Tuesday 20 March 2018

'I didn't think I'd get the chance again, so I know what it means' - Seanie Johnston

Prodigal son Johnston relishing his second coming with Cavan as Breffni men target big breakthrough

Seanie Johnston in the dug-out at his home club Cavan Gaels. Photo: Lorraine Teevan
Seanie Johnston in the dug-out at his home club Cavan Gaels. Photo: Lorraine Teevan

Michael Verney

"I believe I'll go back home

Or down the road as far as I can go"

- The Rolling Stones, 'Prodigal Son'

Career epitaphs are quickly written when you stray north of 30 and given the ill-feeling surrounding his controversial transfer to Kildare, the deck was stacked against a Cavan return. But Seanie Johnston has never abided by traditional convention.

Axed in 2011 and told via a phone call that his services would no longer be required by then manager Val Andrews, after being his captain that year, Johnston was caught in the eye of a ferocious media storm during his contentious move to the Lilywhites.

The unwanted subject of the biggest GAA furore in 2012, Johnston went to extreme lengths to make his Kildare bow, even playing the opening minute of a Kildare hurling championship game with Coill Dubh (below) to ensure eligibility with his adopted county.

Seanie Johnston. Photo: Sportsfile
Seanie Johnston. Photo: Sportsfile


Murphy's Law later prevailed and the 'dream' qualifier draw saw his competitive Kildare debut come later that summer against Cavan in Breffni Park, a stone's throw from his base in Cavan town, where he appeared to a series of boos and catcalls as the home side were walloped by 17 points.

Looking back on the circus and constant speculation which surrounded his every move isn't something he's fond of doing but he reckons only someone with a heart of stone could have prevented the gossip and rumour from affecting them. It was rife.

"You want to have this typical Irish man approach, 'Ah no, nothing would upset or annoy me' but of course it has an impact. If enough people start saying negative stuff about you, it's virtually impossible," Johnston says

In action for Kildare against Cavan in 2012 when he came up against his good friend Ronan Flanagan. Photo: Sportsfile
In action for Kildare against Cavan in 2012 when he came up against his good friend Ronan Flanagan. Photo: Sportsfile

"People say, 'Well you don't have to read it' but sure it was everywhere. You're trying to be positive and not let stuff in but everyone's human. If you're being constantly bombarded with talk and people ringing different family, it's not nice at all like."

Despite all the publicity, he admits he had "very few conversations" with people about it and has little interest in speaking about it now. "I made a decision and that's just life, it's about moving on and looking forward," the Cavan Gaels attacker says.

"I don't want to be saying, 'Oh yeah well I was really this and that'. I'm not going complaining about it or crying about it, it's just...that's what happened in a certain period of my life. You learn from everything that you do.

"I can't control what people write or say. I'm not really looking to go back down that route again. If you look back you'll only mess with your head and mess with your mind. It's about looking forward and trying to push on and be as successful as we can be now."

He can't control the past but he can put his stamp on the future and he has the opportunity to be part of a something special brewing in Cavan after the Breifne College PE teacher met with manager Terry Hyland.

An "honest chat" over the winter to discuss "the benefits" of a possible return to both parties with "no guarantees from either" followed and the 31-year-old has been keen to contribute in any way possible to the squad since.

The squad was all change from his last involvement in 2011 and meeting the players was "nerve-racking" but normality was quickly restored after a team night out before Christmas when 'Jelly', his nickname because he was a self-confessed "fat child", got a few friendly jibes.

"A bit of craic started, a bit of slagging and after that it was 100pc," he jokes. "I have to say it became very easy for me because of the quality of person within the group, they're all good solid lads and they didn't make it awkward or hard for me at all.

"It just took one comment to get it going and then it was an open forum with slagging but I'm not too bad at that side of things. There's a good buzz around the dressing room and it's not just me getting abuse."

Since donning a Cavan jersey again on a foggy January night against Jordanstown, Johnston has played a crucial part in gaining promotion to Division 1. He's much happier being talked about for his displays on the pitch rather than the antics off it.

Four years after being jeered on home soil, his outstanding seven-point contribution against Armagh was acknowledged with a rapturous ovation upon his substitution. Cavan are in a different place right now, and so is he.

"There's no pressure. If you play bad, you play bad. It's not the end of the world, what I do isn't going to have a huge bearing on the result, There's so many different top quality players there to take up the mantle," he says.

"It's definitely a far easier life now. I'm just content in where I'm at in life and in football. It's great just to be able to tip out of school, go home, relax, do the same the next day and so on, go and play your game on a Sunday.

"No one annoying you or there's not overly much talk about it which is great. It's great for family members that they can just go back in and watch games now and just enjoy it and be able to live normal lives."

It's no longer the Seanie Johnston show with new blood like Gearoid McKiernan, Killian Clarke and Dara McVeety powering Cavan as they look to topple Tyrone this Sunday. He's just thankful for the second chance.

"When something appears gone and it comes back it makes you more appreciative of it," he says. "I didn't think I'd get the chance to play for Cavan again so I know what it means," he says.

Johnston on . . .

Tyrone this weekend:

"They were by far the better team in the league final so it's up to us to see can we close the gap. They probably have the best defence in the country with three or four marquee attackers.

"They're being talked up as the only team that can give the Dubs a rattle and they really want to win the Ulster Championship this year. It's going to be one helluva game, we're not going there to make up numbers either."

Are the Dubs unstoppable?

"I think what they're doing is pretty special and if they're willing to keep making sacrifices and stuff like that then they deserve everything they get out of it.

"Are they favourites to win the All-Ireland? Yes. Is it guaranteed? No. Can they be caught? Well, they've been caught before but it's going to take one hell of an effort or one hell of a team to beat them."

Criticism of Kieran McGeeney:

"I had a chat with him after the game and, knowing the man, he'll be knuckling down thinking about how he can get his team back to Croke Park through the qualifiers. I don't know if anyone playing amateur GAA deserves any kind of harsh criticism, or personal criticism like that.

"I've been there and got it and it's not that nice. You're doing it and you want to try and represent your county and play. I don't think it's very fair that anyone's getting personal criticism."

Role of the corner-forward:

"With all the blankets and that, it can be hard if you just stay in there. You need to have a bit of variety in your game and reinvent yourself. It keeps you more interested in the game trying out in different positions.

"Athleticism is the key word in the GAA at the minute, being able to constantly get up and down the field for whatever time you're on it."

Irish Independent

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