Not many 40-year-old former intercounty footballers have both the physicality and audacity to still play at such a keenly competitive level, and Graham Geraghty seems a little surprised about it himself. This, after all, is the player who had already announced his retirement not once but twice.
Not that the two-time All-Ireland winner has any ambitions to get back playing with Meath – at least not that he’s admitting – but Geraghty is turning back the clock in more ways than one as he prepares for the upcoming Sigerson Cup campaign with Blanchardstown IT.
Geraghty will be playing with and against men half his age, although he doesn't look 40. He ended his playing career with Meath in July 2012, having retired once before in 2008. But having started in Blanchardstown last September, enrolling in third-level education for the first time, he is still eligible for the college grade.
"It has come as bit of a surprise," he said, speaking at the Sigerson Cup draw in Croke Park yesterday. "Starting college this year has been a learning curve, in that I didn't think I'd ever play college football at any stage. At 22 or 23 I was meant to do a sports and recreational course, but never did. So all these years later here I am."
Geraghty is studying Social and Community Development, having previously dipped his toes in a variety of other careers, including politics. He already had links with Blanchardstown IT in a coaching capacity, alongside Val Andrews, for the last three years, but will likely wear the number 14 jersey when their campaign opens next February.
It won’t be easy, however, as yesterday’s draw threw up NUI Maynooth, in the first round, who currently boast Footballer of the Year Michael Dara Macauley in their ranks, among several other high-profile players. Geraghty has continued to play club football, and reckons he is still fit enough to compete while agreeing that Blanchardstown IT isn’t overflowing with too many big-name players.
“I’ve been playing all summer, and I’d be fit enough alright. A lot of the team are good club players but not getting a look in at county level. A few of them might be touching under-21 panels but not anything like some of the other colleges.
“It’s hard for a college like Blanchardstown when you haven’t the funds to offer lads scholarships. But it’s a growing college, and if you can stay up a year or two (at league level) you might attract some of the top players.”
Geraghty will also get a taste for the new black card, which will also be introduced for third-level competitions. Given his often close relationship with referees in the past he is understandably cautious about giving the black card his full approval.
“Realistically, I’ve looked over the rules, and I think it just puts more pressure on referees. With that many cards in their pocket they won’t know what to do. In some instances he’s to show a yellow card, a black card, and then a red card.
“It will cut out a lot of cynical fouling, and for the forwards more so, maybe, than the backs. It will give them more freedom to take on the player and they won’t be pulled down.
“But I think the advantage rule is a great idea. There is nothing more frustrating than a referee putting his hand up, acknowledging a free, letting it go, and if the player losses possession it’s his own tough luck. At least now he can pull it back, and that’s definitely one of the better rules to bring in. Taking something from rugby, really, and I think it’s good that we’re looking at other codes to better our own game.”
As for the Meath’s future, Geraghty believes they have the right man in charge in his former team-mate Mick O’Dowd.
“He’s my age as well, and is a very clever man. But he’d be a different character to me. More laid back, really. But I think he’s doing a good job so far.
“We just have to give him the time. But I have been at a lot of club games at intermediate and senior level in Meath, and you wouldn’t pick out a lad who would be a top inter county player. But when you are in with better players you do play better.
“Hopefully they can do it, and we can see Meath back competing again at the top level.”