'I like being busy' - Footballer of the Year, teacher, restaurant owner, and coach

DURING THE WEIRDEST CHAMPIONSHIP of modern times, the Tyrone players made their way to a meeting place ahead of the 2021 Ulster final in Croke Park.

Kieran McGeary’s head was spinning. The night before, the prospect of an Ulster final was delighting him, but he tossed and turned through the sheets, before waking with a startle.

Time to get up, Ulster final day. Monaghan.

Once he entered the Tyrone meeting room, a few of the Omagh and Killyclogher crew looked at him quizzically.

“F*** me lad,” one said. “That was one brutal night’s sleep you had! Two hours? What was going on?”

And it dawned on McGeary. Jesus. His Whoop, a wristband tracker that measures the strain on your body and sleep. He was in an online community with half the team where they could all see each other’s readings.

“And I was like, ‘Shut up telling me that!’” he laughs now.

Right then his Whoop device was banished to a side pocket of his kitbag, where it resides today, never worn again.

“It freaked me out. I had three energy drinks straight away and went out and had a decent game.

“But I thought if I was wearing it from then on and we had a big game, I didn’t want lads telling me how little I am sleeping.”

Tyrone defeated Monaghan in the Ulster final, overcame Kerry in the All-Ireland semi-final, before writing the latest chapter of Mayo’s house of pain.

McGeary’s performances yielded an All-Ireland, an All-Star, and the Footballer of the Year award.

It came from trusting his gut.

“There are a lot of players who would have been dead keen to see the data flying through on your phone,” he says.

“That’s not really for me. You know if you won your battle.”


When he was a student at St Mary’s in Belfast, McGeary had a hectic schedule.

He sat down with his college manager Paddy Tally once to sketch out a typical week.

Club football for different teams in Pomeroy Plunketts. Tyrone U21 captain, a few call-ups to the senior squad.

He enjoyed a social life. He was studying hard. He was playing Sigerson football.

And he was working two part-time jobs.

That template was still being used years later by Tally to demonstrate time management to students.

The two jobs couldn’t have been more different. From 7am to 4pm, McGeary was down at the yard of a local engineering firm.

After that, it was up home, a bite to eat, quick shower and change and off to Murphy’s Bar and Restaurant to start at 5pm and finish up close to midnight.

He discovered he loved the hustle and pace of a restaurant. By then he was already well on his way to becoming a teacher. He completed a PGCE in Lancaster in 2018, flying over and back to the University of Cumbria as Tyrone made that year’s All Ireland final.

He found himself subbing in days here and there. Then Murphy’s became available. Should he be a teacher, or a restaurateur?

He chose both. Went in with two others from Cookstown and set about making it work. Later in 2019, he took a job as a PE Teacher in Holy Trinity, Cookstown.

It’s a unpretentious and welcoming place, you’ll arrive hungry and leave stuffed and satisfied. Their steak and chips with all the trimmings is set at a reasonable £25. You can mooch back down the stairs afterwards to sit in the traditional bar. They gave it the rustic name; ‘The Rusty Keg’.

“There was no central hub in Pomeroy for people to go to and the building was sitting there,” says McGeary of his decision.

They took the keys, and almost immediately, Covid arrived to shut everything down. Another challenge.

But it came good. More than good. While there is a general sense that rural Ireland is finding the livin’ not so easy, that does not apply in Tyrone. Mid-Tyrone is thriving with established busy pubs and eateries.

“I can’t complain,” says McGeary, with the reservations book in front of him ahead of another busy weekend.


“We get great support. You see a lot of the same faces in here every weekend.”

Some feared McGeary had bitten off more than he could chew. That if he were a Kerry or a Dublin footballer, lighter duties would have been arranged and he could just get on with being Footballer of the Year.

'i like being busy' - footballer of the year, teacher, restaurant owner, and coach

How could he be focussed on stopping a Jack McCaffrey or a Gavin White, if he was up half the night counting tills or changing kegs? Not to mention listening to every paying punter picking the following day’s team?

“Funny it was one of the mistakes that I didn’t make. I don’t be here late. I always had the priority that football was number one,” he says.

“Enough people told me that it mightn’t have been the best thing for me. But I wanted something on top of my teaching.

“Not for the financial side of it, but to do something for here, for Pomeroy. To have my name attached to it and to see what business is like.”


Rather than scale things back, he has broadened his commitments by becoming involved in Antrim club side Roger Casements, Portglenone. He’s there after an invitation from their manager and his teaching colleagues, John McKeever. Another coach is Peter Canavan.

“You get insights. You start to understand a coach’s frustration about things that aren’t done right, and then you can understand the gratitude when things are done right,” he says.

It’s given him different perspectives.

His own form and that of Tyrone hasn’t been up to the standard of 2021.

Against Donegal in Ballybofey a few weeks back, McGeary could hold his head high as Tyrone’s top performer on the day. But the nature of defeat was a reminder that they are struggling.

'i like being busy' - footballer of the year, teacher, restaurant owner, and coach

This Saturday, they will get the clearest gauge of where they are in the concluding Group 3 round robin game against Cork in Tullamore. Cork will come with the confidence of having beaten Donegal.

Tyrone fans have been drifting off since 2021. Their faith has ebbed away.

“When you hit the highs like we did,  you think you can remain there forever,” says McGeary.

“We got a really good run. I can’t pinpoint why we haven’t returned to where we were.”

People underestimate the loss of Conor McKenna, a player who came alive in the biggest of moments.

Along with him went a series of seasoned players, both starters and subs. Rory Brennan, Ronan McNamee, Tiernan McCann, Ronan O’Neill, Mark Bradley.

“It’s difficult when you lose those players. The other side of it, is there is always somebody dying to step into their shoes. If you give them enough time, ultimately, they will become that person who left. That takes time.

“But I think the conveyor belt in Tyrone is very healthy. We have a number of new players joined us recently and showed their energy and capabilities.”

They are also missing another presence around the place; that of Feargal Logan.

Back in 2015, Logan was the U21 manager, Brian Dooher his assistant. They picked McGeary to be captain and won the All-Ireland on a memorable night in Parnell Park.

Prior to the Derry league game this year, Logan took sick at home, having suffered a stroke. He has been around the panel in recent weeks, sporadically.

“It’s very tough for him. Everything he is going through. If you know Feargal, you will know he is a proud man. He doesn’t like this,” says McGeary.

'i like being busy' - footballer of the year, teacher, restaurant owner, and coach

Feargal Logan.

“There wouldn’t be a lot of people in Tyrone and all over Ireland that wouldn’t lend a hand to him. But he is a proud and strong man. Totally for the cause.

“There are a number of us boys who had been with Feargal from the days of winning with the U21s. We have a lot of respect for him.

“I know Eileen and the kids very well. It’s tough for them but he has the support of everybody. It puts all into perspective.”

This is his tenth season as a Tyrone senior now. He was brought into the senior team instantly after the U21s secured their title.

In his second year, you will remember his monster point in the Ulster final against Donegal followed up by two other worldies by Peter Harte and Sean Cavanagh as they overcame Donegal.

'i like being busy' - footballer of the year, teacher, restaurant owner, and coach

A year later, they were at it again in beating Down in the final. In his third year, he played an All-Ireland final against Dublin.

Two seasons later, Harte was gone. His impact though was felt among the panel that won in 2021.

“I thought the glory days were never going to end. And I think that anyone on that 2021 team would say that everything Mickey did in advance before departing played a huge role in that winning team.

“Ok, he mightn’t have been exactly on the sideline on that given day. But there’s no doubt that I learned 100 things from him. So did everybody who played on that particular team.”

A crude imagery has built up around Harte in the last couple of months. Defeats to Donegal, Galway and Armagh has left him open to relentless speculation, spiteful rumour and ill-informed criticism.

“I think their story is not written yet. I wouldn’t be writing him, Horse (Gavin Devlin) or the Derry side off whatsoever.

“There’s nothing stopping them from coming strong. Would you be surprised if that was the case? Things can turn.”

At 30, time is not in his favour. He’d love another major honour. The theory that 2021 was The Year Of The Freak with Cavan winning Ulster and Tipperary triumphing in Munster, is not one that he subscribes to.

Ask him if Tyrone’s All-Ireland was disrespected, and the easy thing to do is to agree.

But he thinks they got plenty of credit.

“Aw, we did surely. I wouldn’t say we got any less than what we deserved. What we got, we got,” he says.

“People still love to bring it up. Like, say if you have a bad game, the first thing you will hear is, ‘That’s not the team of ’21.’

“And it’s not! It’s a different year, a different style of play. We have moved on.

“The point I am trying to get across to people, is that it’s not the same team. Not the same panel.

“Others finished up. My brother (Hugh Pat) was one of them. He climbed the steps with me, we lifted the cup, we had a photo and that was it for him.

“And there were quite a lot of boys like that. They were at a stage in their life when they were moving on.”

Soon after, he won the Footballer of the Year award. The others on the shortlist were his team mate Conor Meyler and Mayo’s Lee Keegan.

From the outside, the crown looked to weigh heavily.

He missed the first league game of 2022 against Monaghan, but returned for round two and was one of the five Tyrone players to be sent off by David Gough after a melee against Armagh.

“It’s mad though. Even the media coverage that it got. For me, I felt it was blown out of proportion,” he says.

But he was getting a sense of the attention turned on the All-Ireland champions.

In the championship they eventually overcame a stubborn Fermanagh, before Derry whipped them by 11 points. Armagh finished the job in the first round of qualifiers.

Last year, Monaghan’s Ryan O’Toole sucker-punched them with a late goal that brought another championship defeat in Omagh. They got to Croke Park but took a 12-point hiding from Kerry.

McGeary rejects the suggestion that his attention was divided too finely.

“I like being busy. But my priorities didn’t change when I got that (Footballer of the Year). I still kept enough time for football. That’s where my main focus was.

“Alright, it didn’t necessarily show it always. It would have been easy for people to say, ‘That man’s head’s away somewhere else, he’s disinterested.’

“I feel I am well appreciated by my club and county. But from the start of 2022, I had parked it. It was done.”

The statue for the achievement? His All-Ireland and Ulster medals?

“Mummy would have them (medals) in a box.

“There will come a day when every player might look back at it. But they are down mummy’s house somewhere. She will know exactly where it is. I don’t.”

Instead, he looks forward. Next job, Cork in Tullamore. No time to waste.


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