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Exclusive I'm baffled at the praise heaped on retiring GAA players - whether they've been good, bad or indifferent

Social-media fanfare after retirements puzzling but a growing number will walk away due to savage demands at the top

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Mayo goalkeeper David Clarke. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Mayo goalkeeper David Clarke. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Mayo goalkeeper David Clarke. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

An old man who used to frequent our family bar years ago was always bemoaning the fact that in Ireland you had to die before anybody would say a good word about you.

Not anymore. Inter-county GAA players - irrespective of whether they have been good, bad, or indifferent - can earn instant eulogies these days, by simply announcing they're quitting.

I blame social media. The players' retirement statements follow a set formula - family, friends, and club are all thanked profusely.

Then there are the obligatory mentions of the career, team sponsors and the offer of assistance to the team in the future.

Frankly, these announcements are a bit smarmy.

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The Kingdom’s man-marker Shane Enright. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

The Kingdom’s man-marker Shane Enright. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

The Kingdom’s man-marker Shane Enright. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Worse still, however, are the deluge of tributes which these announcements provoke.

It is bewildering. Rather than ring the player and wish him well, even close friends take to social media to publicly express their thanks.

And, if the retiring player has any profile on social media, before long he will be trending and overnight a legend has been born. As I wrote above, social media has a lot to answer for.

A friend of mine gets very annoyed over this issue.

He points out how guys who weren't even legends in their club can suddenly become so-called influencers because their tweets are perceived to be perceptive.

He was on to me recently about a former player whose views are considered trendy these days. "How many championship games did he start," he thundered. I wasn't sure. "I'll tell you - one," was the exasperated response from my friend.

How times have changed since I announced my retirement from inter-county football in a column in the Sunday World in 1991.

There was no statement of thanks from the Kerry County Board or the team management, no glowing tributes from my playing colleagues.

As for messages of support from the fans, well, I received one, a letter of thanks from a fan in Castleisland.

It was a case of gone and forgotten. I was no longer of any use to the county - that was the way it was. It was a case of suck it up, remember the good times and move on.

All this comes to mind because there have been an avalanche of retirements since the start of the New Year.

Paddy Andrews of Dublin. Mayo's David Clarke, Chris Barrett, Tom Parsons, Seamus O'Shea and Donal Vaughan. Kerry's Shane Enright, Jonathan Lyne and Brian Kelly. Gareth Bradshaw (Galway), Kyle Coney (Tyrone), Donie Shine (Roscommon).

Cork hurlers Stephen McDonnell and Anthony Nash and Kilkenny's Paul Murphy and Ger Aylward have also announced they are quitting at inter-county level.

I expect the list to grow before the start of the new season.

Seeing as there is very little else to write about, their departures received acres of coverage.

It was over the top as most of the retirees had been on the periphery of their county teams in recent seasons.

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Donal Vaughan and Seamus O’Shea came close to glory back in 2016. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile

Donal Vaughan and Seamus O’Shea came close to glory back in 2016. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile

Donal Vaughan and Seamus O’Shea came close to glory back in 2016. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile

There were two exceptions - which I will come to later.

Few sports stars know when to quit. Most of them have the false belief that there is one big year left in them.

In fairness to this year's batch, most of them are getting out with their timing spot on. They went before they were pushed.

I remember when the Kerry manager Mickey Ned O'Sullivan rang me in the staff room of St Goban's School in Bantry in 1989 and told me I was no longer part of the panel.

I was devastated. After devoting 15 years to Kerry football, it was all over. I went into the PE storeroom in the school and cried for 15 minutes.

By the time I emerged I had vowed to do my damnedest to get back into the squad.

I trained like a maniac that winter, doing twice daily sessions - Monday to Saturday - and I was recalled to the squad for the 1990 championship.

Even before we lost to Down in the 1991 All-Ireland semi-final I had decided to retire when that season ended for Kerry. I could now go on my own terms.

But whisper it - had Mickey Ned invited me back for the 1992 season I would have ditched my retirement plans.

Thankfully, the Gods decreed otherwise, and I dodged a bullet as Clare beat Kerry in the Munster final in 1992. I watched the game from the comfort of the broadcasting box in Limerick.

I was taken aback by the decisions of Clarke and Enright to quit - though I understood the reasoning behind the Kerryman's decision.

Clarke is one of the top five goalkeepers in the country and has just come off the back of a great championship campaign with Mayo.

He is a brilliant shot-stopper and who knows what might have happened had Clarke not been dropped for the 2016 All-Ireland final replay - reportedly because of player power.

I've a feeling Mayo mightn't still be looking for their first All-Ireland success since 1951 had Clarke started.

Enright is an endangered species in his native county - a traditional man-marking back in the Mick Fitzsimons and Jonny Cooper mould.

Prior to lockdown, he played in four of Kerry's league games though I couldn't fathom why Peter Keane was deploying him as a wing back. Post lockdown, he didn't get a look-in.

Given the team Keane started, and the tactics he deployed against Cork, it was obvious why.

The manager had made the mistake of over-analysing his own team and Cork during the break.

He tore up the script and, in the process, forgot what Kerry were good at. Enright became a victim of this misguided approach.

The story of how Enright broached the subject of his retirement with Keane is intriguing.

He rang up Peter to tell him he was thinking about retirement but was wondering whether he was still in Peter's plans for 2021.

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Tyrone veteran Kyle Coney. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Tyrone veteran Kyle Coney. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Tyrone veteran Kyle Coney. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Peter said there was no panel picked yet and he didn't know if Shane would be in his plans. The can was kicked down the road.

But Shane sensed his time was up and called it a day.

It reminded me of a true story about a very high-profile hurler who rang up the county team manager to tell him that he was thinking of packing it in as he was getting little game time.

The conversation went like this: Player: 'Hi, I'm thinking about retiring.'

Manager: Fine so, and by the way I don't want to f****** read or hear any negative comments from you about me."

The conversation had lasted all of 13 seconds.

Retiring from inter-county action is a bit of a jolt. Your profile disappears overnight and suddenly you have a lot more time on your hands.

Most of us are not as fortunate as the player who was offered a job at inter-county level worth €35,000 a year - in expenses of course - even before he retired.

Ultimately, he didn't take the job, opting instead for a club position.

So, despite the pandemic and the resulting financial crisis the good old Jerry Maguire 'show me the money' mantra is still alive with under-the-counter deals being done at county and club level.

I'm amazed more players don't quit the inter-county scene.

It is now a virtual 24-7, 365 days a-year commitment which impacts on every aspect of the players' lives.

All of this is being driven by out-of-control team managers and their bloated back-room teams who have become a law unto themselves.

Players are forced to put their family, careers, and social life on hold for the dubious honour of being able to say they played county football or hurling.

Worse still, the chances of success, particularly in the football ranks, is somewhere between slim and zero. But I think change is happening.

I was talking recently with somebody connected to a county team.

He said he noticed a sea change in attitude last year when the pandemic severely curtailed the season.

The break had resulted in many players reassessing their own lives and priorities.

For the first time in their young lives, they realised that there is more to life than inter-county GAA.

I won't be surprised if others walk away over the next few weeks.

As the Dalai Lama put it, "the purpose of our lives is to be happy" and I'm afraid the chances of finding happiness in an inter-county jersey are remote.

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