Rory McKenzie: planning for the future
Rory McKenzie, by his own admission, likes to make things difficult for the opposition. But, in stark contrast to the spiky on-field persona, he is a player who is making some careful, reasoned decisions about his future after the game.
Recently, the tireless midfielder completed yet another gruelling task. But on this occasion, boots were not required. His objective? Completing a law degree.
“It’s been six years in total. You’ve got so much free time, especially after the summer, coming into winter, and with the dark nights, you can no longer play golf! When I was looking at it, I felt everyone at the time was doing something business management-related but that wasn’t something that ever really interested me. Law was something that did interest me, so I just thought: “Why not?”
“It turned out it was only English law that you could do through the Open University, so it’s an English law degree that I’ve got. The way I did it was just to take a year at a time, ticking off the boxes and seeing where it got me. And then, all of a sudden, I was in the final year. Even then, with six months to go, it didn’t feel real, that I was going to have a law degree. I didn’t feel it was real until it was finished. It’s something that I am very proud of and happy that I did stick with, because at times it was extremely hard.”
Was the study part of a specific longer-term aim?
“It was definitely looking to the future when I first started but it was also something to keep me involved in studies. I’m not going to lie, as it went on, into fifth and sixth year, there was so much reading that I started to think about whether it was something I could see myself doing. Sitting in an office all day, is that something I want to do? Maybe not, but I do know people who have done that degree and gone into jobs in other fields.
“So it was definitely the idea of having a good degree but whether it’s law that I’ll go into, I’m not sure yet. I’ll keep my options open.”
And might it be several more years before the grafting midfielder needs to think seriously about his future away from the park?
“We’ll see…it certainly doesn’t feel like it at times! It’s hard because I’ve got the best job in the world, playing football, and I think that goes for everyone who plays. It’s a bit of a culture shock and reality check, retiring and starting something that isn’t your passion. I think that’s going to be very difficult, not just for me but for a lot of players. That adjustment to real life. Because it’s a bubble being a footballer.
“There’s tough times in football, but you’re playing football. You’re doing something you love and then all of a sudden you’re going to be out in the real world. And starting from the bottom somewhere, no doubt. It’s going to be a challenge.
“I think, as I get older, I would love to tie my degree and the law into sport of some kind, even if I had to walk away from football and do another sport. It just makes too much sense not to try to tie that into something that I will be experienced in.”
Every school has one. That pupil who seems to excel at every sport, with minimal fuss. As well as clocking up several hundred appearances at Rugby Park, Rory McKenzie is a formidable golfer. So is it just these two sports, or are there other hidden talents?
“I think I just try really hard at whatever it is that I do. I try really hard until I become alright at it. That’s my ethos for most things: just try really hard and one day you’ll be ok at it. I played lots of sports at Marr College. It was a rugby school, so I played rugby, tennis; just the normal sports you play as a kid. I was ok at a few of them, but I’ve not mastered them all yet!”
Rory limits his time on the course during the season. But why?
“To people who don’t play, it probably won’t make sense to them because all you’re doing is walking about. But I feel it does take it out of the legs and, especially when you’re training, recovery and rest is important. I try not to play a certain number of days before a game. I think it was one of the years I was first in full-time, and a manager said that, and it’s stuck with me. In the summer, you get a chance to play all the time but any other time, when we’re playing, I do try to be sensible with it.”
Was there ever a decision to make between the two sports he excels at?
“Honestly, it was never a question of whether it was golf or football. I think if that’s something you’re planning to do then you’re playing in junior events and all the big junior Opens. Because of football, it’s not something that I ever did. So although I was a good golfer at my club level, I was never playing in any national events, nor would I have been good enough to compete. Football was my only choice.”
In 2012, Rory spent six months with Brechin. The successful loan spell with the Angus club catapulted the youngster into Kenny Shiels’ first team squad. Looking back, what are his reflections on his time there?
“You hear it all the time, but it was real football, men’s football. You’ve gone from playing youth games on a Saturday morning. At the time, those games feel like the most important in the world but then you go and play with men who are playing for contracts every year and playing for their mortgages. Brechin were part-time but they were paying decent money then.
“All of a sudden, it’s real. It’s not a case of we lose on Saturday and it’s on to the next one, we’ve got another under-19s game next week. It meant a lot to these guys and it was something I felt as soon as I walked in. It was quite an experienced dressing room. There were quite a lot of lads coming to the end of their career. You could see how much it meant to them and the level they’d played at. It made me realise how lucky we were to be full-time.
“It was a time in my career that I just absolutely loved, the feeling of playing – I couldn’t wait for the next game. I remember when the manager phoned me, I don’t think I even knew where Brechin was…and realising it was two-and-a-half hours away. But it was one of the best decisions I ever made, and I couldn’t speak more highly of the boys who were there at the time, and the club in general.”
In case you missed it, Kilmarnock are heading back to Hampden for the first time in more than a decade. The January tie with Celtic is one to be relished but also approached with caution.
“It’ll be a first time for me. In 2012, I was on loan at Brechin. I was at the final with the rest of the youth team, but I wasn’t involved. It’ll be a new experience for me and one that’s take it’s time to come.
“Before, when you’re asked about it, you try to play it down, but it definitely plays on your mind. We’ve been so close to a semi-final a number of times. We’ve had a few close games and penalties stopped us getting there. And you do think about it – time flies. I’m 29 and all of a sudden, you think: “Am I going to go through my whole career without ever getting a chance to play at Hampden?”
“And we need to be careful – we’re talking about a semi-final as if we’ve reached a final. It’s a big achievement and it’s not going to get any tougher than playing Celtic at Hampden in front of that sort of crowd. But we need to enjoy the time leading up to the game, and relish it, because as we’ve seen, it doesn’t happen every year.
“We’re not fools. We know how difficult it’s going to be and how good a team Celtic are. But it’s one game, and as Kilmarnock showed 10, 11 years ago, if it’s your day and things go your way, there have been bigger upsets.”
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