'Self-belief is an easy thing to say but it's a hard thing to establish' - Kieran McGeeney
McGeeney's faith in hard work and perseverance has never wavered as he strives to turn things around for Armagh
Published 28/05/2016 | 02:30
There are a number of pictures of Kieran McGeeney that hang in The Athletic Grounds.
Naturally, the one of him lifting Sam Maguire in 2002 takes pride of place, face contorted and expressing relief rather than joy. But as you make your way out of the main building, another image captures the imagination, and McGeeney, better than any set-piece.
It was taken prior to a league match against Laois, in Pearse Park, Longford, in mid-April, 2002. He already has taken his place front and centre, sitting on the bench for the team photograph. None of his team-mates are there with him. His face this time is one of knotted concentration.
That was a time before Sam, before his ultimate fulfilment. Some would say that contentment has never arrived for McGeeney. He sees it differently now that he is a manager.
"There is a great book out there called 'The Good Psychopath' and you have to have those kind of tendencies. What you are trying to give players now is balance. The more they want to get better at something, the more they will sacrifice and you are always trying to pull them back in," he says of satisfying your inner drive.
"I made a lot of mistakes that way as a player and thankfully I was lucky at the end of it. My son came along and showed me there was more important things in life.
"The football part? I think it is the best part or the easiest part."
His son Cian is seven years old. He is not pushed on playing in Croke Park, leaning more at this stage towards Manchester United and the Champions League.
"He tells people that I am the Armagh manager, but I tell him not to say it so loud sometimes, because it might not be something to be too proud of!" McGeeney laughs.
Oh yes, he laughs.
And then there is Leah, his daughter. A while back, the 44-year-old thought he had established a 'man-cave' of sorts in his house. Or at least a home office.
But "Leah has a tendency to invade it. All the books on the bottom shelf get a good going-over. I think she is telling me it is going to be a shared space."
That does not tally with the dementedly-driven figure on the bench that cold spring day in Longford, and for some reason that image has stuck fast to McGeeney since through a progressive spell as Kildare manager and now in his second year as Armagh manager.
They are outsiders to win tomorrow against Cavan. Outsiders to do anything in Ulster. In terms of their prospects of winning an All-Ireland, McGeeney admits to being laughed at when he told friends he would win Sam Maguire with Armagh.
That was in his student days. The students on the Armagh panel would cause the same mirth among their peers if they suggested it could happen now. McGeeney is the believer. You can listen to him talk about success because he stepped down that path. Sure, it might even take a turn towards Naval-Gazing Gardens, does that mean it's wrong?
"You can be slagged about success and what have some teams won, but what is success?" he asks.
"Self-belief is something you have to establish yourself.
"When most fellas go to the International Rules and they mix with players from other counties, the first thing they realise is how ordinary everybody else is. Self-belief is an easy thing to say, but it's a hard thing to establish. People talk about having it but you really only get it when you win and that's where the Catch 22 situation comes in.
"For our squad, we won one Ulster and won another six after it. Whereas before that we could hardly grasp one championship win."
Last year, the experts came after McGeeney when they collapsed against Donegal. His record at Kildare was bent into shape to fit an overall narrative. He has heard one pundit claim that McGeeney himself feels his players are 's**t.'
So why does he still do it and why will he be there on the line tomorrow, facing down Cavan?
He explains: "I enjoy it. That is the big thing, I enjoy finding out what makes athletes tick. I like to try and make them better, learning from mistakes that I have made as a player and a manager, trying to push them on and to ensure that the culture around them is a better one.
"We had a fundraiser the other day and you are running around begging. That is part and parcel for us.
"When you compare sponsorships from those teams who are winning, to teams that aren't, you can't say that it is not having an impact. It's not that the money makes you a better player but it certainly gives you access to things that will keep players there longer."
For McGeeney, perseverance brought rewards.
"I go back to my own time and I wonder if I had not stayed around until Ronan Clarke came, would we have won that one (2002). And Stevie McDonnell did not come in until 1999, after 10 years."
Fourteen years later, he is still there, believing that if you keep doing your job right, the wheel will turn eventually.