If ever there was a time Kevin Feely was going to consider what might have been, it was two weekends ago when two of his former clubs were playing in Wembley as he took to the field for Kildare in Tullamore.
The day after Newport County, with whom he made 35 appearances, lost their League Two play-off to Tranmere Rovers, Charlton Athletic, who initially brought him across the Irish Sea in 2012, were beating Sunderland to return to the Championship around about the same time Feely and his fellow Lilywhites were struggling against Longford.
But the only pang Feely experienced was from the poor display they produced in O’Connor Park that prompted a replay.
“There’s absolutely no feeling of regret, which is really surprising at times. Like, watching Newport County get to a play-off final, Charlton get to a play-off final and loads of players still at the clubs who I would have played alongside and just being genuinely happy to see them doing well.
“There has never been a feeling of ‘wouldn’t it be great to be there?’ Gaelic football, I realised, is what I was meant to do and what I wanted to do. That’s been the key element, I’m doing something I love despite the ups and downs of Kildare’s seasons the last two or three years.
I’ve never thought for a second I should be anywhere else. The education I got coming back here and where it’s brought me to now, I couldn’t be happier.
Kevin Feely Athletic Therapy is 10 months in existence and he readily admits his business is moulded by his commitment to Gaelic football. Based in the Fit4Less Gym in Tallaght, the first year has been an eye-opener but it affords him the flexibility he needs.
Adding a masters degree in strength and conditioning from Carlow IT last June to his bachelor’s qualification in athletic therapy training from DCU, he had been put off by the idea of going into an established physio clinic or hospital as he was told it was not conducive to the demands of inter-county football.
That his Kildare team-mate David Slattery worked at the gym at the time offered a pathway and with the assistance of its owner Greg Kenny he began to get his name out there. Not an easy thing for a Kildare footballer in South-West Dublin, never mind one who is uneasy about promoting himself.
“Greg was very accommodating. He was going to help with the marketing side of things as well and they were brilliant. I probably dove in head-first without too much thought, which was a bit naive, but I’ve got it up and running in August and it hasn’t gone too bad since. The minute you relax with your own business you’re under serious pressure so you have to stay on top of it the whole time.
“The key thing is not to be afraid to get your name out there. That was definitely something I was very self-conscious about, the social media aspect of it. I wouldn’t have been a big social media user and in terms of marketing I would have been fairly clueless. Even getting in touch with the local enterprise office and attending a couple of workshops, that was huge.
“You can’t be afraid to get your name out there and have face-to-face meetings. My biggest weakness was not being comfortable in putting myself out there. Playing top level sport from 18, I don’t think I would have the confidence to go out and do it without it.
“I like that in and around Tallaght I’m not anyone at all and you’re relying on your ability as a business person more than your profile to make a living. I prefer it that way. A few people have said to me in the short space of time that you have a profile as an inter-county footballer you should be maximising it. I wouldn’t be overly comfortable with that.”
It was only when Feely began to expand his reach beyond the gym’s members that he realised the vastness of Tallaght’s sports scene from Shamrock Rovers to the array of GAA clubs to the National Basketball Arena. On top of his work providing physio with his own club Athy as well as the Kildare’s U20 and minor footballers and hurlers, he has in place a relationship with St Mark’s in the Springfield area of Tallaght.
“Being out of Kildare was a bit of a risk in not making the most of your profile but I think what’s in Tallaght has made up for that.”
That’s not to say the commute from Athy is difficult and favouring flexibility over stability is a risk.
“I know it really shouldn’t be the case. I’ve had conversations with family and my girlfriend about that. Whereas couples are looking for security in their late 20s, I’m probably not at that stage yet. I’m thinking about how I can work this to make the most out of the short inter-county window you have while keeping things ticking over from a financial perspective.”
The work goes hand-in-hand with his football. Kildare manager and CIT head of sport Cian O’Neill and the team physios have provided great support, Then there is the links Kildare have with the renowned Sports Surgery Clinic in Santry.
And after picking up a niggle in the second half of last Sunday’s replay and facing a third game in 21 days tomorrow, it helps that Feely has his own homemade recovery clinic in his office, which he used between clients. Not that he is feeling too bad after the 11-point replay win over Longford.
“That was our best performance of the year. Our work-rate had finally got to a point where it needed to be and it hasn’t been. There was almost a recognition at half-time and full-time among us that ‘Jesus, this is what happens when we actually do work hard’.
“Hopefully, it will be a turning point in terms of performance and we’ve set a baseline standard that we can continue to reach for the rest of the season. I think we were struggling to hit that level all year.
“The previous years, you could say we were a confidence team, especially with the inconsistent nature of our results and performances.
When we get a setback we go way down and tend to struggle to get back up again.
"In hindsight, we definitely benefited from the extra game against Longford. If we had beaten them by a point after extra-time the first day, it wouldn’t have been as beneficial as the replay where we found a performance.”
Feely is loving his extended run at midfield, having played every game there this season.
“I’ve had a fairly consistent year without doing anything explosive or lighting the world up but the key is to be consistent and then from there you might be able to do the special things.”
He insists O’Neill’s “we are going to win the game” comment about Dublin was misinterpreted but then he is just as adamant Kildare are “preparing for Dublin as we did for Mayo last year”.
And yet Croke Park hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for them — one win in their last 12 League and Championship visits.
“I don’t think there is any hang-up,” maintains Feely. “There have been situations in the past in Croke Park when the crowds have been really small and it does create a total lack of atmosphere. It’s not even a dead atmosphere, it has an even more negative effect.
"It feels like less than training. 15,000 in Croke Park doesn’t feel like anything and that was the situation for us on a couple of occasions but as players it’s up to us to motivate ourselves. We shouldn’t be relying on a crowd. We’re mature enough to realise that.”
Running his own business at the age of 26, Feely most definitely is.