Kieran McGeeney must run a gauntlet — but it has nothing to do with Cavan or Ulster. It seems he has a lot to do to convince his seven-year-old son Cian Gaelic football is the way forward.
“He tells me he is not sure if he is going to play in Croke Park. He thinks Champions League is the way ahead. He tells people I am the Armagh manager, but I tell him not to say it so loud sometimes because it might not be something to be too proud of! He is a Man United fan through and through.”
The game-life balance McGeeney so eschewed in favour of Armagh during his playing days is healthier now. His wife Maura, Cian, and the arrival of his daughter Leah have helped that.
“Somebody once described the perfect player as someone who can train like it means everything but play like it means nothing. It’s getting that sort of balance. When you lose, it’s nearly like you grieve. But you have to learn how to deal with that as part of life. I fully admit that I have got a lot of that balance wrong. Having somebody in my life, and we have a wee girl now as well, it brings you back down and shows you what is important.
“That doesn’t mean if I was playing I wouldn’t class the games as important. But when you get home, you realise that the boy shouting behind you, who seem to be very brave behind the fence, really isn’t that important. It’s good to have that balance.”
But just as playing enveloped him, so too does management. This season marks his ninth consecutive year involved in some form of inter-county management capacity. He would love to have played in an era where sports science meant more but not the current period where he believes scrutiny and criticism has become so excessive.
“Some wrote recently that young players are softer nowadays, that they need more babysitting. I couldn’t disagree more. There is a lot of stuff you have to deal with and help them out with. Most of it is quite personal.
“People who tend to be obsessive about things in their life, tend to have problems. Not speaking from experience, obviously!” he laughs. “There is a great book out there called The Good Psychopath
and you have to have those kind of tendencies. What you are trying to give players is balance. The more they want to get better at something, the more they will sacrifice. You are always trying to pull them back in.
“I made a lot of mistakes that way as a player and thankfully I was lucky at the end of it. My son came along and showed me there were more important things in life. Sometimes you need a wee bit of guidance and that there. There is nothing wrong with giving young people guidance. I made the same mistakes. The football part? I think it is the best part or the easiest part. And then even getting them to deal with the after-effect. People don’t understand. If you were a player 20 or 30 years ago, you were lucky to make the back-page on a Monday.
“It was only a couple of teams at the end of the year in September and you never get the abuse that you get now. The new phones that exist, you make a mistake when you are out (and it is caught on camera)…
“I am glad there were no phones going about when I was a young fella. You would be destroyed. All those things, they weigh heavier on people and being able to deal with defeat… unless you come from those five teams down south, the chances are that it’s around the 90% mark that you are not going to achieve.
“How do you deal with that and look at success and know that when you put your heart and soul into something, that’s when you get a good indication of what you can do. Not just the result of the match but how you performed, how you applied yourself to it. I am glad I was a player 20 years ago and 10 years ago than I am now. So when people say players are softer, I think the opposite. I think they have a lot more to put up with.”
Armagh’s 17-point defeat to Cavan in Division 2 in March came at a time when McGeeney was without six or seven of his best players. The task doesn’t getting any easier with them now, he insists.
“They have started to get their balance right in terms of attacking and defending. (Gearóid) McKiernan and (Seanie) Johnston. You have (Dara) McVeety and (Martin) Reilly on the wings and their work ethic is incredible, they must be two of the hardest-working players in the country I would say. They would be up there with (Paul) Flynn and (Diarmuid) Connolly.
“Those two boys are unreal in terms of how they work. They have a good system in place, very strong up the middle. We have our work cut out, but it will be interesting to see how far we have come, how far they have come.”
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