GAA Football

Rory Grugan: Sometimes less is more

Rory Grugan { Armagh } and Keith Cribbin { Kildare } during Saturday nights game in Croke Park 29th July 2017 Picture Seamus Loughran.

“I wish I didn’t take things as seriously as I do, which sounds strange, but it’s kind of what got me to where I am.”
Johnny Sexton on a recent podcast


RORY Grugan listens to a lot. Most of it is at the direction of Aidan Forker, the go-to man on the Armagh squad for podcast material.

Sexton’s appearance on the For Fit Sake show was “brilliant,” he says, a real glimpse into the mind of a top athlete.

“You don’t hear that much from Sexton so it was good to get an insight.”

The latest interviews of Tim Ferriss and Joe Rogan are always close to the top of his playlist.

Ballymacnab to Enniskillen, where he works, is an hour and 20 minutes, but seldom is it a straight road.

Take Tuesday evening, when he answers the phone. He’s in Killeshil at the home of his fiancée Michelle, to where he will return after training in Callanbridge in the evening.

The sounds of Sexton and Ferriss and Rogan help kill the journey. It is a growing taste on the inter-county circuit, this idea of taking things seriously. But then that’s how most of them got where they are, to paraphrase Sexton.

When you keep the whole idea in perspective, it can do no harm.

“It’s a fine balance. There’s an element of not taking yourself too seriously and realising what you’re doing, and finding the enjoyment in it and the love of what you’re doing.

“The other side of it is when you get a bit older. I’m only 26 but I’m one of the older players now, and you start to think you won’t be playing forever.

“If there are wee things you can do that might make you that wee bit better, you’re going to try them out, whether that’s listening to a podcast or trying visualisation techniques.

“Hugh Campbell [sports psychologist] would work with our team and it might be something small but you might touch base with him.

“It might be just an extra recovery session. You’re at the stage now where boys at county level are willing to do anything to try and get an edge in all aspects – physical, mental, well-being in general.

“You hear teams talking about mindfulness and the balance of your life and work and family. Boys are probably just more conscious of all the small things that can help them be a better all-round person, not just a footballer.”

The 26-year-old is a French teacher in St Faunchea’s College, an all-girls school a mile-and-a-half from Brewster Park, the sod on which his footballing summer may live or die.

Fermanagh’s Ciaran Corrigan, a Sigerson Cup winner with St Mary’s last year, did his placement in the school with Grugan, while Ryan McCluskey’s new recovery suite is just around the corner.

“I don’t know how welcome I’d be in the next few weeks,” he smiles.

He estimates he spends six midweek hours in the company of his Armagh team-mates, travel time and weekends excepted, which “doesn’t seem that much”.

The work is enjoyable and fulfilling. Just as importantly, it’s permanent and it’s at home. He’s been there since January 2017 and was made full-time at the start of this year, offering a welcome security that so many of our newly trained educators have to go elsewhere to find.

It’s some peace of mind. Grugan is an enthusiast about life and football. He has spoken in the past about the enjoyment that playing for Armagh brings him.

And for all the attention that has been lavished on the demands of playing inter-county football, he feels that the balance is in the process of being redressed, led by the all-conquering Dubs.

“The best example would be Dublin. I know it’s easy to say they all live and work in Dublin so they don’t have the commute other boys half, but they talk about having the three balls in the air.

“Jim Gavin talks about having the balance of your work, your family and your football. When it’s working for them, you’re going to sit up and take notice.

“There is an element of less is more at times. Sometimes the perception can be that you always need to do more, and boys will always be looking for that extra percentage, where you see the best teams maybe do that wee bit less when they need to and manage their time.

“We probably have seen a shift in terms of realising that if things are going better for you away from life, family and relationships, it’s likely that you’re going to be playing your best football at the same time.”

Armagh’s training through the National League, like most counties, has been reduced to light sessions with a few small-sided games and a bit of skills work.

They got a look into the future of the week-on-week National League last summer with their run through the qualifiers and the 2009 All-Ireland winning minor is enjoying that side of it, despite the physical toll.

“I did find last year on our run, the games week-to-week was brilliant but you do be struggling physically. It could take you to Tuesday or Wednesday until you’re feeling right again.

“If you’re giving me a choice between that and big gaps between games, I know which one I’m choosing.”

And finding perspective on life’s pace is easy. An Irish Times survey earlier this year put Armagh with just nine players working outside the county, and only two of them in Dublin. That’s in comparison to neighbouring Monaghan, for whom 25 of their panel are based in the capital.

“We’re sorta central, where boys can get to Belfast or Dublin, but that just seems alien that it would be the case.

“We all would have heard about [Jim] McGuinness going to Dublin to take their boys down there, and we’ve never really had to experience anything like that. We’re lucky in a way with that.”

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