Armagh stalwart Ciaran McKeever considered county future before injury
ARMAGH stalwart Ciaran McKeever has admitted he seriously considered bringing the curtain down on his inter-county career last summer – only for his latest injury setback to force a change of heart.
The Cullyhanna man has been a key part of the Orchard set-up for more than a decade, making his county debut in 2002, but a series of injuries have curtailed his involvement in recent years.
McKeever returned from a knee surgery back in January to feature in Armagh’s disappointing Championship campaign, which saw them exit Ulster at the hands of Cavan before losing out – twice – to Laois in the Qualifiers.
It was in between those two meetings with the O’Moore men, the second of which was a replay after Laois fielded seven substitutes, that McKeever considered calling time on his county career.
But, after breaking his foot playing for Dublin club side St Oliver Plunkett the night the Laois replay was ordered, the 32-year-old knew he didn’t want to end on those terms.
“When Laois beat us in the first game last year, you’re leaving Portlaoise and there’s a lot of stuff going through your head on that bus journey home,” he recalled.
“Then leading into that next week you were still unsure of your future, what you wanted to do, and then it was circulating that there was going to be a replay.
“It was that Monday evening after the game, and we had a club league match in Dublin and I remember ringing Geezer and saying ‘what’s the story?’ and he didn’t know at that stage.
“I told him my head wasn’t in a great place football-wise, we have a club match here tonight, do you mind if I play half an hour. He said ‘yeah, but just leave it at that in case anything happens’ [with the replay].”
Ten minutes in, disaster struck. McKeever’s foot caught a divot on the field, he heard the snap straight away – this wasn’t good.
“That was on June 21 and from that point I knew the season was over for me,” he continued.
“When you’re sitting in a VHI Swiftcare clinic in Dublin and you’re ready to dial Geezer’s number and tell him what’s after happening, it’s tough.
“I felt I let him down, but Geezer’s Geezer - he’s a players’ manager and he’ll let us play as much football as is feasibly possible, regardless of what the outside world thinks.
“The previous few days I was considering my county career but from that point I knew I couldn’t end on that note.”
McKeever had to get pins in the broken fifth metatarsal before beginning an intense rehabilitation programme geared towards starting pre-season with the rest of Kieran McGeeney’s panel.
As the year turns, he is where he wanted to be - back in full training with the rest of Armagh squad.
He doesn’t expect to feature in the upcoming Dr McKenna Cup, with McKeever’s aim to be back in McGeeney’s plans for Armagh’s Division Three opener away to Sligo on February 5.
“I’ve just got the body right,” said McKeever.
“I started pre-season the same day as everybody else so I’ve got a full pre-season behind me with the rest of the boys. Now I’ll just sit down with the management team and the medical team and put a structure in place for January for myself.
“I’d like to get another good heavy month’s training into the body in January rather than playing matches to be honest.
“Last year around this time I had spoke to management and the plan was to sit out the McKenna Cup and just focus solely on training but with so many injuries and boys being involved with colleges, we were scarce on the floor with defenders and I played in the McKenna Cup and then got injured in a challenge match against Roscommon at the end of it.
“It’s important that I don’t come back to early because I’m not up to the pace those boys are at the minute so it’s important I concentrate solely on training.
“If I’m not at the pace of match intensity yet then I’m going to break down, so I just have to sit tight and get up to that level.
“At the minute I’m in a good place, and I’d like to get another block done in January.”