WHEN Paddy McConigley was growing up kicking football for his local Fanad Gaels club at Triaghalough in north-west Donegal, little did he know where the wind on the gusty peninsula would take him.
The area, part of the Gaeltacht, has a strong tradition for sport, most notably soccer with the Fanad United FC winning the FAI Intermediate Cup in 1988 and 1995, as well as reaching the semi-final of the League Cup in 1987, having also defeated Derry City, Sligo Rovers, Finn Harps and Galway United in competitive fixtures down the years.
McConigley was more interested in Gaelic football and today, he will line out at centre-back for Kilkenny in the All-Ireland Junior Football semi-final against Mayo at O’Connor Park in Tullamore. Sometimes the 34-year-old has to stand back and take stock as to how he is where he is.
When Brian McIver guided Donegal to the National Football League Division One title in 2007, where they overcame Mayo 0-13 to 0-10 at Croke Park, McConigley was right wing-back in a defence that included Karl Lacey and Neil McGee.
Video: Donegal’s victory over Mayo from the 2007 National Football League Division One final
That summer, though, at a team-bonding session for the Donegal seniors, McConigley’s life was to change forever. Whilst replacing his goggles at a paint-balling excursion, he was struck by a straw one in the right eye. There was pain, “excruciating pain,” he said afterwards.
“I wouldn’t be the sort of person who sits there and feels sorry for myself,” McConigley said this week. “I was up and at it a week or two later playing club football. We, Fanad Gaels, won the Intermediate in Donegal that year and got a run in Ulster. At the time I thought I was grand but when I think back now it took me a long time to get back anywhere near the level I was at.”
To this day McConigley cannot see out of the eye and having worked as a carpenter at the time, had to consider his options. McConigley’s life had changed and so too had the world, economically at least.
“Between the eye, the downturn and the profession – carpentry – I just thought it was a non-runner to keep doing what I was doing,” he added. “With only one good eye it was too much of a risk to go back into construction. I was planning to get married and we were going to settle so I needed something steady.”
McConigley began to study nursing at Letterkenny Institute of Technology. He and his wife Siobhan lived in The Maples in Letterkenny – the same housing estate as Rory Kavanagh, Donegal’s 2012 All-Ireland winning midfielder.
“I qualified last September as a nurse from LyIT and had been working bits and bobs around Donegal with the HSE in places like Bundoran, Dungloe and Ballybofey,” McConigley added. “Siobhan was teaching at Foyle College in Derry and we just had our second son Darragh. Our oldest, Odhrán, is four now.”
The couple surveyed their options. McConigley was willing to hang up his boots late last year. Siobhan, a native of Castlecomer, suggested Kilkenny. Throughout his life McConigley had shown he would go with the flow.
In 2000, living on McLean Avenue just off the Bronx, he was part of the New York team with Anthony Lynch from Cork, Dublin’s Ciaran O’Hare and Martin Coll – another Donegal man from Gweedore – that played Mayo in the FBD League.
Then, from 2003 until 2006, McConigley was based in London, working as a carpenter and lining out for Tír Chonaill Gaels and the London inter-county team with the likes of Sligo duo Brian Egan and Charlie Harrison.
In Kilkenny, McConigley found work as a nurse with people with intellectual disabilities and special needs at the St Patrick’s Centre at Kells Road in the city, a 20-minute commute from Castlecomer. Siobhan will start a secondary teaching position in Birr in five weeks’ time.
“Life is grand here. Kilkenny’s a good vibrant city and there’s always something going on – particularly in summer time,” McConigley said. “I miss home the odd time but we’re up and down a bit – although it’s hard enough with work as it’s a four-and-a-half-hour drive. All is going good, though.”
McConigley felt the draw of football over the winter and decided to join Railyard, maybe not the closest club to his new homeplace but one “who give football a good go.”
Work in St Patrick’s often clashed with club training but McConigley tried to juggle. Then, a call came from the Kilkenny inter-county team manager, Kerryman Christy Walsh.
“I got a phonecall to go out with the county but thought I was doing enough with the club,” McConigley added. “I work 13-hour shifts and was missing club training so the nights of county training seemed to suit better. With the club reaching the county final I wanted to keep training where I could so decided to go out Kilkenny.”
Railyard drew that county final earlier this month, against Muckalee 1-5 to 0-8. The replay will take place on August 22. McConigley’s clubmates Caleb Roche and his brother Philip, Cormac and Conor McDonald and Paul Donnelly are also on the Kilkenny panel. Last Tuesday night, Jack O’Connor – a three-time All-Ireland SFC winning manager with Kerry – came up from Cahersiveen for training at the Kilkenny Centre of Excellence.
McConigley might be taking a step into the unknown and he’s a long way from the Fanad peninsula – both in football and in life. But he’s proven before that those sort of journeys never daunt him.
“When you have someone like David Herity involved it shows there’s some good footballers in Kilkenny,” McConigley adds. “He won All-Irelands in hurling but is now with the footballers and giving it 100 per cent. Against Mayo, we just want to do ourselves justice.
“Maybe we’re on a hiding to nothing. Who knows? But we’ll certainly give it a go.”Tags: