GAA Football

Returning Niall Kearns 'a different species' says Monaghan's Drew Wylie

Niall Kearns, seen leaping with Fermanagh's Aidan Breen, made his first Monaghan start of the year against the Ernemen last Sunday. Picture by Philip Walsh
Neil Loughran

DREW Wylie has described Monaghan team-mate Niall Kearns as “a different species” after the 2018 Allstar nominee made his first start in county colours since undergoing heart surgery at the end of last year.

The Sean McDermott’s midfielder nailed down a first 15 spot with some impressive performances during Monaghan’s 2018 League campaign, and carried that form into the summer where he was a key man as they came within minutes of reaching an All-Ireland final.

However, just a couple of months after Monaghan bowed out to Tyrone in a dramatic semi-final Kearns was undergoing surgery to repair a leaking valve in his heart, leaving him battling against the clock to return in time for Championship.

His absence was felt as the Farneymen struggled through the spring, narrowly avoiding the drop from Division One.

Kearns made his return as a late sub in Monaghan’s Ulster Championship exit to Cavan, and was handed a starting spot by Malachy O’Rourke for their crunch qualifier against Fermanagh last Sunday.

Wylie has seen at first hand the journey Kearns has been on to get to this stage, and was delighted to see the 21-year-old back in the thick of things.

“Niall Kearns… he’s a different species,” smiled the Ballybay man.

“From late January/February he was out walking laps of the football field, unable to train but yet he was out walking laps. And then I was chatting to him one night and he’d got fed up with walking, so he decided he’d walk one, run one, and all year that’s the way the man has built it up.

“For a young lad he shows great experience that he can be able to get himself back - it’s a lonely time running up and down the sideline.

“Niall Kearns was massive for us last year, and then we lost Darren [Hughes], but that’s the way the panel is at the minute.”

And while he was happy to see Kearns back, Wylie found himself in the unusual position of watching from sidelines after being replaced by veteran Vinny Corey in the starting line-up.

Wylie was eventually sprung from the bench with 12 minutes to play, helping Monaghan across the line in those fractious final moments against the Ernemen that saw Sean Quigley miss a penalty before Conor McCarthy’s decisive late goal.

And now Wylie’s aim is to reclaim his starting spot for another all-Ulster qualifier at Clones when the Farneymen face defeated Ulster semi-finalists Armagh on June 22.

“It’s not something you’re used to but that’s how competitive this panel is,” he said.

“It’s about me changing my mindset whenever I come in that I can offer something, being strong about that. We’ve a good young panel coming through.

“You just have to accept it, there’s no other way about it. I’ve set myself standards every year to try and reach and I know myself I just haven’t reached them yet, but hopefully we can get there and get a starting spot the next day.

“I’m happy to be able to give something to the team.”

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