'There'll not be a speck of dirt around anyone's house by the time this is done'
AS he picks up the phone, Kieran McGeary is sat in an empty classroom in Holy Trinity College in Cookstown, where he was once a Markey Cup winning captain as a student.
The din of 1,000 pupils has been replaced by a deathly silence.
A PE and Geography teacher, he’s no different from anyone in his own profession. Come to think of it, he’s no different from anyone in most professions.
The teachers received an email last week telling them “to be on our toes for whatever needs done”. The closure is expected to last until summer but in such a rapidly-changing situation, there is only uncertainty.
Like so many schools, though, Holy Trinity are well set up for this. They’ve long been putting their learning material online for students to access.
It’s the uncontrollables that will determine the success of education during this period. Have children got access to computers, to decent WiFi? Will they actually do the work outside of the school environment?
As he speaks, McGeary is in the process of sorting out BTEC coursework for students. It’s his GCSE PE students he feels sorry for.
“I think they’re gonna get predicted grades. A lot of them were trying very hard in the class, pushing hard to get good marks, but now they don’t get the opportunity to do that.
“It’s weird to be sitting in a school with no pupils. It feels like a staff day, you’re sitting in your room, trying to get things done.
“You always think you’ve loads to be at and then the children aren’t in and you can’t find anything to be at. They’re the heart and soul of the school and they keep you going all the time.
“It’s hard to know how it will work, them being off, if we are to be here to the end of summer. It’s just very quiet.
“That’s your 9 to 4.30 every day, and you take that chunk out of it, it feels like it’s three times the length now it normally was.”
Since he and two friends took over the Dunleath Bar in Pomeroy in November, the evenings have been shared between football and business.
It had been going well and work was just being finished to open a restaurant upstairs when the coronavirus pandemic struck. It was due to open at the weekend for Mother’s Day.
Thankfully, they hadn’t taken on any staff for it yet, so didn’t have to lay anyone off.
“Hopefully when it all blows over, we’ll be able to go ahead with those plans. But I’m not the only one getting hit, there’s a lot of people in worse places than me, I’m not too bad. There are people who have to actually close their businesses.
“Between family of the two fellas I’m in with, us three ourselves and a few friends, I hadn’t to lay anybody off, because nobody was on for massive hours.
“We’ve the off licence open at the minute and it’s able to give people a few shifts during the week or at the weekend. Had I opened up above and taken on a lot of staff, you probably would just have had to tell them ‘look, there’s just no work for the next couple of months’.
“You only need to take a look around and read the stories to see what employers are being forced to lay people off, and the situation it leaves those workers in as well, it’s scary.”
Football itself has fallen into the abyss in recent weeks. From originally being told they could train in small groups, Tyrone players like everyone else are doing whatever training they can in total isolation.
The gyms aren’t even open so just before Pomeroy puts the bars across their club gym, McGeary went down and grabbed some of the equipment to set himself up at home.
He’s even been on the bike for the first time in yonks.
“It’s crazy, having no football. You’re always crying looking a break or a weekend off training here and there, and then when you get two or three, you realise you take it for granted.
“It’s a massive part of your life and it becomes routine to come in after work, have something to eat, pack your bag and go again. Now you’re sitting in the house on a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday at 8 o’clock it doesn’t feel right.
“But it’s nice too to be able to put the feet up a bit and relax. You can do things whenever they suit you. Every county is the same, players will train away themselves and doing their own thing, but there’s nothing like collective training, the challenge of somebody else. It’s just not the same.
“You have to train on your own, individually, outside, and you don’t have the use of a gym now.
“Exercise is a massive part of it. I went for a cycle the other day, I hadn’t done that in a while. Going for a run at the pitch, or away for different walks. Other than that, you’re very limited.
“At the minute, you want to be safe rather than sorry.
“The houses around the country will be the best looked after you ever seen. Best hedges, front gardens, walls painted, there’ll not a speck of dirt around anyone’s house by the time this is done.
“Never seen as many power washers out in my life. If anyone’s sales are going up, it’s those that sell power washers!”