Sunday 18 March 2018

I'm a lot poorer but I'm a lot happier - Former Ireland international Treacy on new life in League of Ireland

Keith Treacy
Keith Treacy
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

There are moments when Keith Treacy is reminded of the world he used to inhabit. In the 24/7 sports news era, it's hard to avoid it.

Monday night is the most recent example. "I watched Brighton play Leeds," he says. "And I'm looking at players and thinking, 'He's s***e but I'm playing for St Pat's and he's playing for Brighton'. Little things like that do niggle away at you. But you just have to make peace with it and let it go."

He does appear to be at peace, although the 27-year-old knows there will always be doubters. The bullet points of his career path lend themselves to the conclusion that he must be plagued by regrets.

When a player breaks into the Premier League at 19 and makes his debut for Ireland against Argentina at 21, the expectation is that the road ahead is paved with riches.

It didn't quite turn out that way. He went from Blackburn to Preston and from there to Burnley before ending up at Barnsley with a couple of loan stops thrown in along the way.

In the better times, he enjoyed the perks of the profession. But he wasn't living the dream. Exasperated managers couldn't figure him out, yet deep down Treacy knew what he needed to do.

Keith Treacy of Burnley looks to get away from Bournemouth's Simon Francis
Keith Treacy of Burnley looks to get away from Bournemouth's Simon Francis

It was in his final season at Burnley, where he made 31 appearances as part of Sean Dyche's squad that won promotion to the Premier League, that he started to think of home.

The only thing that stopped him following through on it was the fear that his family wouldn't understand. After all, he was making a good living and doing things that every aspiring footballer wants to achieve.

"That's what kept me going," he says. "It's the bad vibes; you think you're letting everybody down. It's different strokes for different folks.

"I was very homesick at 15 but I woke up one day and it just left me. There was no formula to it; I just didn't miss home anymore. Then ten years later it hit me like a tonne of bricks and that was it.

"I remember sitting down with my brother (Martin) and said, 'I'm going to come home' and he said he wasn't surprised which was a nice thing - he knew me that well.

"I think I was my own worst enemy. I was fighting myself in my head rather than people telling me to stay there and the reaction was brilliant. I'm just a brother to them - not a footballer."

Goalkeeper Shay Given playing outfield with Keith Treacy (right) during a training session with Ireland
Goalkeeper Shay Given playing outfield with Keith Treacy (right) during a training session with Ireland

The former Belvedere player did accept a two-year contract at Barnsley after leaving Burnley but it was cut short by mutual consent after six months because his mindset hadn't changed.

Treacy, who hails from Sheriff Street, moved home to Dublin and trained with Shamrock Rovers but he had fallen out of love with the game.

"I spoke to my wife (Leanne) and I just wasn't ready," he explains. "I went back way too early and she said, 'Well, just shut off' so I ended up turning off my phone and just stepping away from it completely."

The father of two young kids had other things to occupy his mind. He decided to channel the competitive side of his personality by turning his attentions to improving his 'awful' golf game.

In the mornings he would set off on his own to Silloge, a public course on the outskirts of Dublin, and set his own targets.

"I got down to 16 handicap," he says. "I was playing by myself and getting competitive and the missus could see that I was starting to come around. She was saying to me, 'You're ready'. In that time, I literally didn't kick a ball. I wasn't interested."

Last summer, Leanne's uncle John McDonnell - then manager of Drogheda United - asked Treacy to come back on a part-time basis as a favour. He agreed, but McDonnell was soon shown the door and the Boynesiders slumped to relegation. It wasn't a great introduction to the domestic scene.

"John asked me to come in and play a few games and do your best," he says.

"It's probably not the nicest thing in the world to say, that I wasn't emotionally invested in it, but that's what it was. I did my best to try and keep them up but I wasn't going home and beating myself up about things. I was dipping my toe in the water."

Liam Buckley, the manager of St Patrick's Athletic, could see Treacy was nowhere near peak condition but reckoned that offering a full-time deal was a risk worth taking.

After an injury-interrupted pre-season, he's looking to make an impression in the coming weeks.

"He's got buckets of ability," says Buckley. "To play in the Premier League, you need to have something about you.

"I'm trying to get him fitter. I would love him to be in our team at his best, because he would be one of the best players in the league."

Treacy is reluctant to look too far ahead. The only thing clear in his mind is that he isn't viewing the Airtricity League as a stepping stone.

"I think I'm done with England to be honest," he admits. "It's nice here, I have a lot more contact with friends and family, people that never got to see me play for the past 11 years. It's nice to look in the stands and see my grandad and my sisters."

The regret which does linger is that he only won six Irish caps despite being named in multiple squads.

"I had to pull out with niggles because I was such an important player for Preston at the time," he sighs. "I wish I'd put my foot down but when they're paying your wages and you're 21, it's a tough thing to do. Looking back, that would be the one thing I'd change."

This summer, Martin and his mates are hiring a camper van and driving to France and, if the schedule of the mid-season break is kind enough, Treacy, who won the last of his six full caps against Scotland in 2011, plans to join them for the Paris date with Sweden.

Rather than dwelling on whether he should be involved, he'll be focused on enjoying the experience with those closest to him.

"I felt like I was missing out on too much when I was in England," he asserts. "Mentally, I'm in a much better place now. I'm a lot poorer, but I'm a lot happier."

Irish Independent

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