He’s not exactly tormented by his decision, yet Kerry great Tomás Ó Sé has admitted he retired too early from the inter-county game in 2013.
The five-time All-Ireland medallist called it quits at the end of that year, a matter of months before the county collected its last of 37 All-Irelands.
Five years on, Ó Sé was still going strong for Nemo Rangers when he lined out on St Patrick’s Day in the AIB All-Ireland club final just shy of his 40th birthday.
The retirement issue is high on Kerry people’s minds, following the exits of Darran O’Sullivan and Anthony Maher, both 32, Donnchadh Walsh, 34, and Kieran Donaghy, 35.
“Looking back, the way the game was going and the way the game was pushing, I’d say if I had my time back now I would have gone again (in 2014),” said Ó Sé, who has since become a popular pundit.
“But at the time, I kind of had my fill of it. My back was giving in a small bit. I’m happy with the decision I made, I had a great career, but if I had it back now, I probably would have gone on. The fact they won in 2014 as well... but at the time it didn’t look like that was going to happen.
“I’d decided throughout that season that I’d have one last whack. We’d lost to Dublin in 2011, in 2012 we lost to Donegal and 2013, even though the Dubs were hot favourites, we knew we were going to rattle them.
“I wasn’t thinking about that game, specifically, I genuinely thought we were going to get to a final, and we very nearly did, but I knew straight after that game. It wasn’t that my time was up, I suppose I just felt I didn’t want to do it anymore.”
Former captain Ó Sé was 35, like Donaghy, when he called it quits and believes that there were several more seasons left in the towering Tralee man.
“Maybe it’s the fact that the mark is coming in now; we could have used him a good bit!” said Ó Sé, smiling. “Ah no, before that even, like, Donaghy is another guy like Andy Moran, he’s a big man, a big unit, but he minds himself. He’s been playing basketball during the off season. It’s the energy he brings to the dressing room. The younger lads would be looking at him and they’d be in awe of him, I’d say.
“Donaghy was the kind of guy you’d want inside in a dressing room and, from the aspect of playing, nobody can say he didn’t have an impact on the field of play this year, he did, so I think he is a loss, yeah. I think he could have gone on for another year.”
The spate of retirements, coupled with new boss Peter Keane’s deep knowledge of young talent in the county as a three-time All-Ireland-winning minor manager, means more emerging stars could break through in 2019.
“It’s a huge job,” said Ó Sé of Keane’s role. “I think it’s a tough job, because if you look at it this year, there’s a lot of senior lads that didn’t put up their hand [and impress].
You’ve a lot of younger lads. I think his biggest test now is to blend that and get them playing a level capable of contesting. That’s what his big test is.
Ó Sé, whose uncle Páidi famously remarked about Kerry’s expectant fans while he was in charge, said there’ll be no escaping the pressure on Keane to perform.
“I think the new rules that will be tried out in the National League might give him a bit of leeway, but look, when it comes down to it, the Championship, they might put out the story that there’s no pressure on them but there will always be pressure there,” said Ó Sé.
“There’ll be pressure from the fact that these younger lads who’ve performed so brilliantly this year are a year down the line. Will there be another couple of lads to come through? Will the senior lads step up again? So there’ll always be pressure, no matter what.”
Ó Sé doesn’t see any team stopping Dublin from winning a historic five-in-a-row next year, including Kerry.
“Outside of Mayo, who a lot of people are saying now have missed their chance, there isn’t anyone really coming close to the Dubs the last couple of years. Kerry possibly, but are Kerry in a position from what we’ve seen this year? No.
“I think Dublin are that bit ahead of everybody at the moment. The five in a row, it’s not an impossibility, like, but it’s a dangerous thing, nobody has done it. The great Kilkenny team, the great Kerry team. It’s very hard.
“A pressure comes with it, but there was no talk out of the Dublin camp about four in a row.
“They’re good at that. That’s a compliment, not a cute, sly comment. It’s good the way they handle it.”