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Martin's life as stockbroker and Meath 'keeper


LIFE LESS ORDINARY: Meath goalkeeper Conor Martin in action against Dublin in 1996. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile

LIFE LESS ORDINARY: Meath goalkeeper Conor Martin in action against Dublin in 1996. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile

LIFE LESS ORDINARY: Meath goalkeeper Conor Martin in action against Dublin in 1996. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile

In 1996, Conor Martin was living a remarkable double life.

By day he was a currency trader in the city of London, trading millions and gambling on the fortunes of the Deutsch mark and the Swiss Franc.

By night, or more accurately, by weekend, he was the Meath goalkeeper, flying over and back across the Irish Sea to zealously guard the position he had finally inherited from double All-Ireland winner Mickey McQuillan.

Martin moved to London in the summer of 1995. He had served his time in Dublin and the chance to move to London was a promotion to the big leagues.

"I think about 98 per cent of all currency movements in the world are just punting, people speculating," Martin says. "That's most of what we did."

On Friday evenings, he'd jump in a taxi for London City Airport. A few hours later he could be in training in Dalgan Park under the watchful eye of the Columban monks and Seán Boylan. On Sunday evening, he'd catch the last flight back across the Irish Sea.

One February Friday in 1996, Martin started the usual pilgrimage from Bank of America's headquarters. A taxi would whisk him to the airport and past Canary Wharf and out to London City Airport.

While he was in the air, the IRA detonated a massive bomb on the Isle of Dogs, killing two shopkeepers and causing upwards of £120m worth of damage.

"I heard the news when I got into Pat Kelly's van," Martin remembers. "Pat was picking me up for training and he said, 'The ceasefire is over'. "I was, 'Ah Jesus, this isn't going to be fun going back into work'."

Life in London eventually returned to normal but Martin soon returned to Dublin.

That summer was Martin's second Championship as Meath's No 1. The first had ended with a demoralising ten-point defeat to Dublin. And heading into that summer of 1996, Martin remembers a depression in the county.

"After '95, you would have said that's the last of the '87/'88 group gone. You'd have had only Colm Coyle, Martin O'Connell, PJ Gillic, a few lads left. But it was 'those lads need another few years' or even 'would we ever win an All-Ireland again?'

"McEntee was gone, O'Rourke, Harnan. All those lads. So there was a fair amount of pessimism in the 'Chronicle' and all the papers, that Meath would do nothing but we knew there were special players there, and look at what Geraghty and Trevor Giles would become, to name just two.

By the time Meath reached the Leinster Final, Boylan had worked his magic again. The '96 Leinster final win over Dublin represented a 12-point swing on the year before. Then the All-Ireland semi-final saw them beat an expectant Tyrone.

What happened in the All-Ireland finals is well documented.

"We were blessed to get draw the first day, Colm Coyle's kick from midfield, that was unbelievable. I've watched it back a few times and Mayo threw it away, they absolutely threw it away. But you take your chances when they were there."

The early part of the replay seared that final into the consciousness of GAA people everywhere. For Martin, the aftermath drew a lazy comparison between the team of the 1980s and Boylan's new-look side.

"The team I grew up looking at, the '87, '88 team, they were really hard men. Meath got the reputation, along with Cork, as not to be messed with. We didn't have many of those men, we had a few but we didn't have the Mick Lyons, Gerry McEntee, Terry Fergusons, Pádraic Lyons.

"We had Colm Coyle at that stage but we probably carried forward that reputation of being a tough bunch of b*****ds, where maybe we didn't necessarily deserve it."

Brendan Reilly settled it, curling over a beautiful winner. The aftermath was a blur. And while they'd win Sam Maguire again in '99, an injury saw Martin lose his place.

Then, at just 27, he stepped away from football but was coaxed out of retirement for the 2006 season by Gerry McEntee, who was in charge of St Brigid's. Only a collarbone fracture, when he was 47, finally brought down the curtain on his career.