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Sunday 11 December 2016

Karl Lacey - the life of an unpaid 'pro' footballer

Donegal star's long road from Limerick is behind him as he parks work for the summer to drive on for Sam

Karl Lacey, Donegal
Karl Lacey, Donegal

KARL LACEY is an All-Ireland winner, former Footballer of the Year and four-time All Star.

Karl Lacey is also a 30-year-old father to young eight-month-old Noah; a family man who must plan for the immediate future and beyond.

But Donegal's defensive talisman still believes he can win more cups on the field, that his best days aren't behind him or Rory Gallagher's squad.

All of which helps explain why he has taken the big decision to, effectively, park his working career for the duration of Donegal's championship campaign.

"Well, a professional without getting paid!" he clarifies.

"I'm keeping my eye on jobs as well," he adds. "There's nothing up around home at the moment. If there's a job in Dublin I'm not going to apply for it, because I just want to be at home now for the summer."

It might strike non-GAA people as a crazy sacrifice, but Lacey is not unique as an inter-county footballer taking a backward career step to try and make a footballing leap forward.

Kerry's Darran O'Sullivan left his job in Ulster Bank to develop other career interests while having a "more flexible timetable that would allow me to rehab my injury properly".

Lacey himself previously worked for Ulster Bank, in Dublin, before heading back to college to study for a Masters in sports performance at the University of Limerick.

MILEAGE

For a player with high mileage on the field, the mileage he was clocking up on the road proved a massive burden over the past few years. Lacey submitted his thesis last January and is awaiting results. In the meantime, with May 17 and a massive Ulster SFC opener in Ballybofey fast approaching, Lacey is relishing the opportunity to get his body and mind right for Tyrone.

"I have family now, a wee boy of eight months as well, so I have to keep everything right," he says, speaking at the launch of Kellogg's renewed sponsorship deal with GAA Cúl Camps.

"I have discussed it with my family, and I feel that this is the right thing for me to do over the next few months.

"The football means so much to me," he expands. "I have always given everything to my football, no matter when I was at home or in Dublin or in Limerick, and it's just a wee bit easier this way."

Now that his road trips to and from Limerick are "finito for me", he professes to enjoying his life as an inter-county footballer more than in previous years.

"I was in Dublin for two years before I was in Limerick, so the last three years have been a lot of driving up and down, midweek, for training. But now I'm at home there is more flexibility and I'm only doing part-time work at the moment," he reveals.

"So I've days off and you get more time to recover and do my swimming pool stuff and mobility work, and I'm fresher going into training, which makes it more enjoyable."

He is parking his next career move until post-summer.

"I'm doing a bit of work for Sky Sports - I'm on their 'Living For Sport' programme.

"Unfortunately that doesn't run through the summer, because schools finish in May," he explains.

"I just want to enjoy my football now for the next couple of months," he continues, "and I suppose live that lifestyle of a professional athlete."

For a player bedevilled by injury in 2013 - and to a lesser extent last season - his new circumstances have made an "unbelievable" difference.

"I only realise how much of a difference it makes now that I'm doing it. For me it was into the car; straight out of the car; into training; back into the car for another four hours … and you're just in bits the next day. The body doesn't recover," he recounts.

"Whereas now, you have the day to go to the swimming pool and do your recovery work. You're not rushing on the road. You're at home and you're cooking good meals for yourself - breakfast and lunch. You get your pre-training meal three hours beforehand; you're not jumping in to grab a sandwich at the petrol station and eating it while you're driving.

"Things like that make a massive difference. I think it's becoming more popular ... there's a few players that have kind of stepped back from employment to concentrate on it."

While he's not the only footballer to embrace this professional-without-the-perks lifestyle, he cautions: "I don't know how far it's going to go.

"Financially you can't do it for the rest of your career, but I'm going to do it now for the next few months, get this year over me and hopefully then pick up a bit of work after that."

COMPENSATE

Last question: is there any scope to compensate that type of commitment within the GAA, or is he satisfied to "go it alone" in pursuit of his footballing ambitions?

"I'm satisfied," Lacey declares. "If there was compensation coming in, you would have a lot more players doing it and it's not going to be manageable. Everyone would want to do it.

"I have good support around me with my family; they are happy to do this for the next few months.

"I don't know what way it is going to go with the GAA, but it is something that is going to become a lot more popular with players. People are putting employment behind them, putting a back seat on employment, maybe putting college on hold for a year or two, just to concentrate on their training. Maybe it might be something the GAA would look into," he signs off.

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