Tuesday 16 January 2018

McAnarney's Royal ascent will reach its peak at Croker

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

We can think of a few obvious names that have played championship football for two different counties. But those to play with three?

Shane McAnarney holds that distinction and it may, indeed, be unique.

Long before he reached terra firma with Meath over the last couple of seasons, there was life on the stormy seas of Gaelic football's outposts.

Three years with New York (2002 to 2004) and a further year with London (2005) gave him a taste for inter-county life that he thought he might never experience.

Now he's enjoying the late vocation of all late vocations.

At 31, he will lead Meath out in only their second Leinster final in 11 years, in what he considers to be only his second "real" season as an inter-county footballer.

Eamonn Barry gave him a taste of it in 2006, the year he arrived back in Ireland and Eamonn O'Brien was tempted for a few games in the summer of 2009.

Then he disappeared without trace and the journeyman's journey looked over.

But he has risen again to become the cornerstone of Meath's defence under Seamus McEnaney, a constant figure through thick and thin.

Hurry

"Different managers see different things in different players. Seamus stuck with me. It worked out last year, hopefully it will continue," he said.

McEnaney clearly likes his wholehearted approach. He plays the game as if he's always in a hurry.

Twelve months ago, he couldn't have imagined being where he is today. Captain courtesy of Seamus Kenny's misfortune to rupture a cruciate ligament again, he has gone through the gears at an age when most inter-county footballers are contemplating slipping into the middle lane.

He got his first break as a corner-back against Kildare in the Leinster championship, but was replaced. McEnaney kept faith with him, however, and tasked him with tracking Paddy Keenan, who was centre-forward for Louth when they met in a first round qualifier last year. He hasn't looked back since.

"I wouldn't have dreamed it. It's probably still sinking in. I was involved in 2010 and wasn't near getting a run back then.

"To be in with a chance of playing now, it's incredible," he reflects.

There has been no great change to what he is doing, just a dogged persistence to fulfil an ambition that always burned deep within him but could never quite manifest.

"I always wanted to play with Meath, I never got the chance at underage. I was involved with an U-21 team that David Gallagher and Seamus Kenny were involved with.

"They won the Leinster that year, there was a panel of 35 -- I was 34 or 35 on the panel. That panel was cut and I was gone.

"I played a bit of Meath junior under Martin Barry after that and then went to New York.

"I never gave that dream up to play with Meath. I went to New York and I kept playing ball there, thinking 'someday I will go home and give it a shot'."

In New York, he trained in snow in the winter knowing that at the end of it all there would be just one day in the sun.

When it came for him in 2004, New York were blown away by Mayo -- who finished the season in an All-Ireland final.

"It was an honour. I couldn't believe I was playing county football.

"In New York they are not strong. It's hard to be strong, because there is a new batch of players every year or two. No challenge matches either, so it's tough on them.

"But as a city and as a GAA family over there, they're a dedicated bunch, they love their football as much as anyone.

"It's a great occasion out there when a team comes out. Everyone looks forward to it immensely."

Twelve months later he was back in the Connacht championship under a different banner and scored the only goal from full-forward as London lost by just a point to Roscommon.

After the storm over McEnaney's management, he was glad to get back to his club environment with Clann na Gael and let the dust settle.

When they returned McAnarney feels they have been able to leave all residue of relegation from the league to one side.

"We had a chat among the squad.

"We wouldn't have been happy with our attitude in games and our work-rate and we tried to rectify it and change."

Their persistence has paid off handsomely so far this summer, just as it has done for their new and unlikely captain.

Irish Independent

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