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Why former prodigy Dyas is at peace with the fact his Armagh career is over

 

Reflective mood: Kevin Dyas
Reflective mood: Kevin Dyas
Kevin Dyas playing for Collingwood in Australia
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

Things were tense enough on the afternoon of June 8, 2014 in The Athletic Grounds.

The year before, in the corresponding fixture, Cavan had embarrassed Armagh in the Ulster Championship preliminary round, so the pressure in front of their own fans for this Orchard County group was choking.

Armagh captain Ciaran McKeever was standing behind the band waiting for the pre-match parade to begin when Cavan captain Alan Clarke drilled him with a huge shoulder, and, before you knew it, two dozen finely-tuned Gaelic footballers hopped up on adrenaline, Championship haircuts and testosterone were flaking away at each other.

Kevin Dyas reflected: "I don't think any of us came out of it looking good, to be honest. Both sides looked pretty bad."

As a forward, he was well down the line.

"I just caught a glimpse of a schmozzle going on at the top," he recounted.

"Like any player, your first instinct is to go in and protect your team-mates and back people up. Naturally, you get a couple of slaps along the way.

"I got a slap and some lad put his finger in my eyes. Looking back on it, it was just ridiculous."

As unedifying as it was, that incident ignited Armagh's best season in the last decade. They took Monaghan to an Ulster semi-final replay and ended up one point off Donegal in the All-Ireland quarter-final.

Just when it looked like the second act of his sporting life might take off - after an aborted Aussie Rules career with Collingwood that hit the skids once he tore his hamstring off the bone - injury intervened.

After his knee went against Tipperary in Armagh's first league game under Kieran McGeeney, he didn't play again until the league final later that year against Fermanagh.

His next game came almost three years later, against Fermanagh in the Division Three league final. By the end of 2018, he let go of his county hopes.

It was a career that promised more. Coming through Dromintee and onto the Abbey CBS, he was a child prodigy, enough that he made his county debut for Armagh under Joe Kernan before being drafted by Collingwood.

He left Australia with a few regrets.

"I guess, first of all, going to Collingwood. You had to be careful who you went to," he explained.

"They were one of the top two teams in the country, so it was like an Australian guy coming here to try and get playing for Dublin or Mayo.

"So I could have joined a lesser team. At the same time, I didn't appreciate the opportunity I had. I was young, a little bit naive and, if I could have gone back, I would have done things a little bit differently."

He's still playing some ball. When Kilmacud Crokes won the Dublin final last year against St Jude's, he came on for Shane Horan for the last 10 minutes.

In the Leinster final, he got to see the curious alchemy of Mickey Graham up close as Crokes were brought down by tiny Mullinalaghta.

Dyas spent years trying to force his way back for Armagh.

"I wouldn't recommend it. It was something you did because you had to but it was a very lonely place," he said.

"I was confident I could get back and I said to myself I would give it 100%, so that if it didn't work out I could walk away from it without any regrets.

"I don't think there was anything I didn't try. I did all the medical side. I tried a few 'cures', alternative medicine.

"Looking back, the amount of time I put into my physio was probably ridiculous. Up early in the mornings and off to the gym, back at lunchtime for stretching and stability. Finishing work, going back to the gym, physio at night. Just repeating that over and over week in, week out."

He's made peace with it. Cultivated different pursuits. He refused self-pity.

"I think there is an onus on the player themselves to have their lives outside of football. Injury is a part of sport, players are going to get them, so if you don't have an interest outside of things, when the time comes that you do get an injury, you are in trouble," he added.

"Now, there is a balance. You need to put serious effort into your football career in order to be successful."

Nowadays, he is able to commit more to work projects at PricewaterhouseCoopers, on the Dublin Quays.

He spends more time with his family and he loves getting away to see new places, such as a trip to Beirut in January.

"I haven't really kept up to date with football. I am not hanging round, asking lads how things are going inside the camp. I don't go to games that often. I might try to get to the game this weekend," he said.

"I didn't go to the Down game. I live with Eugene McVerry, who used to play for Armagh as well. There was deferred coverage on BBC so we set the phones down from 4pm and watched the deferred coverage later. I enjoyed that.

"Nothing would please me more to see the lads win, and play well. But I don't feel part of it."

And he's fine with that.

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