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Monday, July 16, 2012
This weekend saw a host of the GAA’s longest serving ambassadors line out for their respective counties.
Different reasons drive players to continue beyond their peak and into the winter of their careers. Pursuit of elusive silverware drives some while the hope of going out on top with one last hurrah drives others. For many though it is a reluctance to call time on a sport that continues to give them so much enjoyment, fearful of the void that will develop once the boots are finally hung up.
So when is the right time to retire? That is a personal choice for each player, depending on their individual circumstances, so I can only speak for myself. I will finish up when I stop enjoying playing and training. If that is next year or when I am 40, I couldn’t tell you at this stage. Hopefully, when the time comes it will be my choice but if a future manager has plans that don’t involve me then so be it.
For the 30-something year-old player every game you play could potentially be your last. As you get older, injuries are harder to shake, family commitments take increased priority and the threat of the new kid on the block puts your place in doubt.
Keen to make their mark, new managers with less loyalty to older players are also a threat to the aging protagonist. Commentators and supporters alike scrutinise every poor performance under the backdrop of potential retirement.
‘His best days are behind him and its time to hang the boots up,’ will be the mutterings. But it is those ‘best days’ that continue to drive players on. Also it is these ‘best days’ that linger in the minds of the manager who continues to select him.
However, one downside to an extended career is the void that is left behind when a player finally moves on. The longer someone keeps a jersey the less experience those waiting in the wings can get. When that jersey is finally freed up it is not surprising that the next in line isn’t up to the same standard. How could he be, sitting on the bench all those years?
It is one of the main reasons that after a period of success, and the departure of many great players at once, counties regularly go into a somewhat barren period.
Kerry post 1986 is the best example of this. However, Micko was hardly going to bench Jack O’Shea, Pat Spillane or Mikey Sheehy for the purposes of giving someone else a run out now was he?
Ideally, we would all like to go out on a high. I have no doubt that was in the minds of a few of the Kerry lads last year before Stephen Cluxton spoiled their plans. Watching Tomás Ó Sé and his son on the field after last year’s defeat by Dublin I got the sense that he had planned that game to be his last for Kerry. I reckon the greatest wing-back of his generation, if not ever, would have called it a day if Kerry had won last year. A perfect end to an immense career. Yet, ever the competitor he couldn’t have retired in peace after that defeat, so he came back this year for another throw of the dice.
In truth, I doubt it ever feels like the right time to quit. Even if it is the right decision, whatever the circumstances, it will be the one of the hardest decisions a player ever makes.
Regardless of age, every player has different circumstances that determine how long they can commit to playing at the top level.
The most any player can do is give as much as he can for as long as he can, both in good times and bad. After that you can walk away without looking back in regret.
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