It was late spring when the first withdrawal symptom sprouted like a new leaf on a tree.
By then, five months had already fallen into the pile of passing time since the day Dick Clerkin announced his retirement from inter-county service with Monaghan on the back of a career that spanned 17 seasons, 179 games and a lifetime of memories.
Six rounds of the league had swung by before that and he had felt nothing. Then the Dubs brought their bewitching act to Clones and Malachy O’Rourke’s side pinned them to the wall until deep in the second half only for the city boys to find a means of converting defeat into victory.
How could you not be stirred by that?
Clerkin, looking on from the stands, felt the urge to ditch the civvies like some Irish Clark Kent. Who knows how he may feel come Saturday evening when Monaghan kick off their championship against Fermanagh at St Tiernach’s Park but his days and nights now are easily filled.
A dad of two youngsters with a full-time job, he has swapped a role as vice- chairman with the club for the post of player-manager.
That load won’t be lightened this summer by media commitments but it is a different life to the one he lived for so long.
“It is tough but over the last few years it’s been a … I wouldn’t say a gradual decline but I was being fairly honest with myself in terms of where the body was and how long I could go.
“I got as much as I physically could out of it and probably more.
“So it wasn’t a case of walking away and thinking that I could have stayed on. If you had nothing else to be doing, if you were a pro-Gaelic footballer, you probably could (play longer) but it was the right decision for me at the time.”
Players come and go all the time but retirement can be a convulsive tipping point for those involved and Irish comedian Alan Gernon shone a light on that when he wrote the book ‘Retired’ last year which looked at how ex- professional footballers cope with life after the game.
Tales of mental struggles, the physical consequences of injuries suffered during a career, high divorce rates and even higher rates of bankruptcy are commonplace among those who have hung up their boots. Clerkin read the book and he can see how those issues can arise.
“I was lucky through my career that, whilst I gave everything I could, I didn’t want to be defined just as a footballer.
“I was big on education and I developed a good career professionally and got married relatively young and had kids.
“So I was very well set up outside of football, I had plenty to keep me distracted. That being said, you do have a sense of identity going. You miss not being a footballer, not being the focus of this time of year and I’ll learn that more as the season goes on.”
How could he not?
The Currin midfielder was the last of the inter-county men who made their debuts at the fag end of the last century to call it quits.
He won two Ulster titles and a pair of Division 2 medals with the Farney and those were just the tangible rewards accrued.
Clerkin was a vocal, visible presence in a game that increasingly views the media and the voice of the individual player with suspicion. He wrote a column for this paper toward the end of his career and admits freely he made the exposure as an inter-county player work for him. He loved seeing his name in the paper, loved when a stranger shook his hand on the street or beeped the horn at him as they drove by, and he will maintain a public presence as a pundit with Sky Sports.
“I always tried to impart that on to the younger lads as well: don’t be afraid to embrace it because if you manage it well there is no reason why that can’t drive you on as much as being a distraction. It was probably one of the reasons I wanted to stay involved as long as I did.
“I got such a kick out of it.”
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