Going from building site to training now a thing of the past for McKeever
Published 10/06/2015 | 02:30
The days of clocking off a building site and heading straight out on to a training field are numbered for GAA players, Armagh football captain Ciaran McKeever predicts.
McKeever has left the plastering trade behind him in recent years and feels he might not still be playing at the highest level if it wasn't for the switch.
"If you want to play at this level you have to look after yourself better," he said. "If you are turning 32, you can't be getting up at 6.0 to go to a building site and then rushing to training, just getting in the door and maybe not getting to foam-roll or stretch before training.
"You have got to look around and try and prepare yourself as best you can to compete at this level.
"I wouldn't say the day is past but in the next couple of years there will be more boys in offices," he predicted.
"There will be very few boys on building sites fit to give the commitment, not with the lack of work around these areas and maybe having to travel to England and Dublin to work."
McKeever is now based in Dublin where he has linked up with the St Oliver Plunkett's/Eoghan Ruadh.
"There are more things to do up in Dublin than there are in Cullyhanna. Life's better," he laughed.
On the field he feels the road straightening out in front of him too after a frustrating injury-interrupted 2014.
"Last year I felt a new lease of life, I felt fresh, fit, in good shape again. I thought I had overcome my injuries," he recalled.
But a knee injury sustained in the early stages of the league left him out of the rest of that campaign.
He recovered in time to play a key role as Armagh made steady progress through the championship before injury struck again just as they were building up a head of steam.
"I remember we played an in-house match in Brewster Park the Saturday before we were heading to Croke Park to play Meath.
"I remember driving home from Enniskillen (where they were on a training weekend) to a family wedding and I was saying to myself, 'I really feel in a good place going into this match'.
"But I went to training on the Tuesday night and I tore my plantar faciitis. It was hard to stomach."
It was a controversial campaign at times for Armagh, stemming from their pre-match parade row with Cavan that resulted in three suspensions.
Did it create a 'siege mentality' for the rest of the summer? "I don't if you would say it was a siege mentality. I felt that after the Cavan game that the media were trying to highlight every incident.
"But it was the least of our worries, we had a task in front of us and that was to win matches and take Armagh to the next level and that's what we wanted to do."
Trouble flared at the beginning of their qualifier win against Tyrone too.
"We got the blame for that one as well," he recalled. "I think people forget what happened at the throw-in as well. Our two midfielders were fired to the ground but some people didn't see that. We won the game and that was the main thing for us. It wasn't what happened in between."
Their victory over Tyrone, a first in championship for nine years, moved some players to tears, the legacy, says the captain, of a heavy McKenna Cup defeat to the same opponents earlier that year.
"A lot of boys took a huge amount of flak after that, not even the boys that played, but us as a team, us as a panel. In the coming weeks after it too," he recalled.
"I think to get across the line that day was a huge relief after what happened that night in Omagh. It would have hurt their pride and dignity, what happened, so to get over that hurdle at the same venue six months later, it was good for them and us as a team."
An Armagh team without McKeever were within minutes of a famous victory over Donegal in last year's All-Ireland quarter-final and he hopes it's a valuable lesson learned.
"It's something we have chatted about since and it's something that we have to learn from last year if we find ourselves in that position again.
"We have talked about it in-house and it's something we have got to take to the table."