You’d imagine Bryan Sheehan felt ready for a break by February.
He’d been on the road forever by then, his duties with St Mary’s and South Kerry having kept him occupied on a near-weekly basis ever since Kerry’s loss to Dublin in the All-Ireland final the previous September.
“The busiest footballer in Ireland,” he was dubbed.
It was a week before St Valentine’s Day when St Mary’s claimed the All-Ireland Intermediate title and his thoughts could even begin to turn towards Kerry again but, truth is, he felt ready to keep on truckin’.
He is Kerry captain this year, after all, but a phonecall from Kieran Donaghy persuaded him to press the pause button. The Tralee man had preceded him as county skipper and his season with the armband had followed a similar arc. It was only after Austin Stacks lost an All-Ireland club semi-final in 2015 that Donaghy had been freed up for county service. He answered the call immediately, without hesitation. He realised afterwards there was a payment to be made for such selflessness.
“He just felt he should have taken two weeks out when they lost their All-Ireland semi-final, but we were struggling in the league and we had Dublin in Killarney,” said Sheehan. “He felt it was a big game for us and, as captain, he wanted to come back in and lead by example.
“In fairness to him, I thought he was outstanding that day as well and I can understand why he wanted to come back in, but he felt that down the line the bite wasn’t there. The mind was a bit fatigued and he probably lost a bit of form and found it hard to pick it up again.”
Donaghy said as much when he called Sheehan a few months ago and the fixtures calendar helped push him towards a spot of R&R: Kerry played Roscommon the day after Mary’s won their All-Ireland and a three-week gap yawned beyond that before the trip to Down.
Now? He feels primed for summer. Turning 30 has prompted a greater focus on the benefits of rest and recovery and a recent move back to Cahirciveen has allowed him avail of regular recuperative dips in the sea. Coincidence or not, he has also enjoyed a lengthy enough spell without serious injury.
The challenge now is to excavate a spot for himself in Kerry’s midfield. Not up front again with a defender stuck to him like glue, mind, but midfield. It is five years since he last stoked the engine room for Kerry. He was raw then and yearns for another shift with the shovel.
“That is six years ago now and I was only 24 years of age. I was probably still relatively young going in there at that age and playing midfield. It’s a hard slog inside there. It is a physical game. You had Darragh Ó Sé and Seamus Scanlon: Two big, physical players.
“At 24, I probably didn’t have the physical strength to get up and down the field all day and give and take the hits. The last couple of years I have matured and adapted to the game, when to push it and when not to push it.”
It remains to be seen if that proves sufficient for a starting berth against Dublin in Sunday’s Allianz League final, or come the summer, given the plethora of riches which Eamonn Fitzmaurice enjoys when it comes to prospective midfielders.
Donaghy is a force reborn this season and has shone in centrefield. Add in David Moran, Anthony Maher, Tommy Walsh, and Johnny Buckley and the only certainty is that there will be some high-profile players missing out, or maybe requisitioned for work elsewhere.
“We’re very lucky where we are as a group. As individuals, it is probably harder, because you could be one of those fellas who lose out. Eamonn has gone on the record as saying that he would be very comfortable with any one of those five or six fellas going in there and doing a job at that level.
“It only bodes well for Kerry. It drives fellas on because no fella can afford to take a back step or take his foot off the pedal. If you do, then you’re going to be replaced and that’s the way to have it. We have that all the way up through the set-up.”