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Meath's Padraic Harnan: 'It's hard: you can't farm if you're injured, but I won't quit football'

Farmers are a rare breed in elite GAA these days, but Meath's Padraic Harnan is bucking the trend, writes Michael Keaveny

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Balancing act: Padraic Harnan with his dog Bruno and some of the livestock on the family farm near Dunboyne, Co Meath. Photo: Frank McGrath

Balancing act: Padraic Harnan with his dog Bruno and some of the livestock on the family farm near Dunboyne, Co Meath. Photo: Frank McGrath

 Padraic in action for Meath versus Mayo in last year's Super 8s. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Padraic in action for Meath versus Mayo in last year's Super 8s. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Royal pedigree: Padraic's uncle Liam Harnan in action for Meath in the 1996 Leinster football final. Photo: Sportsfile

Royal pedigree: Padraic's uncle Liam Harnan in action for Meath in the 1996 Leinster football final. Photo: Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Padraic’s father’s cousin Mick Lyons is considered one of the all-time great full-backs. Photo: Sportsfile

Padraic’s father’s cousin Mick Lyons is considered one of the all-time great full-backs. Photo: Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

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Balancing act: Padraic Harnan with his dog Bruno and some of the livestock on the family farm near Dunboyne, Co Meath. Photo: Frank McGrath

Being a full-time dairy farmer is one of the most demanding occupations there is. It is no longer seen as compatible with the rigours of playing inter-county football.

Farmers have become an endangered species in elite GAA. But Meath star Padraic Harnan is somehow bucking the trend.

Being a Harnan, the balancing act is nothing new. He is a nephew of Liam Harnan, who won two All Ireland medals for the legendary Meath team of the 1980s at centre-back, while also being a dairy farmer.

For good measure, Padraic's father's cousin is Mick Lyons, another farmer, who was full-back on that Royals side and is widely considered to have been one of the toughest and most effective defenders of all time.

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 Padraic in action for Meath versus Mayo in last year's Super 8s. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Padraic in action for Meath versus Mayo in last year's Super 8s. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Padraic Harnan, a UCD ag science graduate, has been balancing farming and football since he broke on to the inter-county scene in 2013, having captained the Meath minor team in 2012 to an All-Ireland final, where they lost out to a Dublin side featuring Davy Byrne, Cormac Costello and Niall Scully.

Padraic regularly helped out on his uncle's farm from an early age, and it was the obvious career path for him to follow.

"I was always around the farm as a young lad - when I wasn't playing football I was farming," he says.

Despite his love for farming and the GAA, committing to both presents its problems.

Pushing

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Royal pedigree: Padraic's uncle Liam Harnan in action for Meath in the 1996 Leinster football final. Photo: Sportsfile

Royal pedigree: Padraic's uncle Liam Harnan in action for Meath in the 1996 Leinster football final. Photo: Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

"I pulled my groin in training last year," he says. "I was trying to make it back for the Leinster final against Dublin. The medical team said I wouldn't be back but I kept pushing it and it felt good. I was training away and hitting all the markers to be back on time.

"But the Thursday before the game I was moving calves and they wouldn't go through a gate. I thought I had them, but one shot off and my natural reaction was to go after it, and my groin just went again. I caught the calf though," he laughs.

"It was either get a bollocking from my boss or management, so either way, I was in for it." While he can laugh at this incident, Padraic is aware of the broader complications of trying to balance football and farming.

"It's hard because you're trying to work to make a living, and with farming you can't do anything if you're injured.

"Then you have to ask yourself, do you quit football to focus on your career? I'm not going to do that - an intercounty career is so short, so I want to make the most of it.

"Last year my boss was very accommodating. I'd work three or four weeks straight to build up days off just so I could get two Sundays off in a row for games.

"I've just started a new job working on a dairy farm in Kilkenny which complicates things when it comes to training, but I'm nursing a shoulder injury at the minute, so I can't do any contact sessions.

"Our manager Andy McEntee is very flexible and lets me do my fitness training (on his own) because there's no point in driving three hours to do the same running I could do at home.

"That allows me to enjoy the training and the job a bit more.

"It's very hard to keep up with the number of hours these days. Even when I was in college I'd leave Dublin at 4pm to avoid the traffic and I wouldn't be back up until after 11. That was four or five times a week. Then sometimes you'd hear supporters giving players a hard time and you'd have to just take it - they don't realise the work that goes into it.

"I used to work in an agri-store, but I wore glasses at the time so customers wouldn't know I was a player. They would come in and say something about the Meath team and I'd keep my mouth shut. Sometimes a co-worker would tell them I play for Meath and their story would change.

"You just have to take it with a pinch of salt. They don't realise the work that happens behind the scenes at all levels."

In 2016 after Meath had been knocked out of the Championship, Harnan decided to go to New Zealand after finishing college to gain more experience.

He headed to the South Island, where he worked for "a good Meath man", Peter Clinton, who runs a number of large dairy farm outside Invercargill.

It was an experience he enjoyed.

"Peter looked after me. I had a great time, got introduced to a lot of good people and gained great experience.

"It was good to get that break and a change of scenery but when I was out there I realised how much I missed football.

"I kept fit by running on rugby pitches so when I came back in December I was raring to play football again."

"When I came back I took a job in an office. While I enjoyed the job it was nothing compared to farming, being out in the fresh air, working with cattle producing a good product.

"You hear a lot of people complaining about farming. I think people should be allowed to eat what they want. I don't mind if anybody is a vegan or a vegetarian.

"But when they try to force it on other people with false facts, that's where I have an issue. We have a great natural product here in Ireland with our milk. It's sourced from just grass, the cows are outside, walk in, are milked and walk straight back out to the field afterwards."

Padraic certainly isn't tempted to follow star Dublin forward Paul Mannion's decision to embrace a vegan diet.

"No it's not for me," he says with a grin. "I like eating meat too much, I also like to source my food locally and try to help the environment that way. "That's Paul's choice and there are plenty of good athletes who are vegan, but I enjoy foods like steak, lamb and milk too much. I like to grow my own foods - I keep a few pigs at home and I know exactly what goes into them, so that's just my preference."

Springboard

Meath are back in Division 1 this season after a 14-year gap. In 2019 it was Meath's stated aim to gain promotion from Division 2, reach a Leinster final and get to the 'Super 8s' - all of which they achieved. Harnan intends to use last year's experience as a springboard.

"We went into the Super 8s thinking we could get make it out of the group, but we made mistakes at key moments and let ourselves down," he says.

"We have to learn from those mistakes for 2020.

"There's a feeling that we're going to get relegated from Division 1 but we're targeting winning at least three games to stay up. We're not there to make up the numbers."

At 25, Harnan has a wise head on his young shoulders, an attribute that will serve him well in the future.

"Right now I'm enjoying playing football and farming. There's more to life than the GAA, but I'm just going to make the most of it and enjoy it."

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