Walking away

THEY knew when it was time to walk away. For Tipperary hurler Declan Fanning there were domestic duties to attend to, with a one year-old son Owen at home and his wife Lucy about to have their second child.

For Derek Kavanagh the relentless injections and searing pain from a hip problem had become too much for him to continue as a Cork footballer. For Waterford’s Dan Shanahan there was the belief that he needed to devote a few years to his club Lismore when his fitness and hurling sharpness remained at a high level.

The closing months of 2010 saw their inter-county careers grind to a halt. And as the 2011 championship cranks into action, it has been a novel experience adjusting to life on the outside.

“I think you only realise afterwards how much time you actually put into it”, remarks Fanning. “Hurling almost comes before your job. That’s how you become programmed to think. I always figured that 2010 would be my last year. The family is a big factor, Owen is now two and then we’ve a little girl Emily who’s nearly six months.”

“You’d be amazed at how quickly you get used to life without it,” says Kavanagh. “I enjoyed the break over the winter and not racing around the county for training. I never really minded the winter training itself, it was just all the travelling that got to me.”

“I do miss the craic with the lads a lot”, reveals Shanahan. “I played with some of them for nearly 14 years. You nearly spend more time with them than your own family. We won and lost things together, but through it all, we’d plenty laughs.”

For Fanning and Kavanagh, the denouement to their intercounty days could not have been more joyous. Fanning hails from Killenaule, just over 10 miles from the Kilkenny border, and being part of a Tipperary side that derailed the Cats five-in-a-row dream was special.

Kavanagh finally landed the All-Ireland senior medal he craved when Cork prevailed against Down last September. But when he walked off in Croke Park that day, it would be the last time he graced a football pitch.

“With the way my hip was, I had to retire from everything. I was fed up of getting injections. In 2009 I started to investigate the injury and that was when the retirement word was first mentioned. So I made a conscious decision that 2010 would be my last year. I felt we’d a great chance of winning the All-Ireland and that proved the case.

“I can’t go for a run now and I’ve no real mobility with it. Walking is okay, and I’m able to do cycling and swimming. I’m over that sensation of being confused watching a match now. I know the situation that I’m in. It’s been difficult seeing the club in championship over the last few weeks and watching Cork games. But I’ve just had to accept it and move on.”

Fanning and Shanahan have been able to return to the sanctuary of their clubs. Before Fanning carved a niche for himself in the Tipperary hurling rearguard, he was a prominent defender for the Tipperary footballers. These days he is at the coalface with the Killenaule senior hurlers and footballers. Shanahan is captain of the Lismore senior hurlers and is relishing the role. He also kept himself busy in the early months of the year by sampling a new world in Mixed Martial Arts.

“I did some MMA training down in Cappoquin from January to March. It was very tough, both physically and mentally. You’d see people running on the roads but that’s not for me, I prefer to do something different. It was very enjoyable but once the hurling started with Lismore, it took a backseat. I’m loving it with the club. I wanted to give them a good few years when I was still able to contribute at senior level.”

They’ve kept in touch with their former inter-county team-mates. Fanning keeps tabs on Tipperary’s progress when talking to clubmate Pat Kerwick. Kavanagh bumps into members of Conor Counihan’s squad around Cork and remains close to the Nemo lads. And through younger brother Maurice, Shanahan retains a keen interest in the fortunes of Davy Fitzgerald’s charges.

They’ll all join the hordes of supporters in the upcoming summer Sundays. Kavanagh has been to a few of Cork’s home games and will take up a position in the main stand in Páirc Uí Chaoimh this weekend for their opening football joust with Clare. Fanning made a deliberate decision to stay away during the league but the lure of the Munster championship will draw him to Semple Stadium on Sunday week.

Shanahan has plans to travel to the Thurles venue in mid June as well for Waterford’s battle with Limerick, preferring a quiet seat away from the masses. When the ball is thrown in, part of them will yearn to be out on the pitch yet there is an acceptance that they are now bystanders. Gone but not forgotten.


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