Kevin Nolan simplifies a complicated life

Dublin defender takes control of diabetes and stakes a claim to regaining his place

Life began to get complicated for Kevin Nolan at the height of the jubilation. The Dublin wing back had crowned a fine year with the county's first All-Ireland win in 16 years.

He contributed so handsomely to that achievement – a crucial point in the dying minutes of the final after which he was named man of the match – that he picked up his first All Star. But ticking in the background was a revelation that doctors thought would be better delayed until after the All-Ireland.

Nolan had been diagnosed as a celiac and a couple of months later worse was to follow when he was discovered to have type 1 diabetes. Although he rates 2012 an even better year for his own game, Dublin lost the All-Ireland and under new manager Jim Gavin he struggled to get back on to the team for last year's success.

"I took a break at the very start of 2013 basically to try and give the body a bit of a rest after the shock of the diabetes and so on. I came back into a squad that was flying; Jim had started his first year in charge and lads were looking to make a statement and they made a serious statement.

'Standard so high'
"They had the standard so high that I unfortunately could not reach it in 2013. As it went on I would have felt at the end of the year I was doing quite well but just found it difficult to get into the team."


He has seen more action in this season’s league and this Sunday with Dublin heading into a semi-final against Cork, the prospect of retaining the title is still alive.

The Kilmacud Crokes' player is such a good footballer – he was offered soccer trials with Blackburn Rovers and Leicester City when younger – that he has slotted back into the half-back line seamlessly and with All-Ireland medalists Ger Brennan (recovering from injury) and Jack McCaffrey (likely to be rested ahead of the All-Ireland under-21 semi-finals) there is still plenty of opportunity to stake a claim on the team.

“We have A versus B matches or inter-squad games and it is just about trying to impress in every game. I would have felt that I did okay last year but the lads were just of a standard a bit better than me.

“This year is just about keeping the form going. If Ger is pushing to get into the team, it just means that I have to play better.”

The memory of the contrast between his feelings at the end of the All-Irelands in 2011 and '13 is a motivation. "I was lying if I said I was of the same sort of mind-set. It's not nice sitting in the stand. You're putting in the same effort as everyone else and it's just encouraging you to get out onto the pitch. For the likes of myself, Bryan Cullen, Michael Fitzsimons, Denis Bastick – we wouldn't have been regulars last year whereas the year before, we would have played a lot of games.

"We're in the squad now with that hunger that we want to be there. We saw the lads celebrating on the pitch in 2013 and it's something that I want – to be back out there, playing in the game, whatever part of it.

“If it’s five minutes at the end of the game or it’s two minutes in. Just making sure you’re ready if you’re thrown in whenever. At the end of the day, it is a squad. It isn’t a 15-man game.”

Life can be complicated. Dietary restrictions because of celiac and diabetes combine with the need to monitor food intake and inject insulin after meals. Nolan works as a PE and science teacher and is an ambassador for Diabetes Ireland.

He is interested in the idea of an insulin pump but has heard that it might be contrary to GAA rules. “I got a phone call from a player in Monaghan there recently and he said you’re not allowed wear it – it’s illegal. It’s classified as a weapon on a Gaelic pitch. I don’t use pumps, I use pens to inject insulin but it’s something I might look into, getting a pump. It’s attached to you and constantly dropping insulin in but it’s something I’d have to ask the GAA about.

“I’m not going to be taking it off, swinging it around and hitting someone in the head but it’s something that I need and if it’s a case of needing it, surely it can be allowed.”

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times