'I didn't want to harm anyone, I just wanted to play'
Seánie Johnston admits the furore over his transfer from Kildare to Cavan last summer got to him.
Kildare v Dublin: In his first interview Kildare’s Seánie Johnson talks about his controversial transfer from Cavan.
This can’t be him. Not this guy. We’re supposed to be meeting the chap into whose hands the nuclear codes had fallen, the one who was going to flick a thumb and detonate the GAA from the inside. The man who Joe Brolly accused of nothing less than “the most conspicuous attack yet on the GAA ethos”.
But where’s the cloven hoof? No tail, Seánie? No trident? Seánie Johnston’s smile is a nervous one. He isn’t mad keen on the idea of doing this at all.
The irony of him being the GAA figure whose name most threatened the national ink reserves last year is that he actually labours under a pretty acute shyness.
Meeting the Kildare players for the first time last spring was, he says, “nearly my worst-case scenario, sitting in a room with people I didn’t know and having to try to make conversation.” If he lived out his days without seeing another headline that contained his name, those days would be no trial at all.
And on top of that, he knows you’re sick of it. You can’t be as sick of it as he is, he’ll guarantee you. But he knows everybody got bored and tired of it all a long time before it ended.
So he figures this will be it – get it done, get said what he has to get said and let the great world spin. Kildare play the Dubs tomorrow at the apex of the National League and all anyone will want to talk to him about is football. That’s the hope anyway.
“In the end, all I want is to be a better footballer,” he says. “It’s all I ever wanted. To me, I was never going to play for Cavan again. That wasn’t ever going to happen. It was made perfectly clear to me that it wasn’t an option. I didn’t want to harm anyone, I didn’t want to annoy people. I just wanted to play football.
“For anyone who felt that I caused them personal harm by what I did, I apologise. I don’t know who would feel like that or why they would but if they do, it was never my intention. I never set out to hurt anyone or make anyone sour, I’m just not that sort of person. I’m the other sort, if anything. If I thought there was a way to please everyone, I would. But no matter what I do, people will still give out about me. People are going to say what they’re going to say. I just want to get on with it.”
Even now, he’s mystified as to quite how he became such a bogeyman. He gets that people are tribal, he gets that people are protective of the GAA. How could he not? His father used to chide him for the time he put into kicking a ball, telling him there’d be no football questions on any exam he’d ever do.
He had the last laugh on that score – he’s a PE teacher now who coaches the kids in Breffni College just outside Cavan town. “We won our first Cavan title in 18 years last year and got to an Ulster final,” he beams. “It kept me some small bit sane.”
The point is, you don’t need to give Seánie Johnston any lectures on what the GAA is about. Agree with his transfer, disagree with his transfer. He won’t argue with you either way. But suggest that he’s a malignant force, a threat to the very fabric of the association and you’re talking about a man he hasn’t met.
“People were saying, ‘Look, you made the move, you have to take the consequences of it.’ But I couldn’t have seen all that coming down the line. Maybe it was naivety on my part but I didn’t expect to be and nor did I want to be someone who was going to be constantly in the papers.