Cavan's Gearoid McKiernan hungry to make up for lost time
Marooned on the sideline last year as a water carrier, Cavan's Gearoid McKiernan is determined to repay manager Terry Hyland's faith in him as he is named to start in midfield this Sunday in the Ulster Championship quarter-final.
After a cruciate injury sustained during a game for his club Swanlinbar just prior to the Championship, the 23-year-old was ruled out of Cavan's run to Croke Park last year.
Instead, he stayed involved with the squad and remained within the circle for the summer.
Although onlookers felt pangs of sympathy for McKiernan, he refused to mope.
"It wasn't that hard to watch because I've been a Cavan supporter since I was five years of age," he revealed at the Cavan press night.
"Last year effectively I was a Cavan supporter and all the boys on the team are my best friends so I was chuffed.
"Of course I wished every day that I was playing, but I wasn't so I had to move on from that."
After the injury, the Cavan county board and management remained in close contact with McKiernan, urging and encouraging him through his recuperation.
He recalls: "At the time it was a massive setback, in football terms one of the biggest you can get.
"I just thought too there are worse things that can happen in life than injuring your knee.
"Football is all I know and for that to be taken away from me for 10 months wasn't nice, but I kept a routine, doing rehab in the mornings and evenings and my parents were very supportive and the boys here too."
He adds: "If that was the only thing I could do for the team, carry water bottles, then that's what I did.
"Hopefully I will be able to do a bit more this year than carry bottles."
McKiernan is from west Cavan, a region that has five clubs; his own Swanlinbar, Shannon Gaels, Templeport, Kildallen and Corlough, yet has precious little historical representation on the county panel.
At present there is McKiernan and Jason McLoughlin of Shannon Gaels, who also provided present day selector Anthony Forde.
Boyhood aspirations were inspired by Thomas Prior, another 'Swad' man to wear the royal blue of Cavan, but other than that you could almost draw a line all the way back to Owen Roe McGovern, the last survivor of the 1947 Cavan team who beat Kerry in the only All-Ireland final to be played abroad, in New York's Polo Grounds.
Swanlinbar's proximity to Enniskillen helped his recovery, when he would meet the county strength and conditioning coach Peter Donnelly to go running on the rugby pitches of Portora Royal school.
It got him back for the second league match against Offaly.
"I was brutal to be honest," he chuckles.
"I came on for about 10 minutes and touched the ball four or five times and gave it away a couple of times.
"I still came off the field with a big smile on my face, because we had won the game and I was back."
He knows though that there will be no chance of chuckling on Sunday in the Athletic Grounds, especially with an Armagh team lying in wait, waiting to avenge last year's defeat.
"If I was in Armagh's shoes after last year, I'd probably want to draw Cavan too. They will be seeking a bit of revenge," said McKiernan.
"We know it'll be a massive challenge up there. Even though they went down in the league, I wouldn't read anything into that.
"This is probably the toughest draw we could have got in the Ulster Championship."