Sunday 21 July 2019

'I struggled a lot, I just wanted to be happy again'

Galway’s Cillian McDaid gets away from Mayo’s David Drake during last week’s FBD semi-final. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile
Galway’s Cillian McDaid gets away from Mayo’s David Drake during last week’s FBD semi-final. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

As much as Michael Daly's contribution at the end of Galway's Connacht League semi-final draw with Mayo in Tuam last Sunday was a source of rich encouragement for supporters looking at areas of potential improvement on a progressive 2018, Cillian McDaid's first-half efforts didn't go unnoticed either.

But it was his physique that really caught the eye on his first day out after a challenging year trying to bed in as an AFL player with Carlton was officially aborted last autumn.

Adding around 5kg to his frame was one of the few positive outcomes he could report after a "challenge" that left him unhappy at times, lonely, and sufficiently envious of the advances his former team-mates were making back home to want to be among them again.


McDaid's Galway return, coupled with Daly's recovery from injury, and Liam Silke's restoration after a summer spent in the US, are obvious components with which Kevin Walsh can strengthen his team.

For McDaid, it means just being happy again because his year Down Under, battling a stress fracture in his left foot for much of it, stripped so much of that sentiment from him.

"I turned 21 in the middle of August and probably wasn't in the happiest or best of spirits for those few weeks," he recalled.

Having picked up the injury around March after playing a couple of games with Carlton's VFL team Northern Blues, he missed 14 weeks and only returned to play four more games with the Blues up to the season's conclusion.

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By then his experience had drained him.

"The injury was the big issue, just not being able to train. It's hard when you go out there. I went out there to play football, I didn't go out there to rehab, I went out to try and make it.

"Out there when training is on, everybody is training so no one is out watching a session.

"So if you are injured, you are doing some form of work. I would have spent time in a very small, heated, altitude room on a bike.

"Some of those sessions are by yourself, maybe yourself and a rehab coach. I enjoyed the training but that was tough."

The monotony weighed on him.

"It was the same thing day in, day out. You think when you go out there to play a new sport it will be something new every day.

"For those three months though it was just the same routine - come in, get checked up in the morning, go to the team meeting and then everyone else puts on their boots to go outside and you put on your cycling gear and get up on a bike."

Homesickness is, he says, a "loose word" but his battles with the life he left behind came early before that slight crack surfaced on his fifth metatarsal.

NUIG's Sigerson Cup run registered, then the early Monday-morning chats with his dad Garvan reporting from the front line of Galway's adventurous league campaign.

"By the end of the league I couldn't believe it. Every (Monday) morning was a call to say that they had won again! It was funny by the end of it, he was probably getting excited ringing me as well. It would brighten up the day a bit."

The club did a lot for him, whisking him and other injured players down the coast for a change of scenery on occasion but, in hindsight, he never really recovered from a poor start.

"I struggled a lot, I didn't settle in straight away as well as other lads do. I found it hard, I was living with Ciaran Byrne (Louth player who has also ended his AFL career with Carlton) for the first couple of months, before I moved in with a host family.


"It was a woman Karen who looked after me but she worked long hours at the airport so I used to spend a lot of time in the house by myself.

"By the end of it I was really, really fed up, felt probably isolated, lonely and I was fed up of not feeling happy at 20 years of age.

"Everyone thinks you are living the dream, over in a lovely country, great weather, great city, getting paid to play football. I just found it was very different from that in my experience.

"I had my health so happiness was the other thing I wanted back. That's probably why I came home in the end."

A quick eight-day trip home in early June, coinciding with Galway's Connacht semi-final win over Sligo, only fortified that feeling. Invited in to train with the team, his sense of loss was embellished.

When Galway lost to Dublin in the All-Ireland semi-final last August, he had found it hard to prepare to play for Northern Blues earlier that day.

"It was just challenging to play knowing that they were worlds apart, physically and in every other sporting sense - in front of a couple of hundred people compared to whatever crowd they (Galway) drew.

"It probably took me to go to Australia to train and play games over there that I knew what my dream is, which is to play for Galway and to play GAA at home," he said.

Back home the injury has cleared up for which there's a nod to Galway's medical staff and the management it has been afforded.

"It took two or three attempts to get it (sorted) over in Australia, so far, first go, everything is going smoothly," he said.

"There's a perception that the GAA is a bit behind other codes but I'd be fairly well-placed to comment, coming from a professional set-up, that it's not as far behind as everyone thinks.

"The games are different lengths but in terms of fitness, speed, skill, GAA players aren't far behind."

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