Tadhg Kennelly says none of his 10 seasons with the Sydney Swans compared to the pressure of playing for Kerry in 2009.
The Listowel man returned home that year with the aim of winning an All-Ireland medal as his late father Tim and brother Noel had done but admits the obsession with doing so was “very, very dangerous”.
Speaking to Jarlath Regan on The Irishman Abroad podcast, the 35-year-old’s girlfriend, now wife Nicole, helped him to strike a better balance in his life at the time. He claims there is no more pressurised sport than elite Gaelic football.
“It was very dangerous and unhealthy to me mentally because of that obsession. That urgency I was putting on it, that it had to happen. It wasn’t until I was taken out of that cocoon, that bubble by my wife the balance came for me.
“I started to relax a bit more, I wasn’t thinking about it 24 hours a day. I started putting more of an importance on my relationship with my wife, my relationship with my family and I started controlling what I could control in my life and not worrying about outside influences.
“The funny thing about the whole lot, I spent 10 years as a professional footballer and I felt nowhere near the same pressure as I felt in that one year with Kerry. It’s incredible, the pressures, and I wasn’t being paid for it. The respect I have for footballers at home, I see and I know the lifestyle they have and the pressure they are under without getting paid and to hold down a full-time job. It’s immense and there is no pressure like it in any other sport in the world for me.”
Kennelly, who earlier this month received bad press for helping to recruit players from his native county, summed up the strength of Kerry’s association with Gaelic football. “There are parents in Kerry that know their young fella won’t play for Kerry, but they’ll still go and buy him a Kerry jersey and they’ll still give him the aspiration and the goal to go and play for Kerry and that, for me, is as strong as anything I’ve ever seen or witnessed back home because it’s such an importance in our day-to-day living.”
On the criticism he has received for helping to attract the best of Kerry’s young talent to Australia, Kennelly said: “Of course I want Kerry to win All-Irelands but my self-interest is not going to stop a young man getting an opportunity to be a professional footballer. When I look at what has been said, I don’t waste a lot of energy on what I can’t control in my life.
“I’m very much a person that spends a lot of energy working on things I can control. It’s a bit of a motto in my life. I’ll always give opportunities to young men and women to be professional athletes. Not everyone wants to do it but for the ones that want to do it I’m here to help you in your dream.”
Recalling his high shoulder on Nicholas Murphy in the opening seconds of the 2009 All-Ireland final, Kennelly says he feels hurt by how it has defined his time in a senior Kerry jersey. In his autobiography, he wrote, “I timed it right and caught him perfectly on the chin. The message was cop that. It’s different this time, boys.”
Kennelly has since rowed back from that description and does so again in the podcast, insisting he never set out to physically hurt a player that it would end their involvement in a game (Murphy did play on). It’s still rumoured Kennelly wasn’t chosen as Ireland International Rules captain in 2011 as a result of the foul.
“It bugs me a bit that people remember that from me going back. There’s nothing I can do about it – it’s happened – but what I can do about it is live my life the way of ‘you know what, it happened, I’ll learn from it’. I probably didn’t help my own situation by coming out a couple of days later and talking about the whole thing, about saying how he’s physically a different animal (Kennelly said Kerry wanted to show Cork they were “a totally different animal”). My own press after it didn’t help that way but it does me bug me a small bit, certainly.
“It was an incredible moment in my life that people now think that I actually went out on the football field to hurt someone. It does bug me because that’s not who I am as a person and never was as a footballer.”
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