GAA Football

Aidan Forker ready for whatever the season throws at Armagh

Aiden Forker (right) hopes to reach the heights of 2014 for Armagh this season Picture: Seamus Loughran

IT’S 9.03am. It’s a sluggish, overcast Saturday morning in Belfast. You’re running three minutes late. You’re slightly anxious because you just know Aidan Forker won’t be late.

He’ll be sitting in the assigned coffee shop on the fringes of Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter.

He will have had breakfast and be on his second cup of coffee.

He will probably be listening to a podcast and have a few books on the table.

You arrive and that’s exactly the image the Armagh footballer cuts.

It was around two years ago we met in the same coffee shop.

Back then, he was approaching the end of his academic career in St Mary’s College and was coming off the back of a brilliant 2014 campaign with the Orchard County.

Spool forward to the present and he’s now a father, to baby Leo, he’s graduated and teaching in St John’s Kingsisland Primary School (P6), he has a new home and is a county champion for the first time.

His Twitter profile couldn’t be any more succinct.

It reads: ‘Educator and life-long learner – Maghrey, Armagh, Ireland.’

The 24-year-old has an insatiable appetite for learning and devours psychology books.

“I love teaching, I love learning,” he says.

“If you love that then it’s going to rub off on the children. I’m big into a thing called the ‘Growth Mindset’, it’s a book by Carol Dweck.

“That would be one of my core philosophies in teaching.

“If I can instil a ‘Growth Mindset’ into the children, they can be anything they want to be and could do anything they want.

“Instil that attitude in them early… Work hard, make a plan and you’ll get there – and I mean anything.”

He adds: “I don’t believe that people are innately smart. There is no such thing as ‘smart’ and ‘silly’. That’s the two words banned in my classroom

“Even if that is true, it’s not a useful belief system to have.

“I think that people want to believe that because it takes the onus off them… You can be as good as you want to be at anything.

“Yes, you teach the subjects, Maths, English, you learn off by heart and that’s it. And there are other things you can be more creative with and give ownership back to the children – and if they’ve ownership of their work then everything takes care of itself because it’s theirs.”

His day teaching 18 children flies by. He wishes he had another 20 hours in the week to cover everything that needs covered.

That’s precisely Aidan Forker’s problem – there aren’t enough hours in the day to do what he wants to do.

But what hours God gives, he’s certainly made the most them.

On October 16 2016 the senior footballers of Maghrey made history by winning their first-ever county championship.

Forker was black-carded in the dying embers of the final for tearing down Cullyhanna’s Malachy Mackin.

Before he’d reached the sidelines, the final whistle sounded.

Forker has written notes on how he felt at that precise moment because he wants to read them again in 20 years time, so that none of the raw emotion of the day is lost.

“You have to capture those moments as much as possible,” he says.

“It was unbelievable. There is no other word for it. It was hard work. There was that 90 seconds or two-minute elation where you think: ‘We have won a Championship. We are history-makers’. That was easily the best point.

“There are instances during games where you’re in a flow-state, where you’re in the moment, nothing will touch you, when you catch a ball or the ball feels just right coming off your foot. You’re trying to tap into that all the time… That’s where you get those wee moments of higher order…

“[After the final] I went home early with Eimear [his partner] and the only way I can describe it is pure contentment. All those decisions that I made – to go to the gym, to eat right, to get up early and go to yoga and to do that extra gym session – it was worth it then.

“That said to me that what I was doing was right. I know what it takes to win a Championship now.

“[Before winning it] you do question yourself: Is what I’m doing right? I have the confidence now. You walk a wee bit differently with a Championship medal – and no-one can take it away from you.”

Before Christmas the Maghrey players held a team meeting to discuss their aims and objectives for 2017. He recalls their manager Shane McConville – “a class manager” – beating himself up for their Ulster Club Championship defeat to Kilcoo.

Forker felt the focus of the meeting was too self-critical, as he explains: “This was probably the first time that we’d sat in a room together, quiet.

“A lot of boys have sat in the same room for 10 years, some boys 12 years, some boys two years, talking and debating about how we could win a Championship.

“Who’s the best man to come in and help us do it? What are we missing? Down each other’s throats…I wanted to say to the boys: ‘We did what we set out to do all those years ago. I think we should thank Shane for leading us there. Just take it in and say: ‘We did it.’

“No-one in our club ever did it. I wanted to be mindful of the now… I don’t rest on my laurels either but you have to be mindful of the now.”

Little Leo, his father firmly believes, was something of a lucky charm in getting Maghrey over the line in 2016.

The morning before every championship match wasn’t complete without a warm embrace and a kiss for his son.

“My partner Eimear has done a lot of the heavy lifting from day one and allows me to focus on my work and my first full year’s teaching post.

“And I’m obviously at the football most evenings. People say: ‘You don’t really have much time.’ I don’t really buy that. I’ve tweaked my routine. I’m either all in or not.

“At the start of the year when Leo was born I said it’s going to be ‘family, football and work’. Everything else is secondary.”

Despite narrowly missing out on a Dr McKenna Cup semi-final place, Armagh’s NFL preparations have gone well.

In their group win over Queen’s last Sunday Forker provided glimpses of his talent, enough to suggest that his wily displays of 2014 weren’t a flash in the pan.

His objectives for 2017 couldn’t be any clearer.

“I just want progress,” he says. “If you keep doing the right things our time will come – ‘Geezer’ would say, whether that’s him at the helm or someone else – if you keep working hard you’ll get rewarded for it.

“It is perhaps less so in team sports because there are a lot of other variables. But I just want progress this year.”

Mindful of last year’s instantly forgettable Championship campaign, he wryly adds: “That’s not too hard [to achieve] after last year. But I want progress and I want to win.”

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