John Fogarty: No good way of saying goodbye for GAA stars

John Fogarty: No good way of saying goodbye for GAA stars

WALKING AWAY: Keith Higgins announced his retirement with an 18-word tweet on Saturday, becoming the latest in a long line of Mayo greats to exit the inter-county stage in recent weeks. Higgins will now likely return to his hurling, his first love. Picture: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

In the absence of action, inter-county retirement notices are the subject of critique right now. Too long for some, too sweet for others, people have all of a sudden become offended Leonard Cohens and declared that’s no way to say goodbye.

Forget that more often than not these statements have been written with a heavy heart, or worse still, not at will.

Explaining how at the age of 29 he was ravaged by injuries and had to call it quits, Kevin Reilly’s statement six years ago was a considerable 1,147 words. But the former Meath captain was entitled to get his point across that this is not what he wanted and his frustration screamed in those lengthy remarks.

At least Reilly wasn’t being told he was surplus to requirements. It’s well-known in one county that an invitation for tea or coffee with a GAA legend is the gentle way of saying “we’re letting you go”. After that chat, the player is given time to digest his fate and sort out his affairs before the process of the GAA’s version of mutual consent takes over and a retirement statement is released.

Not that we can say it applied to Kilkenny’s recent retirees Paul Murphy or Ger Aylward but Brian Cody is known to put the ball firmly in the court of the player. “How did you think you did this year? Where do you see yourself this season?”

Socrates would be proud. It’s just a pity that semblance of decency is no extended to those deserving of it in other counties.

How the recent spat of retirements in Mayo have been articulated has been mocked in a populist quarter of the media as “cringeworthy”. That neglects the fact that at least two of the six players were virtually frogmarched into publicly declaring their retirement. One of them, who had played little or no football last year, wanted to disappear into the ether, embarrassed by the attention having failed to make the matchday panel for most of the season.

Mayo weren’t looking for send-offs. Keith Higgins’ goodbye amounted to 18 words, Seamus O’Shea’s 138 including his name, Chris Barrett 162. With just seven words, Michael Darragh Macauley bade adieu. When the time comes for Stephen Cluxton to go, it will likely be left to his manager, most likely Jonny Cooper, to confirm he is out the gap. But taking the opportunity to thank family, loved ones and colleagues for their understanding, especially Barrett and O’Shea who were commuting for a large portion of their career to and from Dublin, is not something that should be mocked.

Each and every plaudit that has come Macauley’s way these past four days have been warranted. From ungainly to uncontrollable, his development from 2009 was a sight to behold. His face initially didn’t fit.

We remember what former Monaghan captain Eoin Lennon said about him: “If Dublin are the example of the way the game is going, then there is no place for a traditional midfielder. Bastick and Macauley are just athletes, they use the short kick-out more often and there is no room for the 50/50 kick-out.”

Lennon, of course, said that before Macauley’s inspirational intervention from Cluxton’s kick-out in the 2013 All-Ireland semi-final. By that stage, the rough diamond had been refined. His ability to overcome a cruciate injury without surgery in 2017 and claim another four All-Irelands was a remarkable show of will. Throughout it all, his character never changed, as gregarious as he was at the start as he was hosting a impromptu hotel room party in Boston for his fellow All-Stars on the 2014 trip as he was at the end.

There will never be another Macauley but there won’t be another Higgins either. And don’t Mayo know it. So talented a footballer, he was reinvented by his various managers more times than Bowie.

His duels with James O’Donoghue in 2014 will be remembered fondly, the Ballyhaunis man handed the toughest man-marking duties before Lee Keegan assumed the mantle and Higgins was given a little more freedom. But as his cousin and former county team-mate Mickey Conroy said at the weekend, Higgins always played from the front or the side. It wasn’t so much marking for him as duelling.

Next to Brian Fenton, Diarmuid Connolly, and Declan O’Sullivan, nobody of his generation has looked as comfortable moving with ball in hand.

Higgins will now likely return to his beloved hurling just as Macauley might look to his favoured basketball when indoor sports return. Football was not their first love but they played it like they adored no other. The game will miss them as will we. And whatever way they wanted to put it, as Dolly, not Leonard put it, there is no good way of saying goodbye.

Selector moves spark lively debate

The appointment of Tom Feeney and Conor Phelan as Waterford and Kilkenny selectors this past weekend went a little under the radar but both are noteworthy developments.

Liam Cahill was expected to replace Stephen Molumphy, who was operating remotely from England. Feeney was on the appointment committee that recommended Cahill be named as Paraic Fanning’s successor in September 2019.

That precedes confirmation that Stephen Gough is remaining on in charge of the U20s despite a challenge from former minor manager Gary Morahan who had on board with him former Waterford senior hurler Pa Kearney as coach as well as Noel Connors and Tommy Ryan as assistant coaches, with Martin Allen and David Robinson as selectors.

The idea of Connors and Ryan preparing a group that would work in tandem with a senior team managed by Cahill who dropped the pair would have been an intriguing dynamic but it will not now happen.

In Kilkenny, 2016 All-Ireland-winning senior camogie coach Phelan replaces DJ Carey whose role on matchday at least appeared to diminish as last year’s championship developed. Phelan’s introduction is important given there had been an onus placed on a new voice in the set-up, as much as Martin and Michael Comerford only joined before last season.

A freshening up of the management team has been called for in Kerry too with speculation rife that former Wexford manager Paul Galvin is considering joining Peter Keane as a coach/selector. The 2009 footballer of the year’s link certainly brings expectation following Donie Buckley’s departure 10 months ago but can it be more than an advisory role, as Galvin lives in Mayo?

Any training cap would have to be policed by GAA to succeed

The drum for a cap on training sessions is being beaten again this week, Connacht secretary John Prenty picking up the sticks as he has done so before.

“Teams allowed to train a maximum of three times per week,” he proposes in his report to provincial convention. “Two sessions plus a game. GPA cooperation is required to police this. Official off-season enshrined in fixtures calendar.”

At a time when the organisation finds itself in such a dire financial situation and the football championship is more polarised than ever, there is some sense in the proposal. It’s interesting that once again a GAA official is laying responsibility for such an initiative at the doors of the Gaelic Players’ Association to ensure this measure happens. Former GAA presidential candidate Jarlath Burns has also said the same before.

Absolutely, the GPA would have to play its part were such a limit to come into force but it’s the county boards who are the ones left holding the babies. Hence why the likes of Cork and Down have been answering some awkward questions about the activities of their senior football panels earlier this month.

The centralised expenses structure now in place makes oversight easier for Croke Park but the stronger counties are better positioned to find ways of circumventing it. If such a training cap isn’t going to be policed by the GAA to the point of panels reporting their whereabouts then it will be as useless as the inter-county training moratorium, which has been continuously floated since it was introduced in the late 2000s.

Email: john.fogarty@examiner.ie

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