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Kevin McGeeney - a life less ordinary
By John Harrington
A chat with Roscommon referee Kevin McGeeney about his life has a way of making your own seem a little bit bland.
Hes won an All-Ireland medal, survived a kidnapping in South Africa, beaten cancer, and is now happily married after previously being a priest for 15 years.
Where do you start with all of that? Hurling is probably as good a thread as any to pick up first because its woven a way through his life from a young age right up to the present day.
Now a member of the GAAs National Hurling Referees panel, McGeeney took charge of this years All-Ireland Minor B Final between Meath and Down.
But before he took up the whistle, the Fuerty-man was a handy hurler himself with Athleague and Roscommon.
I hurled for Roscommon for three or four years, McGeeney told GAA.ie.
We won an All-Ireland 'B in 1994, which was great. That was when an All-Ireland 'B' meant something. I don't think it even exists anymore.
Then I went to South Africa, and there wasn't much hurling over there
McGeeney was 27 when his vocation as a priest brought him all the way to Johannesburgh where he would spend 10 years.
My house was robbed and I was kidnapped and put in a car
His time there was bookended by tragedy when his good friend Father Declan Collins was murdered by house-burglars.
Three days before that, McGeeney had a close escape himself when his house was also broken into and he was taken hostage before being eventually released.
My house was robbed and I was kidnapped and put in a car, says McGeeney. They let me out a couple of miles away from the house. They were looking for credit cards and thought I had them on me.
They let me out and didn't do anything to me thankfully. I'll be honest with you, at the time it happened I didn't think much of my own incident. I just thought, 'God, I was lucky to get away with that'.
It only hit me then when Declan died that I actually could have been in his situation. Then it really hit me.
I came back with Declan's body and family for his funeral. It was very sad, it took me a few months to get over it. I had a bit of counselling and all of that.
Kevin McGeeney and his fellow match officials pictured before the 2016 All-Ireland U-21 'C' Hurling Final between Donegal and Fermanagh.
On his return to Ireland, McGeeney worked in a parish in Athlone for four years before he decided to review his life and sought dispensation from Rome to leave the priesthood.
Not surprisingly, it was a decision that he wrestled with for some time.
It was, says McGeeney. From when I formally left the ministry in 2005 until I received the dispensation in early 2010, all that time was spent reflecting and wondering.
I did go on spiritual direction courses where you get people who can advise you on these things. I didn't just make a decision overnight. I sought spiritual advice and counselling so that I could make a proper decision, a holistic decision really on it.
I suppose at the end of the day I'd be still in ministry if celibacy wasn't mandatory for catholic priests. I just felt the need in myself to share the journey of life with another person. I felt that was important.
I was lucky enough to meet my wife Teresa and we're very happy together now and are seven years married. Once you're positive about things, they work out.
Obviously, it was traumatic at the time for family and friends, it was a big decision, but people come around. I'm very thankful to my family for all the support they gave me down through the years.
Without them, nothing is possible. Your family are central to the whole thing, your family and friends.
And, to be fair, that's one element why I am passionate about the GAA, is because it has helped me to find support in those times as well, the GAA family gave me that support.
So I'd be very thankful of the GAA community for all it has done for me down through the years.
While I got great enjoyment out of it, I'd like to think I'm giving it back some service as well in terms of the refereeing.