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Dublin: 12°C Monday 19 October 2020

Being told to retire at 26 due to a heart condition and coming through the Nemo 'over-age system'

It’s been a remarkable journey for 35-year-old Cavan native Paddy Gumley.

Paddy Gumley at the AIB club finals media day
Paddy Gumley at the AIB club finals media day
Image: Sam Barnes/SPORTSFILE

PADDY GUMLEY IS battling a calf injury to take his place in the Nemo Rangers starting 15 for Saturday’s All-Ireland club final, but he’s overcome much bigger obstacles to get this far.

When you’re told to retire at the age of 26 due to a heart condition, recovering from a muscle injury doesn’t seem quite so formidable.

Win or lose in Croke Park on St Patrick’s Day, it will represent another twist in the unusual Gaelic football career of Gumley.

He first starting losing consciousness during physical activity in PE class as a teenager, when he’d recognise a strange feeling coming over him and slip away to a quiet room before blacking out. Once he woke-up and the pins and needles went away, Gumley would return to action.

He’d later discover it was due to an enlarged muscle in his heart, which restricted blood-flow to his brain during periods of intense physical activity.

Gumley lost interest in the sport and didn’t play any football between the ages of 15 and 21, but eventually returned and won junior and intermediate medals with his native Redhills in Cavan.

“I suppose the love has always been there,” he explains. “I went away from it for about six years. Maybe I had no-one to say, ‘This is the way you go about this’. Or, if you pick up an injury, this is the way you go about this.

“I was kind of left to my own devices in what I wanted to do. Whereas in Nemo you can see lads who have walked the path. The likes of Stephen O’Brien or Larry (Kavanagh). They’d say, ‘Paddy, sit out this training, you don’t need to train every night.’”

By his mid-20s, he was called into the county panel by then-Cavan manager Tommy Carr. After hiding his condition for years, he fainted during a Cavan training session and was sent for scans. When the results came back, Gumley was advised to pack it all in.

Sean McVeigh look on as Paddy Gumley scores a goal Gumley scores a goal for Cavan during the 2009 McKenna Cup Source: Presseye/Jonathan Porter/INPHO

Eventually, he found a specialist who told him he could keep playing if he didn’t over-exert himself.

“I was getting on well and then I had to take six months out from training,” he says. “When I came back there was probably a lack of a little bit of confidence.

“Knowing there’s more in you, but not pushing yourself. Any training you were doing you just kind of had it in the back of your head not to push it. Even though you knew it was there.

“It’s frustrating at times, knowing there’s a little bit more in you but you just have to hold back. Now, I don’t always hold back, I still push it as hard as needs be. But it probably did have a bearing on (not making it with Cavan).”

After his Cavan career ended prematurely, Gumley continued line out for the club, even commuting home from Cork when work took him to the Rebel County.

Eventually, at 33, he decided enough was enough. Gumley transferred to his nearby club Nemo Rangers to play at a social level for the last few years of his career. He had no idea the incredible path he was about to embark on.

Paddy Gumley and his son Sean Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

The underage system at Nemo Rangers has produced countless talented footballers over the years, but Gumley might be the first to come through what he calls “the over-age system.”

“I played with the junior Cs, Bs, As, then the intermediates and then onto the seniors. I haven’t looked back since.

“It’s an exceptional club and everyone is treated the same. That’s why I settled in so fast, because everyone treats you so well. If you were on the outside looking in at the likes of Billy Morgan, Colin Corkery, Jimmy Kerrigan…but once you get in there, they’re just ordinary fellas. You can sit down and have the craic, that kind of way.

“I had no ambitions (of playing senior) either, to be honest. I was 33 when I joined Nemo so there was no, ‘I’m going to come in here and I’m going to do this, that and the other’. It was more of a gradual thing.

“Then just the competitive streak that’s in you, once you got a taste of it you wanted more and more and more and then you wanted your place. I was happy getting five minutes and then I wanted 20 minutes and then I wanted to start.

“Then you start believing in yourself a wee bit again, I suppose. They believe in you and you believe in yourself after that. That’s the way it was.”

In January 2016 he started featuring for the junior Cs and by the end of May he was training alongside Tomás Ó Sé and the seniors. He came on in a few league games and featured briefly in the championship, but Nemo’s season was ended by Ballincollig in the semi-final.

“I continued to train and we won the league (later) that year. That probably helped me a lot. I kept at it and I never missed a training and got to play in the league semi-final and final.

“That was probably a good base for me. They probably saw what I was capable of at the end of that league. And then from January (2017) on they gave me a shot at it and, thank God, I’ve done alright. I’ve held my own. There’s serious competition for places in Nemo Rangers.”

John Payne with Paddy Gumley Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Gumley dispatched two points from play in their county final win over St Finbarr’s last October and 0-3 in the Munster final success against Dr Crokes. Injury curtailed him to just 20 minutes against Slaughtneil, but he’s optimistic the calf will hold out for the biggest game of his life.

There’ll be plenty of Cavan voices roaring on from the stands in Croke Park.

“The lads at home would be supportive. I’ve a couple of good, close friends and a lot of them were down at the Slaughtneil game.

“My parents have been at all the games. It’s probably bigger for them than it is for me, looking in and that.”

Even if the silverware isn’t headed south on Sunday evening, it’s been some journey.

“I probably shouldn’t be at the level I’m at. But sure, I thought this was it and then it’s still it. You know what I mean? You’re not going to back out now.

“At the start of the year I would have said it was my last year at this level. And now we’re still going.”

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Kevin O'Brien

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