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'It's different, I've been really enjoying it' - From Kerry goalkeeper to Offaly coach

Brendan Kealy is preparing for Leinster championship as the Offaly goalkeeping coach.

ALL-STAR GOALKEEPER Brendan Kealy is currently preparing for championship on the other side of the sideline.

Brendan Kealy Brendan Kealy. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

From Kerry star to Offaly coach, the Kilcummin shot-stopper stepped away from the Kingdom panel last July due to a lack of gametime.

“It was tough,” he says of his decision. “It was something I put a lot of thought into.

“I’m happy where I am now. That was last year’s news. Kerry are getting ready with what they have now this year. That’s where it’s at.”

The door is still open, but Kealy would much rather talk about his new venture and role as goalkeeping coach with the Offaly senior footballers.

What’s it like? “Different,” he smiles.

“Very different. But very enjoyable in a different kind of way. Overall, it’s an opportunity that came along sooner than I thought it might so I said I’d give it a go. I’ve been really enjoying it now.

“They’re good lads up there. Not that I know it all or anything but you just try and pass on what you might know and what might help the lads.”

When Stephen Wallace undertook the Offaly job, he reached out to Kealy and by October, he had him on board in the backroom team.

“Stephen just got in touch,” he explains.

“All my mother’s family are from Offaly, they’re all based there so there’s a family connection. He knew he could probably play on that a bit.

“Look, that’s how it came about really, just from a phone call out of the blue completely. I wasn’t expecting it at all. It was an opportunity at inter-county level with a county with great tradition. I thought, ‘Let’s go for it,’ you know.”

He adds: “Travel-wise, it’s not too bad. You’re two-and-a-half hours on the road, up and down. I have a base up there when I need it. They’ve a fantastic new training facility up there in the Faithful Fields. It’s a great facility to be going to training in.

Brendan Kealy Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“The journey is what it is but you know, it’s something you’d be looking forward to. It’s not like having to go to work or something where you don’t want to be doing what you’re doing.

“You’d be in good form going up the road and looking forward to training. It’s not too bad!”

Wicklow come as the opposition in Offaly’s Leinster SFC opener on Sunday in Portlaoise, and it’s an occasion Kealy is relishing.

“That’s the focus now. Really looking forward to my first time being involved in a Leinster championship game. A new experience, so all eyes are on Sunday.

“We know it’s going to be a hell of a test against Wicklow. There’ll be nothing in it, nothing between the two teams.”

It’s unclear yet whether Wallace will be on the line this weekend, as he was handed a proposed eight-week ban last month by the Kerry CCC.

The Kerry native’s proposed suspension relates to an incident during his club Ardfert’s Kerry intermediate championship club game against John Mitchels. The option was there to appeal the decision, but Kealy is unsure of the Faithful manager’s current situation.

“I genuinely don’t know. I couldn’t tell you. I honestly don’t know, I specifically haven’t spoken to him about it. I don’t really need to know, I don’t want to know.

“If he’s on the line Sunday, great, if he’s not, we’ll get on with it as well. That’s not to give a short answer. My focus is on getting the goalkeepers right, I don’t know after that.”

With rising star Cian Johnson’s name also in the headlines this week, the Leaving Cert student is unable to line out for the Offaly seniors because of an internal rule that commits him to the U20 competition again.

“It is what it is now,” Kealy commented, accepting the outcome that the player is unavailable.

“It’s disappointing, you’d love to have him with you, he’s a very good footballer with great potential — but we’ll focus on Sunday and the panel of players we have.”

Michael Darragh Macauley and Brendan Kealy Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

And as a player and now a senior inter-county coach, the 31-year-old is well-versed to share his opinion on how important the role of goalkeeper is in the modern game.

“It’s become a position that was just regarded as, ‘Just put someone in there to fill a hole’ to almost the most pivotal position on a pitch,” Kealy concludes.

“I suppose teams are looking at it now as who’s the one player that’s not being specifically man-marked in a game, with tight defences and stuff. There is method to the madness.

“I think it’s a great thing. It used to frustrate me before when you’d be standing in goal for a game and all you’d be doing is watching the ball sail over your head, put the ball down, kick out 60 yards. It was boring.

“That’s why I always enjoyed playing soccer because you were more involved in the game. Whereas it’s great now that the GAA goalkeeper is becoming more involved and has to be an all-round footballer. Good with ball in hand, kickouts, communication, reading a game, everything.

“In every aspect the bar is being raised every year, In terms of goalkeeping as well, the bar is still being raised every year. They’ve become more of an actual footballer now.”

Fanta Sandstorm is back with a bang for 2018, inviting the most adventurous thrill-seekers across Ireland to test their limits on the 5km beach run. Fanta’s Sandstorm will take place at Dublin’s Dollymount Strand on 9 June, before Kerry’s Ballyheigue Beach on 14 July. Tickets are on sale Monday 14 May at €15.

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Emma Duffy

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