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Paul McGrath
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    Posted: 14 Apr 2013 at 12:40am
found this earlier...

http://www.hotpress.com/features/interviews/CHARLIE-IS-A-KIT-MAN/482329.html

CHARLIE IS A KIT MAN

Have you ever wondered about the diminutive character who keeps the Irish soccer team supplied with clean jerseys, hard balls and, er, all sorts of other footballing paraphernalia? That's Charlie O’Leary, kit man to the Republic of Ireland squad. Here he talks about;the secrets of his behind-the-scenes trade, the players’ bizarre likes and dislikes and the controversies of USA ’94 to Paul O’Mahony.

Paul O'Mahony, 07 Sep 1994

Some catch a glimpse of him carrying a bag of footballs over his shoulders; others observe him as a miniature five-feet-one-and-a-half version of Jack Charlton who is constantly there at his manager’s side – yet few truly understand the nature of what Charlie O’Leary does for a living.

Fools might demean its worth as an occupation for a grown man, while the envious would give their left testicles to be in such a position. Because Charlie O’Leary is the Equipment Officer to the Irish soccer squad. The Kitman.

Although no formal qualifications are required for the job, Charlie’s experience is clearly relevant. He is steeped in football. From 1955 to 1974 he was a FIFA-listed referee, during a stint which took in the FAI Cup Final of ’72-’73 between Cork Hibernians and Waterford (Miah Dennehy, I remember him well!). He subsequently went on to become a Referees Inspector with the League Of Ireland, had a brief spell as Secretary of Shelbourne FC during the tenure of Liam Tuohy, and legislator with the Leinster Junior League. All of these activities played a part in landing the job as the FAI’s liaison man for visiting teams to Ireland for Charlie. Then came the lucky break.

“I was looking after the Wales team, Ian Rush and all, and I got on well with them,” he explains. “While they were in the pavilion in Lansdowne before the actual game I had to get the balls pumped up, and when I went in to Mick Byrne (Irish physio) to get the pump, Jack Charlton – whom I’d refereed when he played for Leeds against an all-Ireland selection – remembered me and said ‘What’s he doing here?’ and Mick said ‘He’s a traitor, he looks after the visiting teams!’ So then Jack said ‘Who does that for us?’ and Mick replied ‘Nobody’. So the following match I got a call from Mick and that’s when it began.”

With Ireland’s qualifying and friendly games usually on a Wednesday, Charlie O’Leary’s pre-match build-up begins the week before. “I’d make sure the training gear is laundered and pack that separately,” he explains. “The match gear would arrive a few days before the game, long-sleeve and short-sleeve jerseys for each player, to allow for preference.” And the destination of the unused jersey? “Well, he either keeps it or swaps it with one of the opposition,” he adds, “but the players are always very generous with various charities looking for signed jerseys, or whatever.

“Some people think that when you’re preparing for the match that the only thing you take with you is nicks, stockings, jerseys and tracksuits,” continues Charlie, “but there is an awful lot more. The players might give you their boots to bring, you’ve got to bring shinpads, the various different sets of studs. Every time they go to a session you’ve got to care for twenty footballs, properly inflated, and supply inside soles as well because there’s rarely a match somebody isn’t looking for them.”

In the high pressure build-up to a key game, Charlie doesn’t go to the ground in advance of the squad to set up the kit and necessaries. “Our lads like to get their nicks, socks and jerseys into the hotel before we leave. Nine out of ten of them will put their jersey on then, under the tracksuit, to get the feel of it. When they get to the ground, they’ll remove the jersey and I’ll give them a warm-up top for going out on the pitch, and when they come back in they’ll change into the jersey again.

“It seems to me that the players love to get the feel of a jersey, but I’m in a position where the boss gives me the numbers before anybody, so I can’t give them the jerseys until I know who’s playing. Liam Brady, though, would wear the jersey going around if it was given after breakfast, just to get the feel of it! They especially seem to like to get the shoulder and chest area of it lovely and loose.”

Of necessity, he likes to keep himself in shape for the job in hand. “I was always very fond of training,” he explains. “Even when I’d retired from refereeing, I was training three nights a week. Hard training. When I was with Shelbourne I found the job took too much of my time and I never went back to training. I always try to keep myself fit by walking. During squad sessions for the lads, though, you’re chasing the ball to keep them supplied all the time. At all times, Jack wants at least twenty balls on the field and if one goes out, he wants it back immediately.

“For home matches, I’d have to bring three balls for the match itself, and let the ref check them,” he explains. “Before the match, but after the warm-up, one or two of the lads might prefer a shower before the game. Then I get into the hard work, with the lads saying ‘Charlie, long studs!’, ‘Charlie, short studs!’. You’d want about four hands at that time, and it happens because maybe the weather has changed or the groundsmen might have cut the ground a bit shorter than they thought. I do the studs with pliers – they’re much better than anything else, but I always let them do the final twist because each fella has his own preference.”

“Under normal circumstances,” he adds, “the players bring their own boots to training and to the matches, but, like in the USA, I looked after all their boots in a case.”

Has he heard the players’ views on what makes a good boot? “Oh, I’ve seen players with five separate makes of boots and, I suppose it’s like anyone, you get fond of a pair of shoes. Ray Houghton, for example, puts his boots into a washing basin before a match, lukewarm water, and puts them on then. It’s the boot they fall in love with. They’d nearly cry if they forgot that pair of boots! The perfect fit. No-one touches them!”

In the heat of the American summer, did the Irish lads wear screw-in or moulded studs? “The funny thing about that,” he explains, “is that the professional player is not too happy in the course of a match to wear moulded studs. As you point out, it’s a physical game and some of them feel they have protection on the feet. In the States, the grass took a stud, beautiful. If you had the same weather here it’d be like concrete and you’d wear the moulded. Most of the lads wore short screw-ins during the World Cup.”

Half-time is also critical for Charlie. “There’s a private joke about that,” he laughs. “About seven or eight minutes before half-time I go to get the tea and water ready and if there’s no sign of a score someone, maybe one of the reserves, will say ‘Charlie, are ye not going to get the tea ready?!’ because I have rarely, if ever, seen Ireland score the first goal. Nearly every time I go in, they’ll score! It’ll be either going in to prepare the tea, or getting an injured player to the dressing-room!”

During the last game against Holland in the World Cup, Charlie admits that afterwards both he and the lads were “just flattened”. All felt the team could’ve progressed. What was it like in the dressing-room? “Jack was great. He did his best to take the onus off everybody and let’s get on with it. Very positive in his approach. After the game he went around to everybody and tried to lift their spirits. He was smashing, but they were bitterly disappointed.”

Some managers are passionate shouters, others adopt a cool, stern approach. What about Jack in match situations? “Well, I’ve been connected with teams where, as soon as the manager turns away, players talk behind his back,” explains Charlie. “I’ve never seen or heard anything like that about Jack. They’ve total respect for him. I mean, he’s unbelievable the way he can assess a game. He’ll see a team and tell our lads that that’s the way the others play and if you do this then you’ll commit hara-kiri. Every time he says that it comes true, and they really believe him now. Even when we’re winning and it’s half-time, there’s no better man to assess the situation. And I’ve never seen him lose his temper with them. He’s very positive and constructive at all times.”

As we all know, there were several areas of conflict between Ireland and FIFA resulting from the World Cup, the infamous substitution incident and water problems to name but two. The fact that Ireland had to do a swift kit-change minutes before kick-off for the Italian match was another.

“I always check which kit we’re to wear with Sean Connolly (FAI) and the day before I said ‘Sean, you’re positive we’re wearing white-green-white?’ and he said ‘Yes.’ So I’m packin’ the gear and Maurice Price (FAI) says to me ‘what are you packing green for?’ and I said never take a chance, and put that green-white-green kit in the bottom of the bag and put another set of green jerseys in to be presented to UNICEF.

“So there we are kitted out and ready to go out when Donie Butler says to me ‘Charlie, I think the Italians are wearing white’ and I said ‘they can’t be, they’re wearing blue’. So we sent for the FIFA man and he said ‘I’m sorry, you’ll have to change!’. I had the spare kit in the bottom of the bag, so we did! Interestingly enough, the lads said afterwards that while it wasn’t my fault, and I think the Italians tried to pull a stroke they’re so powerful, the lads said ‘Charlie, you worked a miracle because it took the pressure off us’, meaning that while we were changing the Italians were left standing in the sun! We’d no standing around and all of a sudden the game was on.”

Why, though, did Ireland have to wear white for the other three games? “I couldn’t understand why we had to wear all-white for the Mexico game, and they were wearing white nicks too. So we went through the FIFA man’s check again and I said to him ‘what about the white nicks?’ and said ‘go ahead’. Then Jack says ‘I’m sorry, I want that in writing’, so I got it in writing. For the third game against Norway, we were in white, and again for the Dutch match! But I got it in writing from the FIFA man. I can’t give you the reasons why because FIFA don’t tell me why, but it seems we were the away team every time! I could only go with the directions I was issued with.”

With white rapidly becoming our ‘unlucky’ colour, how did the players feel? “Nobody said that but I feel, like you, that green is the national colour and you should be wearing your national colour. When I saw the lads on the pitch against Mexico in all-white I said to myself ‘what’s that got to do with Ireland?’ and felt a bit upset, but it wasn’t my position to ask.”

Although the US was an experience Charlie would not have missed, Euro ’88 remains a high point. “It was absolutely brilliant in every respect. It was all new to everybody and the organisation in Germany was brilliant. From my position, being new to it, I brought enough gear for four training sessions! When I went to Germany, though, I could’ve used nearly the same set for the afternoon session because the laundry was right beside us and you’d bring it in and it’d come out pressed and everything. Everything in Germany was unbelievable. You asked for footballs, you got a lorry load!

“Italy was the opposite. The hotels, other than in Genoa, were not for a national team. The travel, the lack of co-operation from the Italian people. There was an occasion when the lads had to load the bus themselves because they wouldn’t give us any help! And you’d nearly have to go down on your hands and knees to beg for them to do the laundry for you!

“America was organised, but the humidity was a real problem. And the size of the dressing-rooms and facilities were hard to believe. They could’ve been thirty times the size of the Lansdowne dressing-room, but I’d sooner have a small, private area.”

And did he make use of Jack’s private bar? “No, I’m a pioneer. Never drank or smoked. I don’t think anyone fell for that ‘con’ trick. He said there was a bar in the room and they could come down, but they were too cute for that!”

Citing the audience with the Pope in 1990 with the squad as his best moment, Charlie also keeps the defeats of England in ’88 and of Italy this year as treasured memories. Yet, for all the achievements and deadly seriousness of international competition, levity can be a vital relief.

“We had a great laugh in Orlando during a pool game when I was up against Gary Kelly and all the lads were shouting for me. All of a sudden I’m their hero. Poor Gary, a lovely quiet lad! But there was also a time when we were in Finnstown House preparing to go to Germany in ’88 and Jack decided to run a snooker competition. Now, John Aldridge is one of the better players and I’m hopeless, can hardly reach the table, and we’re up against each other just before teatime and so all the lads were there.

“So Jack says ‘I’ll bet a pound the little fella doesn’t even pocket one ball!’, and one of the lads took a bet on me. Aldo takes a shot and it hangs over the pocket like you’d be afraid to breathe on it. Just as I’m about to shoot Jack says ‘If you pot that ball you’re not coming to Germany!’. So, I let fly at it and it shot back off the cushions and up the table and Jack put his arm around me laughing and we hugged each other, only to turn around to see the ball in the far pocket! There was a bit of suspicion that one of the lads threw it down so Jack couldn’t take the pound!”

On the bench throughout the games, Charlie is also in a position to gauge the increasing popularity of various players such as Gary Kelly, Phil Babb and Jason ‘Trigger’ MacAteer, for example. “Yes, but the crowd can be finicky,” he suggests. “Yesterday’s star may no longer be that two days later. Younger players might become pop stars with the female followers, but the older players will remind them to prove themselves first. There’s never any shouting, just a quiet word. Jack would never say anything, but the older players might. I’ve no fears for those three lads, though.”

The notorious ‘homecoming celebrations’ in the Phoenix Park. Charlie O’Leary, key man that he is in the Ireland set-up, was not introduced to the crowd. Was he there?

“I was there alright,” he explains, “but you must remember that event was a hurried thing and Pat Kenny as MC was given a list. I’m not introduced. After it was over, myself and my wife were going into the reception tent when Aidan Doyle, Opel’s number two man, comes over to me and puts his arm around me and says ‘Charlie, thanks for everything. You were effin’ marvellous over there!’. So I said ‘Thanks, Aidan, but I don’t think your man up there recognises it like that’, and he said ‘I do’.

“Then I went over to get a cup of tea and Pat, Jack’s wife, comes over and says ‘Charlie, I really felt for you’, and I said ‘do you know what I do? Does Jack?’ and she said ‘Of course, certainly’ and I said ‘You know, Jack knows, the players know. End of story’. In fairness, on the bus to the helicopter Jack said ‘Charlie, I didn’t write that script but, if I had, you would’ve been the first name on it’. Mind you, I heard that the next day calls came into Pat Kenny’s radio show about it and, credit to him, my name wasn’t on his list and, on top of that, I believe he was more than complimentary to me on the radio, so I got more spoken about me!

“Once the lads and Jack knew, that’s what mattered. The young kids in the Park, whom I respect, really weren’t interested in Charlie O’Leary. They were only concerned with the players.”

But you’re just as photogenic as the rest of them, Charlie.

Paul O'Mahony


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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Trap junior Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 Apr 2013 at 12:48am
It was either his idea or Mick Byrne's to visit the pope in 1990 I believe.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Baldrick Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 Apr 2013 at 12:58am
Lovely man and a good friend of the Grandfather.  
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote PanteirA Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 Apr 2013 at 1:05am
good read that was
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Just saying like Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 Apr 2013 at 9:47am
Some good photos here.
http://www.dailyedge.ie/happy-birthday-charlie-irelands-legendary-kitman-turns-88-343527-Feb2012/#slide-slideshow5


Edited by Just saying like - 14 Apr 2013 at 9:48am
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote smart man Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 Apr 2013 at 7:28pm
Remember one time at the old Landsowne waiting for the players and  he was putting the kit on the bus after the game and he give me a pair of socks. Seems a good guy.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote mccarticus Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 Apr 2013 at 7:49pm
I used to live round the corner from Charlie when he worked with Jack, a terribly nice man always chatted with us kids about Ireland. He gave my brother a 1990 home kit and me the 1993 kit with the 3 white bars on the shoulder...remember it was the coolest thing ever, no opel splodge and the official no 21 on the back.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote McG Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 Apr 2013 at 8:35pm
A gent. Dont think anyone could have a bad word to say about him and like Mick Byrne he kept a lot of the lads out of trouble or out of the papers.

Met him at Traps first game v Serbia. He told me some crackin stories.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gufct Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 Apr 2013 at 8:59pm
Charlie worked as a messenger on the dept. of industry and commerce where I first started working in 1980before moving back home to work in sept. 1988. An absolute gentleman down to his fingertips and always made time to chat to me whenever we met be it landsdowne or foreign fields.

Edited by gufct - 14 Apr 2013 at 9:13pm
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Denis Irwin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 Apr 2013 at 9:01pm
Originally posted by gufct gufct wrote:

Charlie worked as a messenger on the dept. of industry and commerce where I first started working in 1980before moving back home to work in sept. 1088. An absolute gentleman down to his fingertips and always made time to chat to me whenever we met be it landsdowne or foreign fields.
 
 
Jaysus you travelled back 900 years to go back home fair play gufct Clap
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Me Da knows him, he was known as "Little Sport".  As McG says, nobody would have a bad word to say about Charlie.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote colemanY2K Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 15 Apr 2013 at 9:52am
Is he still alive? Must be some age now.
 
Iconic figure in the backroom staff along with Mick Byrne  Clap


Edited by colemanY2K - 15 Apr 2013 at 9:53am
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Mick Byrne and himself are two legends of that era. Think he is near 90 Clap
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A very worthy winner of the FAI Special Merit award Clap A wonderful man and still sharp as a whistle. Said himself in the interview with Cathay Dervin (on the FAI social media) that he’s still a member of the Leinster Football Association and attended a meeting last Thursday! Some going for 96 years young 
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Looking fantastic for a man of 96 years of age 

Charlie ClapClapClapClap
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Legend.  Great character.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote ProudAndLoud Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 07 Aug 2020 at 3:01pm
Some  man to tell smutty jokes and great company on a night out. Lovely man and still even at 96 not out is 100% clued in.

Edited by ProudAndLoud - 07 Aug 2020 at 3:02pm
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