GAA – Allianz NFL DIVISION 1
KARL Lacey made a welcome return to the Donegal colours as a second half substitute during last weekend’s bruising league encounter with Monaghan in Ballyshannon.
For the Four Masters defender – who works as a part-time Sports Lecturer at Letterkenny Institute of Technology – it puts him back on track ahead of the 2017 Ulster Championship.
He’s 32 now and has 13 years as an inter-county footballer under his belt. The winner of four All-Stars, he was Footballer of the Year in 2012 when he played an integral part in helping Donegal bring Sam back to the hills.
The man he replaced on Sunday, Cian Mulligan, was starting his first National Football League game for Tir Chonaill while the young Gaoth Dobhair man also lined out for Donegal in Wednesday night’s Ulster U21 semi-final clash with Cavan.
Out with the old and in with the new but, thankfully, Lacey has no intention of hanging up his signature white boots just yet
A major role model in the lives of children all over the county for the past decade and more, Lacey has lost many of his wing-men from the halcyon days of 2012.
Four Masters club-mate Paul Durcan now lives in Qatar while Eamon McGee and Christy Toye have retired. Rory Kavanagh and Colm McFadden have also called time on their Donegal careers.
Big Neil (Gallagher) has also left the Inter County stage although the other big Neil (McGee), Paddy McGrath, Frank McGlynn and Michael Murphy help ensure that there’s still plenty of experienced voices in the dressing room.
“It’s a lot quieter now down the back of the bus although I suppose I should be moving closer to the front at this stage,” he laughed.
Speaking to the Donegal News outside the dressing rooms in Fr Tierney Park after Sunday’s game, you could sense that there’s a renewed spring in Karl Lacey’s step.
With the sun shining bright in the sky, there’s already a Championship feel in the Donegal air and Lacey is looking forward to playing his part in what he hopes will be another successful summer.
“When I sat down with Rory at the end of last year I said that I would be available if there was any way that I could add any kind of value to the team or the squad,” he said.
Lacey has watched their early progress from the sidelines, due to a knee injury, but he played thirty minutes for the club last weekend and got another twenty minutes against Monaghan.
“It all starts again on the training ground this week. Next up is Mayo and hopefully I can get another good week of training under my belt and we’ll see what happens in Castlebar,” he said.
One of the elder statesmen in the 2017 squad, the Four Masters club-man is only too delighted to add his experience to the mix.
“The boys have been doing well. There’s a lot of the young lads in and they’ve had a great campaign up to now and for me to get twenty minutes and back joining them on the training pitch – it’s a good feeling,” he said.
He’s quick to add a word of caution though saying that there’s much work still to be done, citing Jim Gavin’s Dublin team as being the ultimate benchmark.
“You can see how well Dublin are going and how big a team they’ve become and how hard they are to beat. It’s up to us now to get up to their level. Kerry, Mayo and Tyrone are always consistent too and it’s up to us to be as consistent week in, week out.
“So far during the league that consistency is coming in to play a wee bit so now have to go into McHale Park next weekend where a lot of questions are going to be asked again and we’ll have to step up and put in a big performance. It’s important that you are competing at this level,” he warned.
“Once it finishes next weekend – if we’re not in the league final – the Championship is only around the corner,” he added.
Going into the opening Championship game at home to Antrim in May in such a rich vein of form can only be a good thing.
“That was Rory’s aim at the start of the year – to maintain our status and also to put in good performances. While they haven’t been complete performances – with that transition involving the newer lads – they haven’t been bad,” he said.
Lacey has been impressed with the younger lads who have forced their way into Gallagher’s plans throughout this year’s League programme.
“It’s always a big ask for the young lads to come in but the footballers are there. All those guys have come through a good minor and U21 structure but they’ve really been thrown into the deep end this year,” he said.
A lot of those lads are involved with Declan Bonner’s Donegal U21 squad who play Cavan in a re-arranged Ulster U21 semi-final on Wednesday night next.
“It’s about getting the balance right these past few weeks. They’re in the middle of the U21 Championship and it’s hard on them but, in fairness, every one of them has just got on with it. They haven’t complained. They keep their heads down and continue to work hard every night with us. Hats off to them all,” he said.
The proud father of a baby boy, Noah (2), life is good in the Lacey household.
“He’s keeping me busy. Looking after him running around the place is nearly harder than training but life is good,” he said.
Sporting a cut on the bridge of his nose – a legacy from the league meeting with Glenswilly – he’s even allowing himself to look ahead at a possible league final appearance next month at GAA headquarters.
“I got a welcome back to club football last weekend with a bang,” he smiled with reference to the cut on his nose.
“I’ve had a wee bit of a knee injury but, fingers crossed, I’ve been given a clean bill of health. I’ll keep training hard and trying my best to stick up with the rest of the lads. Who knows we might even make the League final and get back to Croke Park,” he laughed.