This summer, after 30 years, legendary Kerry footballer Pat Spillane stepped away from his analysis role with the Sunday Game. On a day when the Kerry men– including two of Pat’s nephews- reigned supreme, he spoke candidly and emotionally about the death of his father.
“I spoke about my father on the television and just the amount of people that wrote cards and letters. The amount of people that said, ‘We cried as well. I don’t know you at all and I never knew your father, but I cried with you.’
“When I did that, it made people realise that you’re human, you’re a family man, you’re not an actor on television. You’re a person with a father and mother and emotional bonds and frailties. I don’t think I had ever cried openly in public in my life before that.”
As a pundit, Pat is known as a man who calls it like it is. Par for the course, sometimes his opinions ruffle feathers. While harsh critics (some may even call them trolls) are not the reason he left the Sunday Game, some of this commentary did bother him.
“There are several reasons why I left the Sunday Game. I was 30 years in it and I was tired of the drives with the long days and long nights. Just the fun was gone out of it and things like that,” says Pat.
“The social media [criticism] didn’t drive me out of the Sunday Game or anything like that, but you know, you become focused on the one or two critics. It doesn’t matter whether it’s somebody in the paper or somebody on social media.”
Interestingly though, since Pat has called time on the Sunday Game, he has felt the love more than ever.
“It had started to get to me a little bit [the criticism] and since the retirement, the love that I’ve gotten; the hundreds of cards and letters, bouquets of flowers, mass cards – it’s just unreal.
“My wife is intrigued by it, because for somebody in Roscommon or Achill Island or Buncrana to sit down at the kitchen table and spend an hour writing a long letter to me about how much they enjoyed me on the Sunday Game – you start to say then, ‘That’s fabulous.’
“Then you realise you touched a lot of people and an awful lot of people really enjoyed you and really appreciated what you did. I’ve really felt the love since I retired. That silent majority started to write to me and talk to me.
“Sometimes the silent majority don’t talk or we don’t reach out to them. It’s been great. I swear to God, for 30 years people were saying, ‘Brolly, O’Rourke and Spillane, they’re too old.’ And now they want to bring us back,” Pat laughs heartily. “I should have retired 20 years ago. It’s been brilliant, I’ve had loads of offers.”
Speaking with Irish Country Living, Pat says openly that he’s in a very reflective period of his life. The pundit explains that he sees his life as having three phases so far. The first being marked by his early childhood years and his father dying; the second, his football years when he felt invincible and the third being a more reflective and emotional time, brought on by the death of friends. This coupled with post-COVID and post-Sunday Game, has led Pat to think a lot about life.
As Pat alluded to earlier, since stepping away from the Sunday Game, he’s never been as busy with offers to do various things. So when he was asked to be an ambassador for My Legacy Month, he says it was “a no brainer”.
My Legacy Month runs throughout September, organised by My Legacy. It encourages people to consider including a gift to a charity of their choice in their will.
“It’s probably just a natural progression to encourage more people to think about their future and think about some nice gesture they can do to help secure the future for their chosen charity.
“It’s something that everyone should consider doing, yet, a lot of Irish people still don’t make wills or are reluctant to make wills or think about the future. I think I’ve become more emotional in recent years and more reflective. I suppose that comes with old age or maybe it doesn’t? I don’t know.”
On the theme of reflection, given all he’s seen, done and experienced, I ask Pat would he encourage someone to get into punditry following their playing career. Although, as he says himself “there’s an awful lot of bad stuff on social media”, it’s still a yes from Pat.
“I’ve always said the ultimate in life is to get paid for your hobby- if you’re a singer, a soccer player or whatever. The next best thing in life is to get paid for talking about your hobby or writing about your hobby. And I got paid for talking about my hobby for the last 30 years and got to go to all the matches. I still get paid for writing about my hobby, working with the Sunday World.
“Look, follow your dream. If you believe in yourself, and in analysis if you’re honest, call something as you see it and whatever opinions you have, you can back them up with evidence, then go for it.”
With glittering playing and punditry careers, Pat certainly isn’t taking it easy in retirement. Next year he’s writing a book, and it’s shaping up to be a good one, that’s for sure.