JOE chats to Portobello Institute student and inter-county star Michael O'Toole to find out what it takes to balance college with GAA
Would you have what it takes to balance a GAA lifestyle and a degree at the Portobello Institute?
Representing your county at the highest level is becoming a greater challenge for GAA stars. The commitments of work, college and a social life make the life of an athlete a rather lonely one, and we wanted to hear first-hand how GAA players manage to balance all their obligations at once.
So we caught up with JOE fan Michael O’Toole to discuss what it takes to be an elite athlete with Wexford while juggling his college work at the Portobello Institute.
Michael has always had a keen interest in sport and a determination to succeed academically so we thought he was the perfect guy to give us the inside track on life as a GAA star, and the fact he is a massive JOE nut is just an added bonus for us...
JOE: So, Michael, tell us about your sporting background and why you chose to get involved with the GAA.
Michael O'Toole: Well, I started playing hurling and football with my local club when I was five years old. I played with my local club from the age of 5 until I reached minor level, but then I made the big move across the town to my current club, the Rapparees-Starlights.
Since my move two years ago I've tasted success with both hurling and football. Looking back, I believe my transfer to Rapparees-Starlights was the right decision for me and I'm looking forward to hopefully many years of success at adult level in both hurling and football.
I've had the honour of representing my county at both hurling and football too. I have represented the county at U16 and U17 hurling development squads. I also played for Wexford at minor football level and for the past two years I've been representing Wexford u21 footballers. It’s a great privilege and honour to represent my county.
JOE: Was it your love for sport that led to you to studying a course at Portobello Institute at Croke Park, and what course did you study?
Michael: Definitely. My love for sport had a huge impact on my decision to study at Portobello Institute at Croke Park. I began by studying a business management course, but I realised early on that it just wasn't the course for me.
When Portobello contacted me about the sports coaching course last year it was an offer that I couldn't refuse as I have a great interest in the coaching of the younger players. I coach a number of different age groups in my local club as well.
JOE: The sports department is located at Croke Park, what’s it like being based at this legendary stadium given your GAA background?
Michael: Growing up as a child, all I ever wanted to do was play in Croke Park. It is such an iconic stadium and it’s any GAA lover’s dream to play there, so when an opportunity arose to study at Croke Park, it was simply just an offer I couldn't refuse. Looking out through my class window and seeing such a lovely view every day is just incredible.
JOE: Have you been able to translate any of your course work over into your game? If so, what and how?
Michael: Yes actually. From the course I have been able to take certain parts and incorporate them into my game. For example, learning about anatomy and physiology I have gained much knowledge on what the daily life of a sportsman consists of and the dos and don’ts of exercising and stretching etc.
Learning about nutrition has thought me what a balanced diet should contain for a top athlete. This has improved my game greatly because I'm now more health conscious and I can enjoy the game more.
Michael represented Wexford in both hurling and football
JOE: You are going on to study the new BSc in Sports Science & Physical Education at the Portobello Institute at Croke Park, what is the end goal?
Michael: Basically the end goal is to obtain a degree and pursue a career as a physical education teacher. The time has come for our education system to realise that physical education is as important as academic learning. As the proverb says 'Your health is your wealth'...
JOE: Why do you think school leavers should invest in a sporting career and what advice would you give them?
Michael: As I said, your health is your wealth and I truly believe that it is so important to maintain the highest standard of healthiness possible. By taking part in a sporting course it opens up so many doors for people in Ireland searching for careers.
I think that if there are more graduates with sporting degrees this will increase the demand for this particular career area and more jobs will hopefully be created. I would say to anyone who enjoys sport and would enjoy a career in this area to just go for it and do what you love.
JOE: As a county player, the levels of commitment expected are huge and being in college the temptation to live the 'college life' will always be there. Is it difficult to have a social life while playing for your county?
Michael: I discovered at a young age that if I was to be a serious athlete, certain aspects of my life would have to be put on hold. College and college-life is a milestone for every young man but to be an athlete, you must rely on your discipline to engage in the college social life.
There is no reason that an athlete cannot enjoy the social aspect of college life. But life choices have to be made and a few sacrifices along the way so I hope to continue to enjoy my college-life and have a successful sporting career.
JOE: What’s it like trying to balance the demands of playing inter-county hurling and the workload of college?
Michael: To play at inter-county level take's a huge commitment as there is a vigorous training schedule and then throw college into the equation and you have to put a lot of extra hours to keep up with your studies. It takes a lot of planning to get your commitment right for both your sporting career and your studies.