ROBERT Oldham had come to terms with finishing his soccer career without the one medal he wanted above all others.
It wasn’t meant to be, he told himself.
He wasn’t going to win a West Cork Premier League title.
Just like he missed out on winning a Mid Cork JAFC medal with Iveleary in Gaelic football, Oldham felt a similar fate awaited him on the soccer field.
‘I’d accepted it wasn’t going to happen,’ he admits.
‘I was 51 when this season started, turned 52 in March, my playing days should be long behind me.’
Instead, he was the man between the posts as Drinagh Rangers swept their way to an unprecedented clean sweep of West Cork League trophies this past season.
They won everything there was to win – the Beamish Cup, the Micheál Cronin Cup, the Maybury Coaches-Parkway Hotel Cup, the Premier Division Cup and the Premier Division title, the latter meaning the most to Oldham.
He starting playing with his home club, Leeside, in the mid-eighties when he was 18, and 34 years later he finally gets his hands on the prize he wanted above all others.
‘It’s amazing,’ he admits.
‘With Leeside years ago – I’m talking 16, 17 years ago – we had a fierce season, we were six games away from winning the Premier Division, we were flying, but we lost a few games in the run-in and lost the league then.’
He finished up with Leeside six years ago, and no Premier Division medal to show for his time.
There was a three-season stint then with Little Island in the Munster Senior League, while he was also lining out for Dunmanway Town in the West Cork Masters as well.
‘No question, I thought I was done and dusted with the West Cork League,’ he says.
‘I thought coaching was my calling. I had a few courses done, a few workshops, all to do with goalkeeper coaching.’
That’s a passion of his, goalkeeper coaching, and that was why he got involved, when he was 49 years old, with Don Hurley’s and Declan Deasy’s Drinagh Rangers’ team three years ago.
He joined as a goalkeeping coach, but always wiling to put on his gloves again if he was needed.
This season he was.
‘Liam Cahalane was there, a fabulous keeper, but last season (2016/17) he picked up a nasty knee injury in a final against Skibb in Dunmanway Town, and that ruled him out,’ he explains.
‘I got the chance to play in the Beamish Cup final at Turner’s Cross which was a fabulous occasion.
‘Just when you think you’re finished with West Cork and haven’t won the trophies you wanted to win, you get another opportunity out of the blue.’
Oldham grabbed it with both hands.
That season, Drinagh finished runners-up in the Premier Division to Dunmanway Town, the season before that they’d finished second to Riverside Athletic, and that medal he wanted to complete his collection continued to elude him.
‘I was 15 or 16 years trying to win a junior A in Mid Cork with Iveleary and never did,’ he explains.
‘I had a goal in GAA and I never got there.
‘My target was the Premier Division title and I thought I never would win it.
‘Three years ago when I started with Drinagh we had a crucial game over in Riverside and we lost 1-0 to a late penalty. They pipped us in the league and I did ask myself if I was ever going to win it.
‘The season before last, we lost no game but we still didn’t win the league – that was frustrating. Dunmanway won. We came second.
‘We started this season well, beat Spartak, and then we lost to Ballydehob in our second game. It was an awful day.
‘But we went on good runs in the Munster Junior Cup and FAI Cup, that got us up and running, but it meant Lyre had games played and had the points.’
But Drinagh hunted Lyre down, game by game.
When regular number one Eoin Daly injured his shoulder earlier this season, Oldham was called on again to stand between the posts. He did, and played a crucial role in the run-in as momentum gathered and the trophy cabinet at Canon Crowley Park started filling up.
In early May, a 2-2 draw away against title rivals Lyre Rovers was enough to guarantee Drinagh the Premier Division title.
At last, he had won the medal he wanted.
‘I live in Douglas and have done for 20 years, so I drive up and down for training, first to Leeside and now Drinagh. People think I’m mad to be doing that at 52, I probably am, but I love it,’ he says.
‘People have different outlets that they have to enjoy themselves – and football is mine.’
Oldham’s not turning 53 until next March but he’ll be back for pre-season training in August and ready to go again in whatever capacity he’s needed.
‘I’ll be back,’ the father of three smiles.
‘I’m not the answer to the future but I’ll gladly help out with goalkeeping coaching.
‘I have to think of the bigger picture and it’s important to give younger fellas a chance.
‘I’m always there to help.’
He might be twice the age of most of his team-mates, but he’s proving that it’s never too late to achieve your dreams. He always wanted that Premier Division medal and now, 52 years old, he has it.
‘I look after myself,’ he says.
‘The knees aren’t as good as they were, but I keep in shape.
‘I gave up GAA last year, I haven’t played any masters’ soccer the last two years and that has a made a massive difference to my body.
‘I know I’m not a 22-year-old between the posts but I have experience and I can read a situation.’
He’s right. He’s not 22 – but he’s a 52-year-old with a Premier Division medal. He got there in the end. And he’s not finished yet.