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Student of the game Tiernan is a skilled operator

 

By Declan Bogue

While recent comments by Sean Cavanagh over Gaelic footballers adopting an à la carte approach to their career path to facilitate their sporting commitments raised alarm, that could never be said of Fermanagh defender, Tiernan Daly.

Having finishing his undergrad on Human Genetics in Trinity College Dublin, the Derrygonnelly Harps man is now pursuing a post-graduate in medicine in the Royal College of Surgeons, in Dublin.

In an age where elite players such as Karl Lacey, Declan and Darran O'Sullivan can take a year out of their working lives to concentrate on their Gaelic football ambitions, Daly chuckles at the very thought.

"I was a very tense undergrad in Trinity and it sort of went from there that you just got used to it," he says, ahead of Fermanagh's Championship opener against Monaghan on Saturday.

"It just becomes part of your life, that a couple of hours a week, you are saying, 'this is solely for football.'

"I use football as my release. This is where I go and there is nothing going on in my head. It is great. You take a few hours every week and everything else goes outside. You focus on the pitch. Once that's finished, you are back in real life."

Just 24, he already knows enough about the real world, picking a tough academic path. Then, in February, 2016, he suffered a horrific cruciate ligament injury, ruling him out of football for a year.

Although he found his own standards on time management slipping, he also turned his hiatus into a positive. He and four college friends had just finished their undergraduate courses and they took off on a trip of south America.

Starting in the north of Argentina, they made their way to Costa Rica. They stood among the salt flats of Bolivia. Around the islands of Panama, he was able to get on a surfboard for the first time without having to wear a wetsuit .

One of the friends was a rugby player for Trinity and Daly buddied up with him for some beach runs while he rehabilitated himself back from the cruciate operation.

"We fitted a lot in. It was pretty hectic. You were travelling every three or four days but it was an incredible experience," he recalls.

"You have to see these silver linings. It was a very unfortunate injury and I missed out on that season of football. But I got to travel to south America and there are not many boys can say that when they are playing inter-county football at the minute."

And, while the culture is definitely growing with Conor Laverty now the GAA Coaching Officer, there are not many inter-county players are students of Trinity either.

Two years ago, Daly had the journeys all to himself and told us at the time; "There are a lot of Ted Talks. The Ted Radio Hour is good, discussing topics, they do a few talks in one. It's a great way to pass the time going up the road.

"You get used to it, it's just the way it is. Initially, I found the idea of travelling up and down the road from Dublin quite daunting, but once you start doing it, it becomes part of your life and you just get on with it."

Now, there is a veritable 'crew' of Fermanagh footballers in Dublin. With Ryan Lyons, Tomás Corrigan, Paddy Reihill, Kevin McDonnell and Conor Murphy, there are now two cars ferrying players to Lissan for training on Tuesday nights.

Daly taste for hip-hop music remains undimmed, although it is not always universally appreciated on the drive.

"Some of the boys might say, 'go on Daly, I am not listening to that!' Some suspect music going on!

"Ah it's not too bad, you can bring some notes to revise with or else just chill out. Some have a little nap and you just take it easy. It's a bit of craic as well."

A short time ago, former Manchester United player Ryan Giggs wrote a column exploring the pressures and stresses of being a footballer expected to perform regularly at a high level, stating that he never truly relaxed or enjoyed being a player.

Mention it to Daly and his take is typically interesting.

"Obviously in the heat of battle you are going to be tense. But the general life as a footballer, the length of time on the training pitch, it might be gruelling," he begins.

"But my mind anyway goes clear. You are not worrying about the assignments due in. The exams coming up.

"You are compartmentalising; there's university, there's football, there's family and friends…"

He continues, "You go to football and everything stops. If you take Giggs as an example, his whole life was football. That was the main focus for him. You couldn't go to your job and have it as the least of your focus. It's just another avenue for me to explore. You can understand, there is pressure, but you have got to thrive under that pressure.

"Especially, there's no better feeling than running out into a full stadium, the crowd roaring down, you see your family maybe in their crowd."

The last few lines are said with Monaghan in mind and this Saturday.

His comeback was almost complete in January when he fielded against Malachy O'Rourke's men in the Dr McKenna Cup.

Although when surgeons repair a cruciate, they take a graft from your hamstring, which leaves it susceptible. Daly's found the going tough and 'tweaked' his. It has kept him out of contention until now.

"But now, the body is good and hopefully I am going to put myself back in contention for the 20th of May," he emphasises.

The last time he played a Championship match, it was an All-Ireland quarter-final against Dublin. Fermanagh still entertain notions of playing there regularly.

"Croke Park is still the pinnacle and you want to get back there again," he says.

"But these things happen, there are 'X' number of players have had serious injuries."

And then, with just a glimmer of the steel and ambition he has for himself, he applies a little pressure on his manager Pete McGrath by stating, "The ball is in Pete's hands now, really."

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