Veteran Aidan O’Mahony bid adieu to the Kerry jersey yesterday after admitting to himself he couldn’t give it the necessary “110%” this year.
Hailed by Marc Ó Sé as “the most professional player I ever played with”, the 36-year-old spoke of how it was time to let youth have a fling in the Kingdom set-up, having first dipped his toes into those waters in 2003.
O’Mahony was captured crying after last August’s All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Dublin, but that loss wasn’t the trigger for his decision.
“It was just hard to lose that game and I got caught with that picture with the tear coming down the eye,” the five-time All-Ireland winner told Newstalk’s Off The Ball. “It just kind of hit home, then, and I was kind of saying: ‘This could be the last time I could be out in Croke Park.’
“And I remember coming down then that night and thinking about it and I’d be the kind of fella — people would know me — I kind of keep to myself. I thought about it over the winter time, then the club finished in the middle of December, then, I played the Railway Cup [semi-final] game for the whole 26 minutes I was on the pitch. I went away with my wife [Denise] for 10 days for a holiday and I thought about it and I came back in January and I said: ‘It’s time to give youth a fling.’”
O’Mahony recalled his positive drugs test in 2008 for high levels of salbutamol, which threatened to end his career, before an investigating committee agreed he had used an asthma inhaler purely for medical reasons.
“I wouldn’t say it was stressful. The only stressful part of it was the media ran with a story, ‘O’Mahony fails drugs test’, and there was no clarity behind the reasoning of it. Then, this big hullabaloo went on after it then, that there was a case to answer for. Then, it came out that he was asthmatic and the salbutamol was in the inhaler, which I had been taking since I was eight years of age.”
Chatting on Radio Kerry’s Terrace Talk, O’Mahony spoke about the death of his father Tim in 2013 and how much he wanted to win an All-Ireland title by way of commemoration, only for injury and Dublin to foil him.
“I said to myself that year: ‘Yeah, I’m gonna win an All-Ireland for his memory’. The week before the Munster final, I dislocated my elbow in training, fractured two bones and I remember waking up inside in Tralee hospital and I was very emotional. I was on my own and I was thinking: ‘Would I go back playing football and have the chance to climb those [Hogan Stand] steps for that man’s memory.
“Because the one thing I will always say about him is, if I played well or did something in the game, he never said anything. He was always very positive towards me. My mom, as well. When your family back you through thick and thin, through good days and bad days, and 2014 was very emotional when I got the opportunity to climb those Hogan steps. I remember players asking me: ‘Why were you so emotional?’ and I was kind of saying he was there with me on the day.”
O’Mahony was described as a “warrior” by both Éamonn Fitzmaurice and Jack O’Connor, with the former lauding his ability to overcome injuries.
“He led by example and was a driving force in the gym and on the pitch. He took pride in excelling at any physical work. Throughout his career, he defied western medicine when returning from injury. He pushed himself to the limit and beyond to get back as quickly as possible.”
O’Connor commended the grit O’Mahony brought to the team when it was needed the most, in the mid-2000s.
“When I took over as Kerry senior manager in 2004, it was fairly obvious to me that we needed to go in a new direction. Kerry had been bullied by the likes of Tyrone, Armagh, and Meath three years in a row, so we needed a new harder edge if we were to compete at the top table. Aidan O’Mahony fitted that bill perfectly. He was teak tough and fearless. The tougher it was, the better he liked it.”
Kieran Donaghy paid tribute to O’Mahony on Instagram with a collection of photographs and the following caption: “A great teammate that always gave it 100%. You ticked every box, brave, skilful, determined, professional before we knew what it was and good craic on top of it all. You faced all the ups and downs head on and no doubt whatever you do next will be successful.”
Declan O’Sullivan tweeted: “I admire this man so much. Couldn’t ask for a better team mate. A brilliant competitor who always put the team first. A top player & friend.”
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