Tom Parsons is here and he isn’t. Like at a séance, journalists sit around a mobile phone in Breaffy as the Mayo midfielder chats from his Dublin base. Certainly a first for an All-Ireland team’s press event.
Nevertheless, the interview is engaging. Finals might be a ritual for some in Mayo – Alan Dillon is preparing for his seventh (including last year’s replay) – but for Parsons simply donning the jersey is something in which he places huge store.
Dropped by James Horan at the end of the 2011 league campaign having been an International Rules panellist, his decline had been sharp.
A senior debutant at 19, he’s not afraid to admit he thought it was all ahead of him. “At the age of 18, 19 when you do play for your county and especially a strong footballing county like Mayo and you get one or two successful years, it definitely is hard for a young player not to maybe dream or have the expectation that there could be nine or 10 years playing with your county.
“It’s very hard to keep up that level of intensity at that age and I certainly think at an older age, for myself personally, I definitely have more grá, more want and will to work really, really hard to keep that jersey because I know what it means to lose it.”
For almost three full years, Parsons was left by the wayside.
During that time work commitments had brought him to Cardiff where he lived from September 2012 to May ’14, which ostracised him even further but he didn’t lose faith of wearing the green and red again.
“There was definitely an element of resilience built up in myself and when I was released from the panel in ‘11, I remember saying to my parents - ‘I will play for Mayo again.’ I had made a verbal contract to myself at that stage and you don’t forget words like that.
“I felt I was resilient and I also felt I was lucky to have a great club in Charlestown.
“We had the opportunity at the time to win an Intermediate and then push on the following year and compete at a county semi-final in the senior championship.
“Without your club team doing well you don’t get the stage to maybe show your skills and have the ability to come into a county panel again.”
Parsons regularly flew back in January 2014 as Horan decided to have another look at him in the FBD Connacht League and was impressed enough to include him in the league panel.
The player knew, though, his work life had to change. His employers Jacobs Engineering granted him a transfer to Dublin. His now fiancée Carol also moved home.
“I had to convince her to leave and change her job and give up her job in the UK and follow me back to Ireland to pursue my dream so there was a lot on the cards and maybe a risk to take at that stage when both of us, myself and my partner, had a career and life set up in the UK to come back and play for Mayo.
“But it is absolutely worth it every time you put on that jersey to play for Mayo, with the magic support we have day in, day out.
It is something that I have absolutely no regrets about.” Dublin had been Carol’s home anyway but be that as it may she continues to be understandable as he spends so much of his time out of work on the road to training in Castlebar.
“It’s very difficult. We’re getting married in December and I’m 29 years old and life moves on and the older you get the more responsibilities you have with family and work and so forth.
“It’s hugely, hugely difficult on Carol and in fairness she has massive patience and massive support and I think at this level, GAA players, with the professional environment, do need a really strong support network around them.
“I can tell you that if their partners aren’t invested in it, then it ain’t going to work. I’m blessed that Carol is invested in it and has the patience of a saint and supports me with all this time travelling and training and games and so forth. Let me tell you this season has been a real test of character.” Indeed, Mayo’s nine championship matches this summer equals Tyrone’s record prior to their All-Ireland final in 2005. On top of that, there’s the 10 hours he reckons it takes him and the rest of the panel’s Dublin-based crew like his midfield partner Seamus O’Shea between embarking for Castlebar to train and arriving back to the capital.
Hefty demands but Parsons knows the pain of the alternative.
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