Kieran O’Leary is a first-time selector with the Kerry U20 footballers. The Kingdom youngsters, having dethroned Cork in the provincial decider, were scheduled to play Galway in the All-Ireland semi-final on St Patrick’s Day.
O’Leary is also a member of the Dr Crokes forward unit. Their opening round fixture in the Kerry senior club championship was earmarked for April 5.
The Kerry U20s never travelled to Croke Park for their All-Ireland semi-final. Dr Crokes, meanwhile, will do well to see action this side of September.
O’Leary’s sporting existence hasn’t so much taken a backseat over the past fortnight as it has been tossed into the boot like a smelly gear bag long since forgotten about. The boots won’t be taken out and aired for some time yet.
The 2014 All-Ireland winning captain part-owns two pubs in the town of Killarney, Corkery’s and K-Town Bar and Grill. The latter, as the name would suggest, also serves food. Or at least it did. Both premises closed their doors on Sunday evening, March 15, at 6pm. All staff were let go.
The 32-year old would take the concession of a last-minute goal any day of the week over having to inform people there was no longer work for them, even if only temporarily.
“The employees, to their credit, were very understanding. Bars had started closing in the town the day previous so we all knew it was coming. And even the couple of days before that, you could see how quiet it was. You knew there was something in the air. There was a very eerie feeling,” O’Leary recalls.
“It is extremely tough on the employees. Killarney, with all its hotels, pubs, and restaurants, depends on tourism. We were building up to one of our busiest days of the year — St Patrick’s Day. That weekend, running right into St Patrick’s Day on the Tuesday, kickstarts the tourism season in Killarney.
“Then, all of a sudden, it is whipped from underneath your feet by a virus that is just a disaster for everyone. The country is looking at a deep recession when we get out the far side of this.
Once the locks went up on the two premises, stock control became the key priority. The respective store rooms were heaving with drink ahead of March 17.
“We had to get onto our suppliers and see if they could take back some stuff from both Corkery’s and K-Town Bar and Grill. They appreciate what is happening and have been very helpful. We wouldn’t be able to afford the amount of bills coming down the track if there wasn’t such understanding. The Council are also to be commended for putting rates on hold.
“You have so many overheads that you wouldn’t realise and then when this forced shutdown lands on your doorstep, you sorta go into panic mode. If you can’t trade, how are you supposed to pay your bills? You’re stressed, as is everyone.”
At home, Kieran’s wife Andrea is heading into the third trimester of pregnancy. Bar Andrea’s mother who lives behind them, there isn’t another soul being let past the front door.
Following the cessation of GAA activity, O’Leary went for a few runs with a friend. But even they’ve now stopped meeting.
“None of my family or friends are calling round to the house, likewise Andrea’s sister. Nobody is calling and we are not meeting them either.
“The supermarket, or if we need anything from the pharmacy, that’s really it in terms of our movements.
“You have to do it. You just don’t want any loved ones, friends, or family picking up this virus. It’s that serious.”
It also casts sport in a terribly insignificant light.
“These are worrying times for so many people. Sport is a hobby we love, but the past fortnight has certainly offered perspective.”
The former Kerry forward is hopeful the U20 championship will be completed whenever GAA activity resumes. Though taken aback when approached by Kerry manager John Sugrue last winter, he’s enjoyed his time on the sideline — now there’s an utterance he never thought he’d make while still playing.
As for the All-Ireland senior championship, nothing but a knockout format seems realistic. Closer to home, he wonders if there might be no divisional involvement in Kerry this year.
With the county junior and intermediate championships postponed from their April slot, it’s very hard to see where sufficient weekends will be found later in the season to run off these competitions, while, at the same time, allowing players from the lower ranks to line out for their division in the county senior championship.
Might the senior club championship — a club only competition — take precedence over the county senior championship?
Something to ponder for another day.
For now, priorities lie elsewhere.