An Abnormal First County Call-Up, Balancing Work with Sport and Winning an All-Ireland – Lar Corbett Interview

Every GAA fan will remember Lar Corbett’s heroics in the 2010 All-Ireland Final, stopping Kilkenny’s drive for five, but there were so many more big occasions and moments for Lar throughout his career. I spoke to Lar about his experiences of his early days in hurling, from meeting the team bus for the first time outside the Park Avenue Hotel, to firing Tipperary to Provincial and National success. It’s an enjoyable story, and Lar’s dedication and mindset is inspirational, wise words from one of the greats.

At the start, how did you get into the game, or who would have been your influences?

At the start, coming from Tipperary and coming from Thurles, I think a lot of it is by accident how you get into it, it’s not, did you make a decision, I want to go up to the hurling field. I think you’re nearly brought up because at some stage, everyone ends up there, and some people stay, and some people don’t. even people that can’t hurl, never wanted to hurl, probably didn’t even like the GAA, still ended up in a hurling field starting off, then decided I don’t want to go there anymore.

As you progressed through your career, how did you find the balance between work and training, was it a struggle?

It started off for me, I left school, I did my leaving cert in 1999, and I went straight into an apprentice electrician, and my work brought me to Dublin, and it brought me to Navan in Co. Meath. I was playing for the club at the time and it was very very hard even to mix the club with that because I was serving my time. I was lucky enough then to get work closer to home, and that’s what brought me closer to the GAA and Thurles Sarsfields.

It’s such a huge commitment, and a lot of players do struggle with it.

Yeah, then I was working from home, I was working as an electrician around the Thurles area, and I was able to mix my work and my club and inter-county hurling. But if you look at it now, here’s an interesting question, I’d love to know tradesmen, either be it an electrician, a carpenter or a plumber, the three main trades, out of all the Inter-county teams at the minute, just say in the Liam McCarthy Championship, is there any tradesman in any of them, I’m going to say there’s not.

I would agree with you there, I suppose there are quite a few office jobs and the like out there now.

I suppose if you’re working for the state, is a lot of them, let it be frontline workers, let it be the guards, let it be the teachers and whatever else is there, and there’s probably students involved in it. Some people take the professional look at it as well. So when I was involved with Tipp at the time, back in 2000/2001, we had a plasterer, a block layer, an electrician, a plumber, a tiler, we had them all in the one room. I don’t think that you could sustain an inter-county career and do a trade now.

When did you make your debut for Tipperary, and how did it come about?

Thurles Sarsfields played a county final against Toomevara in the year 2000. We got beaten, and the following few days after that, see I didn’t have a mobile phone, maybe I did but they weren’t common in 2000, but we had a pub in Thurles, and the phone call came to the pub, I think it was either Nicky English, but they got in contact with my mother that worked in the pub and said that I was to be outside the Park Avenue Hotel next Sunday, that Tipp was going down to play Clare, so that’s how it came about. You’d wonder was it just a hoax, is it a real phone call, but I went down with the safeguard to see will the bus pull up, is there anyone there, and there was so I just got on and the rest is history because I did my own thing and I fitted in. I remember, things went well for me that day, and I was called back the following day and I suppose they saw some bit of potential in me then. There was no training, we were playing the South East League. I only got a phone call, that was my first time ever in a Tipperary dressing room, with Tipperary players and Tipperary management. I only arrived on that day, got on the bus, went down to Ennis, lined out, played Clare, didn’t have Tipp togs or a Tipp pair of shorts because I was never involved in the team. I went out, I scored 1-4 that day and the rest is history after that, I had never trained or had never lined out with anyone else in that whole field, I was never in a bus with any of them. 

In 2001, what are your memories of Championship and the build-up?

When I got involved with Tipp, each game, each week just rolled into another one, I didn’t think too much about it and that goes right through my whole career. I just lined out to play the games, the big thing was can I get the start at the weekend, can I pull my performances from training, am I training well, can I do anything better. Each game at a time, year on year, that was kind of the way it was, it was normality, normal really, I never looked at it any different.

Unfortunately, in 2002 you were struck with a hamstring injury, what kind of a blow was that to you, and how did you go about the recovery?

When I look back on it, there was 2002, bits of 2003, I remember ’04 and ’05, there were injuries all the time. I tried everything to get them right, I went to everyone, and anything, or anyone that had any bit of a profile that maybe helped other people in any other different sports, I went to them all, and it was a frustrating time, and I was lucky enough that I didn’t let it get me down or get the better of me and I just stuck at it.

How did you stay motivated during that time? You never lost the hunger to return to the top level.

Yes, it’s hard. I always kind of knew that if I could get myself going from A to B as regards speed, if I could run from A to B as fast as I know I could run, I’d fill in the gaps everywhere else. I knew that if I got that bit right, and I did, and then I wanted to fill in the gaps everywhere else so I suppose I lost years from 2002 to 2007, and my scoring ratio would hold me accountable to that.

When Liam Sheedy came in, did you see that as a turning point in your career?

Yes 100%, when Liam and Eamon O’Shea came in that was the turning point in my career.

What kind of effect did he have on you personally, and the squad as a whole?

The performances that Tipp put in just goes to show. I always say, performances don’t lie, so when Liam came in from the very beginning of 2008, we were putting in very good performances, and that was down to man management of Liam, bringing in a top-class physio at the time, a guy called John Casey, a strength and conditioning guy, Cian O’Neill, went on to train Kildare and manage Kildare football team after, so this is back in 2008. Then Eamon O’Shea, who is held in high regard all over Ireland in GAA circles, especially hurling. So Liam had a good team around him, and I think the performances then just echoed what Liam was bringing to the table, the proof is in the pudding.

Those performances were incredible, and Tipperary were so formidable for years.

Yeah and that time there in 2008, we beat Cork down in the Pairc, and that was the first time that a Tipp team went down there in 80 something years and won. And that was a team there with Ronan Curran, Seán Óg Ó hAilpín, John Gardiner, we thought, the team I was involved in, we could never ever beat that Cork team with Dónal Óg in the goal.

It was an unbelievable team, and I remember in your book, you told of how you came up against ‘The Rock’, Diarmuid O’Sullivan, and one of the lads on your team was rising ‘The Rock’ all day and driving the fans mad.

I bet you it was Michael Webster. That was a thing that Webster was good at, I suppose he was 6 ft 5”, he was full-forward, he’d probably tell you himself that his hurling was limited but he was able to upset a full back for the rest of us to try and get our few scores in around.

In 2010, I’ll never forget it, it was an incredible Championship year, but building up to it, was there big hype or pressure from fans and people around the camp at the time?

I suppose in 2009 we felt hard done by, we felt that we could have won it and we felt that there was a couple of controversial goals, and we knew ourselves we’d missed a couple of goal chances, so the hype was built up but you have to remember, we got great belief from there, so we knew no matter how big this hype is, we know we can match Kilkenny because we had done it in 2009. What would have been a very hard thing to do, if we were just new into it, and we hadn’t played in an All-Ireland final in the last number of years, this Kilkenny team were going for 5 in a row. That would have been tougher, but no matter what hype went on around, we knew we had to believe, and you have to come back to the management team as well, they gave us the belief, and they instilled the belief in us. They showed us and then we learned, and we kind of bottled the belief match on match from 2009 and 2010

The All-Ireland final itself, it was a huge achievement for you personally, but how did that feel? going into that, was it just another game, or were you driving yourself on for some big scores?

It has to be another game, you can’t go into games, I do believe, and change how you were the week before or the game before, or the training session before. Its all about repetition, so you train hard, you play hard, you’re inside in training, you’re taking your goal chances, you’re taking your points, you’re taking your man on, you’re always visualising. The games come, 15 on 15 inside in Semple Stadium, the All-Ireland final, it’s the same thing, its another game. You start thinking about the crowd or the occasion or the 5 in a row and everything else that goes on, it’s over before you start, so it’s just another game. I was just very very lucky on that day, I just got lucky, I always try and say that you create goal chances, I never ever mind missing goals, I always say if I create enough chances, I will score goals, it’s all about creating chances, because you could take 3 shots, and the goalie could have 3 unbelievable saves, so I would never ever let that affect my mindset, my mindset is always, I created 3 goals, you have to give credit, after you finish hitting the ball, now it’s out of your hands, it’s over to them, the goalie and whoever else is there, so I can’t take that into account that he had an unbelievable game, if I keep creating goal chances, I will get goals eventually, I was just lucky that they all came in the one day.

Isn’t that a great way to go about it, with so many players fixed on their own glory now. It really shows the team unit that was there that year.

If you look at that, ’08, ’09 and ’10, we probably created more goals, the best around at the time for vision and for setting up goals was Noel McGrath, to create space, and these guys then show, pass it on to the person in the best position, and I think through those few years you saw how we created goal chances and we helped each other, there were no individuals in the set up to be fair.

In the aftermath of that final, after the whistle, and the homecoming, what was that like for ye, was it all kind of a blur?

Yes, it was because you don’t really realize what you’re after doing, and bit by bit it starts to sink in that it was a big deal. And its gas, even years after, people all remember stopping Kilkenny for the 5 in a row, and always remember the 3 goals, it’s the one thing that they always remember, they always go back to that. There’s a lot of other things like I remember in 2009, I scored 3 goals in an All-Ireland Semi-Final, we played Limerick to get us into a final in ’09, I scored 3 goals from play that day, I would never ever hear anyone mentioning that, which is fine. I remember in 2011, in a Munster Final, I scored 4-4 when we beat Waterford down in Cork in Pairc Uí Chaoimh, and you’d never hear anyone mention it which is fine, I’m not saying I want it, but they are always fixated on stopping Kilkenny, 5 in a row and the 3 goals for some reason, it just cops peoples imagination.

That was a massive campaign, and the achievement was huge. Did you have any pre-game rituals before you went out on the field, was there anything that you had to do?

No, I never did because if I ever thought about those, I’d always be trying to get rid of them because I’d hate to have to stick to them and be thinking about them, I never did.

What would you say was your most important trait as a hurler, your best trait that helped you to succeed, was it physical strength or psychological strength or something else?

I suppose to be fair, I was lucky enough to be blessed with speed to get away, so if I got half a yard on a back with a breaking ball, I was very lucky to have the bit of speed to get away, and I knew myself I was hard to catch, which gave me a second to compose myself to get my shot away.

That final against Kilkenny, and the 3 goals, was that your favorite game, would you say it was your best memory?

It’s the one that sticks out, it’s the main one. We could all have small other things, but the one that sticks out is stopping the 5 in a row, getting Man of the Match, getting Hurler of the Year, the whole lot came that one year, so it’s a memorable year for me as an individual. When you look back, when we’re part of a team, we’re together as a team, but when we’re gone from it, now I’m retired 5 years, you look back and say well that’s a memorable day, and that brings a smile to my face.

How are you keeping busy at the moment, are you involved in the GAA set-up?

I’m still playing hurling with Thurles Sarsfields, so I’m 39 years of age, I started playing Senior Hurling with Thurles Sarsfields in 1999, so that’s going on 22 years, and I love every minute of it, I’m living in the town, and I hope to give another 10 years going up and down to the field.

That’s incredible Lar, and what do you put that down to, how do you stay going like that for so long?

Stop expecting the same from yourself as when you were 21. People my age, so we’re after coming from such a height, and now the next manager comes in, doesn’t play us, takes us off, we feel hard done by, we get pissed off, we say I’m giving that up there now, and they leave it there. We sit at home then, we put on a stone weight and we think in two years time, I’d love to get rid of the stone, then we start walking as an individual trying to lose the stone, so I think the handiest way to do it is keep training with the boys up on the field, if the manager plays you he plays you, if he doesn’t, he doesn’t. Stop thinking that you’re 21, stop thinking about the height that you were or where you’re coming from, and you have to flip it on its head. When you’re 20 and you’re working, your career is an upward curve to when you come to 40, but in sport, you’re at the top when you’re 20, and the curve is the other way down. So you might be succeeding in your own work-life career, but that doesn’t match your sporting career because they go in opposite directions. Sometimes it’s very hard for us to accept we’re on the way down at 40 or 35, and sometimes then we start thinking about, I shouldn’t be here, I’m going to give it up, and we feel hard done by, or else our ego is affected. If you bring it right down to simple, 35 guys on a Tuesday, Friday, Sunday Morning training on the field, you’re up there, it’s free. You have the best trainers around your local area, you get together, you play teams, you sit in for video analysis, people take it seriously, there are lads rowing this week, there’s falling out, there’s the whole lot. What you have with the GAA, it’s fantastic and it’s all free, give up all that, walk on your own, join a gym for €600 a year, go in and lift something that you didn’t want to lift, try to lose the stone that you didn’t want to put on, so you have to try and weigh it all up before it happens.  


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