Tomas Ó Sé: Teaching allowed me freedom to live like a professional
For two months of every year, I made the most of my opportunity to be a full-time footballer . . .
Some morning early next week I'm expecting my phone to chime with a routine text message for the time of year it is.
"Can't decide whether to go for a coffee now or leave it till later on. What do you think…?"
It was always Marc's way of telling me he has the whole summer stretching out in front of him. And, more pointedly, that I still had four more weeks to go myself.
He's a secondary schoolteacher in Tralee CBS, I'm a primary schoolteacher in Fermoy, Cork.
When people tell me how easy I have it with two months off, I always point to him. "Sure Marc has three."
He'll fire off the same text off to a few Kerry team-mates to test the waters for a response.
The rogue in me always had my fingers on the keypad in the same manner on the first Monday morning after school broke up for us in late June.
Attach a few words on to the end of the hook and cast the rod in the direction of a few suspects you knew would soon be wriggling at the other end for a bite.
"Enjoy your day's work."
"Could you help me choose what DVD to watch this morning?"
Inevitably, the picture of a cuppa and the feet up was attached for maximum effect.
The kick-back always came on the very day that I was returning to class the following September, a text calibrated to land in my inbox just as I was driving through the gates of the school that morning.
How did they always time it so well? They'd never forget.
The sting from that never lasted long though because I always appreciated what I had.
Looking back now, there is no way that I could have had such a career with Kerry if I wasn't a teacher.
It allowed me the freedom to do as I wished as a footballer. I loved summer, not for the weather but for the time it allowed me to zone in on being an absolute professional during those months. Holidays aligned perfectly with peak-season in our game.
I thrived, mentally and physically, in that time because everything had a nice order about it. I wouldn't take up any other work so I could build every day around my football.
I've no doubt my body was in better condition because I was able to mind it so well during those two months.
Once those texts were sent a routine was set. Rise at half-eight instead at half-seven, an extra hour but no more. It allowed me to block off parts of the day that would otherwise have been taken up by normal working hours.
An hour for stretching maybe, an hour for a swim after a hard session the night before.
You could sit in the sauna and relax knowing that the man you might be facing the next day had his head stuck in a set of accounts or paperwork somewhere. No pressure. In that way it was brilliant for the mind, allowed you to think to yourself that you had some little, extra edge.
Food was a big thing, making sure to eat properly. When you're rushing you tend to grab what you can. You never know what kind of busy day might lead you down a careless road.
But on holidays I consumed the right stuff at the right time on a training day, two or three o'clock in the day before getting into the car and setting off back to Kerry at a leisurely pace. I liked being there early, getting the rubs and getting out to stretch. Not being flustered.
When I started in 1997, Eamon Breen was an integral part of things. He was a plasterer and his time was scarce. So he'd race in on a Tuesday or Thursday night, stones flying everywhere in the car park, cement falling off the jeans before a quick change and out onto the field.
Then you'd see a man training. First in all the runs, leaving it all out there. This after such a physically tough, demanding day.
He'd travel with Liam O'Flaherty, a farmer and another tough man from north Kerry who had just as little time on his hands for football. But they went at it hard. I know, even then, that I couldn't have done it.
Those guys who have to sit in a stuffy office from nine to five, I'd find that too much. Eoin Brosnan has a tough, stressful job as a solicitor in Killarney; he had to go through that.
Geographically, there wasn't a hope in hell for me to meet those demands, not living in Cork. It would be impossible for me to get to Killarney. You're talking a journey of an hour-and-a-quarter.
I just hated the rushing, the idea of that quick change and out. The chances of hurting the back or stiffness kicking in increased.
You wouldn't find many Kerry footballers working with full-time jobs outside the county. There were students based in Limerick and Cork but anybody who was working long distance from Kerry didn't last long. I was furthest but I wouldn't have lasted if I wasn't a teacher.
There was a bit of noise recently about the position Kieran Donaghy, Darran O'Sullivan and Karl Lacey (below) have put themselves in.
The one thing I would say is that they are bank jobs. Kerry being Kerry, if the county captain is standing behind a counter every day talking to 40 or 50 people, chances are almost every one will want to talk football. Same for Darran.
For me, it would be an absolute nightmare. I didn't really like talking about games; too mentally draining.
Now the lads would always be always be willing. Two more engaging fellas you couldn't meet. They wouldn't be distant and would always give something back.
But I'd hate to be talking all the time. That was one of things I loved about being in Cork. Away from it.
These three guys have tasted success, they have achieved peaks as Footballer of the Year or have made the shortlist at least. They really do love their football so much that they want to get the most that they can out of it.
They're not young either and are perhaps heading towards the twilight of their careers. But they'll be working long enough in their lives.
It's not that they aren't driven in terms of work. They are really focused individuals and will get on very well in life. They have great attitudes. I don't know Lacey that well but I'm sure he has too.
If you can get more out of your career you should go for it. Darran and Donaghy are cute enough, they'll have something lined up.
You can't underestimate the benevolence of bosses to inter-county GAA players over the years. Even club players benefit.
The GAA finds it was way into every corner of this country, there's always a connection somewhere to the boss or somebody can put a hand on him and say, 'Look this fella is doing this or that, he needs a bit of time off for training or physio.'
You'll have that attitude with 99 per cent of them. But there's the odd tough cookie who won't understand.
I worked in a water factory back in Kerry while playing for the county minors.
One evening I was knocking off early for training when I was apprehended. Where was I going? I shot a bemused look back. I got away with it but yer man turned around and said to a colleague, 'Remind me not to hire a footballer again'.
I was gone by the following week.
I lasted 17 years. If I had a nine-to-five job there's no way I could live outside Kerry. None. For those two months of summer I left amateurism behind in all but name.
I really admire Donaghy and the boys because they want to get the most out of it. Donaghy is captain of Kerry, a huge honour for him. He has an opportunity and you can just tell that he's chomping at the bit to make the most of it.
Good luck to him.