Interview with Jason Keelan from „The Loaf of Bread GAA“ Podcast

Back during the height of the lockdown in early 2021, our club received a message from Jason, asking us to appear on his podcast „The Loaf of Bread GAA“. The Loaf of Bread is a podcast focused on the stories of the GAA . In contrast to other podcasts and media focused on the big Championship matches and inter-county stars, „The Loaf of Bread“ looks at clubs and players who don’t receive the same coverage. The Cologne Celtics featured early in the series „GAA Global“, and since then, Jason has interviewed GAA club members in Argentina, South Africa, China, Scandinavia, the Middle East, Thailand, the USA, Canada and everywhere in between. Subscribe and follow his work if you want to learn more about the global element of the GAA!

Following his interview with Gareth, Frank and Lea, we got in touch with him to find out more about him, the ideas behind „The Loaf of Bread GAA“, and generally have a chat about all sorts. It turns out that Jason has led a pretty entertaining life! With travels to over 100 countries to scoring penalties against Neville Southall and writing history books – here’s his story.

The full audio of the interview can be found here:

Hey Jason, tell us a bit about yourself:

My name is Jason Keelan, and I’m from Mullingar in County Westmeath. I am the one-man show behind the Load of Bread GAA Podcast, which I started last February. I’m a primary school teacher, and I’ve written a couple of history books for kids as well. I pretty much try anything. That’s pretty much me, anyway.

How did you come up with the name „The Loaf of Bread Podcast“?

It is the question I get asked the most, particularly from younger GAA fans who might not remember… I suppose Westmeath people know where it comes from. Back in 2004, when Páidí Ó Sé was in charge, there was a documentary „Marooned“ about our Leinster winning team, and the journey brought us on to get that title. There was a very famous clip in that documentary where he trained the Westmeath team down the road at Saint Loman’s GAA Club.

At one point, he has the players in a circle around him and is giving them one of his famous Páidí speeches, but he turns to Alan Mangan, who was one of our corner-forwards at the time (a fantastic player), and his exact words were „Alan, you were f***ed over the line like you’d **** over a loaf of bread.“ I just thought that is fantastic; that is such an iconic line… The „Loaf of Bread“ is very Irish.

Colourful language warning! Páidí Ó’Sé „Loaf of Bread“ speech.

I planned it a couple of years ago, but I used the kids in school, in sixth class, who I was teaching to try out podcasts. It kind of went from there. Yeah, one evening, I was just… I didn’t know what I was doing… and things started going through my head… It took off from there. So, that was where the name came from.

What podcasts do you like to listen to?

There are a few podcasts I listen to… Obviously, „The 2 Johnnies“ – „Johnny B“ and Johnny „Smacks“ are phenomenal. Recently, we’ve accidentally crossed paths as the lads are looking for stuff about the GAA abroad in recent episodes. Orlando GAA wrote to them recently and mentioned that they had a player in their club called Fong who matched their character, Paddy Fong. Sure enough, the day before, I had Jimmy O‘ Flaherty from Carraroe, now with Orlando GAA chatting all about it.

Having all the links is great; it is a great way to get the GAA talked about. I do like Paddy Andrews and Andy Moran; the „Off the Ball“ podcast is iconic in Ireland at this stage, some other ones… I was a big fan of Michael Foley’s „The Bloodied Field Podcast“, as someone who has written history books for primary schools, that was something I got hooked into completely. The way that he made it was incredible.

Discussion with Michael Foley – the author of „The Bloodied Field“

Those are the main ones I listen to. I have a great number of them I would listen to on the commute to Dublin from Mullingar every morning and back in the evening. Definitely the 2 Johnnies, Off the Ball, Paddy Andrews and Andy Moran and then even Anthony Nash and Dan Shanahan are doing one at the moment.

I love seeing young people giving it a go. There is a young girl down in Tipperary, Shauna Doyle, who does her one on a Sunday. She is just a school kid, but I’ve been encouraging her and that kind of thing. I love seeing people give it a go. I started this as a hobby; it is still a hobby… I’m not getting paid for it. I like that side of it, people giving it a go and not being afraid to try it… even if it is a pretty saturated market. It is still good craic to try it.

Did you have any other lockdown projects over the last 18 months?

I got roped into writing some schoolbooks, which started about two years ago. The school rep for CJ Fallon is a Galwayman named Dave… and he came into my room one day. We were chatting about Galway hurling when he noticed a scratch map (there are around 100 countries scratched off it so far) and history posters in my room, and he asked me about those topics. I love to travel and history… From that, I ended up writing fifth and sixth class history books. They were released a couple of months ago, and now a few schools around the country are using them.

With his love for ´GAA and love for travelling – Jason is the perfect man to host GAA Global!

It was lovely to be part of that project. Now I have been writing these books for the last two years. Originally it was meant to be just one book, but they offered me the chance to write two books. I took them up on that offer. I finished them a couple of months ago. They have been released, and my school bought them. It has been hilarious to talk to fifth class pupils discussing aspects I wrote about it in the book. It is kind of surreal but nice at the same time. I’ve also received messages from teachers around the countries, parents, relations – it is pretty fun.

Having travelled to over 100 countries, what are your top three recommendations?

When I say to people that I have travelled to so many countries, people say to me, „Are you sure you are a teacher? What job are you really in?“ The secret behind it all is my wife… because our holidays are set in stone for three years in advance, she’s a wizard at finding cheap flights and amazing accommodation. I have no idea how she does it… I just turn up at the airport.

My three highlights are Japan – Japan was incredible – Iceland – we got engaged in Iceland in 2015 – and the third one is difficult… I still think Myanmar is up there as a country that people should visit. From Dublin, it is two flights. Fly to Dubai and then to Yangon – nowhere is too far away…

The USA is amazing. I love the Mid-West in the US – Denver was really cool, as were Las Vegas and Hawaii. There are so many places I could recommend! One that is very off the beaten track – and was the inspiration for starting the podcast – I was reading an article (about GAA clubs abroad) on a bus journey to Chernobyl – not long after the World Games in Waterford. That was where I got the global GAA angle, which led to me interviewing Francis, Gareth and Lea from the Celts… which was great craic.

Cologne Celtics feature on the Loaf of Bread Podcast

What was the original idea behind the podcast? Was it always to contact GAA clubs abroad, or did that just develop?

The idea to contact clubs abroad was in the back of my mind. I even had a note on my desk beside me that said: „GAA Global“ – they were the words in my head. When I originally did the podcast – February 8th, 2021- when the first podcast came out – the idea was to chat to my brother and his clubmates…  My idea was to chat to the clubs locally, chat to the ladies‘ players locally and just keep it local, as who would want to listen to it?

But my angle was slightly different to bigger podcasts like Off-the-Ball – it wasn’t chatting about GAA Championship structures etc. I said maybe it would have a different approach if I could get people to come on and chat about the memories, the craic, the nights out, the great story, etc.

My first guest was David O’Shaughnessy, the captain of the Westmeath team in 2004. I made use of every contact I had to get in touch with David… and he came on no problem. After that, with any guest I got in touch with, I just asked them to listen to the first podcast to get a feel for it. They could see that it was not about controversy, debates or putting people on the spot. After that, nobody said no – everyone was happy to come on. There was no fear of internet backlash.

I started taking potshots on Twitter and Instagram to ask people and see what they would say. I had the Wicklow manager, Davey Burke, on the podcast – he’s a friend of a friend. He was brilliant to have on – such a brilliant storyteller. Ailis Considine, the former Clare footballer, was the first Irish lady to win an Australian AFL title. Her sister, Eimear, is the full-back of the Irish rugby team. Christy McKaigue is a man I’d have so much time for. Watching him on the football pitch – such a warrior – with Derry, Slaughtniel and out in Australia as well.

The „Loaf of Bread“ Social Media is very active – make sure to give it a follow!

It just went from there. Nobody said no. The worst I got was come back to me in a few months due to training or finishing a master’s degree etc. I don’t think anyone has said no – which is incredible. That told me that there is something here that is quite good and is not being done in the GAA at the moment. It took off!

Who would be your dream interviewee?

I would have loved at some point in life to sit down and chat with Páidí Ó Sé, and just talk to him about anything and everything. When you walk into his pub at Ceann Trá, the first picture on your left is that of the Leinster-winning Westmeath team in 2004. My next idea is to do a GAA-family series of podcasts, but it may be further down the line due to commitments. The GAA Global will probably go on until March 2022, and I’ve a couple of other things going on as well.

By the time that happens, we’ll be able to meet up again – so I would love to sit down with the Brogans, the Ó Sés, the Walshs. But even there, I’d love to chat with those heavily involved families who do not have the same profile as the more well-known players. I’d love to sit down and just have the craic and chat with them about them baiting the heads off each other when younger, playing in primary school, playing for the county and so on. There is something in that that I think people would just buy into.

How would you describe your own GAA career?

The club I was with is The Downs GAA in Westmeath. If you are putting that down, no one in the club would remember me! To say I was useless is an understatement! But I went along for the craic – and my mates were out there. Every time I did play, I loved it.

In fairness to the club, they are a really, really well-run club. There are so many good people involved there – like any good GAA club. Just the way that they are expanding their ground, they’ve got such a good set-up and great people. They are still my club, as such. But my brother’s club, Rochfortbridge, is still very successful, and I would be closer to them these days by going to my brother’s games.

My career included an u7 blitz victory, two Cumann na mBunscoil medals as a goalkeeper… I reckon that’s about where it ends. I did win a medal for beating Neville Southall in a penalty shoot-out in soccer, and it is the only other medal I have. My brother probably won more in his first year playing GAA than I won in my entire life. I loved the games, and I never fell out of love with the games. Everything about it was the perfect kind of sport, in many ways.

Did you have any GAA heroes growing up?

Heroes? Funnily enough… I’ll get murdered for this! One of the footballers I loved back in the 1990s was (Meath football legend) Trevor Giles. My aunties and uncles brought me to a lot of random matches in Croke Park with my granny as well. It was the standard tea and ham sandwiches out of the car before the match. One of my uncles, not sure why…, he follows Meath… He is a Westmeath man, but I think there was some family argument from a few years ago. He brought me to Meath matches, and I just loved Trevor Giles. He was just a fantastic footballer.

Trevor Giles – Meath Gaelic football legend

I grew up loving DJ Carey in the hurling as well. He had something unbelievable about him. I am a big fan of Peter Canavan. I loved the Ó Sé brothers, Dara Ó Cinnéide – a brilliant footballer just absolute class…

As far as my personal heroes – as a goalkeeper, Gary Connaughton was just something special for Westmeath. He did get a lot of recognition in fairness because he was a bit mental. He would turn up to games without gloves, he’d catch balls going over the crossbar, he’d pick up a size 5 football in one hand, and he’d just put a ball down on the ground and drill it 60/70 yards. I went to a game when he played for Athlone Town in soccer years ago, and he scored from a kick-out. It wasn’t too surprising for a lot of people around the place, but I was stunned by it!

They would have been the ones I loved. Obviously, the Westmeath team from 2004, and even going back to the underage teams from 1995 and 1999, were also massive. It would be rude not to give a shout out to my old history teacher – Kevin Hickey – who was the full-back on those underage Westmeath teams at the time. He hates being mentioned, so that is why I am mentioning him. He was a cracking footballer!

I had a lot of heroes. You could probably go through every county in the country, and you’d find a footballer that I would have liked at some stage. Those listed would be the main ones.

We have one inspired by the Loaf of Bread Podcast for our last question: what is your favourite Father Ted episode?

I have to pick one? Jeez!… My favourite Father Ted episode?… I do like the Over-75s football episode. I also have a bit of a thing for the Christmas special – I don’t know why but I think there is something really cool about it. I would love to sit down with Ardal O’Hanlon and talk to him about everything to do with Father Ted. That would be a dream come true.

The Over 75s football episode of Father Ted

The Over-75s football episode – there is just something about it. The way it was written by Graham Linehan and Arthur Matthews – there is something so very 90s Premier League football about it that I just loved. Mrs Doyle and the women in the crowd shouting the abuse. Having Eric Cantona on the front cover of the book they are reading. There is something unique about that episode, and I don’t think it can be beaten. You had Fr. Dick Byrne and Cyril in it – the „Fake Hands“. I got to meet Cyril (Don Wycherley); I can’t think of the actor’s name; he was in Bachelor’s Walk as well… and I was an extra on Bachelor’s Walk for a while, and I ended up in an episode with him. That was a great moment in life.

Okay brilliant. I think that is everything I wanted to ask you.

Thanks very much.

Photos courtesy of Jason Keelan

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