Kieran McGeeney

McGeeney has always played hard but fair

Within the space of 12 months, Kieran McGeeney, Armagh’s Gaelic football captain, endured both victory and defeat in the Sam Maguire Cup. In September 2002, he held the trophy aloft for the first time in his county’s history. Then in 2003, he handed it over to his fellow Ulstermen from Tyrone.

While McGeeney must have been hurting deeply as he watched Tyrone captain Peter Canavan address the winning supporters in Croke Park, he may have taken some comfort from Canavan’s words: ‘I think it’s only right that we pay our respects to last year’s champions, Armagh. And I only hope that as players and as a team we carry ourselves as well as they did, and are as gracious in victory as they were for the last year.’

McGeeney has always played hard but fair. Facing up to defeat and disappointment has been part of a process that only eventually brought reward. Indeed, his ambition to win an All-Ireland football medal goes back to his days as a student at Queen’s University, Belfast, where he won a Sigerson Cup medal in the 1993 victory over St Mary’s College, 1-12 to 0-4. At club level, he was a member of the Mullaghbawn team that claimed its first Ulster club title in 1995, beating Bailieboro of Cavan, 1-11 to 2-5.

A breakthrough at All-Ireland level almost happened in 1999. McGeeney played at centre halfback when Armagh won the Ulster senior title for the first time since 1982. An All-Ireland final beckoned until the Ulstermen fell apart against Meath in the semi-final. The following year McGeeney succeeded Jarleth Burns as team captain, but he was denied the ultimate prize twice more when defeated by Galway and Kerry.

When former Crossmaglen star Joe Kernan took over as manager of Armagh in 2002, McGeeney made another bid for the Sam Maguire. It paid off on September 22, 2002, when Armagh defeated old rivals Kerry, 1-12 to 0-14. McGeeney is now based in Dublin, but continues to travel to training sessions for Armagh and his new club, Na Fianna.

© Padraig Coyle