McKeever: Learning on the job

TRAVELLING to Kerry and Leitrim on cold winter nights speaks volumes of the lengths Ciaran McKeever will go to just to better himself. Even when still playing at the highest level, McKeever always had an eye on coaching.

Once he retired from inter-county football in 2017, the former Armagh skipper went straight into coaching. Kieran McGeeney called his ex-teammate into the senior county management team in 2021 and McKeever has been there ever since.

He spent two seasons in charge of the Orchard County minors. Four years with Mayobridge in Down. He coached across different clubs in Louth and helped out at his own club Cullyhanna.

“I always had a grasp for coaching and stuff that was implemented on the training field. I would have always gone home and wrote it down,” said McKeever, who captained Armagh to an All-Ireland u21 title in 2004.

“I would have added my own thoughts on how you could develop it and that’s still the case. When I was playing, I would have travelled the length and breadth of Ireland to try and develop as a coach because I knew that’s the route I was going to go down.

“I remember one Wednesday night driving to Leitrim to watch a session that Donie Buckley was doing. I’d still travel. I was in Kerry in December at a workshop, trying to learn and trying to develop.

“That’s the key thing about it, nobody has all the right answers. There’s a huge appetite for networking and learning within the GAA. I think you’re always going to get something from these coaching workshops to try and make yourself better and your team better.”

Cullyhanna

No doubt his shinning glory so far in a stacked career was standing on the sideline last January, watching Cullyhanna claim All-Ireland Intermediate glory in Croke Park. A moment most clubs can only dream of.

They were relegated to the Intermediate ranks in 2022 before bouncing back in the most impressive fashion possible.

Photo Credit: Sinead Snaps

“Obviously we had great success last year but the previous few years, we had hard times,” added McKeever. “Probably one of the big things that we did that no one would really know. Two years ago, we put all of our players through Foundation and Level One coaching courses.

“The reason behind that was that we wanted the players to understand what preparation goes into training. From a coaching and a management perspective and how to plan and prep for training.

“We hoped that the players would turn up to training better prepared, better educated on the field of what we were trying to implement. We think that we got huge benefits from it, and I know the players did as well.

“It’s not everyone’s cup of tea. But there’s things you have to do if you want to better yourself as a coach or a manager. And you want to better the players around you and I just think it was a worthwhile exercise.”

Coaching workshop

While the next few weeks will be hectic for McKeever as Armagh prepare for a second successive Ulster final and hope to get their hands on the Anglo Celt Cup for the first time since 2008, he spends a lot of time plotting for the future as well.

This Saturday morning, McKeever has arranged a coaching workshop in St Paul’s Bessbrook, 10am-2pm, with ‘Game Sense Coaching’ with the ambition of educating club coaches throughout the county.

McKeever knows all about the benefits of such courses and encourages all coaches and players to attend. “Throughout the month of March, we ran a lot of internal courses in South Armagh, North Armagh and Mid Armagh.

“Now we’re branching out to a bigger workshop where we have Game Sense, the Lavin brothers coming up from Limerick. This is something that clubs have asked for, it’s something that we’re hoping to deliver on behalf of Armagh Coaching and Games.

“We’re trying to make all of us better as coaches and trying to make our youth players in our clubs better and hopefully that’ll stand us in good stead down the track. We’re lucky that we have the knowledge from the Game Sense lads that have worked under Paul Kinnerk.

“He is the head of coaching with the Limerick Hurling team, and we all see how far they have advanced. That all comes back off Paul Kinnerk’s approach to game-based training so there’s going to be a lot of expertise and we’re lucky to have them coming to Armagh.”