This is a story about two brothers and it isn’t about sibling rivalry.
The elder brother firmly believed his country wasn’t good for him. The younger one thought he wasn’t good — at anything. One was driven and ambitious; the other drifted into a dark place mentally, and was constantly consumed by the thoughts of causing self-harm. Eventually, Mark broke away and shifted his allegiance to England. Paul stuck it out and stayed true to his country of birth, Ireland. “It’s like India and Pakistan, you know, the rivalry between England and Ireland…” says Didi Cole, the father of Ireland defender Lee.
To call the Gleghorne brothers rivals would be perhaps stretching it a bit. Their struggles, in fact, have only brought them closer, even though they remain separated by borders.
On Friday, Mark scored the goal that ended Paul’s World Cup ambitions. England were already leading 3-2, but with Ireland searching for a late equalizer that would have kept their campaign alive, Mark scored the fourth goal from a penalty corner to shut the door.
But he did not celebrate. Instead, Mark walked over to his brother and embraced him. For 60 minutes, they were at each other’s throats. But after the hooter buzzed, compassion had replaced competition. Paul, who received a yellow card with two minutes remaining for a rugby tackle on an England midfielder, was inconsolable. Mark didn’t say much, but just hugged his younger brother tight.
He was relieved, but also heartbroken. “I am really disappointed for him,” Mark, 33, said after the match. “I want to achieve something for him. But I also have a responsibility to play for myself and my country.”
In an ideal world, Ireland would still have been Mark’s country. Cricket was his first calling. According to his interview in The Hockey Paper, the wicketkeeper-batsman was in the same batch as Eoin Morgan, Boyd Rankin, Kevin O’Brien and William Porterfield in the age group teams. But lack of facilities and his family’s history in hockey – both his mother and father played the sport and he had relatives on both sides of the family who represented Ireland at the highest levels of the sport.
Mark forged a reputation of being among his nation’s best players, a drag-flicker like no other in the whole of Ireland. By the time he was 23, he had close to 100 international appearances but his individual growth was so fast that the rest of the team wasn’t able to keep up with him.
Hockey wasn’t really growing in Ireland as many had hoped. They’d been doing okay in Europe but the team hadn’t qualified for the World Cup since 1990 while the Olympics remained a dream too far. And Mark wasn’t content playing the lower-rung tournaments.
So in 2008, he decided to shift to England, just like his age-group cricket teammates Morgan and Rankin. Joining a national team that received millions of pounds in annual funding in the build-up to the 2012 Olympics seemed lucrative to him. There were other perks too: England allowed its players to play full time, unlike Ireland where most had other day jobs, and also offered medical care.
After a three-year cooling off period, Mark became eligible to play for England in 2011. But as fate would have it, his wait to play a top-level tournament would only get longer. A foot injury had kept him out of action for most of 2011 and although he returned a good eight months before the Olympics, Mark was struggling for form. And when England announced their squad for the London Games, Mark wasn’t considered for selection.
He was vexed, but his mental state was barely as grave as his brothers.
Unlike Mark, who was good at several things, hockey was the only thing Paul, two years younger to him, had ever known. As Mark moved to England, choosing to play hockey professionally, Paul began a career as corporate finance manager in Belfast to try and support his playing career. Lack of sponsors meant hockey players in Ireland had to fund their careers and the 2008-09 global recession had only made matters worse for Paul and his Irish teammates.
But this wasn’t what bothered Paul. He overly-critical about himself and this burdened his mind. He was never really able to overcome this pain completely. The death of his mother when he was aged 16 made things worst.
In a touching interview to The42, Paul recently opened up about his mental battle. “It’s quite scary looking back, it was my life. My life was not wanting to be alive… It was waking up in the morning and not wanting to be here and going to bed at night thinking if I closed my eyes, how much better would it be if I didn’t open them again. That was my life everyday,” he was quoted as saying.
Both brothers – one a victim of being over-ambitious, the other lacking confidence for anything – used hockey as the vehicle to overcome their personal battles. Mark realized his dream to play big tournaments, including the Olympics.
Paul, meanwhile, was an integral part of the golden generation that transformed Irish hockey and helped them qualify for their first-ever Olympics in 2016, and first World Cup in 28 years.
The Gleghornes have met in several epic battles since. And caught in the crossfire is their dad. “He chooses to be neutral…when we are playing each other, he often wears a neutral Team GB shirt,” Paul says. He would’ve worn neutral colours on Friday as well. But like Mark, Paul – and Ireland’s – defeat would’ve left him heartbroken as well.