'I didn't want to harm anyone, I just wanted to play'
“And I didn’t think that my family would have to put up with seeing articles about the threat that their son posed to the GAA. They’re great people but they were having to see this article saying something negative and the next one saying something more negative and all of this was about a person who was their son. They were going, ‘Well is this the person we know?’ And it wasn’t at all.”
He doesn’t want to come across like he’s crying. He isn’t. Don’t turn the page thinking he’s after your pity because that’s no way to live a life. One day last August, he checked his Twitter page to see dozens of posters riffing on English soccer’s transfer deadline day and got annoyed. Not at the barbs – “Sky Sports Newsflash: Seánie Johnston seen entering Anfield” and so on – more at himself.
“That’s pretty funny like, but I hated it at the time. And I was cross at myself. I remember looking at it and going, ‘This is funny. Why am I not finding it funny?’ But by that stage, everything felt like a weight on my shoulders. You’re spending a lot of time in your own company and you’re overthinking things.
“I would have always said through the whole thing that I was grand. But I obviously wasn’t grand. I was doing things I wouldn’t normally do, snapping at friends and family. They’d be going, ‘Are you alright? Do you want to talk about it?’
“And I would just be doing that male thing of going, ‘No, sure I’m grand, there’s no problem at all.’ It’s very hard to come out to your family or your girlfriend – who were all great throughout it – it’s very hard to come out and say, ‘Look, I’m struggling here. This is getting me down.’”
Kildare v Cavan
At several points he figured he wouldn’t play intercounty football again. And then when he did eventually get the go-ahead and thought he was in the clear, the gods had one last twist for him. Kildare were drawn to play Cavan in the qualifiers.
Remember how we laughed that day when we heard the draw? Remember what fun that was? Seánie Johnston’s parents left the country. Booked a flight and headed to Prague rather than be in a Cavan during a week like that.
As for the player himself, well at least he can be fairly certain the most complicated day of his life has been and gone.
“It was a surreal feeling. Just surreal. I was really, really nervous. Because apart from anything else, I had no football under my belt. I was going into that game thinking I was ready to go but I wasn’t. I really had no part to play in that game. I had no impact on it because I wasn’t ready to play in it. I made no sort of contribution and I may as well not have been involved.”
This was the unspoken aspect of it all. While Kildare were trying to get him out on the pitch and all eyes were on him as soon as he got there, there was a human being in the middle. And that human being was a footballer whose game was rusty as an old gate.
“Leave everything else to one side – I hadn’t played a game of intercounty football for the guts of a year. So I was training away, thinking I was going okay but the truth was I was a mile away from having enough football to be worth anything to Kildare last summer.
“But then you get on the pitch and you’re so anxious to do well. No matter much you tell yourself, ‘Look, just do what you can, just be natural,’ you feel that everybody’s talking about you and waiting on you. You don’t want to let people down, you don’t want to be a failure. You’re so eager that everything is done in a rush. You’re thinking, ‘I have to do something here or everybody will be wondering what the fuss is about’.”