Meath’s Kevin Reilly forced to retire at just 29

The Royal County full back hangs up his boots after 10 years with the senior team

Meath have lost defender Kevin Reilly to retirement at just 29-years-of-age. The teak-tough full-back has been forced into the decision after consistent and worsening injury problems.

The Navan O'Mahony's full-back has manned the square for the Royal county for the guts of the past decade, taking over from Darren Fay and the long line of no-nonsense Meath number threes before him. Reilly though has been unable to replicate their longevity - announcing the decision to hang up his boots on Tuesday via a lengthly GPA statement.

He won a Leinster title in 2010, but has been heavily hampered in recent seasons with various injuries - this summer he appeared as a substitute as Meath limped past Wicklow in the Leinster championship, played in the semi-final loss to Westmeath and scored 0-2 from the bench in the qualifier loss to Tyrone.

The full back come centre back's retirement follows the decision of long-serving full-forward Stephen Bray who has also hung up his boots in the close season.

Reilly’s lengthy statement explains his rational - and here it is, in full;

“It is with great regret and sadness that I announce my immediate retirement from inter-county football. Meath GAA has been the central part of my life for the past 11 seasons putting my own life, wife, child, work, friends and family on hold during this period.

"I have been fortunate enough to fulfil my boyhood dream of captaining and representing Meath at fullback, winning a Leinster SFC in 2010, representing Ireland eight times in the International Rules Series, Sigerson Cup successes with DCU and three Meath SFC titles with Navan O'Mahony's.

“For that, I am forever grateful to all the people that gave me my chance to fulfil my hopes, dreams and aspirations of playing football at the highest level.

“I feel compelled to explain my reasons for retiring at 29 years old. Some might say what should have been the prime of my career. Persistent and serious injury has led me to call time on my inter-county playing days.

“This one I just cannot come back from. Three surgeries, my back, hip and Achilles tendon, bulging discs, frequent hamstring, quad and hip flexor tears, broken arm, foot, nose, fingers and vertebrae, chronic tendonitis and cartilage damage in knees, shoulders and Achilles tendons have all taken their toll on my body, but it has been the hip injury I suffered in the Leinster final of 2014 that has brought my career to a premature end.

“About 15 mins into the game I felt a sharp pain in the hip after a change of direction. Immediately I knew there was something serious up. I carried on unable to change direction for the rest of the game. The next day I went for a scan for it to reveal the start of an ongoing nightmare. A grade 2 hip flexor tear - grand, a labral cartilage tear - not so good, and chronic degeneration of the hip joint - disaster!

“In the following weeks I met with two hip specialists who both agreed that my time playing inter-county football was coming to an end. The first guy asked ‘How long are you playing football?’ and then followed it up with “You won’t be playing for much longer”.

“I immediately requested a second opinion. They both recommended surgery to repair the injury as much as possible and confirmed that I will need a full hip replacement in the next 5-10 years. My world had been turned upside down and inside out all in the space of two minutes.

“Here I was, Meath captain at the time, facing the distinct possibility of never donning the green and gold again. Not to mention the impact it would have on my professional career as a PE teacher. I set out on a journey into the unknown. Facing the reality and the sensible choice of retirement, I had the surgery on the 3rd October last year, and following long consultations with the surgeon, Mick O’Dowd and the team physio, Barry Mc Entee, I had too many questions and ‘what ifs’ to hang up the boots at that stage so I set to work on my rehabilitation. I knew it wasn’t the right decision but I couldn’t let myself make that decision to quit without trying first.

“Over the course of the year, countless hours were put into rehab and we started making slow progress. Going from walking unaided, to jogging, sprinting, changing direction and then competing again took about eight months. Eight months of torture and far from pain free at the end. It took every ounce of mental and physical strength to be part of the Meath set up. I think I completed two full training sessions all year. The rest of the time was spent doing rehab on the sidelines as the rest trained away. Pain at every turn, not wanting to give in, wanting to give more of myself to the Meath GAA cause. If I was able to contribute anything to Meath GAA over the course of the year I wanted to be part of it.

“The realisation hit me come the end of the league going into championship time. In the past and I suppose I would have had a bit of a reputation for it, I would have missed parts of the league through injury but I would have always strived to be fit come championship. I never needed a whole lot of training to get back to full fitness. I kept myself very well.

“This time however, after putting in huge amounts of time, energy, blood, sweat and tears I knew I wasn’t near where I wanted to be in terms of rehabilitation or fitness. I played a game in Newry against Down towards the end of the league. I played at wing-forward as it was one of the only positions that allowed me to be on the pitch without over aggravating it through twisting and turning demands of other positions or so I thought, but at half time I had to come off and was barely able to walk to the bus afterwards.

“I spent the next two weeks hobbling around getting treatment only to start to feel a little better then the cycle would start again! That’s not good! Constant pain, worry, rehab, set back after setback, and the demands of inter-county football led me to the decision to hang up my boots. I knew that was that for me. I made a commitment to myself to see out the campaign and contribute where I could. I’d do anything to be fit and healthy to give more to the Meath cause just my body won’t let me.

“That said, I loved every minute in the Green and Gold Meath jersey. The pride and satisfaction I got from wearing the number three jersey was unrivalled. All be it an unfruitful career in terms of medals won, I look back fondly on the opportunity Meath GAA has given me.

"With the greatest gratitude in the world I want to sincerely thank my family, managers, selectors, fellow players and all the supporters of Meath football. In particular I want to take this opportunity to thank my father and brothers who introduced me to Gaelic football, my mother for always having my gear ready until I moved out. My club, Navan O'Mahony's, for not only developing my skills as a player, but for the family of people that are there supporting through thick and thin, Sean Boylan for having faith in an 18-year-old kid, Mick O'Dowd for appointing me captain and Niall Moyna for going above and beyond during my time in DCU.

“Looking forward, I hope to continue lining out for my club but my hip will dictate how long that will be for. As of now, life will be un-paused and new opportunities await in my career, studies and family life.”