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'You're Thinking About It 24/7, I Would Be Rolling Around In Bed Thinking About It'

'You're Thinking About It 24/7, I Would Be Rolling Around In Bed Thinking About It'

Karl Lacey laughs when asked if he knew how much time he'd end up investing once he said yes to Declan Bonner in 2017.

"Aye, well, I didn’t really," he says, "I didn’t know what to expect."

Shortly after Lacey called time on his inter-county two years ago, the 2012 Footballer of the Year got a surprise call. Bonner was taking over from Rory Gallagher as Donegal manager and wanted the recently retired defender to be part of his coaching team.

The two had a chat, Lacey had a chat with a few others; ultimately, it didn't take long to make a decision.

"If there was a role for me, if there's anything to do to help these guys, I was willing to do it because I've got so much out of my own career," says the 34-year-old, who is a member of the 2019 Panel for the Electric Ireland GAA Minor Star Awards.

"I know how it feels to win an Ulster medal, an All-Ireland and there's nothing more I would like to see than Eoghan Bán Gallagher, Ryan McHugh, Paul Brennan, all these guys going on and doing the same thing."

The quick step from player to defence coach means he's now barking out orders to those who were once teammates.  They're still pushing in the same direction, it's just a different dynamic.

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You have to get the right balance, still have the craic with the lads.

Sometimes maybe if we're away for the weekend, at a training camp or something, you might have to pull yourself away from them.

If they're going for a coffee, you used to go with them and you'd be in the middle of them but now you have to kind of say, 'Nah, I'm on the other side of it now. I can't be joining yis. Ye're probably giving out about me down at the coffee shop!'

Lacey had an inter-county career which stretched 13 years. He knows how physically demanding the game can be. Coaching is different, it's mentally taxing. As a player, he could switch off. On the other side of the line, he finds that tough.

At the end of last year, he was still reeling from the level of commitment required. He and his wife Ciara also had a new arrival, their second boy. Before Lacey could commit for 2019, he wanted some support in place. If he was in, it was going to be all in - he didn't want to miss a training session.

While that was going on, reports emerged that he had finished with Donegal. He was also linked with a coaching role with the Roscommon footballers on a ticket led by Aidan O'Rourke. The reality: Donegal was always his priority and he was just getting the necessary in situ before confirming his commitment.

"I played club football last year. I haven't played this year. I haven't had time. You're out with the boys every night training. Then, I can't just turn up at a club game on a Sunday, tog out and play. My hips would not let me do that. I'd kick four or five balls with the boys in training and be in bits after.

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"You are just thinking about it 24/7. You’re maybe driving home, you are getting the video from training, you’re not even in the door and you’re bloody watching it again.

"Jesus, there’d be nights I’d be getting up to open up the laptop and have a look at a clip just to convince myself that that is what we need to do or something. I would be rolling around in bed thinking about it or whatever because it’s a big responsibility.

"We’re looking for them to showcase the abilities that they have and it’s important we don’t stop them doing that and give them every little chance."

There are also other challenges he did not foresee.

"I would never have broken down how to tackle because it naturally just came to me and I didn’t overthink it. I might have just been a good tackler; it’s something that when I was a player, I didn’t do a huge amount of work on.

"Then the players that are coming to you and asking what they need to do to improve their tackling and you are like, 'Hold on to a wee second' and you start thinking about feet position, you are starting to think about hands and head, your eyes.

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"Trying to get your explanation of that across then is even harder, for me to explain something that I maybe understand but they are looking at me going ‘what do you mean?’"

When Bonner approached him, it was not solely because he'd been a top class player, one who might be able to pass down some of that experience he'd gained. Lacey has a Masters in Sports Performance.

By the end of 2013, he'd been working in Ulster Bank for a few years and wanted out. Still just 28, he went back to college, studying at the University of Limerick.

"I always had a massive interest in sport. I always would have loved a career in sport but there's not that many careers in it."

Every day is still a learning day for Lacey. He's in contact with Jim McGuinness, the two have conversations about coaching.

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Stephen Rochford joined Declan Bonner's backroom team this season. The former Mayo manager is proving a valuable asset for Declan Bonner and a well of insight for Lacey.

"He’s a real character," says Lacey of Rochford.

He’s bringing that outsider approach in. He’s watched us from the outside and he’s given that real belief to the boys and telling them that, ‘Mayo see youse as real contenders and we used to see Donegal as a top team’. He’s reassuring the guys because this is Stephen Rochford saying this.

He just knows the modern game, he knows how to set-up teams tactically. He’s smart, he’s tactically very smart but he knows how to introduce that into games and training and how to set-up your training drills, very game specific type of things rather than just going from cone to cone.

While he gleans know-how during the evenings with Donegal, he spends the days disseminating it. Lacey works as a lecturer in Sports Coaching and Performance in Letterkenny IT.

"I'm enjoying it - great holidays!" he jokes.

"It fits well with the football, being off in the summer. I'm doing my own bits of research."

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Where's it all going to take him? He's not sure.

"I'm only learning. It's early days for me yet. I'm trying to build up my CV at the moment. Manager, coach; I don’t know."

Beyond Gaelic football?

"Yeah, if the money's good. Golf or something."

Donegal’s most decorated Footballer, Karl Lacey, former Galway dual-star, Alan Kerins, former Waterford Hurling Manager, Derek McGrath and former Dublin footballer, Tomás Quinn join forces as the 2019 Panel for the Electric Ireland GAA Minor Star Awards. This year Electric Ireland’s #GAAThisIsMajor campaign, now in its sixth year, will highlight the positive impact that the Minor Championship has on players long after their days on the field as a Minor have ended.

Picture credits: Sportsfile & INPHO

See Also: 'It's One Of Those Things You Could Write A Play About' - There Was Nothing Like Dublin And Meath

PJ Browne
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