Shane Lennon has nowhere to hide. Whether he's playing for his club Kilkerley or for his county Louth, he is under the watchful eye of one the O'Rourkes. Cousins Aidan and Malachy are in charge of his county and club teams respectively.
The Armagh men are keeping him in check, monitoring his form and striving to get the best out of their star forward. A hip problem that required surgery ruled Lennon out of last year's inter-county championship. While out injured he stepped away from the county scene completely, spent time with his girlfriend Linda, watched a lot of sport and played a bit of golf. Since returning to full fitness, he's been mindful of injuries, taking rests when his body demands it.
His return to inter-county action coincided with the appointment of Aidan O'Rourke as Louth manager. Mike McGurn was brought in as the fitness coach and his expertise has helped Lennon's recovery.
“Mike has brought the whole strength and conditioning side of things to a new level,” explains Lennon. “He has a lot of experience with rugby and Gaelic games, the set-up is very good. We are doing different types of running and gym work, it's more updated stuff than we have done before, it's not just going in lifting as heavy weights as you can.”
Having a new boss, a new voice and a new set-up has increased Lennon's desire to win with Louth. Although it's still early days in O'Rourke's tenure, Lennon is impressed with what the Armagh man has to offer.
“He's brought professionalism to the squad as well as enthusiasm and a will to win,” says Lennon. “He gets involved, he's very hands-on and every player knows where he stands with him because he'll talk to them. If someone's form is dipping, he'll ask one of the players to talk to him to make sure they are okay.
“Discipline is big with Aidan and within the squad it's improved massively. I know in years gone by the discipline would have slipped a bit, especially if you didn't get good results in the league, then discipline might not have been great but everyone seems to have bought into it.”
Although O'Rourke achieved success as a player, winning five Ulster titles and an All-Ireland with Armagh, he rarely references his own playing days or compares the counties.
“He just brings what he can to the squad from his own experience; he wouldn't really mention the Armagh set-up. There are probably three or four Armagh managers in Leinster so I'm sure they are all singing off the same hymn sheet.”
One of those Armagh men is Justin McNulty, manager of Laois, who will provide today's opposition for Louth in their Leinster championship opener. McNulty has been in the job for three seasons and last year he brought Laois to the All-Ireland quarter-final. Today's game is in Portlaoise but this doesn't faze Lennon.
“We played there the last couple of years in the first round of the championship. We know the pitch fairly well, we played there in the league in February. I know it's their home ground and they will have the crowd but the Louth supporters travel well.”
At 27, Lennon is one of the more experienced members of the Louth team and was a key player back in 2010 when they lost out to Meath in the Leinster final after Joe Sheridan's controversial goal. The forward has put the game behind him but admits that it did take a while.
“You just have to get on with things. I was watching the Championship play-offs a few weeks back, a penalty was missed and then the ball went up the field and a goal was scored. Things like that happen in sport and I know the whole Meath and Louth rivalry built it up.”
Lennon's job as a coaching officer with Louth GAA means he spends a lot of time at their centre of excellence in Darver. As well as coaching kids, he also managed the Freshers’ football team last season at Dundalk Institute of Technology and he's learned a lot from that experience.
“If you are working on things in your own game, you try to bring them to a squad, even things like set plays. It's a totally different set-up because if you take off boys and they are not happy, they are not too slow at letting you know.”
Although Lennon has trained plenty of the county’s up-and-coming stars, he has yet to take charge of any of his current team-mates. There is a nice mix of youth and experience in the Louth squad and Lennon is happy to see some new forwards stepping up to the plate.
“There are serious young players coming through, Ciarán Byrne, Derek Maguire, Jim McEaney, they have been chipping in with scores throughout the league. Casey (Ciarán Byrne) is like a breath of fresh air. He's no nerves about him and he's real experienced and I don't think he's even 19 yet.”
After losing out on a Leinster title in 2010 and missing last season through injury, Lennon doesn’t take anything for granted. He’s one of the leaders on the team now and next he wants to be a winner.