Sport is full of 'what might have been' moments. A bounce of the ball here, a contentious refereeing call there, with significant consequences. Then there are the 'what might have been' careers, where anything from serious injury to a lack of commitment led to a player falling short of their potential.
When Naomh Ciarán (Offaly) take to the field against Naomh Pól (Antrim) in tomorrow's LGFA All Ireland intermediate club final at Kingspan Breffni Park in Cavan, one young man on the Naomh Ciarán sideline will wear his usual positive demeanour, despite the fact that he was robbed of a career that could have taken him anywhere.
Six years ago, Colin Kenny was just 16 years of age. A standout hurler and footballer who was heavily sought after by county managers in both codes, Kenny also travelled to Australia to take part in training exercises under the eye of ex-Sydney Swans coach Paul Roos, not to mention earning an Ireland U-18 rugby cap against Italy.
That all changed when he started to feel ill after games, and had to be stood down from all high-level sport after he was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat.
For supporters of Ferbane, Belmont, Offaly and Connacht, it was a huge disappointment. For the player himself, it was a life-changing moment, as he had to revisit his approach to sport, which was absolutely central to his life.
The journey from player to coach has been a difficult one for the Ferbane native. Not so much in terms of learning his craft, but adjusting to life on the sideline, as opposed to in the heat of battle.
“I have a monitor in my chest, a loop recorder, that monitors my heart rate the whole time. I can’t really go above 80% of my max heart rate,” he explained.
“At the start I was pointed at things like golf and going for a walk.
That led him to dip his toe back in the football world, but he was soon forced to pull back. He won a junior football medal with Ferbane, winning a player of the year award despite not being able to play for more than 20 minutes at a time.
He started coming off the bench for the club’s seniors in 2017, until a late goal cost them a place in that year’s county final. His cardiologist stepped in after seeing his readings as the goal went in and drew a line under things.
“We had an U-21 semi-final to go, and then the final. I said I’d stay inside and take it easy for them two, and then wrap it up after that. So that was it.”
It wasn’t easy, particularly this year when he had to watch Ferbane break a 25-year drought in the Offaly SFC.
“It was a killer” Kenny admitted.
“It was brilliant and I was excited for them but there’s always a part of you that’s just like, ‘Jesus I’d love to be playing on that.’
That’s been his outlet – the stunning success story of Naomh Ciarán, who have won five Offaly titles on the bounce, adding two Leinster crowns. His father Mikey is the manager, but Colin has come in as coach and treated it like a labour of love, and the girls have responded.
Their extra-time win over former senior club champions Inch Rovers was the high point of a remarkable five-year spell, and even though the crowd in Ferbane was in palpitations when the game went to extra-time, Kenny didn’t put his heart under any pressure.
“I don’t really get too wound up on the line” he said. “Declan Kidney said when you’re on the line and you’re watching you have to be the calm supporter, because if you get wound up the game just passes you by in a second. You have to distance yourself from it because you’re the only person in the whole place that can try and help the team.
“When I was playing I got to deal with some really, really good coaches. Not just my father, but Ger Heavin (former Westmeath footballer), Tony McTague (All-Ireland winning captain in 1972) and all these people. Outside of that, in all the different sports I got to play, I got to learn a lot.
“That’s what gives me a buzz. Seeing them happy and seeing them enjoying their football and seeing them improving. Obviously it’s not as good as lighting it up on county final day, so it’s not filling the
void of not playing, but it’s still making me happy. That’s what it’s all about really.”
The man with the irregular heartbeat has become the heartbeat of an irregularly talented group. It’s almost as if it was meant to be, even if no-one could have foreseen it going this way six years ago.