Whole new ball game
OFFALY and Clara footballer Joe Quinn passed all his examinations to earn a BSc in Sports and Exercise Science, so it's fair to say he knows a thing or two about fitness.
But Quinn also has a unique insight into the meaning of the word 'fitness' at both ends of the spectrum.
The 27-year-old Clara native has revelled in a body filled with the strength, power, flexibility and endurance required of a senior inter-county footballer.
He has also experienced a completely different challenge -- shuffling slowly to the end of a hospital corridor and back, and finding that it was as tough as any training session.
Not a pleasant memory, nor one that Quinn -- who plays for Clara against Edenderry in a fascinating Offaly County football final pairing at Tullamore tomorrow -- particularly wants to re-visit.
It's fair to say, however, that Quinn's recovery from illness complications which led to his heart being stopped for 15 minutes two and a half years ago changed his outlook on life.
In a curious way, his literally step-by-step return to football at senior club and senior inter-county grade has profoundly deepened his knowledge of the human body and all that it is capable of achieving.
That's bound to come in handy with ASPIRE (Advanced Sports Performance Ireland), his business based on a 35-acre site in Clara, where sports teams and individuals come for training, fitness and team-bonding sessions.
Primarily, however, Joe Quinn is playing football because of a stubborn streak and willpower that refused to allow him opt out of the game he loves.
Last year's Offaly SFC semi-final against Tullamore was his first championship start in nearly two years, and he went on to play against Rhode, who defeated Clara in the final.
This year Quinn stepped up his comeback by returning to the fold with the Offaly senior team, a huge achievement, given where he was after he collapsed in the summer of 2009.
"My heart did stop, but it wasn't a heart attack," said Quinn. "To be honest I can't really say too much about what happened, but it was very serious.
"When I came home and I was told it was going to be a very long time before I'd kick a football. I was very, very annoyed.
"There were some people that didn't want me to go back and telling me to leave it, but to be honest, just for myself, it was more stubbornness than anything else, I just wanted to get back and play. At 25 and 26 you should be playing the best football of your life.
"Basically I wanted to make up for lost time and prove something to myself, just seeing could I get myself from nothing back up to where I was.
"It was like a personal project as well. Obviously, my job is to train people, so it wasn't a bad thing to try and get someone from not being able to walk 20 metres to get back to playing football.
"That's probably one of the biggest achievements I'd ever put down to myself. I remember what I was like in hospital, finding it tough even to walk down the corridor and come back, and not be out of breath, the effort of it.
"If you'd seen me then, you would have been very, very surprised that I'd even be thinking about going back playing football."
He accepts that after such an experience, his perspective has changed on life, but football still gets the juices flowing.
"My whole attitude on everything has changed, full circle. I have a totally different perspective on things.
"You definitely wouldn't let it fade into memory anyway. You'd think about it nearly every day, but to be honest, I still get as worked up about matches as much as I ever did," said Quinn.
"Worked up" accurately describes how he felt about losing to Rhode in last year's county decider, even though it was only his second full match on the comeback trail.
Clara had defeated Rhode in the 2009 decider without Quinn. In 2010 and back in action, he felt sure a winner's medal would crown his return.
"I went into that game expecting nothing but to win. When the final whistle went, I still couldn't believe the game was over. I truly couldn't.
"It took me a while to realise we had been beaten. I really was genuinely convinced that we were going to win the game. I was pure shocked. When the final whistle went, I just still couldn't believe the game was over and we hadn't won.
"It was horrible, really horrible, so we have that to put right this weekend hopefully," he said.
Be warned -- Edenderry are the surprise packet of the Offaly championship, and they are not there just to make up the numbers.
In recent years, Rhode and Clara have dominated the Faithful County, and if anyone was to challenge that dominance this season, then Gracefield, managed by former Offaly footballer Padraig Dunne were the likely lads.
Clara, under the guidance of joint managers Noel Brady and Willie Reynolds, got their revenge for 2010 on Rhode in one semi-final.
Edenderry, managed by Peter Brady, another ex-county star, took out Gracefield, also at the penultimate stage.
Edenderry have won nine county senior titles, the last of them in 2001. Clara have won six senior championships, the most recent in 2009.
In the last 20 years, Edenderry have played in five finals, winning four and losing one; Clara have four wins from seven appearances since 1991.
During these two decades, Clara and Edenderry have met in only one final, with victory going to Edenderry in the 1995 encounter.
"Edenderry is a new challenge," added Quinn. "I don't think I've played Edenderry in a senior championship game since I started and I'm playing about nine or 10 years, but I know if we don't play to our potential, we're not going to win a thing.
"As for being favourites, obviously it's a little bit of pressure, but that won't change the way we play.
"We'll play the same system, we're going to try and play with the same work rate.
"We're still sore from losing last year. That should drive us on, but we're not taking anything for granted."