Of all footballers looking to catch a break, Paul Geaney’s paw is raised the highest. Heaven knows he’s due one.
But for injury, he wouldn’t have had to wait as long as tomorrow for his first Championship start. Yet that it is only telling part of a story about the Dingle man who lost his mother Christina earlier this year to cancer.
Geaney, 23, took solace from the fact she managed to see her son captain UCC to a Sigerson Cup title. He had been named in the Kerry team to face Mayo on March 2 but pulled out as her health had deteriorated. She passed away the following day.
“My mother was a huge influence in my football career. Ever since I was able to kick a ball, she encouraged me and followed my career. She would watch me scoring goals for Dingle and when I played Kerry minor and U21, she was always there.
“If I had a bad game, she would be the first to pick me up — like all mothers. She was my rock. She was there to see me get that late equalising goal, in the West Kerry Final of 2007, when I was only 16. It came in the last minute and we won the replay. It was my first senior medal, my third appearance on the team.
“It was another downer last year, while I was dealing with injury, Mom was sick at the time, and I wanted to be playing football and scoring goals, to cheer her up. But at least she lived to see me make my first Championship appearance for Kerry last summer against Cavan [as a sub] in Croke Park.
“It was a very emotional day for the family and it was great for them to see me on the pitch with the Kerry seniors and in Croke Park. So when she died, football was what helped me through with friends and family.”
Back in the team to face Westmeath, Geaney reacted to scoring a goal by pointing to the skies. It was of course meant for her.
“It was in my mind because it was Mothers Day,” he recalls, “that if I scored a goal, I would dedicate it to Mom and I was glad I was able to do that. She was the greatest.”
Christina would be pleased her son is now injury-free having been foiled countless times in making the breakthrough onto the Kerry team. He makes his SFC starting debut, just as his cousin Mikey does, in Cusack Park determined to make up for lost time. Having appeared against Cavan last summer, a back spasm on the train to Dublin meant he missed out on the All-Ireland semi-final.
“I started well enough,” he says of 2013, “playing in the McGrath Cup. I missed one game in Fitzgerald Stadium, I think, when I had to pull out just before the throw-in, because my back was giving me a bit of grief. Then, after that, I pulled my hamstring, playing with UCC against Jordanstown in the Sigerson Cup quarter-final. I missed six weeks because of that.
“But I came back training the week before we went to Portugal for the training camp, and I actually pulled the hamstring again out there, after the third day, so it turned out it was my back that was really causing me grief and it was diagnosed in fact I had a broken vertebrae.
“It only happened by chance when I went up to Santry to have an injection in an nerve to stop impulses going down to my hamstrings and it was actually picked up on the scan — the L5 vertebrae was broken in my lower back and that basically was causing all my problems. It was causing my hamstring to tighten up and that led to all the injuries.”
The operation last April put him out for three months and, just when everything looked good, there was his difficulty on the train to Heuston Station in September. I could not walk, not even walk off the train! It was a post op spasm, it just happens, it turned out to be only one I had but it was a real downer.
“That was a body blow, having trained so hard, after missing so much action, gone through so much since January and then on the eve of one of the biggest games of the year, or any year, Croke Park and Dublin. I was stopped in my tracks, it put an awful damper on things because I couldn’t even walk. I managed to put on a tracksuit for the game but I was helpless. I felt I might have been able to do something on that day and make an impact, particularly, since it was such a high quality game.”
On one hand he can count the amount of games he played outside of club football last year. Tomorrow he makes amends.
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