By Michael McMullan
EIGHT years ago Daniel McKenna was selected on the Gaelic Life Football Team of the Year. His performances for Truagh Gaels had culminated in 1-7 from play as they landed the All-Ireland Intermediate title in Croke Park.
He turned 30 last month and his life has spanned both sides of the Atlantic.
Son of Irish parents, he was born in the Bronx before moving to Monaghan at the age of four.
His talent saw him become the only St Macartan’s pupil to pick up two Ulster Schools’ All-Star awards.He played for UUJ, won a Trench Cup with Dundalk IT and turned out at all levels for Monaghan before returning to the US in February 2017.
And there he remains.
Last week, he was bursting with enthusiasm across the Zoom link from his Greenwich Village apartment in the Manhattan epicentre of New York City.
It’s not hard to see why fitness giants Peloton snapped him up while watching his outdoor fitness classes when the Covid-19 lockdown forced him to think outside the box.
“We’ll hopefully be having people back to the studio now in the summer. It is pencilled in, but no hard date yet,” McKenna points out.
Peloton has 6.6 million users on their fitness app across a range of disciplines including cycling, running and strength classes, with a selection of boot camps.
“At the minute it is virtual, across the world, and we are in five different countries – America, Canada, England, Germany and Australia.
“The fact that I am the first Irish instructor on it is a big deal,” McKenna adds.
All-Ireland winners Cathal McShane and Ronan McNamee have been dipping into the classes as well.
“Me and Ronie McNamee lived together at college,” Daniel continues. As he chats, you get the feeling of him already having a life well lived.
“I have a few Irish boys taking the classes, whether it be the strength, the tread or mostly on the bike.
“That would be the few boys that would want to keep going over the winter. I’d like to try and get more boys on it…that would be my goal.”
Known as the Irish Yank, he takes pride in the feedback he receives, ranging from the intensity of the class to the jokes he spins off.
“I want people to have great craic and enjoy the banter as well as get a workout. It is the best job I could’ve hoped for as a personal trainer,” he beams, with a bubbly body language that tells more than words.
“My job is being an athlete, being fit and teaching people. It’s amazing in the class that you are motivating people and changing people’s lives for the better.
“You see a lot of the messages about…they are having a shit day and I tell a joke about Ireland and that switches the mood, to make them happier.”
Arriving back in the States five years ago, McKenna initially worked as an electrician before beginning a job in a friend’s gym.
The pay wasn’t enough, and he took a second job that had him laying flooring by day and taking fitness classes in the evening.
“I then got into a gym in 2019 and worked my ass off training clients at a gym here in Manhattan.”
Then came Covid, but by June 2020, with the improved weather, he brought his kettle bell class outside.
“I had 32 kettle bells over a six month period and I taught three classes a week. It was 20-40 people per class and that just took off,” he adds.
“Some people don’t even know my name (only his Irish Yank nickname), which is comical too. I started posting it on Instagram and it was unbelievable how the classes went.”
After the interview process and induction training, he launched with Peloton last September.
“They saw me and thought they could do something with this guy and obviously the Irish charm helped with that too,” he said with the widest of smiles.
He is ‘at peace’ with his decision to hang up the boots. He won both Junior and Senior Championships with the Sligo club in New York and played for the county team in the Connacht Championship.
“I had to hang up the boots whenever I got this job. I need to focus on it and I couldn’t risk getting injured,” McKenna adds.
The Jordanstown and Truagh shorts will make an appearance during his classes as he maintains his Irish roots.
Will he return to Ireland? Possibly, but for now he is happy with his lot.
He teaches two classes a day, four times a week with the other three days off. Aside from that is the preparation – compiling notes, factoring in variation, considering the workload and the all-important playlist, with tempo dependent on the workout.
“Teaching of the class is the smallest part,” he admits. “It’s about bringing a different energy to every class, so there is a lot of mental stuff. You could spend a couple of hours in the playlist.
“You are not going to show up on championship day without having done the work,” he offers, tying back to his GAA roots.
It was the same in St Macartan’s, Truagh and any of the teams he played on, the motto was engrained – fail to prepare, prepare to fail. In the heartbeat of the ‘Big Apple’, the message remains.
READ MORE… Some of Monaghan’s biggest victories. Click here…