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Dublin: 7 °C Wednesday 22 January, 2020

'It's not just about physical fitness, it's about mental fitness': Anna Geary

The former Cork captain on fitness, nutrition and her life since stepping away from the inter-county scene.

WHEN MANY INTER-county stars step away from the scene, they fall out of the habits and routines they’ve adjusted to over the years.

_ALX2786 copy copy Source: ALEX HUTCHINSON

There’s less of an emphasis on training, nutrition and other things that have become a central part of their lives over the years. Some players quite literally ‘hang up their boots’, and that’s that.

But not Anna Geary.

The former Cork captain still lines out with her club, Milford but even if she didn’t, fitness would still be of huge importance to her.

“I’d be quite conscious of my fitness levels,” she tells The42. “Just because it’s probably bred into me from my inter-county days.”

When she first stepped away from the Cork set-up, she decided to slow things down on the training front. She noticed a huge difference, and it wasn’t just physically.

“That endorphin buzz that everybody chases, it wasn’t there. Obviously staying in shape for any young woman or man, or anybody in general, it’s important but it made me realise that it’s not about that for me — it’s that endorphin rush, I feel so much better. I find that I use exercise that way.

No matter what kind of a day you’re having, once you exercise, you never feel worse after the exercise than you did beforehand. Anything that makes you feel better is surely worth doing a lot more than you might be doing it. If it makes you feel better, why would you not do it?

“The single greatest thing I remember from my inter-county days — you know those really tough training sessions that you really don’t want to do — it was that feeling of accomplishment when you finished it.

“You could have been down on the ground, legs and arms out, not able to breathe — somebody nearly bringing you oxygen over after doing a fitness test — but you felt that sense of pride I suppose, because you had accomplished something that maybe a few weeks previously you weren’t able to do fitness-wise. I think that even tests your mental strength because you’re constantly pushing barriers.”

Anna Geary and the Cork players with the O'Duffy cup Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

In this day and age, everyone is much more aware of their health.

As Geary says herself, fitness is no longer just about sport or exercise on its own. There’s many more dimensions to it now, with a tangible link between physical health and mental health.

“I think before, for a lot of people it was all about getting fit and staying in shape, just so you could fit into clothes. Whereas now, people know you could be really really small, but you could have really high cholesterol that people don’t see.

“People have to take more control of it. I’m involved now with those GAA healthy club projects, and it’s great because you’re talking to clubs, who are the hub of any community, they’re the places that have the resources and facilities for people. You’re getting them to understand that it’s not just about physical fitness, it’s about mental fitness and it’s about downtime and how to manage stress and how to balance your life.

“I know when I was in college, at one stage, I was captain of Cork, I was the Cork Rose, back in college and working full-time. There’s no place that you can go that teaches you about how to manage all of those things.

“I think it’s great that people now are starting to understand that you need to be able to manage things. It’s not just about the physical side of things, it’s not about being in the gym six times a week and training, you also have to worry about ‘how fresh am I? Mentally and physically?’ It’s great that people are taking that on board a lot more now.

“It’s about having a more positive approach to fitness and exercise in general. People need to understand to not put pressure on themselves. Life gets in the way when you’re trying to exercise some of the times, and you can fall into that rut.

You can feel bad, but one day is not going to be the difference between you not being healthy and being healthy.

“Get up tomorrow morning and start fresh. If you want to have that biscuit with your tea, just do it. Make sure then for the rest of the day that you’re eating your fruit and vegetables.

Nutrition is also something that links into having a positive outlook not only on fitness, but on life in general. Inter-county players know that they have to eat well to perform at their optimum level.

However, as mentioned previously, often when they step away, they fall out of the habit.

Anna Geary and Katie Power Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“When I was a player I probably would have felt that I had to do it,” Geary recalls. “That was the reason why I was doing it.

“But now that there’s no expectation on me to do it, I still find that I do it. I talk to younger kids about eating and hydration, and what I say to them I have to take on board myself.

Your body is like a car, you need to put the right fuel into your car to go.

“My job, I’m self-employed, I work for myself, they’re long hours, I’m doing different things, I’m on the road a lot. If allowed myself to fall into that habit of getting things in shops all the time, then my energy levels would suffer and I think my mood would suffer as well.

“I do maintain that there’s a massive connection between your mood and food. I think that needs to start with younger kids. I’d love to see schools taking on programmes, really actively getting parents and kids to understand the importance of food, energy levels, concentration levels — all of these things that we don’t even think about at that age.

“You think ‘ah it’s fine, they’re kids, it’s grand’ but that’s when they form habits. One of the things my mother never let us have growing up was fizzy drinks. Christmas or birthdays you could have them whereas some people had them going to school every day. I would never crave a fizzy drink, now I would crave chocolate a lot though!

“I’d never deprive myself, and I don’t ever believe in depriving yourself. If you want to go out for dinner and you’re like ‘I’m eating really well so I should only have a salad.’ Have your dinner! It’s about balance and maintenance. For the rest of the week then, watch your food and cook from home.

Nutrition is really important. You can go into the gym five days a week, but if you’re not eating the right foods you’re wasting your time as far as I’m concerned. I don’t believe in this ‘I train so I can eat what I want,’ it doesn’t work . It really is 70-80% food and the rest of it then is gym and exercise.

“I think people can make small changes , making your food when you’re on the road is a massive thing. It helps me, especially your snacks. You’re going into the shop and you’re buying your coffee and you’re like ‘I can buy a doughnut for an extra euro!’ but you know when you have your snacks yourself in the car you’re less likely to stray. Everybody strays some of the time though, life would be boring if you didn’t.”

One things for sure — Geary’s life has never been boring.

Littlewoods Ireland Camogie National Leagues Launch Source: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE

She first got involved with the Cork panel in 2003, at the tender age of 16. She went on to have an extremely successful career in the red jersey, finishing with four All-Ireland titles and four All-Star accolades, but it wasn’t all about the silverware.

“I was very fortunate that I was with Cork, and I was lucky, I suppose, that we won All-Irelands. There’s some extremely talented people in GAA and camogie and outside of that, that are very talented but have never won All-Irelands. That’s not what I miss though.

“It’s the feeling in the dressing room right before a big game, and those games that you know there’s a chance that you might be shown up and your player might absolutely destroy you. When you’re sitting in the dressing room with five minutes beforehand, and that feeling of nerves that overcomes you. I miss that.

Donal Óg Cusack said it, the Cork goalkeeper, when he retired — no sex, no drugs, nothing will replace that feeling and I completely agree with him.

“You’re thinking I love it and I miss that buzz, will I go back for one more year? And then I think about the nine months of slog and commitment the girls put in and I’m like ‘hmm, maybe I won’t’. Maybe I’ll sit down here on a Tuesday evening and relax rather than being outside in the throes of winter and the minus two degrees.”

She’s still only 29 though. Is there a slight chance of an inter-county comeback on the cards?

“No,” she laughs. “I’d say now there’s too many girls that are coming up along that might beat me. I think I’d get too frustrated, I’d be like ‘I used to be fast, why am I not still fast?”

Geary is happy enough with her life as it is.

When she’s not on the television working with EirSport at the Allianz National League matches or RTÉ on the Today Show, to name but two of her current undertakings, she’s in the gym, or promoting fitness and healthy living.

“I get up every morning, and almost before I wake up, and before my body wakes up, I go to the gym. I nearly have it hanging over me later in the day, you’re nearly coming up with excuses — ‘why can’t I go to the gym? Oh it’s been a long day, or I’ve been driving too much or I haven’t enough water taken on board.’

“I’d go to a gym where the instructors are constantly involved with you, and actively helping you saying ‘let’s mix this up, or change this up’ because everybody needs to change things up.

Littlewoods Ireland Camogie National Leagues Launch Source: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE

“I love classes on the days that you don’t want to train. On the days that you don’t want to train you need that moral support, and you can’t beat the competitor inside you that says ‘well if she’s going faster on the spinning bike then I need to as well, or how come her heartrate’s higher than my heart rate?’ I think we all need a variety.

“I enjoy training myself and I like the gym, a lot of people don’t. I walked and hiked a lot in New Zealand [on holiday] and I felt that I was exercising in a different way — I don’t need to be running around the pitch the whole time. I think it’s about adapting that lifestyle and giving yourself a break sometimes when it doesn’t exactly when it doesn’t work exactly how you want it to.”

“I’d always say that to people ‘if you don’t like exercise, find an exercise that you do like.’ There’s so many things, somebody told me the other day you can use trampolines for exercise, or even all the different types of yoga. You’d be sore the next day and you’re not necessarily building up a sweat out on a pitch or in a gym.”

Glammed to the nines at the Littlewoods Camogie League launch, it’s hard to imagine the same girl out on the battlefield representing her club and formerly, her county.

“The stylist here today had a job hiding our bruises,” she laughs. “We were going ‘yeah we’ll have to wear long sleeves, because I’ve a big bruise.’ People would be asking questions, going ‘is everything ok?’”

That’s the aim of the new Littlewoods Ireland #StyleOfPlay campaign however, and Geary is loving her work.

“One of the great things I suppose now that I’m not playing inter-county is that I’m still involved with camogie, I still have that tie and close connection and want to see it getting better and better.

“Sport is my passion, sport is my love. I love working in it and getting the chance to do that is a big thing. I think the Littlewoods Ireland campaign is great because I love clothes and I love fashion, and I love camogie.

Anna Geary and the Cork players celebrate Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“I love that younger girls see you don’t have to choose between who you are as a person and how you play. You can be a fierce warrior on the pitch, and then stylish as hell off it.”

She’s currently in the middle of a new venture too, so despite her ‘retirement’ — it’s a word she laughs at when she uses it — we’ll still be seeing plenty of Anna Geary around.

“I’m actually in my final exams at the moment, in the middle of studying for life coaching. I want to work with businesses and people that might struggle with their speaking and their confidence, whether it’s with sportspeople coming back from injuries or their form being bad so their confidence has gone down.

“I’ve experienced a lot of that kind of stuff so I think the life coaching will be great. I’m qualified in April and I’m hoping to work in it then afterwards, so hopefully that will be another dimension.”

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Emma Duffy

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