Dub Sub Confidential - One of the best three GAA books I have ever read

March 1st, 2016
by Weeshie Fogarty

Dan o Neill is from the Muckross Road Killarney, he works for a public relations firm in Dublin, a great friend of mine his the call came some time ago, "Weeshie you must meet a man, a former Dublin footballer I have been involved with in the promotion of his book, he has an unbelievable story to tell". And so it was I found myself three weeks ago in The Croke Park Hotel Dublin sitting opposite John Leonard who was accompanied by his wife. I was in the capital for another very pleasant event and took the opportunity to meet up with him and what I was about to listen to and record was easily the most extordinary and at times unbelievably story in relation to inter county footballer I had ever heard.   

Now John Leonard was a very good goalkeeper, his club St Sylvester's trained by the former Galway star Brian Talty won the Dublin County championship and he played with the county under 21s with Ciaran Whelan and Jason Sherlock. However he had the misfortune to reach his prime at the same time, and in the same county as Stephen Cluxton, probably one of the greatest goalkeepers the game has ever seen. He certainly revolutionised the art of kick-out and brought this aspect of play to a whole new dimension. Leonard was always going to be number two to Cluxton; however the fact that he had a massive problem with drink and drugs was to really prevent him from displacing the number one on the Dublin team.

His book Dub Sub Confidential is all about how Gaelic Games collide with real life, it brings you into the Dubs dressing rooms, training sessions and after big match drinking sessions. It traces John's agony at playing second fiddle as sub goalkeeper to Cluxton. Of all the GAA books I have read this is the most extordinary and I can only speak for myself but I was literally fascinated by this sad, dark, at times depressing and frightening but absorbing read.

Leonard writes brilliantly and was open and honest in my Croke Park interview with him as we spoke about the demons that led him to his terrible addiction, his efforts for many years to party hard and train hard and eventually his breakthrough as he reached full sobriety. As fascinating as its insights into the Dublin dressing room and the big match days are, to reduce Dub Sub Confidential to being just a sports or GAA book is to do it an injustice; it is an astonishing, exceptional visceral account of a confused young man not so much searching for himself as for long periods trying to run away from himself and what he had endured as a kid.

But what had driven this young man to such abuse of drinks and drugs, I put it to him that what had happened to him as a child as he describes so vividly in the book must have been the reason for his troubled and chaotic life. He agreed," I was abused as an altar boy by convicted paedophile priest Fr Ivan Payne, I never told my family and just buried these events as deep as I could in my subconscious, of course Weeshie it certainly had a huge part to play in my later life".

He had a great love for his late father who suffered from multiple sclerosis and was confined to a wheelchair for a number of years. "I loved my father so much", he told me," "and my life ambition was to get on the Dublin team and make him proud of me". His mother and younger sisters never knew about the real depth of his chaotic life style until his book was published.

But it is his travels and all that happened during this time that for me fascinates and intrigues most of all. I asked him about this. "I graduated out of UCD with a degree in English and Philosophy, partied long and hard, while still training with Dublin and my club and then decided to leave the country; I simply had to escape and try to forget all those bad memories and really enjoy life. But I simply went from bad to worse".  Impossible to get across the full extent of Leonards unbelievable life story, you simply must read the book. Now happily married to fellow author Serena who sat with him during our interview, Leonard's blog SoberPaddy.com regularly updates his battle with sobriety. And given his inside knowledge he hinted, he would love to help pen a Cluxton autobiography. But for now, he's likely to continue his extensive travels with his wife in the New Year, with Gaelic football firmly in his past

He told me, "There are so many other things going on in my life that I don't have time for Gaelic football really. Sport has to take a back seat now. It is part of my older life." John Leonard never conformed to any stereotype, and in today's watered-down sporting society, his story would pull the heart strings of even the most hardened individual. Revisiting your past and confronting your demons is a lesson for us all but for him more than most it must have been particularly difficult

John wrote the book entirely by himself, there was no ghost writer doing the work for him and it richly and deservedly won the Setanta Book of The year. He made a conscious decision early on not to hold back on anything. "I knew I'd had a crazy life", he told me. "Being inside the Dublin dressing room and then seeing what it was like, I wanted to be able to really tell that story, tell how it was in the training pitches, what it was like in the dressing room, what it was like after you won and lost games and really to bring the reader into that sort of world because that's what I love in a good sports book.

"And then my sort of other story is that I've had a lot of crazy situations in my life where I've been an alcoholic, I've been a heavy drug user, I've been all over the world. So there's this other entire story which, when I initially started writing, was right behind it and I had to get right into some gritty stuff." And it's the first time I would ever have used the term to describe a GAA book, as "a real gritty read". Pick up Dub Sub Confidential and I doubt if you will let it down too often. One of the best three GAA books I have ever read. 

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