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Oisin Kiernan: 'I refused to let cancer stop me and trained on through chemotherapy'

 

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Oisin Kiernan in action for Cavan in the Ulster Championship semi-final against Armagh last year.

Oisin Kiernan in action for Cavan in the Ulster Championship semi-final against Armagh last year.

©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Oisin Kiernan in action for Cavan in the Ulster Championship semi-final against Armagh last year.

With Gaelic games in lockdown indefinitely due to the deadly coronavirus, Sunday Life Sport has introduced a series with Armagh's All-Ireland winner and Crossmaglen legend Oisin McConville, chatting with 11 of the biggest names in the sport.

Today, Oisin catches up with Cavan dynamo Oisin Kiernan, who was diagnosed with cancer in September 2018. He not only fully recovered but is now one of the mainstays of a new, energetic, youthful Cavan team.

Having recently found success with his club, Oisin is now spearheading Cavan with a new-found confidence and resilience. Let's face it, if there is any young man who epitomises resilience, then it's Oisin.

Oisin: What impact has the coronavirus had on your work and family life?

Oisin K: I’m a pig farmer, so that keeps going. I suppose the real change is family. We are all at home now. It’s like an extended Christmas, so I’m enjoying that and want to appreciate the time I have to spend with them, even though there is an odd row!

Really, the only thing missing from normal life for me is the football. We are training away. Our strength and conditioning coach has a programme which we are following and we have some road runs and some around the fields on the farm. As far as keeping in contact with the lads and management, we do that via Zoom. We’ve done a few quizzes and had a bit of craic that way.

Oisin: Tell us how you became aware you had cancer.

Oisin K: Well, I found a lump on my right testicle during the 2018 Championship season. To be honest, I just ignored it to begin with. I wanted to keep playing football but, deep down, I probably knew what it was because my dad had suffered the same thing some years previous and there is a history in the family. I eventually went to the GP and then got scanned and I was diagnosed the day after the scan. It wasn’t a massive shock and it was very similar to my dad’s.

When sitting listening to the oncologist the only thing on my mind was, ‘What will happen with the football?’ That was the thing that was annoying me most. We were in the middle of the Championship, so I was going to miss a few games. The first thing to do was tell the team. Ronan Flanagan had gone through the same, so he was a massive help. 

Not to make light of it, but it wasn’t as big a deal as I expected, except I was out of football. I had the operation to remove the testicle in early September and I got the all-clear in March. I played a challenge game while on chemotherapy. I didn’t look or feel great — I was very bloated — but I played the last 10 minutes, which was great for the confidence.

I was able to train during the chemo, which was great. I had been refused by a few gyms because I was in treatment, so instead of asking I just put a bandage over my arm so they wouldn’t know and trained away.

You don’t have the same energy, but at least you can train. I had been told by the specialists it was okay to push myself as hard as I wanted.

Oisin: After recovering from cancer, would you be considered high-risk during the pandemic?

Oisin K: No. If you were going through treatment, then yes, but not in my situation.

Most importantly, I think, speak to someone who has been through the same thing. I was lucky I had Ronan to run things by.

Oisin: What were your first thoughts after diagnosis? Did you think your GAA career was over?

Oisin K: No, that wasn’t in my thoughts. All my thinking was more short-term. The club was going well, so I was hoping to get playing some Club Championship games — that was my main worry, really.

Oisin: How long was the recovery process?

Oisin K: Almost exactly six months from diagnosis to getting the all-clear.

Oisin: How do you feel now?

Oisin K: I am 100% now. I have no issues at all. I go back to see the oncologist every three months for a check, so that keeps everything right.

Oisin: What would your message be to anyone going through the same thing?

Oisin K: That it shouldn’t inhibit you. You can still be active and go to the gym and train if that’s your thing. You won’t feel like you normally do, but you can still push yourself. Most importantly, I think, speak to someone who has been through the same thing. I was lucky I had Ronan to run things by.

Oisin: In terms of Cavan, how good are they this year? The league performances have been pretty Jekyll and Hyde.

Oisin K: It’s been a struggle, but I think we are in a good place. We were in a good place going into play Armagh in the first game, but we just didn’t perform, simple as that. We broke it down after that and took it a game at a time. The players have all stepped it up and the results, apart from the slip-up against Clare, have been decent. We’ve lost good players, but we have a good solid group there now.

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Oisin celebrates with Padraig Faulkner after helping Cavan to promotion to Allianz Football League Division One with victory over Tipperary in March 2018.

Oisin celebrates with Padraig Faulkner after helping Cavan to promotion to Allianz Football League Division One with victory over Tipperary in March 2018.

©INPHO/James Crombie

Oisin celebrates with Padraig Faulkner after helping Cavan to promotion to Allianz Football League Division One with victory over Tipperary in March 2018.

 

Oisin: What’s the biggest quality you bring to the team?

Oisin K: Probably my running game. I enjoy my position of wing-back. It gives me licence to get forward and affect the game that way. I’m 27 now, so I bring experience and leadership too.

Oisin: What are your views on GAA returning to action? Is it better to be cautious?

Oisin K: I know how important it is to be cautious and, obviously, the health of everyone is very important, but from a selfish point of view, I would like to see us ram on with it and get the games up and running as soon as possible.

Oisin: Who is the best manager you’ve played under?

Oisin K: Donal Keoghan with the club. When I got sick, he was a huge support to me. Mickey Graham also. Mickey is a great man manager. You very quickly trust him and he talks to you about how to get the best out of yourself. Definitely those two.

Oisin: What player do you admire most in the game right now?

Oisin K: Due to the position he plays, Ryan McHugh. He bombs forward at will and has very little regard for what’s happening behind him. That’s the kind of game I want to play.

Belfast Telegraph