Second coming for an overnight success
Published 14/01/2012 | 05:00
SHANE McAnarney took nearly 10 years to become an 'overnight success' with Meath, but it was worth the wait.
McAnarney, now 31, was named Meath 'Footballer of the Year' for 2011. The award was recognition for his strong and consistent performances at centre half-back, and even though the Royals failed to get past the stumbling block of Kildare in round three of the qualifiers, McAnarney established himself as a pillar of the defence.
To attain that status, the Clann na nGael man certainly took the road less travelled.
For the first half of the 2000s he worked at this trade as a carpenter abroad, first in New York and later in London, and played inter-county football for both.
He returned home in 2006, motivated primarily by the prospect of a place in the Meath panel under Eamonn Barry's management.
But Barry lasted just a year, and when Colm Coyle took over, he dispensed with McAnarney's services.
The Meath legend later restored McAnarney to the squad after he helped Clann na nGael win the Meath Junior championship in 2007.
Eamonn O'Brien was in charge of the Royals for the 2009 and 2010 campaigns, and then came Seamus McEnaney for 2011.
McAnarney was used mainly as a squad player in the championship from 2006-2010.
Yet, while Meath took a long time to find their rhythm in the first year of McEnaney's tenure, 'Banty' gave McAnarney the opportunity to shine, and the Athboy man took it in style.
Would the big centre-back have continued with Meath if McEnaney hadn't seen something in him that the team needed?
"I don't know," McAnarney said. "We've had a good few new managers over the last few years and I was trying to prove myself to every one of them.
"Different managers and different selectors have different ways of looking at things and see different things in players.
"I got my chances under other managements. I thought maybe I should have got more chances but that's up to each management team.
"But Seamus gave me my chance and thank God everything worked out for me. I'm delighted with that.
"I put the award down to the manager giving me the chance to play regularly, to his working me and giving me advice during the year, and having confidence in me.
"I'm just delighted to be enjoying my football. I just want a jersey, be it one to 15 and I want to be playing, as simple as that," he said.
Not many footballers have performed in the championship for three different teams, and while McAnarney has fond memories of London and New York, home is where the heart is.
"I enjoyed my time in New York. You meet some great lads and you get to play with some great footballers. A lot of lads would have played U-21 and minor with their counties and moved away for work.
"With London, we nearly pipped Roscommon one year. They only beat us by a point. That would have been a memorable moment if we'd got them over there.
"But playing for your own county, you can't beat that. It's an honour and privilege putting on the green jersey.
"Long may it continue. Playing for Meath is a massive thing for me."
Last Sunday, at Pairc Tailteann in Navan, McAnarney and Meath had their first competitive outing of 2012, beating Wexford in the O'Byrne Cup by 1-13 to 1-10.
It was a chance to shake off the cobwebs, but also an opportunity to play football with something at stake, and that's the way McAnarney likes it.
Tomorrow, Louth are the opponents in round two of the O'Byrne Cup at Navan, and the fixture revives, to a certain extent, the memories of the infamous 2010 Leinster final and the controversial finish to the match.
For the players of both teams, the issue has been dampened considerably by Meath's comprehensive win over the Wee County in last year's qualifiers.
And since then, Meath had another victory against Louth, this time in the Fitzsimons Cup, played at the end of last October, a couple of days before the winter training ban began.
The four-county tournament involved Meath, Louth, Armagh and Cavan.
Meath beat Louth in one semi-final, Armagh overcame Cavan in the other semi-final, and Meath defeated Armagh in the final.
It's hard to have a 2010 hangover of ill-feeling at this stage, and McAnarney has no doubts about the approach of the two teams for their latest meeting.
"What happened, happened (in 2010)," he said.
"Last year there was talk of revenge but it had nothing to do with that. It was just another game. Louth wanted to win it, we wanted to win it.
"Same on Sunday. It's an O'Byrne Cup game between two teams. Lads are looking forward to getting a run out. There's nothing more to it.
"We want to win it, they'll want to win it. It all depends on whose hungrier for it. That's all it is."