LIKE most sports-mad youngsters, Brian Kearney tried every sport when he was younger.
GAA, and hurling particularly, was his first love. That’s not surprising when he hails from Bandon and his cousins Daniel and William Kearney have pulled on the Cork geansaí.
He played his share of soccer in his 20s with Castlelack and dabbled in boxing too. Yet running is what revitalised his grá for training and competing now he’s passed the 30 mark.
Kearney is now proud to wear the yellow singlet of the iconic Leevale club and be guided by their coach Donie Walsh. He’s a recent convert to the cross country discipline, while last summer he combined a one-month holiday in Mexico with running.
“I took up boxing for a while in The Boxing Clinic. I loved it. The hardest training of anything I’d ever done. There’s no hiding.”
A broken jaw while sparring left him reeling though.
“I didn’t have to wire it but I decided to get over it by going to Thailand for two weeks to do a boxing camp. It sorted out all the kinks and got me really, really fit.
“When I came back from Thailand I had to decide what to do. ‘Why am I boxing? Why am I playing soccer?’
“In terms of simplicity, running is hard to beat. MMA was taking over from boxing and with soccer the matches were constantly getting called off so I decided to go with the running.”
There, of course, were plenty of hills and valleys after opting for running over his traditional passions.
“When you’re minor you’re in a training camp of sorts. Gear washed, meals prepared, lifts everywhere, games all the time.
“Running gave me the chance to have that structure again, even if you need self-discipline to get going and if you can gravitate towards your local club better again. You start eating better and making the more of your time if you can get out early and run before you work.”
His journey led to writing his book, Running for Better, which is available to download on Amazon.
“I wrote the type of book I would have liked to read when I started out. Someone was is tipping away without realising their potential, who wanted to get better but didn’t have the mindset to get around it. It’s set up so it can apply to running, GAA, any team sport and so you make better choices.”
The guidance counsellor at Bandon Grammar knows what that means because he’ll admit himself he didn’t manage that when he took up the sport.
“I trained for the Cork half but it ended up being a disaster. It was a turning point for me really. It told me I was kidding myself.”
He missed the last shuttle to the starting point of that first marathon, ended up running a distance before he even started. He was on the backfoot from the off.
“You need to build up towards a marathon whereas some people end up getting injury or having a bad experience.
“There’s a period where you are obsessed with your watch, your time and so on. You don’t factor in how you’re feeling, what’s happening in work, if you’re just tired. The comment about the best player is often that ‘he’s loads of time on the ball’ and that’s because they use their time wisely, react when they need to and they don’t waste energy.
“My first marathon I set a marker of under three hours but it’s not productive in the long term. My initial aim was always beating times but then I realised that didn’t have to be a priority.
“Focusing on the process, which is what the Irish rugby team, the Dublin footballers under Jim Gavin do, is ideal. It’s a cliché but there’s a logic there. Once you’ve accountability in a group, the process pays off.”
While the marathon was the initial draw into running for Kearney, cross country has been his main focus recently. In Mark Hanrahan, Leevale have one of the best in the business, but for team events scoring is shared. Often you’re only as strong as your weakest link and Kearney has three All-Ireland medals as a consequence.
“It can be the third or fourth best guy does the scoring that wins a team event on any given day. It makes you tougher. It was like starting running all over again. The distances are minimal, 6k, 8k or 10k – and the 10k can be easier because you don’t get the same milers or 5k runners testing themselves – but it was so challenging when I started out. Someone who is average on grass might come alive on the grass. It’s like the difference between your summer hurler and your winter hurler.
“The team element was the big thing for me given my background. You can get more out of yourself when there are three other people depending on you. Similar to a bonus point in rugby it’s worth chugging away.”
The culture of Leevale is renowned across Ireland and internationally. Kearney has no doubt that progressing from solo training to the club environment made a huge difference to his development.
“You learn from the elite athlete. You take someone like Lizzie Lee, her singularity and consistency, even with kids and other commitments.
“You learn from Donie Walsh. He tells you to take it easy and skip a session and you have to trust him. He’s a brilliant coach and competed at the Olympics. You just have to listen to his advice.
“The likes of Michelle Finn and Mark Hanrahan are smart athletes.There’s nothing wasted. We’ve all seen fellas in dressing rooms hammering hurleys off the walls but that can’t work before every game.
“I remember before one match the opposition jersey was thrown on the ground and it riled us up but when they tried it before playing another team it fell totally flat.”
One size doesn’t fit all.