Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

McGeeney's exit spells the end of an era

Kieran McGeeney has called it a day at top level

Kieran McGeeney's decision today to bring the curtain down on his hugely successful inter-county football career has evoked profound regret not just in Armagh where he will always enjoy folk hero status but throughout the GAA world.

The 35-year-old orchard county talisman has for the best part of two decades been the anchor in a side that initially blossomed in 1999 as a prelude to scaling unprecedented heights.

McGeeney represented the very heartbeat of a team nurtured by Brian McAlinden and Brian Canavan and then brought to fruition by Joe Kernan.

It was under McGeeney's inspired captaincy that Armagh won the All Ireland title in 2002 - the realisation of a dream given that the county had previously suffered major disappointment in the 1953 and 1977 finals.

And while Jarlath Burns was at the helm when Armagh won the Ulster title in '99, McGeeney subsequently took command to steer the side to four more provincial accolades before being succeeded as skipper by Paul McGrane.

Always a teancious, wholehearted, uncompromising defender who wore his heart on his sleeve, McGeeney's towering pride and never-say-die spirit were his indigenous trademarks throughout a glorious career at the top level.

It was in 1995 that he helped to spark the dominance of his home club Mullaghbawn in the Armagh and Ulster Club championships before transferring his many-sided talents to Na Fianna with whom he was to win three Dublin championship and one Leinster championship medal.

But it was as an orchard county icon that McGeeney was to stride imperiously across the pages of recent GAA history.

His ssuperb captaincy was the catalyst that drove Armagh to their All Ireland title triumph in 2002 - and it was his fierce pride that helped to continue to fan the flame of ambition as the orchard county sought to repeat their achievement.

It was not to be, though, as neighbours Tyrone instead stole their thunder by bringing home 'Sam' in 2003 and again in 2005.

Nonetheless, McGeeney's personal stock remained at a zenith. Not only had he been named Footballer of the Year in 2002 but he landed three Allstar awards (1999, 2000 and 2002), shared in Railway Cup successes with Ulster under Brian McEniff - one of his biggest admirers - and captained Ireland against Australia in the International Rules series when Sean Boylan, another huge fan, was in charge.

Of late, he had been mentioned as a possible member of the backroom team drawn up by new Armagh manager Peter McDonnell but it is understood that McGeeney will not be involved in this connection.

His decision to call it a day at county level will undoubtedly fuel speculation that some of Armagh's other senior citizens may decide to opt out and obviously McDonnell will be monitoring this situation closely.

But the withdrawal of the immensely popular McGeeney from the ranks will certainly leave a void in the Armagh set-up.

Modest almost to a fault, it is not just coincidental that he has decided to call time on his career today, his hope obviously being that his decision might be swallowed up in the build-up to Sunday's All Ireland final.

But McGeeney has contributed too much in too many ways to be permitted the luxury of an unsung exit.

He will always have a special place in the hearts of everyone in Armagh - and indeed in the hearts of all those who cherish the corinthian spirit of sport.