"Gaelic Football is in a very good place at the moment" - Ciaran McDonald
Ciaran McDonald has always done things differently, be it on or off the field, and once again he didn't disappoint when airing his views on the state of Gaelic Football, his passion for the game and avoiding gym work throughout his career.
Nearly eight years since his ending his inter county career, the much-loved Mayo magician made his first ever television appearance on last night's Second Captains and lived up to his headline billing once again.
McDonald scoffed at the epitaphs which have been placed at Gaelic Football's door in the wake of some gruesome defensive displays and believes the game is healthier than ever.
“People say football is in a bad place, I think football is in a great place at the moment. The amount of training that’s going in, the amount of media that’s involved. I think football will just evolve,” McDonald says.
“I think the long distance kicking is more important now than ever before and it allows you to think two or three steps ahead. Get your good kickers on the ball and you can score from 40 or 50 yards out, that can think two or three steps ahead.
“I think it’s more of a thinking game now. People are on about mass defences, but every manager has a right to set up his team the way he wants. I think it’s up to the player to see on the field after that. The manager has done his job.”
Despite turning 40 in January, McDonald is still dazzling for his club Crossmolina, for whom he orchestrated an All-Ireland club win in 2001, and his love of the game still burns brightly
“I’m still enjoying it and training hard. I love my club, I have always loved my club and there is a great bunch of fellas there now that weren’t around when I first started playing football," he says.
“My first championship game, the majority of the panel weren’t even born, but I’m there and I am trying to hang on and give them a small bit of wisdom if I can.
“I love football, I just love it. I love reading about it, I love watching it and I love trying to learn. I go to U7s training and you can learn from them. I just love playing the game.”
With a left foot that Cristiano Ronaldo would die for, McDonald, who missed out on a prestigious Celtic Cross in 1997, 2004 and 2006, has acted as a puppet master throughout his career and has the unique ability to make the ball talk.
Stephen Cluxton’s kickouts are now one of the most talked about attacking tactics in the game but McDonald is a throwback to a time when each team had an offensive playmaker.
In an era of defensive strategies and ball retention, The Mayo maestro still believes that as long as children are let play the game with youthful exuberance, the game will continue to flourish.
The 2004 All Star said: “People talk about defensive football. As long as it doesn’t get into underage. As long as coaches don’t go out to a seven-year-old and stop them running helter-skelter and stop them having fun then I am alright with the way senior football is going.
"But if it comes into U10s, U12s and U14s then something has to be done. You go out to seven and eight-year-olds and they are all chasing a ball and you might see one fella that might step back and you’ll say, ‘Yeah, there’s football there’.”
McDonald has worked all his life as a pipe fitter and much like his Gaelic Football career, his dedication to his craft has always been praised by co-workers as he worked extraordinary hours to balance his playing career.
His work also meant that he had a natural physique which could not be sculpted in any gymnasium, something he feels has benefitted his career immensely.
“I never went to gyms,” he says. “Many managers have had words with me over it because I haven’t turned up for gym sessions. I just didn’t do it. My work stood to me for 25 years.
“I used to get up at four o’clock in the morning, whatever part of the country I was working in. You’d get up at four o’clock on a Monday morning and work longer on a Monday night because you’d get away early on a Tuesday for training.
“You get out of the van and you go training from 8-10 and then you go home and get up the next morning at four. I never had to do gym work because it just stood to me and I never thought I needed to change it.”