quay.

Brothers David, Liam and Ger Brady

Brothers David, Liam and Ger celebrate winning the Connacht Senior Football championship with Ballina Stephenites in 2007. Photo Credit: Inpho.

Coming home from Dublin we made stops and got delayed.

We were way behind schedule coming into Moy Heights. The roads were still lined with bonfires, and standing tall with his peak cap on amongst the crowd, Jack Charlton was there waving a flag for us.

He wasn’t a tourist; he was part of the community. It was just unbelievable.

My Grandmother was sitting on her windowsill waiting for us to come into The Quay. My Grandfather was already down at Stephenites sitting front and centre at the open truck. We have footage of him on the commemoration DVD of that day, and that is so special to us as a family.

My twin brothers Liam and Ger and I hopped off the bus at our Grandparent’s house. We were delighted to celebrate with her.

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I took the cup inside then. There was no one in the house, but I gave it a rattle inside of the walls to more or less say, ‘I told you it was coming home’.

People say, ‘Club is everything’. That’s a massive understatement to me.

That 2005 All-Ireland Club Final would be one of the two most important moments of my footballing career. The build-up, the journey, the disappointments along the way at both club and county level made that day so special.

For me, I didn’t deserve it any more than Marian that made the tea, or Aidan Tighe, who didn’t kick a ball throughout the championship, but came on towards the end and saves a goal off the line, or my own brother kicking the winning point.

Everyone played a part in it. A bigger part than me. To win on that pitch with neighbours, brothers, and friends you’ve grown up with, there’s nothing like it in the world.

David Brady training

David Brady training in 1999 ahead of the club final. Photo Credit: Inpho.

The Quay is a little fishing village in Ballina. It’s a very close-knit community.

All the houses in The Quay are on the right-hand side bar one, the Ice House is on the left as you come in. It used to be the old fisheries building. If ever you have a few too many drinks on board we used to say, ‘You’re like The Quay houses, you’re all to one side’.

My four siblings and I would have grown up very close to Una and Seamus, our grandparents. They lived seven doors down. When we were hungry, we used to head up to the Grandparents house on the hill. ‘Hungry Hill’ is what we called it.

We’d a great life. Great fun. It was either fishing or football. If we weren’t kicking soccer on the streets, we were down at the old Quay gates by the shipping dock.

We moved into a new school in the early 1980s, and that’s when I started football. My teacher at the time was Hugh Lynn and he taught me everything about football. He played a big role in my life because football went on to be a big part of my future with both club and county.

The other most important moment of my footballing career happened here. We won the Town League Under-10s by 0-2 to 0-1. I can’t stress enough what a litmus flame that was in sparking my love of Gaelic football.

I was introduced to rugby as well. I loved both sports. Mr Dunne was one of the first men to set up underage rugby in Ballina and I remember him distinctly as someone who had a massive impact on me.

I was doing an interview last year on Newstalk and I mentioned his name, Mr Dunne. As it transpired, someone was listening to the interview, and they contacted Mr Dunne to tell him.

During lockdown, his daughter got in contact with me, and I got the opportunity to speak with Dermot Dunne after 35 years. He still had my date of birth, the list of players from that team, the team sheets and all. He was naming out, ‘Where’s this fella? Where’s that fella now?’. He remembered us all.

From the outside in, he probably watched me go on my journey from that ten-year-old playing rugby to playing in All-Ireland Football Finals. But that time with schools rugby meant as much to him as it did to us at the time. It stuck.

I always quote William Butler Yeats to anyone who is privileged enough to teach or coach young people, ‘tread softly because you tread on my dreams’. The impact those days have on you is immeasurable.

I knew then I wanted to play for Mayo. I was ready to join the big boys. I was just waiting for the phone call.

It was no one else’s fault but my own that I didn’t make the Mayo minor team.

The U21 county final was a major turning point for me in terms of my footballing career. The county board treasurer John Kenny who was a good friend of mine, was contacted by John Maughan to bring me into the panel.

Liam McHale was my hero at one time. When I was only 13/14 years old, Liam McHale was playing All-Irelands. It was great to have him as a club mate then a county mentor and a friend as time went on.

John ended up driving myself and Liam McHale the length and breadth of the country to training and matches. It was funny because the two of us would be like a pair of donkeys in the back going back and forth because John drove with the clutch. Power on, power off, power on, power off. I don’t think he ever touched the break!

He was very good to us though and those are the things people don’t see. The John Kenny’s of the GAA, they’re who make it what it is.

There comes a time when you have to stand on your own two feet and become a man, and that replay when Liam was sent off was when I was left to stand up. It was very much a learning experience. I loved it though. It was part of the journey.

I think I was the youngest player on the pitch in the 1996 All-Ireland Final against Meath. I wasn’t even 21 years old. It didn’t faze me though. The bigger the occasion, the better.

Myself and Liam were midfield. When President Robinson shook my hand, I said to her, ‘It’s a great day for Ballina Mrs Robinson’. She had invited us to Áras an Uachtaráin afterwards, but that plan failed when it was a draw.

I was on the 30-yard line when the row broke out. I didn’t have to run too far to start throwing some slaps and get involved. It was a case of, close your eyes and keep going. It was over in the blink of an eye and it was game on again to us.

Of course, I was heartbroken to lose, but again, the club was my savior. We’d a county final two weeks later. We lost it by the narrowest of margins.

It hit me then. I’d lost an All-Ireland, an All-Ireland replay, and a county final in the space of four weeks. That wasn’t easy to take.

I later got word of my suspension of three months for the Meath game. They served long bans back then. So, I had myself a good Christmas!

We don’t look back and measure medals and wins, it’s the game that connects us. It’s part of who we are as people.

I have a great respect for anyone who’s ever played county football.

I’ve met loads of those Meath players since and we always have the craic. Trevor Giles is married to a neighbour of mine. I’ve spent some memorable days with Sean Boylan. I ran into the captain Tommy Dowd just a few weeks ago in a coffee shop. I’d have given him a hug, only for the Covid restrictions.

I recognise and respect their sacrifices and their journey to get to that level. There’s a special bond there.

David won five Connacht Titles and one National League playing for Mayo

David won five Connacht Titles and one National League playing for Mayo. Photo Credit: Inpho.

We put our bodies on the line for football. I’ve broken teeth and bones, and I’ve had them broken for me.

In 1997 I broke my leg in two or three places and dislocated my ankle. I had screws and plates put in but I was back on the pitch three months later.

I kept a diary throughout my injuries. I still have it today. I set targets for myself. I worked hard to get back playing. I worked hard to get back to doing what I loved.

My last ever game for Mayo in 2007, I fell into a challenge and I broke a bone under my eye socket, and that was enough for me. I already knew that that was my last season, but after that I said, ‘no more’.

It wasn’t a disappointing end. God was good to me. I was happy with what I’d got and the journey I’d been on.

Conor Mortimer and David Brady

Conor Mortimer and David Brady line out for Mayo in 2004. Mayo lost the All Ireland to Kerry that year by 1-20 to 2-9. Photo Credit: Inpho.

I love what I work at. If I was to rate my scale of passion for my job between one to ten, I’d say eleven.

I recently started with a pharmaceutical company called Novartis Ireland as the Communications and Advocacy manager creating partnerships and pathways for new cancer therapies in Ireland. It’s very rewarding work.

There’s no one who hasn’t been affected by cancer in one way or another, and I’m so proud to help improve the lives of people in that area.

I spend my days meeting different people, patients, groups, frontline workers dealing with cancer but who also love GAA.

I’ll meet someone going through a very tough time with illness and they’ll still turn around and say, ‘Do you think we’ll win on Sunday?’ That comes back to the role the GAA has in the meaning of life in Ireland.

Something happens when you ring a stranger and strike up a conversation. It didn’t matter that I was David Brady who played for Mayo. We were just two people talking about life and GAA.

Throughout COVID, I was making phone calls to people across the four provinces and the world to have a chat and talk GAA. I heard so many stories from people from all walks of life.

I spoke to one man in the states in his late seventies who was a carer for his wife who’d suffered a stroke.

He’d been gone from Ireland for years, but he listened to Midwest Radio every single day of his life. It was home away from home for him.

We’ve all heard stories of people crouching around a radio to hear the voices of Michael O’Heir and Michael O’Muircheartaigh growing up. The power of communication through the radio is still so important, particularly in sport. Someone on the other side of the world is trying to relay a story to someone who is blind to it. It’s an art form.

One act of kindness can cause a ripple effect.

I received a phone call from an ex-Donegal All-Ireland winner who I would have really admired who rang to say it was a great idea and if there was any way he could help to let him know. He said, ‘I understand the need to give something back’.

Monaghan GAA, Alan Brogan, Johnny Doyle went into an old folks home, the Carlow footballers, the Bomber Liston all did it. It doesn’t matter if you only made one call, it makes a difference to someone’s day.

No one should ever feel above their station and feel they’re too good to reach out. We’re all normal people with normal lives at the end of the day.

Becoming a father softened me. I’m gone so soft; I’d nearly cry at the Angelus!

My daughter Hannah is six, and my son Luke is two. When you become a parent, your world becomes so fragile. It’s no longer about you. You’re committing your whole life to the rearing of this baby.

It gave me a great sense of the sacrifice my parents made for me. It doesn’t matter if the child is two days old or twenty-two years old, you’ll always be that baby in your parent’s eyes.

I didn’t fully understand that fragility of life until I became a father. Life is short. You only get one shot at it and I’m always of the opinion, make the most of it.

David Brady and Ciaran Whelan

David and Ciaran Whelan of Dublin get to know one another in the 2006 All Ireland Semi Final. Photo Credit: Inpho.

I can’t wait to get into management, but I’m very cognisant of how precious family time is. I’m of the opinion that if I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it to better people, teams and individuals. Not to better myself.

If your heart is not in it and you’re doing it for the wrong reasons, you’re only making a fool of yourself. Like everything, you need to start at the bottom and work your way up. When the time is right, I’ll release myself into the world of management.

If I could give young DB any advice, I’d say take your time and learn from your mistakes. The greatest mistakes I’ve made have been my greatest learnings.

The positive things will look after themselves, but the barriers and hurdles that will be both created by you and for you are what you will need to put the head down and work hard on.

Enjoy this journey of life, and look after your teeth!

David Brady
July 2020

David Brady features in AIB’s The Toughest Summer, a documentary which will tell the story of Summer 2020 which saw an unprecedented halt to Gaelic Games.

The series is made up of five webisodes as well as a full-length feature documentary to air on RTÉ One in late August. David Brady features in the second webisode that will be available on AIB’s YouTube channel from 1pm on Thursday 30th July at www.youtube.com/aib.

For exclusive content and to see why AIB are backing Club and County follow us @AIB_GAA on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and AIB.ie/GAA.

If you enjoyed David’s piece you might like to read Kieran Donaghy’s piece – Let Your Tears Out

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