With Gaelic games in lockdown indefinitely due to the deadly coronavirus, Sunday Life Sport is introducing a new series with Armagh's All-Ireland winner and Crossmaglen legend Oisin McConville chatting with some of the biggest names in the sport over the next 11 weeks.
First up is Monaghan's Kieran Hughes, who is widely regarded as one of the best players of the modern era, known for his fiery temperament and a wand of a left foot. Oisin caught up with Kieran amid these strange times for everyone but perhaps in particular inter-county players.
Oisin: How is the current situation affecting you in relation to the work/home balance?
Kieran: The positives are that I am getting to spend much more time at home, home being Clonoe now with my girlfriend in the new house. I’m lucky I’m still busy work-wise with Platinum Tanks. There’s no face-to-face engagement which is the part of the job I like, so all interaction is over the phone which is a little frustrating.
Oisin: What way are you managing your training with no group sessions? Have you even seen any of your team-mates?
Kieran: No, no contact with team-mates, not even my brother Darren. Actually, I met my mum on the road near home on Sunday and couldn’t even stop to give her a hug. My niece is starting to walk and talk and I’m really missing seeing her a lot more than I’m missing Darren!
As for team-mates, I haven’t seen any of them in at least a week or so. I suppose it’s all WhatsApp or Snapchat communication more or less, an odd phone call maybe to check in. I’m lucky I have gym equipment at home so that helps keep me ticking over. I’m also using the walkways around Clonoe, it’s nice they take you along the Loughshore, that keeps the blood flowing. With the uncertainty of exactly when things will resume it’s really difficult to know what to be at training-wise.
With the modern game you can’t be off the pace going into games, I have found that to my cost in the past when I haven’t been right and playing through the pain barrier when not 100%. There’s no coasting through games any more. It’s definitely weird not seeing lads but it looks like we will have to get used to it, hopefully it’s all for the good of society in the end.
Oisin: Boys as talented as us don’t need to train anyway Kieran! What do you miss most about being away from football?
Kieran: (Laughing) I don’t think that washes with too many
managers nowadays. I’m one of those guys that can pile on a few pounds in the downtime so I need to keep at it. With the weather getting a lot better and the importance of the games ramping up, I miss the competitive nature of it.
But I also miss the structure and routine of meeting up for collective sessions, I’ve been at it for 12/13 years and it’s very much part of my life so I miss that discipline.
It’s getting close to the business end of the season with the League up for decision and big games starting to happen. We had two home games left in the League against Kerry and Meath and we were looking to build on what we had started and finish the League strong. I was also looking to break out the mouldies too!
Oisin: Getting away from the current situation, what have you found to be your biggest challenge as regards football, perhaps specifically with inter-county football in particular?
Kieran: That’s a simple one for me, my biggest challenge has been going from a long club season and getting back into the inter-county game. It’s been obvious with my performances over the last few years, playing right up to November/December with the club. The other Monaghan lads have already got two months pre-season in their legs — you were starting the season on the back foot straight away.
The game has gone pretty robotic and the way lads move now you can’t even be 10% off. I’ve upped the ante this year as far as the pre-season is concerned.
I have had to be wiser as I get older with getting work done earlier and trying to then maintain it for the year.
Oisin: Kieran, with all that in mind as regards the pressures and time and effort, is it time inter-county players were paid a wage?
Kieran: I don’t think so, that for me is not the way to go. Expenses are decent, structures are good, we have food after training and meals given to us for the week and they have been a very welcome addition. All of these small things that we get add up to a decent few pounds over the year.
The negative is the guys who are at the top, the paid guys in Croke Park who keep changing the rules on us every year and have no idea of the upheaval that causes for players and most of the changes have no basis or logic. It’s bewildering what’s been going on in that regard but back to the paid players idea, that’s a complete no go for me.
Oisin: It looks like the inevitable outcome of this virus-disrupted season is knockout Championship football. One chance, no back door. I feel that brings a lot of teams into the mix, would this format give Monaghan their best opportunity ever to win an All-Ireland?
Kieran: Yeah, well, look at 2018, we were in an All-Ireland Semi-Final, and we came close to the Final. We came in through the back door, we had the luck of the draw that year and we gained confidence and momentum along the way, but if it’s an open draw I’d have to wait and see the draw to answer that question right!
If we drew Dublin or Kerry early on we could be gone or if we get over that one the whole Championship opens up. To be honest straight knockout would be nice, it would be great to look back on 2020 and say we did something different because of the circumstances and you just never know the outcome.