I spoke to Darren Fleary for Thirteen in 2005 the issue after he was paid the following tribute by his former coach Graham Murray.
“[Fleary] came from a second-division side [Keighley] and the day I laid eyes on him on a tape and then when I first met him I just knew there was something special about the bloke. Not extremely talented, but certainly committed and he gave everything in every game, every training session and every team meeting. It was such a proud moment, more so for him but for me as well when he played for Great Britain. I just felt that was one guy who had come from obscurity, worked hard on what he had and scaled the heights of playing for Great Britain. I think that’s a great message for any kid out there. You don’t have to be given every talent to get to the top level of sport.”
Darren, Graham Murray’s comments last month must have been nice to read?
Absolutely. Without him I’d be retired by now and working in the real world. I had a lot of good players around me though. One good thing about him was that when he came to the club and wiped the slate clean which some coaches don’t do and he gave everyone a chance. So I had the chance to show what I could do.
What about the transfer from Keighley? Did you expect to make it at Leeds given that a number of you came at once?
I came on a wing and a prayer really. Keighley had run out of money, Gary got us on the cheap and luckily I made the best of the opportunity. It was hard work and a shock to the system but worth it in the end.
Moving onto 2005, with hindsight, what could Leigh have done differently in Super League?
We only had a short time to get players together after promotion was confirmed. The coaching staff have done the best they could in my opinion. It was always going to be a hard task. One year isn’t enough for promoted teams. They need at least a couple of years.
What positives can the club take from 2005?
We’ve never really been battered. We’ve had some close games against the top teams where we should have come away with something and that’s been disappointing. Some of the younger lads have done well showing there’s a lot of good talent in National League One.
Do you think you will bounce straight back to Super League?
Yes definitely. We’ve got a good foundation here.
Who has been the biggest influence on your rugby league career and why?
Firstly an old teacher of mine who introduced me to the game in the first place, then Phil Larder who saved me from retiring when I left Dewsbury and Graham Murray at Leeds.
Will you still be at Leigh in 2006?
I doubt it. I’ll probably take a breat from the game and assess what’s happening. See how I feel and how the body is feeling!
Were you a rugby league fan as a youngster?
Yes but I started quite late. I always enjoyed the physical aspect of the game.
Who was your player?
Ellery. I think most black players would say him. From my time watching he was the stand out player. I also used to watch quite a bit of St Helens and Kevin Ward in particular and in Australia I liked the crash and bang players like Gillespie and Gillmeister.
Who do you look up to in the modern game?
Barrie McDermott I think. He’s done really well at Leeds and he’s kept his standards quite high as has Terry O’Connor. Players from my time! They’ve been consistent. When they’re on the pitch, people know about it and I like that.
What has been your best moment in rugby league?
That’s got to be the Grand Final in 1998 which topped off a great year and of course the Challenge Cup win in 1998. Even though we lost the Grand Final it’s great to look back and have been a part of it. We all thought we’d get there again the next year but it never came round.
So do you watch old games that you played in?
Occasionally. My dad’s got them all but I don’t watch them that much at the moment.
And your worst moment?
Breaking my thumb in 1999 in the last game against Castleford meaning I missed the 1999 Tri Nations competition in Australia. I was being stupid with Adrian Vowles and missed the tour because of it!
Who’s been your most difficult opponent?
I think for me it’s the guys with good feet like Burrow and McGuire. Wendall Sailor was a handful too!
Who’s the best and worst trainer at the club?
John Duffy is the best. Very professional and willing to learn. The worst, I’m not sure. I’ll go for Craig Stapleton!
What are your plans for when you stop playing?
I don’t know at the moment. I coach a young team and enjoy that at the moment.