Jerome O’Connell talks to Limerick footballer Stephen Lavin ahead of the Munster semi-final showdown with Clare.
I can recall approaching Stephen Lavin for an interview in the aftermath of a championship game sometime in the middle of the last decade.
Back then the Adare man was one of the new generation - a sometime wing forward, sometime wing back, learning his trade from John Quane, Muiris Gavin, Diarmuid Sheedy and others.
He politely declined the interview.
Fast forward to 2012 and 32 year old Lavin is one of main stays of the Limerick senior football.
When he joins me at the table during the Limerick media briefing, his passion for football is abundantly clear.
“It’s going as well as it has ever gone and still as enjoyable as it ever was. Training is excellent, there is a great management structure and there are young players coming through,” he said among his opening lines.
Saturday night in the Gaelic Grounds mean everything to Lavin and all within the Limerick camp.
But the Munster SFC semi-final will largely by-pass the majority within Limerick.
“It’s almost total apathy - there are a select few. We have a thousand or so fans, maybe,” suggests Lavin.
“It’s great that way in that there will be no pressure - in other ways the selfish side of you would be crying out for more attention.”
Over 22,000 attended the Limerick hurlers championship tie with Tipp, whereas anything over 3,000 on Saturday would be a big crowd.
“When I was younger you would begrudge them that but now I don’t care - they deserve it because it is a bigger sport in Limerick. You accept a lot more things when you get older, a lot more things - very few things now get on my nerves. When I was younger it was they have this and they have that and whatever but you have no control over that and that’s the first thing that you should be told when you come into an inter-county set-up - you worry about the things that you can control and forget about everything else because they will only distract you.”
So if no one is watching, where is the reward?
“It’s the gratification of playing - there are the friendships you make and of course the All-Ireland quarter-final last year was a reward and the Munster finals were a reward. I consider every game a reward - I would never take what we do for granted and I am sure all the lads feel that way - it a privilege to be playing and against some of the best teams to ever play the game in the Kerrys and Corks. I don’t think you should be playing for the love of the fans. You should be playing it for self fulfilment and to try and get as much out of yourself as you can and that’s the same for any sport.”
His quest to push the boundaries, Lavin has turned to yoga and aqua jogging!
“I only wish I started to do all that stuff when I was younger because right now I find it a life saver because touch wood I have been relatively injury free barring a couple of small things,” he explained.
“I know it’s the old cliche but fail to prepare, prepare to fail - if I wasn’t doing all this stuff that I wouldn’t be worth my place on the team so I do that to make my place on the team. I do think that the yoga is great - brilliant. In terms of flexibility and recovery and core strength. It’s not just a gimmick, you would see a lot of serious sports people in there. If someone like Roy Keane and Ryan Giggs are doing it there has to be a good reason for it. Ryan Giggs is still playing at 38-39.”
With a broad laugh, he quickly adds: ”There isn’t a hope in hell that I will still be playing then, if I get this year I will be happy. I would still do it afterwards to stay in shape”.
“The biggest reason you play is to win but it is a small consolation when you come off the field and know that you did everything that you could do - it’s a great feeling when you win and know that everything I did contributed to the win,” he said.
“It all boils down to whether you are going to be honest to yourself - are you going to do what you were asked to do, everyone has a job to do on the field and if you don’t you will be caught out. We have some individually brilliant players but collectively we are much better when we are singing of the same hymn sheet and Maurice really has it down to a fine art. We have to be singing off the same hymn sheet against any team to have a chance.”
Clearly Lavin is now one of the key leaders within the team but its a title he prefers to share.
“We have Gerry Collins, Ian Ryan - you don’t have to say much to be a leader. Those lads don’t say much but it’s their actions and probably the best leader of them all it Johnny McCarthy - he doesn’t say a whole pile but by god he does it on the pitch and they are probably the best kind of leader. I will say an awful lot and sometimes I won’t do it - I am a big believe that you should be able to back up what you say,” outlines Lavin.
The defender has played in Munster finals, but is relishing another opportunity if Limerick beat Clare.
“It’s a big opportunity for us against Clare because there is the carrot there. The carrot is an All-Ireland final - it’s a pretty big target but we will take it step by step.
“If we get past Clare we will step on further. I still believe that if we play to our potential we can win it but I’m sure they believe the same. I do believe that we have the players to compete at the highest level - 100% I do believe that.”