It has been a long and arduous road for Kevin Dyas, but this Sunday he will attempt to land one of his greatest achievements; a Leinster senior club championship.
The Armagh star transferred to Kilmacud Crokes three years ago, having spent the last eight years living in Dublin and travelling north for club and county duty.
Dublin clubs have come in for a lot of flak regarding their perceived recruitment of inter-county footballers. However, Dyas is the only ‘outside man’ to feature throughout Kilmacud Crokes’ championship run, and even he had to go through an interview process before being accepted.
“Yeah, at the minute, I think I’m the only one.” Dyas told Pundit Arena.
“It’s probably one of the things that attracted me to Kilmacud. When I spoke to them about coming they were very adamant that I was coming for the right reasons, they wanted to meet me and ask me a few questions; where I was living? What sort of commitment was I going to give?
“So, it wasn’t just as simple as me rocking up to training, they laid out the club’s opinions and principles around players who join. That was a good sign.”
Kevin Dyas has had a unique career. The Dromintee man didn’t play Gaelic football until he was 14 years old, where he failed to make his club u14 side. Despite this, he went on to captain Armagh minors to an Ulster title in 2005.
His fledgeling underage career – that also brought MacRory and Hogan Cup success with Abbey CBS – led to him being drafted into the Armagh senior side fresh out of school.
“2007 was the first official year where I was playing. The year before I came down and helped out with numbers for training, it was my last year in school so I was familiar with the squad before that.
“I was going up to get a bit of training and exposure to it. It was good to get in early, I was young and enthusiastic and willing to get in and play with guys that I had been looking up to.”
With his senior inter-county career still in its infancy, AFL superpower Collingwood came calling. They had been keeping tabs on Dyas’ progression and were impressed by his notable talents.
He eventually made the move to ‘The Magpies’ where he joined a familiar face in Down’s Marty Clarke. The pair marked each other in the 2005 MacRory Cup final at a time when both were being touted as two of Ulster’s finest prospects.
“That was a huge reason why I would’ve went to Collingwood, I knew Marty really well and I was able to chat to him.” Dyas said.
“Collingwood are probably the biggest club in the country. They’re like Dublin here I guess.
“They’re in the capital city, they have the biggest supporter base, so for all those reasons Collingwood was really attractive and the fact that Marty was there, I had someone to link in with and learn from which was great.”
Unfortunately, his time in Australia was cut short due to a nasty hamstring injury he picked up six months into his contract, it was an injury that stayed with him throughout his time in Australia and it is because of this that Dyas looks back on the experience as ‘bittersweet’.
“Did I enjoy the experience? Probably two-fold.” Dyas said.
“No because, I didn’t get the chance to try and achieve what I was there to do, there was lots of lows in terms of not being able to train, play and do my job essentially,
“But in terms of an experience, growing up quickly, living in a different country with a different culture, meeting new people and developing myself as a person, it was absolutely great.
He returned to the Armagh set-up in 2009, and represented the county with distinction, lining out in multiple positions. However, injuries plagued his inter-county career.
“It was an extremely difficult time, there were a lot of low moments especially after my early twenties. I had a good ride up until then in terms of underage success following through into senior football and then onto Collingwood.” Dyas said.
“After that, things took a nose dive in terms of injuries.
“It’s extremely frustrating, I definitely fall under the category of somebody who never got a chance to fulfill their potential in terms of footballing ability but unfortunately that’s just a part of sport, I’m not the first guy that’s happened to.
“I’ve made peace with that and accepted that I tried my best to make the most of a bad situation. At least I can walk away from it knowing I didnt fail through want of effort.”
Dyas officially retired from inter-county duty this year when he informed Kieran McGeeney that he had given all he had physically towards the Armagh cause.
“I spoke with Kieran maybe two months ago, and told him how I was feeling, you can argue I’ve been retired from inter-county football for the last three or four years considering I hadn’t really played.
“Confirming that though is always difficult for a player and Kieran understood that I just can’t justify the effort and commitment to get myself in a position to train, let alone play at that level.”
In his retirement, Dyas can now fully concentrate on his adopted club as they go in search of their fifth Leinster crown.
However, he insists that Sunday’s final against Longford champions Mullinalaghta isn’t the David v Goliath match-up that some are portraying.
“Very often people predict these games based on how county teams are performing and I think that can be a flawed way of looking at things.” Dyas said.
“Kilmacud are by no means Dublin, in the same way that Mullinalaghta are by no means Longford, and I think people have a tendency to match teams up that way.
“We haven’t won a senior championship in years and this is a young group of lads. So, you could argue we have nothing to lose.
“I definitely wouldn’t be pinning it as the David v Goliath that others are making it out to be, I think it can be a little bit flawed in how we compare county football to club football.
Despite their status as one of Dublin’s biggest clubs, Kilmacud Crokes haven’t been in this position since 2011, and for most of their squad, this has been their first taste of Leinster club football. Whereas Mullinalaghta have made the final on merit, following three Leinster campaigns in a row.
“Outside of Cian (O’Sullivan) and Paul Mannion, you’ve got a couple of the older lads who were involved in big games in the past, but 90% of this team haven’t been involved in big games like this before.
“Mullinalaghta have won the Longford championship a few years in a row now and have played in a couple of big Leinster championship games, we haven’t.
“So, people think it’s a Dublin v Longford thing, but it doesn’t really work out that way, unfortunately for us.”
From club sub to county star, then Aussie Rule’s and back again, Kevin Dyas has seen it all throughout his sporting career. It’s hard to believe he just turned 31.