The Comeback kid - delighted to be in action again

When a player on a football panel is given a nickname by his peers, and it sticks, it can on occasion reflect how they see that individual. Corofin’s full-forward in the Connacht club final next Sunday, Jason Killeen, boasts “Legend” or "Ledge" for short a

‘After being away for five years, it takes time to re-establish yourself on any panel.’ Corofin’s Jason Killeen delighted to be back on the big stage after time out in the US.  Photo:-Mike Shaughnessy

‘After being away for five years, it takes time to re-establish yourself on any panel.’ Corofin’s Jason Killeen delighted to be back on the big stage after time out in the US. Photo:-Mike Shaughnessy

Such a moniker is a lot to measure up to, nevertheless he takes it in his considerable stride and smiles as he recalls how it came into being at an u-16 training session many moons ago.

“We were training one day as youngsters and we were practising awkward frees from daft positions. I hit a few good ones that sailed over and one of the lads, Dessie “The Shoe” Higgins – started calling me Legend. And it stuck. Simple as that. A lot of us have different nicknames and I wouldn’t read too much into mine.”

Killeen has had a topsy-turvy club and county career over the past decade, and he is delighted to be back in his club colours on a big stage this weekend.

He lined out at full-back in the All-Ireland club final a decade ago against Erin’s Isle, and he subsequently won a Connacht championship medal at centre-back with Galway in 2000. Many would feel he should have started the All-Ireland final that year against Kerry, but it is a road Killeen has no interest in travelling at this juncture. He is reasonable in his assessment of what happened.

“I had a good shout to start that final, but management did not concur. I didn’t, and it is water under the bridge at this stage.”

Travel itch took hold afterwards and he headed to New York for a few years before returning in 2006.

He missed a few county medals with his club, and perhaps a few seasons in the maroon jersey,but like many who have sought their fortune on foreign shores, he has no regrets.

“We had a fantastic time state-side and I would recommend any young person to take a few years away. It was a great opportunity. A great chance to see a bit of the world and work in a different country, and we also played some ball in New York which was good fun.”

Like many GAA players, his first summer venture was built around Gaelic football, and he won a senior championship with Stamford, lining out alongside the likes of Paddy Bradley (Derry ) and Eric Bradley (Wexford ).

Most of the summer boys go home when winter hits, but Killeen stayed and built a life for himself in the Big Apple.

He worked for a few years with Carpentry 608, where the motto was - “Be on time. Take your time. Leave on time.”

Times were hard, but the sense of adventure and excitement was always in the air and he made some firm friendships. He also fell in love, and his wife Marie is American, but both her parents are from the west of Ireland, with her Mum a native of Leenane.

“I was like many lads who went to the States - an Aer Lingus tradesman. However the boys took us under their wing and we served out our time and eventually got our union cards. There was plenty of work if you were prepared to do it and the Irish community looks out for one other which is a major positive. I learnt a lot and matured in the four or five years I was away, but it was always in the back of my mind to come home at some stage and put down my roots in Corofin.”

Like everyone else in construction, times are tough now, and Killeen, whose company Ace Dry-lining installs suspended ceilings and partition walls, is under no illusion about how tough it is and will get in 2009.

“The credit crunch is hitting everyone in the building business really hard. You only have to look at the news any evening to see the knock-on effects from the banks not lending out any money. There is a major shortage of cash in the system and it is like going back to the 1980s, only worse. Consumer confidence has disappeared and the big builders have stopped building and some estates are full of ghost houses - nobody living in some of them and perhaps another 10 of 15 houses half built and then shut down. My own partner Joe McNamara, who originally set up the business with me, has headed to Australia for a few months, and it is impossible to blame anyone for jumping on a plane for a look around and maybe getting some well paid and regular work.”

Taking time

Killeen at least has the bonus of Gaelic football and a winning season with Corofin to get him into a different mind-frame after his day’s work, but the re-adjustment from football in the States to his home club has not been easy.

“After being away for five years, it takes time to re-establish yourself on any panel. I came back in 2006 and this year is the first time that I have managed to get a run of form together. The pace of the game is faster than New York and you have to be fitter for winter football and heavy pitches”.

He is looking forward to his side’s clash on Sunday.

“We are delighted to be back in a provincial final, and while Eastern Harps are a very fine side, there is a nice blend of youth and experience in our side too. A lot of the lads have played with Galway at different levels and last year we had five of our starting 15 on the county panel. That may not count for anything on Sunday, but we know that if the likes of Kieran Fitzgerald, Alan Burke, Gary Sice, Michael Comer, and Damien Burke play to the standards they are capable of, it will give us a foothold in the game. If that happens, it is up to the rest of us to push on and try and do our bit for the cause too.

“The fact that the game is on in Pearse Stadium should help us out too, as it is a big wide pitch and some of our players have great pace”.

At 6’3” and a solid 14 stone, Killeen, who turns 31 in three weeks’ time, is not expected to be scurrying around the field like a march hare. His job is to offer a focal point for the full-forward line and create space and scores for the likes of Joe Canney, David Hanley, and the experienced duo of Alan O’Donovan and Trevor Burke.

“If Aiden Donnellan and Greg Higgins win enough ball, and we build on our performance against Castlerea, we are hopeful of getting a result. However, Eastern Harps are well organised, and in guys like Paul Taylor, Ross Donovan, Brendan Phillips, Tom Taylor, and John Rafferty, they have some really talented players.

“There is no way that we can or will take them for granted. They are Sligo champions and they are on the back of two very fine wins over Glencar-Manorhamilton (Leitrim ) and Ballaghaderreen, so we know we will be up against it, but we believe we ware good enough to win another Connacht title. However, it is up to us to have proven that by half-three next Sunday.”

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